Guildhall Arts Centre, Gloucester
For a decade, Ochre Records has existed in a backwoods wilderness of its own design. Even at this, the Cheltenham based label’s tenth anniversary all-dayer, which took place in the civic confines of Gloucester’s Guildhall — its spiritual home, having hosted the label’s fifth and seventh birthdays — it all seemed unfussily homespun and low key. A sure sign of confidence from any cottage industry.
Nowhere was this better personified than in opening act The Serpents, Ochre’s very own ‘supergroup’‚ whose ranks have previously been swollen by members of Super Furry Animals, writer Jon Savage and even reality TV model Catalina. This time out there were eight people up there, mostly culled from Ochre acts scheduled to play later on. Their one minute’s noise for the late John Peel whipped up a glorious storm of rustic Prog clatter, augmented by bass clarinet and singing bowl. The extended piece that followed magnificently cascaded through a landscape of interstellar fairground space rock disco and Druidic cut-glass incantation. It was tastefully restrained, mind, alive with dewy-eyed pastoral wonder.
Improv duo Grace & Delete’s set found Chris Cundy’s bass clarinet sparring with the primitive electronics of James Dunn over a screening of the Japanese kill-’em-all movie Battle Royale. Despite the novelty value of the pairing, Grace & Delete’s call and response burps and squiggles didn’t really take us any places we hadn’t already been.
90° South’s prettified guitar and laptop generated travelogues, on the other hand, diverted Kraftwerk’s sentimental open-road psychogeography down a more higgledypiggledy, if equally charming route. Over a projected backdrop of trains, boats and bikes, we were propelled into Boys’ Own-style romanticism tinged with nostalgia. Longstone augmented their cracked electronics with the ubiquitous Chris Cundy on laidback soprano sax. While this initially brought to mind an unfortunate image of twilight zone TV softcore, it was mercifully subverted enough to transcend such a horror.
Forsaking the formal posturing of a rock group, Applecraft’s Don Mandarin and Mike Mooney pulled up a chair for an acoustic experience of bite-size vignettes, a mixture of perfectly enunciated spoken word and 57 varieties of generic strum accompanying a slide show of reptiles, land formations and other natural wonders. As Mandarin raised his hand aloft to signal the next visual, an impressionistic Jackanory-style concept was revealed. Slide shows being the temperamental relics they are, alas, things slipped out of sync and the effect dissipated.
Things only really turned sour when Thighpaulsandra’s New Age Gary Glitter shtick stamped its feet, though fortunately Acid Mothers Temple’s headlining show stole his thunder by showing the festival audience how to really let its hair down.
Glide’s early evening set had already led the way, as Echo & The Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant’s ‘psychedelic tripscape’ project set the controls for a magnificently teeth-rattling whoosh of dub sh’boom. Camouflaged in an army helmet with the word Friction cut and pasted over its original Prog legend — symbolic in itself of Glide’s gearshift - such euphoric melody-led electronic goo finally made use of the Guildhall’s sprung wooden floor, even if most of the audience only felt the reverberations through their prone stoner backsides. It was a sublime joy nevertheless.
The Wire, issue 250, December 2004