Thursday, March 15, 2012

Photos/Review: All Tomorrow's Parties - Minehead, UK (Day One)

Minutemen Duet @ ATP Minehead 3/9/12
George Hurley and Mike Watt performing as the Minutemen Duet
All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Jeff Mangum
@ Butlin's Holiday Centre, Minehead, UK
Day One - March 9, 2012
Photos/Review: Rhona "Wiglet Bill" Aquilina

I’ve been attending ATP’s festivals here in the UK for over ten years now and I can honestly say that never have I waited so eagerly and so long from ticket purchase to the event itself. The sheer brilliance of the line up could have only added to the panic among ticket holders when it was announced a couple of months before the originally scheduled date of the festival in December that it was to be postponed until this past weekend. The lingering mystery surrounding the postponement did nothing to settle fears as to whether the event would actually take place, perhaps because the line up was turning out to be so very awesome it might literally have been too good to be true.

But none of that matters now we are neared the end of our 235 mile journey from the suburbs of south London to the charming West Somerset seaside town of Minehead. The Butlin’s resort where the festival is held is nestled right on the promenade facing the beach and the Bristol Channel.

After a quick stop for supplies at the local supermarket, we headed to the check-in as it opened and then to our accommodation and got settled in. Each apartment comes with a television that provides two channels of television programming, the content of one being chosen by the curator, and the other by ATP. As the bands weren’t to begin for almost three hours we watched a couple of hours of Monty Python’s Flying Circus as chosen by Jeff Mangum.

At around 4pm we went down to the Skyline Pavilion for a little people-watching and to get a look at the merchandise stands. Then it was time for the first show of the festival, Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise at Centre Stage. I couldn’t imagine a better way to kick off proceedings. By their very nature as a collective - swapping instruments and playing each others songs - there were smiles and happy collaboration all round, and for those of us who made it there and weren’t caught in the horrible motorway tailbacks that delayed so many attendees, it felt as though a mission statement had been issued. This ATP (even more than usual) was going to be about individuals coming together to produce pure unadulterated joy. And any one of us could take part by sheer virtue of being there. I actually missed the end of the set because I had only a brief opportunity to have a quick drink with a friend whom I used to work with at Butlin’s, that I only see annually when I attend ATP. I would later find out that E.6.H.S. had ended their set by leading a sort-of conga line out of the venue, while they played a cover of Sun Ra’s "Enlightenment."


Next we went to Crazy Horse to see Robyn Hitchcock perform his all acoustic 1984 release I Often Dream of Trains. The Crazy Horse has previously been the venue for such events as knitting with Kelley Deal, Book Club, Lord Sinclair’s quiz, the Bowlie 2 Scrabble tournament and late night DJs. However, this ATP saw it used much more for actual gigs. This is undoubtedly because ATP has stopped using the Skyline Pavilion for performances, likely due to its relatively poor sound quality and construction (not particularly sound proof). Whilst I don’t lament the loss of the pavilion for those reasons, I’m not sure Crazy Horse is quite ready to fill the void. Despite my barely being able to get a line of sight to the stage because the venue was rather full, Hitchcock was brilliantly comedic and irreverently interspersing his performance with amusing anecdotes and getting the audience giggling along with his patented brand of cynical sarcasm. My personal highlights were "Trams of Old London" (a song that makes me feel genuinely nostalgic for an era before my own time) and the highly jocular "Uncorrected Personality Traits."
 

After heading back to our accommodation for a couple of drinks and a showing of Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo, we made our way to Centre Stage to catch the first of Jeff Mangum’s two billed performances this weekend. Despite arriving at the venue in good time, there was a large queue outside well before Mangum had even taken the stage. It soon became apparent that the venue was full and the lengthy queue was in fact a one-in-one-out deal. Some kindly ATP staff went through the queue offering attendees priority entry wrist bands for Jeff’s Sunday performance in exchange for leaving the queue. We happily took wrist bands and headed back to our accommodation for the rest of We Jam Econo, barely containing our excitement for tonight’s Minutemen duet.

Next up was Young Marble Giants in Crazy Horse. Again, it was impossible to get anywhere near the stage but they delivered an excellent and haunting performance, including "Colossal Youth," "Credit in the Straight World," and "Searching for Mr Right." Their stripped down sound filled the room and inspired clusters of attendees to dance uncontrollably. Alison Statton even remarked that back in the day no one seemed to know how to dance to their music, but that she could see it had finally been mastered.

Young Marble Giants @ ATP Minehead 3/9/12
Young Marble Giants
Then onto Reds for The Raincoats, who took the stage to rapturous cheers and applause, and performed a blisteringly cathartic and raucous set despite Gina Birch failing to notice that her bass amp wasn’t on until the second song was over.

 

Unfortunately the Raincoats set clashed with that of The Fall, so we left Reds and headed for Centre Stage to see Mark E. Smith and the gang. We made it to the venue just moments before the band took the stage causing the audience to suddenly erupt in adoration. In my many years of attending ATP in these very venues, I have never felt the floor bounce so violently under the combined efforts of the attendees. Barely two songs into the set a drunken woman burst forth from the crowd landing unceremoniously in the photo pit. The set included raw and uncompromising performances of "Latchkey Kid," "Nate Will Not Return," "Age of Chang," "I’ve Been Duped," and "Theme from Sparta FC."

 

We then went from Centre Stage back to Reds to catch Half Japanese, who I must admit had until recently passed me by. This is a great example of what is likely one of ATP’s greatest triumphs. If I’m honest there are always several bands on the bill that I’ve either never heard, or in some cases, never heard of. Until Half Japanese were announced on the line up (for me they fell into the former category) I knew they had opened for Nirvana a year or two before Kurt’s passing, but other than that I knew nothing about them. The band put in an impressive performance revelling in their non-traditional song structure, providing the sort of chaotic could-fall-apart-at-any-minute performance that I just love.

Half Japanese @ ATP Minehead 3/9/12
Half Japanese
Leaving Half Japanese halfway through their set, we wandered back to Centre Stage for Thurston Moore. As expected he was mesmerising and hypnotic to both the ears and the eyes. Effortlessly cool with that unmistakable vocal style, he tore through tracks including "Mina Loy," "Ono Soul," "Queen Bee and Her Pals," and "Pretty Bad."


Our enjoyment of Thurston Moore was cut short by what for me was my most pressing engagement of the weekend. The MINUTEMEN DUET!!!! I guess it’s easy for me to say--since I eventually made it to the rescheduled festival and didn’t lose any money on non-refundable travel arrangements for the original date in December--but the best thing to come out of the rescheduling was surely this! Originally Mike Watt had to cancel his appearance in December as he was on tour with The Stooges. So, when it was announced that he and George Hurley would be able to make the March dates I was ecstatic. Now, hopes raised, dashed, and raised again, I was standing in Reds waiting for them to take the stage. I found myself unable to stand still, shifting from foot to foot, in a manner I recognised from the moment immediately preceding my first and only skydive.

The time was upon us and George Hurley appeared on stage and took his place behind the drums followed by Watt. Watt told us he was very nervous and that they had been practising really hard, adding “we’re still missing our guy”, and launching straight into “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs” from What Makes a Man Start Fires? The majority of the rest of the set was made up of tracks from Double Nickels on the Dime including "Toadies," "It’s Expected I’m Gone," "Viet Nam," "Love Dance," "The Glory of Man," and The Big Foist." This was a truly awesome experience and it appeared that Watt and Hurley, despite the nerves, were enjoying it as much as the adoring crowd. The guys ended the set with a dedication to D. Boon, the only thing sadly missing from a near-perfect end to a wonderful day.


The energy I expended dancing to the Minutemen duet effectively ended my day, making the comfort of my accommodation win out over catching the end of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But hey, no regrets! I can’t imagine anything having topped Watt and Hurley for performance of the day.

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Stay tuned for Rhona's coverage of ATP Days 2 & 3! In the meantime, watch some videos she shot of Mike Watt and George Hurley performing the Minutemen below...

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