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WILDE AT HEART? July 12, 2009

Posted by markswill in Media.

I went to see the Swinging Blues Jeans, Marty Wilde and the Alan Price Set last week. There, that’s attracted your attention – and probably your derision – but for the moment, consider this.

In early June I mentioned, with barely contained trepidation, my involvement in “Wales’ longest running world’n’roots music festival”, a phrase I parrot whenever a local newspaper hack or radio ‘personality’ hoves into view. And even as I scrawl this, the wittily-named Sheep Music wing-ding (www.sheepmusic.info) is but a few days away and I find myself frantically juggling a rota of 40-odd Gate Stewards (all of whom understandably want to spend some time watching particular bands), sucking up to the local media (all of whom want free tickets) and, most crucially of all, drumming up punters with posters and flyers (most of whom are waiting ‘til the last moment to see if the weather is good and their recession-hit pockets are deep enough).

The stress levels of the what are euphemistically known as the ‘department heads’ are, as you might imagine, soaring because as a team we are doing this for the first time and we are also unpaid volunteers (Sheep Music is a charity with any profits ploughed into local community arts) who somehow have to earn a living at the same time as preparing for several thousand people to descend on a small Welsh town for the weekend expecting to be entertained, fed, watered and housed. And I managed to build an especially robust rod to beat my own back with by agreeing last year to give a friend’s 15 year-old daughter some editorial ‘work experience’ in the final, frenzied week prior to the Festival.

I mention this not to curry your sympathy or admiration – fat chance – but to illustrate a new post-industrial, socio-economic culture that’s quietly, even insidiously developed round these parts over the past decade or so. I call it festival-ism, and it’s essentially the morphing of that particular British capacity to rally round and support local causes into something that replaces proper jobs and their incomes with the feelgood factor. Hereabouts in the Welsh Marches we have oodles of music, art and even month-long film festivals, most of them embarked on for love rather than money but which nonetheless rely on the same loose networks of volunteers. And these are not just or even mainly the doughty ladies of the W.I. who traditionally ran things in the sticks, but individuals of all ages and origins many of whom bring professional skills from previous and sometimes current careers to a party that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

But because few of these enterprises are intended to make money, they also don’t make a living out of it, but they do get expenses and if particularly vital and the project is well funded (usually by increasingly scarce grants or sponsorship), then they might make a few bob here and there. Rather unexpectedly, this applied to me during June when I found myself collecting the circular, de-mountable staging for Sweetwater, a musical play about the sometimes bitter turf wars between the Welsh and the English. Performed in a large domed contraption in the grounds of three different country piles, Sweetwater involved a writer, director and a few professional actors who were paid, and lots of amateur thesps, muscians and a 60-piece choir who weren’t. And having collected the cleverly designed, if bloody heavy, sectionalised stage from its (professional) maker in Wednesbury, I was suddenly co-opted into erecting and then dismantling it – three times – as well as using my legendary marketing skills to put bums on the 230-odd seats that would surround it – six times. For which I was, happily if modestly, paid… mainly to blitz the Marches with posters and flyers under every car windscreen that wasn’t at the time moving.

And this sort of odd, even awkward symbiosis of the amateur and professional goes on all the time, although not at Sheep Music where the only people who get paid are the fifty odd bands and the contractors who supply the monster marquees, sound and lighting… although if it works it will of course put a huge smile on our faces, not least of relief. Which brings me to watching Marty Wilde et al playing in the grounds of Ludlow Castle at the end of that town’s annual festival. In the rain. I don’t doubt that many of those working that site, handing out bin liners for the leftovers from the boozy picnics we’d brought along and directing us to the bogs were volunteers, but at £27 a ticket, Marty and Co. certainly weren’t doing it for love.

Having foolishly failed to establish who was on the bill, I’d come to this musical travesty at the behest of a friend with a spare ticket but as you might expect the performances were cabaret-stylee of the most excruciating kind, introduced by a sub-Jim Davidson compere.  The saddest thing was Alan Price, a genuinely impressive performer at the early Animals gigs I saw at Newcastle’s Club A’Go-Go, now mainly reduced to sleepwalking through the Georgie Fame songbook. (Even worse was the sorry revelation that his co-keyboardist was Zoot Money, who I reckon has yet to top his 1967 Reading Festival performance fronting Dantalian’s Chariot  (guitarist: a callow Andy Summers) draped in a white sheet and out of his head on LSD. And yet, and yet… there were at least 2500 people, mainly middle-aged, tubby, beery and swaddled in Primark who lapped up, indeed got up and jiggled around to the ancient hits (often, in the case of the Jeanies and the blatantly be-wigged Wilde, other people’s hits) and roared appreciatively at the potty humour. And who am I to deny them their pleasure? Indeed my first thought as I trudged cold, wet and depressed back to the Lancia was that given the worringly slow sale of Sheep Music tickets, is it too late to book Marty and his syrup?

Come to Presteigne next weekend and find out.

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1. terry - July 12, 2009

I can’t say much about festivals and their organization, but volunteerism strikes a chord. Unfortunatley, with the Obamanations’ stimulus package and faulty FreakEconomics at work we, too, will soon be a nation of volunteers as those that have will not have, and those that not have, will have. The great equalizer. Volunteerism in place of jobism and a dose of the poverty clap for all. Staging a music festival is sounding better the longer this paragraph becomes. I’ll head over on Monday to get a leg up on the rest of the distressed Americans. Our Great Leader has set the US goals to parallel the Iranian economic miracle. Bring on the music…

markswill - July 12, 2009

Hey, that sounds like a, ahem, sound idea? Maybe we could export music festival-ism to Iran? Well Shah’k It Up Baby Now?

2. terry - July 12, 2009

I already have cornered the Sheik Yur Booti promoter in Dubai. We’re on. Let the Sunshine In!

3. Martin Craig - July 13, 2009

“Even dear old Mark, who saw me in the park, says I’m a bad boy.”
Wilde, M. et.al. (1959): ‘The absence of hair and hipness after half a century in popular music.’ (unpublished thesis).

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