you're never stuck for something to do at Greenbelt

Greenbelt Festival 2010 review

By Helen OSullivan | Published: Fri 3rd Sep 2010

around the festival site (Saturday)

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

You'd never be stuck for something to do at Greenbelt – the programme is packed with information and there's a daily diary to help you plan your weekend. The myriad range of activities starts at 8 am and goes through until 2 am, with a café and a 'convenience store' open 24 hours. The only downside is dealing with clashes or not being able to get in to one of the popular events, although that sometimes forces you to find an alternative and is in keeping with the theme, the art of looking sideways, and not missing stuff which might be on the periphery and not immediately obvious.

Mark Yaconelli
I wander around the stalls near the mainstage and watch a jive workshop in the arena before taking in a seminar by Mark Yaconelli, an American author, speaker and cofounder of a centre for engaged compassion. He is talking about Christianity as a spiritual path and has inherited his father's gift for humorous storytelling. The late great Mike Yaconelli was a regular speaker at Greenbelt and had the ability, as Mark clearly does, to draw on anecdotes which made you laugh and cry within the space of a few minutes.

Down to the Performance Café, it's a squeeze to get past the crowds around the beer tent which is holding its hugely popular 'Beer and Hymns' session to much raucous singing and laughter, and piano bashing; it can be heard right across the campsite. In the café, I catch a little bit of Lovers Electric, a synth-pop husband and wife duo, playing a toy piano and guitar, warming up for their mainstage gig tomorrow.

The Social Services
The Centaur is hosting an afternoon session of music featuring three acts. First up is The Social Services, from Scotland but formed in Sweden which is where their drummer hails from, who played as a three-piece last night in the angels gathering but have been joined by a fourth member today. They are a "no guitar" band and play poppy songs on bass, keys, and drums, supplemented by clarinet and trumpet. They are joined by guests – Phil Wilkinson on percussion and Gabi Froden, of Foreign Slippers, on backing vocals. Stand-out song is 'Folkan', about a theatre in Stockholm which was closed down.

Next up is Foy Vance, who since his immensely popular first appearance at Greenbelt last year, has been upgraded to the Centaur venue. He wonders if the venue upgrade is to accommodate his ego though he noted that he didn't get supplied a towel with his shower and had to use loo roll to dry himself, which was a bit deflating. Aside from his mischievous banter, Vance is completely enthralling when it's just his acoustic guitar and his powerful, soulful vocals but he also uses a laptop and loop pedals to create dramatic loops and layers in the sound, as well as singing into the hollow of his guitar and beating rhythms on the body of it. Although the equipment stops working, the crowd send positive vibes as requested and he gets it up and running again. Highlights of the set are 'Shed a Little Light', a gentle 'Gabriel and the Vagabond', a funky 'Movin' On' and finally 'Guiding Light' where he leaves the stage to the crowd singing the refrain of "when I need to get home, you're my guiding light, you're my guiding light" – beautiful!

Lou Rhodes (Centaur)
Unfortunately, quite a few people leave after his set which means the audience is depleted for the final act, Lou Rhodes, singer-songwriter and vocalist with Lamb. Sitting on a drum riser with her guitar, she sings mellow, melancholy songs accompanied by cello, glockenspiel and double bass.

Bruce Kent
Walking through the grandstand area of the racecourse, Bruce Kent, peace campaigner well known for his work with CND, is addressing the crowd about challenging Britain's war culture. I pop in to the Christian Aid tent to wander through their 'tax maze' which is raising awareness about tax dodging by rich, powerful, multi-national companies that harms poorer countries.

Over to the Performance Café, where American singer-songwriter Michael McDermott is singing impassioned alt-country songs in his Springsteen-esque growly vocals on keys, guitar and harmonica. The last song 'Carry Your Cross' is particularly poignant as he dedicates it to an ex-girlfriend who died yesterday. I did intend to nip across to mainstage to see Shed Seven out of curiosity but the Café is packed and people are queuing to get in so I decide I'd better hold on to my spot and watch Lou Rhodes instead. She's again accompanied by a cellist and double-bass player and their soundcheck takes ages but her bandmates mess about during it and keep the waiting crowd entertained.

Thomas Truax
Thomas Truax is headlining the Performance Café tonight and the reason I didn't want to risk losing my seat! He offers a surreal, slightly twisted world of mechanical band members, interesting headgear, tales of butterflies, full moons, and ghosts in the ethernet. Judging by the bemused looks on some faces, people aren't sure whether to follow him into that world or not but most go with it. The hand-built instruments which he's brought along are intriguing – Mother Superior, his drummer is a work of art in itself, and then there's the Hornicator, based on a gramophone trumpet, and the Stringaling, a concertinaed hose with attachments that whistle, whir and twang, used in 'You Whistle While You Sleep'. Truax unplugs and wanders the venue with his guitar for 'Full Moon Over Wowtown', as well as nipping outside through one exit and returning through another to much laughter from the crowd. He finishes the set with 'Beehive Heart' from his latest album, 'Sonic Dreamer' which is a visual and sonic treat as the buzzes and hums in the song are created by Truax's spinning neon-lit "glasses" against the Hornicator. His eccentric perspective on life definitely ties in with the art of looking sideways and makes you smile from the inside out.

So I miss the beginning of Last Orders, the magazine show in the Centaur, but manage to see Michael McDermott reprise one of his songs there, Luke Leighfield singing a poppy tune, Ellie Williams playing a very sweet song which she'd written for her nephew when he was born, Dave Walker, the resident cartoonist, and Folk On doing 'The Lovely Song' where they've stolen lyrics from various classic love songs to highly comic effect. Comedian, writer and atheist (!), Robin Ince, is interviewed about his fondness for odd books from charity shops and reads us hilarious extracts from vintage Mills & Boon books, as well as the cringingly awful poem 'Jam' by Danielle Steele. He's off to the Reading festival tomorrow.

around the festival site (Saturday)
review by: Helen OSullivan

photos by: Helen OSullivan

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