Headstock has grown from curious fledgling to swooping hawk

Headstock 2011 review

published: Fri 16th Sep 2011

around the festival site

Saturday 10th to Sunday 11th September 2011
Newstead & Annesley Country Park, Newstead, Nottinghamshire, England MAP
£60 adult full weekend, teen 12-17 £35, under 12s free
last updated: Thu 8th Sep 2011

Tucked away in a corner of Nottinghamshire, Newstead Village's Headstock festival has been the talk of the town for a little while. Now in its second year, the festival has grown from curious fledgling to swooping hawk. It began life last year as a one day festival, and has recently evolved into a jam-packed, bulging-at-the-seams weekend. Setup in 2010 as a social enterprise as part of the Big Lottery Fund and BBC One's Village SOS initiative, this festival was developed to breathe new life into the area, create new jobs and improve the quality of life for local people. A very honourable and necessary feat, seeing as over the years the little colliery village of Newstead has been shat on more times than Nelson's column.

around the festival site
Newstead's decline began in 1987 when, as part of Thatcher's thoughtful decision to close mines around the country, it fell foul to her bonelike fateful finger. Newstead was, like many of the other unfortunate colliery villages, dependant on the mines as a way of life for the village-folk. Then, during the late 80's to early 90's, the breakdown continued through a disordered jumble of bad planning and a complete loss of direction. The place became socially, economically and geographically deprived; and after several more incidences, including the destruction of people's allotments for the building of an industrial park, the prevalence of mental health issues increased as the people struggled with low income employment and a lack of transferable skills.

Echo and the Bunnymen
But as it is today, things are on the rise for this little area, and an exciting weekend lies ahead with many wondrous sights and sounds, the top of the bill for Saturday night being Echo and the Bunnymen.

As the clock struck three on the afternoon of Friday 9th September, I shot out of work like a culpable felon spared incarceration; handcuffs released. I leapt into the car and sped off home, leaving nothing but dust in my trail. Returning to the house, I managed to shabbily pack a borrowed bag full of clothes, foodstuffs, sleeping equipment and other camping miscellanea, in rushed preparation for the weekend's tasty treat of a festival – Headstock.

My first delight of which, caught my eyes off guard. Small bright flames danced upwards, downwards, leftwards, rightwards; thrown, balanced and caught by creatures in the most colourful, baggiest of hemp clothing. These highly skilled acrobats defied all logic of health and safety in the most hypnotic of fashion. Primal beats from nearby bongos urging them to continue their ancestral connection.

I walked round the half-closed festival in dim light looking for Nick Harper (son of Roy), who was advertised to play (but not where or when.) After walking through the haunted shanty town, I stumbled back on route to where the pyronautic display was occurring. I could hear something thrashing about – rhythmical, unapologetic and visceral. It was Harper's guitar.

Bathed in orange glow from the backlight, Nick Harper stood in the corner of a small marquee, holding his classical guitar. The small but passionate crowd couldn't fathom how one man and a ¾ sized guitar could make such a massive sound. His bashing and thrashing and percussive-style of playing sounded so heavy, Harper must be influenced by the industrial noises of his local steel mill. He sounds as if his plectrum is a brick! This, along with his swashbuckling control of dynamics makes for a great performance. And to top it all off he breaks a string, but rather than merely stop midway through song, like us mortals would. No, he pulls a spare from his pocket, threads it through, tunes it and continues the song; all the time singing and chanting like it was part of the song itself. This degree of stagecraft requires all kinds of black alchemy... or at least a great amount of practise and skill.

Later that night I stumbled upon Craig Charles, in the Smokescreen tent, blasting sweet dub music at the masses in all his glory. The crowd dig the tunes he plays and watches gleefully as the laser light show pierces their eager eyeballs. In this tent, in this world – he has become a newly christened messiah; every command he beckons is obeyed.

The next morning has a peaceful atmosphere, the stages still remain empty, so I take a stroll down to the Kidstock area of the festival. The Kidstock arena is full of wonderful, colourful activities for the youngsters. If they're not happy with beating out rhythms with the drum workshops, they may enjoy a slice of storytelling, or even the puppet show; or maybe they'd just simply prefer to be reborn as a tiger in the face painting tent. Every child I pass in the whole of the festival seems to be attached to a world changing smile.

The Great Malarkey
The first band we encountered on the Saturday turned out to be the real shining gem in Headstock's crown. The Great Malarkey introduced themselves by having their mad trumpeter-come-Tim Curry look alike walk outside of the Musika tent, blaring his horn and welcoming all who dare walk past to "Come and see The Great Malarkey!" with all the enthusiasm of a mad magician. This not only bred curiosity but also exhilaration.

As the band struck up their brand of gypsy punk, their bodies started to dart in all directions onstage, with in turn prompted the audience to get a move on (the four-to-the-floor technique is a great way to get a crowd going.) onstage they looked like a marvellous pauper tribe dancing for all they're worth, giving it their all as if it were their last hours on Earth. Their front woman, Alex Ware-Woolf (possibly a nod to Virginia), stole the show from every other frontman and woman who performed that weekend. From her punk croon of a voice to her immense stage presence – she oozed coolness from every pour in her tiny body. The audience could not help but feel like proud astronomers looking on at newly discovered stars. Divine.

25 Past The Skank
Later on at the main stage we encountered some homegrown talent straight from the rumbling belly of Nottingham – 25 Past The Skank. Although they looked like a bunch of scallies, these boys played like pros. A unique blend of drum n bass, ska, reggae, dub, jungle and anything else that can destroy a dance floor. These local heroes have harnessed the knack of reaching out to the crowd and, rather than making the audience feel like they're part of the band, bring themselves down to the crowds level through their humour and informal banter. Their energetic show seems to be made for a festival crowd, and I'd put money on seeing their name in lights in the near future. To top it all off, when talking to them after the show, they came across as genuine sweethearts no matter what their onstage personas suggest.

After a slight diluvial interval, the main stage was set for African Head Charge . This group of old Rastafarians reeked of the spirit of Jah. Their booming dub-reggae filled the hearts of every wet festival goer with a warmth only true mystics like these can. Their shamanic frontman, Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah, danced like a man possessed (possibly with the same spirit of Jah mentioned before.) His wide-mouthed grin was impossible to relinquish and beamed out the same vibes the red neon backdrop encouraged. Very different to the next band to play...

A full moon set the scene perfectly as Ian McCulloch and his band of dreary men hit the stage. There they were, Echo and the Bunnymen, draped in black – in all their miserable glory. And they did not disappoint. They stadium sound was meatier than their records, which seemed to work wonders for this crowd. The cutting guitars shouted out angry metallic shapes over neo-psychedelic swirls, the joyful gloom in McCulloch's statuesque performance, the pomp, the ego, the sheer power of the songs – it was all there. They did not disappoint. As the opening line to The Killing Moon began, it could have been the end of the world for most of this crowd, and it wouldn't have even mattered. One thing is for certain when watching this band – they are not just another drop in the ocean.

Throughout the weekend I encountered many bands local to Nottingham such as Royal Gala, Hey Zeus and 25 Past The Skank (as previously mentioned). Watching these musicians perform, proved that the local scene was strong and vibrant, full of weird and wonderful creative people full to the brim with untapped talent.

CW Stoneking
For me, Sunday was all about one man and one man alone – Mr CW Stoneking; a real gent of a performer. Entering the Musika tent to divulge in his performance was like walking through a magical time warp. A quiet man dressed all in white arrived on the stage, following his blackly-dressed band. He politely mumbled into the microphone and they were off. The oldest of old school pre-war music – trad-jazz, early blues, ragtime, even (featured heavily on his latest output 'Jungle Blues') calypso music. His modesty and humbleness shone through every song and made you want to believe all the fanciful stories his lyrics tell of. The audience were gently swayed into the visions CW wanted them to see – his New Orleansian jazz funerals to his beautiful tropical islands. His songs were playful yet precious, timeless yet ancient, sepia yet in glorious Technicolor. A gentler approach to music than what we had heard over the past two days, but done with style and finesse from the heart of a true gent.

The closer of Headstock's main stage came in the shape of one cheery little Liverpudlian and his youthful band. The Lightning Seeds brought the festival to an end after playing through a joyous set of life affirming pop songs.

Numerous bands and several pints later, the party was over. The tents slowly but surely drifted away into the morning. Every one of the festival goers felt physically knackered, but spiritually recharged.

Lightning Seeds

review by: Tom Smith

photos by: Rob Matheson

Saturday 10th to Sunday 11th September 2011
Newstead & Annesley Country Park, Newstead, Nottinghamshire, England MAP
£60 adult full weekend, teen 12-17 £35, under 12s free
last updated: Thu 8th Sep 2011


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