Greenbelt is balanced out by attractions in all other areas of the arts

Greenbelt Festival 2010 review

published: Fri 3rd Sep 2010

around the festival site (Monday)

Friday 27th to Monday 30th August 2010
Prestbury, Cheltenham, England MAP
£99; Concs £66; 11-17 years £55; 4-10 yr olds £50; family ticket £259
last updated: Thu 2nd Sep 2010

The morning is spent tidying the tent ready for an early start tomorrow, checking out stalls ('course you can never have too many hippy beaded bracelets), and finding somewhere to recharge the mobile. I stop by the grandstand on the way to lunch where everybody is sat very still with their eyes closed. Perhaps they haven't slept for the past three nights either but I think they're participating in a meditation seminar. In contrast, on the other side of the grandstand in the arena, there's a giant game of human table football going on.

around the festival site (Monday)
There are makeshift art galleries housed in three rooms along one level of the grandstand. Exhibitions include Articles of Hope, Adornments for Justice – pieces of jewellery to represent articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings – watercolour paintings, some quite disturbing, which document the artist's journey through mental health issues, and The Water Piano - where the top part of the piano is a pool of water which is "played" instead of the keys and the ripples are somehow converted to sound. There is also a photographic art-piece by Martin Wilson housed in a shed outside the galleries, called This Earthly Tent – an elongated landscape collection of frames of 35 mm film, taken in succession, of the tops of tents at Greenbelt last year, to spell out "Not Quite Home". Other pieces of artwork are dotted around the site and there are also art classes taking place. There's an incentive to visit all the art installations and collect a stamp at each one – the first batch of punters to fill up their card are given a limited edition Bobby Baker print and then go in to a draw to win the photographic piece. The friend that I'd travelled to the festival with has just been told he's won it!

Foy Vance (Monday)
There's been a tip-off (well a tweet!) that Foy Vance is doing a secret gig in the Blue Nun wine bar tent at 1.45 pm, where he also apparently played yesterday, darn! There's about 40 people gathered by the time he appears to negotiate with the DJ about stealing some of his slot and he's allowed two songs. He starts by asking if he should play an Oasis cover – no! is the resounding response to that but he sings a couple of bars about Beatles' rip-offs etc, followed by a beautiful rendition of U2's 'I Still Haven't Found…'; the crowd sing and harmonise the chorus which sounds lovely. He invites his wife, Joanne, and a couple of friends up to sing backing vocals to his own song 'Homebird' and then the crowd disperses to presumably let the DJ continue playing his set to an empty tent.

The Dodge Brothers
Up to the Centaur for a screening of 'CAST in Beirut' which is presented by radio DJ Simon Mayo, actor-director David Morrissey, Emma Wee, who is the director of CAST, and Mark Kermode, the film-critic and Mayo's fellow broadcaster. CAST stands for Creative Arts School Trust and is a charity founded by Morrissey to help children in Palestinian refugee camps to learn through drama and creative workshops. The documentary follows one of these week-long workshops and is very moving. There's a discussion with the panel afterwards in which we find out that Morrissey and Kermode both cried at Toy Story 3 and that Kermode was also reduced to tears on Mayo's radio show when he read out the last lines of the Winnie the Pooh book! This event finishes with Kermode's band, The Dodge Brothers playing a song and an announcement that tonight's mainstage headliner, Gil Scott-Heron, has cancelled and a replacement has yet to be found.

In my haste to get food and head over to the Performance Café again, I completely forget that Singalonga Grease is just finishing on mainstage and I'm gutted. Anyways, The Dodge Brothers re-appear in a packed Café, a four-piece – two guitars (and banjo), a washboard and Kermode on double-bass and harmonica. Their music is accurately described by one of the band as "militantly skiffle" and the songs are all about "transport and homicide". We're given a music history lesson by Kermode about skiffle starting off in America as jug band/spasm music, which mutated in to skiffle when it came to the UK, and was a precursor to rock 'n' roll. The Dodge Brothers are gonna be playing at the Rockabilly Grand Ball which is scheduled for the Big Top this evening and punters have been encouraged to dress up for it (the ball is part of the Keep Monday Special campaign to persuade people to stick around for the full day). At the end of The Dodge Brothers set, the compères announce that the mainstage line-up has been shuffled so that the main support, The King Blues, are now headlining and Foy Vance has been added in as an extra support and is playing now.

Quick sprint over to mainstage and I've missed Vance's first couple of songs but am really pleased to see a huge crowd there for him – not bad considering last year was the first time he'd played Greenbelt. He looks almost lost in the massive mainstage area with just his guitar, loop pedals and laptop but pulls it off. He's a cheeky git, asking the crowd if they're at a festival or watching it on telly, to get people to clap and sing along but most of us are already doing that. Vance finishes the set with a cover of Jackson's 'Billie Jean' to roars for an encore, which won't happen as the mainstage runs to a tight schedule. I head back to the Café while the crowd are still shouting and the compères having a difficult time dealing with it. Unfortunately I've completely missed Lucky Elephant and the next singer-songwriter up, Will René, is playing folky twangy guitar songs in the Guthrie/Bragg tradition but is clearly nervous and looks apologetic after each song.

Jude Simpson
Back to the Centaur for a musical comedy showcase, which has already started but I catch Jude Simpson singing about how her spleen can't do the hoovering and Steve Tomkins as his Rev. Gerald Ambulance character, Jenny Lockyer who sings a suggestive number about chocolate cake, and Folk On who play a tragic but hilarious song about "Ernie, My Little Pet Slug."

At mainstage, The King Blues are just beginning their set, which has attracted lots of moshing youngsters and is a bit too loud and punk for my taste. From The King Blues to trad. blues over in the Performance Café, where the line-up tonight finishes with Paddy Milner. Blues is not really my thing either but he plays impressive honky-tonk piano and sings some interesting covers – 'Short People' by Randy Newman, Memphis Slim's 'Mother Earth' which he dedicates to his mum and Robert Johnson's version of 'Rollin' and Tumblin''. Milner invites the previous act, Marcus Bonfanti, to join him on guitar for the last couple of songs and they finish with Muddy Waters' 'Can't Get No Grindin'' to a standing ovation.

Folk On (Monday)
Well, it's the final Last Orders and the show is packed with interviews, music and comedy including Folk On (we love them!), Dave Walker, Hannah and the Boy who have just played at the Reading festival and stand-up comic James Acaster. Closing songs for Greenbelt 2010 are provided by Miriam Jones which are a bit soporific at this point in the weekend and lots of punters are flat out on the floor, nodding off.

GB2010 has been a good festival – the mainstage line-up may not have been as strong as last year but that's been balanced out by attractions in all other areas of the arts. Most punters agree that the festival atmosphere is everything church should aspire to be – questioning, open-minded, accessible and inclusive, but also action-centred so that faith is lived out in tackling injustice, as well as imaginative, creative, inspiring and ever-changing.

Same time next year then.
review by: Helen OSullivan

photos by: Helen OSullivan

Friday 27th to Monday 30th August 2010
Prestbury, Cheltenham, England MAP
£99; Concs £66; 11-17 years £55; 4-10 yr olds £50; family ticket £259
last updated: Thu 2nd Sep 2010


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