Inane Thoughts: ATP – Bowlie 2

Well, yesterday’s blog was an introduction to my inane rambling, though it is likely those who know me will have already had experience of this unfortunate quality. Today I’ve decided (thanks to a suggestion from my friend Claire) to do a write up of my recent weekend at Bowlie 2 at the Butlins in Minehead, a music festival set up by ATP and curated by Belle & Sebastian.

We set off for Minehead on Friday morning to stay in one of the self-catering “chalets”. Chalet is an odd term for accommodation by the seaside at Butlins. Normally “chalet” and “suspiciously looming seagulls” aren’t closely associated. Our first stop (as part of a tradition amongst our group) was at a Hungry Horse pub: the worst, most gluttonous chain of pubs in the known world. Yes, worse than Wetherspoons. The highlight of the menu, amongst many highlights (there’s an “Oriental” dish made up of breaded chicken, sweet and sour sauce, and chips), is the “Millionaire’s Candymania”. It’s set up as the dish that a millionaire would eat, in their perfect world. Close your eyes. Imagine you are a millionaire. Imagine that you are craving a dessert, having eaten a main course of vegetable oil with a side of scampi. Imagine a chef has produced exactly what you desire. Visualise what you desire. Think about the ingredients. Now open your eyes. I know what’s there. It’s four scoops of vanilla ice cream, four scoops of chocolate ice cream, two twix, two chocolate wafers, mars planets, m&ms, a sprinkling of hundreds & thousands, toffee and a topping of cream. It’s what a millionaire would want. Fact. What, you don’t believe me? But that’s what the Hungry Horse said and are you calling them liars? You’ve got some nerve, imaginary sceptic.

Having finally arrived in Minehead, our arteries ever-so-slightly clogged, we checked in and got ourselves straight into the venue to watch the first act on: Daniel Kitson and Gavin Osborn. Now, ATP is never an ordinary music festival, but even for them starting off with a story-telling act must have been a newie. What a story -telling act though. I’m a huge Kitson fan. I think he’s the best comedian in the world. His way with words and his complete adherence to an indie-aesthetic, all mean that his act is rarely spoilt by the sort of inconsiderate pricks who’d turn up to a night at Jongleurs, braying about the genius of Frankie Boyle. Kitson’s the indie comedian de jour, but this is one of his monologue shows, where he simply sits down and tells you a self-penned story, usually about heartbreak, unrequited love, whimsy and the battle against twats. His wordplay has the feel of a modern-day Wodehouse, or an indie Alan Bennett and it’s a delight to listen to. To break up the story, Gavin Osborn will sing one of his humanist, Billy Bragg-esque songs, which I find a little slight, but on this evening at least give Kitson time to take a sip of tea or lemsip as he’s heavy with the cold. It’s a very Belle & Sebastian act: a seemingly twee outer-layer, with inner layers of darkness, beauty, pathos and humour. A great start to the festival.

Next up, Best Coast, who’ve produced one of my favourite albums of the year and one that has really grown on me. I think someone described them as like the Raveonettes covering Mazzy Star and I can’t think of a better description. Their songs are a great mixture of sunshine-drizzelled pop melodies and heartbroken lyrics. They were fantastic live as well, with songs like ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘When I’m With You’ transporting us all to somewhere where we wouldn’t have to wear duffel coats and scarves indoors (it was bloody freezing in the venue!). Teenage Fanclub came next and they were, of course, wonderful. The new songs don’t quite stand up to the classics; ‘Everything Flows’, ‘Ain’t That Enough’, ‘Sparky’s Dream’ or their magnum opus ‘The Concept’, but they still warm the cockles of this indie kid’s heart. They warmed the venue up enough for Foals. Now, I wasn’t expecting much from Foals, as I was fairly disappointed with ‘Total Life Forever’, their sophomore album. The one song that really stood out on their latest album was the album’s centrepiece, ‘Spanish Sahara’, a song so good that it eclipsed all the others around it. Live, however, these ever-so-slightly-grumpy Oxford graduates are a different proposition; propelled along by their rhythm section, they absolutely blew me away. Even the songs off the latest album that I wasn’t too sure about like ‘Blue Blood’, end up absolutely blowing my tiny mind into the cold cold night.

Having spent Friday night giving my Elvis leg a serious workout and really sticking it to some rugs with imaginary scissors, Saturday was a slow start for my poor brain. Things finally clicked into action at around 2.30 when Frightened Rabbit kicked into ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’, a great song, though not particularly sensible swimming advice. Edwyn Collins’ set in mid-afternoon was one of the best of the weekend. After his double brain-haemorrage in 2005, it’s amazing that his even up on the stage, let along able to talk and sing, but this is not a show of patronising sympathy from the audience. By the time he rips into, er, ‘Rip It Up’ and ‘A Girl Like You’ he has already blown the crowd away with wonky art-rock-pop of the highest order and the baritone register of his voice sends shivers down the spine. Backing from Teenage Fanclub and guest spots from Franz Ferdinand and Ryan from the Cribs help, but this is all about Edwyn Collins, a true master and inspiration to everyone in the room even before his remarkable recovery.

Dirty Projectors put in a fantastic show on the main stage, all glistening treble sounds, mixing sultry soul with bucolic folk and some pretty heavy riffs, they are one of the best live bands around. This is also a description I’d normally use to describe Wild Beasts, but this is not one of their better gigs. The sound is washed out and the band look pretty much how they sound – you begin to wonder if this is one gig too many in 2010 for this normally exquisite band of Cumbrians. Usually they are, in their own glorious words, “equally elegant and ugly”, this time it was a little heavy on the latter.

Saturday evening on the main stage is finished up with the festival’s curators, Belle & Sebastian, to gather the whole festival into one room for a couple of barnstorming hours. Barnstorming’s not a word usually associated with B&S, but tonight they present us with the “three ages of Belle & Sebastian” and though it’s not always easy to work out what these three ages are (they don’t play a single track from Tigermilk – would this make it four ages?), it doesn’t matter, whatever people say about B&S these guys aren’t just merchants of twee and whimsy: in Stuart Murdoch, they’ve got a showman to rival Jarvis Cocker at his loquacious, boogieing best and there’s a dark pathos-strewn heart, the closest thing the 90s ever got to the glory of The Smiths. By the time they get to “Sleep The Clock Around” (which we all know we’ll need to do come Monday morning) they’ve got us all dancing around like idiots. Well, I say dancing, more indie-shuffling, but still, it’s movement from a crowd of people more used to watching bands with their arms crossed, their chins stroked and their comparisons to obscure bands from the Orkney Islands in the 1970s at the ready.

At the end of Saturday night there’s a “secret” set from the (almost) forgotten men of the Scottish indie scene, Franz Ferdinand, but boy do they remind us why they got all the boys up dancing in the first place. ‘Michael’, ‘Jacqueline’ and ‘Matinee’ get the whole room leaping and jumping around like the ghosts of their past at indie discos circa-2004. Well, that’s what they do to this little indie boy’s past ghosts (and present limbs) anyway. For a brief moment, I was a sweaty, gangly 21 year old, being rejected by girls in polka-dot dresses all over again. Ah, the agony and the ecstasy. Wonderful.

Onto Sunday morning, by which time a blast on the water slides was needed to refresh and revitalise after another night of Elvis leg shifting. If you do ever end up at the Butlins water slides, I’d recommend the Black Hole. The Master Blaster may have the best name, but it’s the most likely to leave you sat in a damp dinghy with a broken coccyx. We also made the discovery that the perfect soundtrack to the Coronation Street tram-apocalypse should, without a doubt, be the Bob Dylan Christmas album. There’s nothing like a nigh-on moribund growler, singing Christmas songs in the style of an angry, pestering hobo, over fiery scenes of someone called Rita crying “help”.

Finally, back to the music for one last festi-splurge. Now, I’m a huge fan of the Vaselines and so I was really looking forward to a Sunday afternoon set of their lo-fi pop. What I got was a couple of middle-aged grungers making bawdy jokes about jizz that Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Sid James would think a little crude and embarrassing. Worse than the embarrassing blowjob related stage patter however, was the humdrum lassitude of their performance. The biggest disappointment of the weekend. Camera Obscura were next, to warm the cockles of our hearts, with their gorgeous soulful pop. However, if this was all a little soporific to keep us going through to the end of Sunday night, then the Butlins-tastic Glaswegian Beatles cover band, ‘Them Beatles’, were the perfect musical equivalent of a pep talk and a gram of speed. Grammatically incorrect as their name may be (it should be ‘Those Beatles’, but surely this is a nod to the pedant-infuriating “it should be Beetles, not Beatles, the Beat-pun be damned” spelling of their namesakes), by the end of their set everyone was singing along at the top of their voice to ‘I Feel Fine’, ‘Day In The Life’ and ‘Hey Jude’.

So, that was my weekend in ATP, another absolute cracker of a festival from the kings of festival organisers. God, I love these weekends, even if my arteries and taste buds are less pleased with my activities (note to future self, when booking into self-catering, don’t just use the kettle and the toaster – it’s not going to end well).

If you’ve got any sense I’ll see you all there next year on the Master Blaster!

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One Response to “Inane Thoughts: ATP – Bowlie 2”

  1. Claire Says:

    If you asked 6 year old me to close my eyes and imagine myself as a millionaire about to eat dessert, I almost certainly would have imagined 4 scoops of vanilla ice cream and various candy bits. 7 year old me would have moved on. Maybe their clientele are largely 6 year olds. Or maybe 6 years old is the mental age of their punters. Just a thought.

    Everyone loves a bit of Franz Ferdinand. Alex Kapranos has some incredible stage presence. We tend to forget that. Bring back Mr Kapranos and his crew of Glaswegian rockstars. Love it.

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