Thirty Years a Raver, Part 2: We Called it Acieeed!

A branch of a classy supermarket chain seems an unlikely place to start a story of one’s first rave experience. It was a shop which, on a later occasion, my mate and I decided to walk ten miles back to, to thank them for such a lovely pizza. Overlooking the fact, it was the extra topping of liberty caps we added ourselves which sparked the idea, and, in turn caused us to only make it a hundred yards out of the village before we collapsed in a hysterical heap. Just as well, given I worked there at the time.

Oh, for the time, I’m slipping down my rose-tinted specs again, but, while I’m grateful to those reading this who lived it, I’d rather those too young would too, who they need to understand the era leading up to it, to know why we did what we did……

A protest at end of term school disco, 1988. Teachers, thought they were “hip” enough to do the “in” thing, hiring a standard DJ to deliver the latest pop sounds. One year away from leaving the institution we saw ourselves as mature. Obviously not, but sufficient to warrant a plain and simple fact; the pop chart was not aimed at us.

A decade old now and electronica has become timeworn and abused by the Hit Factory and Stock Aitken Waterman. The formula was simple, derived from sixties bubble-gum pop, and aimed an even younger audience. An assembly line of drum machine synthpop churned out uninspiring samey trash, a monotonous drone promoting pop stardom to Australian soap opera actors, failing have-been musicians convinced by a fat cheque and dreadful teenage dreamboats. They punished the last part of the decade; they commercialised the once experimental epoch. It should have been a crime.

We all sat in protest on the dancefloor, booing, as the DJ spun, I Owe You Nothing by latest teen-pop sensation Bros, two brothers from Camberley with Pet Shop Boys manager Tom Watkins, stupid belt buckles and leather vests donning crucifixes, which seeing as what they did for pop, was actually quite apt. The only person left dancing was a good friend of mine, who took the ingenuity to bring a Sony Walkman, and he skanked out of time, through the protesters in his own little world, lip-syncing the words to Buffalo Solider.

For me, even my love of hip hop worn thin. While it still had a nostalgic place in my heart, as it spread out from the Bronx it seemed to be whitewashed, typecast far from the original ethos. Yes, Grandmaster Melle Mel rapped conscious lyrics on The Message, but that was the exception to the rule. Now, seemed every rapper had a chip on their shoulder, something to criticise, a plastic attitude and some serious bling. It was either this, or sell yourself like a cheap tart; take MC Miker G & DJ Sven rapping over Madonna’s Holiday as red for why hip hop lost its way.

 A far cry from the untroubled origins of hip-hop, where the idea was to throw your cares away for the duration and party. A notion closer to the new impending wave of electronic music, fresh from the underground.

In any case, at 14 I’d moved to Marlborough, where breakdance seemingly hadn’t the same impact as it had on my Essex town. Prior to starting school there, my mother suggested my brother and I attend a concert on the common, as promoted on GWR Radio, surprisingly. It may’ve been a tactic to encourage us to blend into our new home. What actually happened freaked me out. If I considered I’d descended time, back to the seventies, before this day, I certainly did now. I believe the band playing to have been popular local rock band, Read’m and Weep.

Looking back now, they were excellent, but through my trendy suburban Essex eyes I was shocked at the sight of scruffy rock kids perched on car bonnets, uniformed in black, smoking, drinking from bottles before me. I felt like the character Sam Emerson, the younger brother in the movie The Lost Boys, when they go to the beach fair. If one of these “weirdos” glimmered fangs at me, I was legging it.

In fairness, being bored with the direction of hip-hop, and annoyed with commercial pop, I had a sweeping overview of rock, as soft metal took the charts by storm. And as I emersed fuller into the cultural differences of my environment. I began to find it was the only musical avenue worthy of attention, and had to backtrack my knowledge to the classics. But as I was taking in Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and The Doors, in order to make friends at school, they became accepting of a new wave of electronic music called “house,” as it was, it had a commercial side, but looming was the psychedelic underground roots, sub-labelled “acid house.” We kind of met in the middle.

I find it amusing child-friendly raves have become a popular attraction recently. Organisers such Raver Tots and Big Fish, Little Fish attained a gap in the market with new parents who thought the stork has ended their raving days.

Ingeniously they create a pay-rave/soft play centre crossover, largely based on the hardcore era of the mid-nineties, as that’s the generation with easily persuaded toddlers. Way to go to push your diehard habits onto your saucepan and lids, but indulge now, as it doesn’t last! If you asked my daughter ten years ago what her favourite music is, she’d reply “reggae,” an obvious spoon-fed response. Now she’s engulfed by current pop, and you have to let them find their own path, their own thing. Pushy parenting backfires.

But that’s not the reason it amuses me, neither is the fact since the dawn of rave participants never take themselves too seriously. Yes, it’s “cheesy” by their own definition. Yes, there’s a childlike euphoria involved with raving too. Sucking of lollies, cuddling complete strangers, and dancing like a lunatic to a breakbeat sample of the Sesame Street theme. But it’s a notion the flipside, the “indie” kids could never fathom, in all their depressing reality-driven gloom; rave was never to be taken too seriously. It was quintessentially an escapism.

No, the reason it amuses me is thus, at the time rave was not the place to take a toddler and few did, save for perhaps the travelling folk who, for them, the sites were their home. Rave was illegal, primarily, until big businesses saw the opportunity to make a fast buck. Rave was daring, criminal and that’s what, unashamedly, made it exciting. In fact, the spread of the trend grew from a scare story, a tabloid attempt to frighten parents into believing every teenager, including theirs, was off their rockers in a dangerous derelict warehouse somewhere around the London orbital. Truth is, my friends and I hadn’t a clue about it, until now.

In fact, in 1988, just before some doughnut invited a lucky journalist to an acid house party, the scene was tiny, a secret association only a select few Ibiza diehards knew about. The desire to recreate their hedonistic holiday in the Balearics in London gained little attention, until one day the newspapers splashed it across their front pages. Needless to say, it backfired, now every teenager in the country wanted in on the deal. Including me.

As ever, the Sun was the main culprit, Gary Bushell pasting a light-hearted angle, often satirical and tongue-in-cheek but definitely in favour of the exploding trend, in order to sell their “acid house t-shirt.” Soon as sales dropped, they turned nasty on the surge they had a hand in prompting. It’s almost as if they deliberately blossomed a teenage rebellious phenomenon in order to flip it over and create hysteria, to sell papers; who knew they could be so callous?!

But it was too late. D-Mob sounded it out; We Call It Acieeed. Prior tunes to hit the charts never wrote it directly on the wall. It was always just about “house” music, pumping up the volume, or jackin’ your body. One could differentiate, draw a definite line between run-of-the-mill “house,” hence being commercial, or the evil, drug suggested “acid house.” At least to our adolescent mind. Truth is, it was all the same.

Yet meanwhile we were still convinced electronic music was sold out to commercialisation, therefore we’d rewound back to the space rock of psychedelic sixties and seventies. Unlike my peers though, I retained small penchant for the original hip hop, and swept house with the same brush. It was short lived, but I liked house for all the silly samples of Bomb the Bass’ Beat Dis. It was as if electro had turned full circle, and divided from the cliche of fierce rap styled US hip hop, particularly now the west coast had as much clout as the east.

It’s also worth noting, although we took its source as American, British acts like Coldcut were now producing house. As the media hysteria became old news and mellowed, by 1990, the average joe blogs could be forgiven for assuming it had all been a flash in the pan. Little did even we know the trend was growing, and since graduating from pupil to student, felt we had moral responsibility to check it out for ourselves.

Perhaps not just our age, but also rural Wiltshire was hardly cutting edge when it came to trends. So, two years on and the words on our lips were “acid house,” despite the term had metamorphosed into “rave.”

With local Tory backhanding secret social clubs’ slaps on the back, our school opened its doors and poured children into the only supermarket in town, where the branch manager welcomed weekend staff, he could offer £2.20 an hour to. I succumbed for want of my own pocket money. Surprisingly, it was there where my adventure into rave begun.

Yet it was there, working my Saturday job, allowing us the newfound financial freedom to maturely decide where best to invest our earning, which happened to be getting wasted. A friend, a year or so senior, dropped the killer bombshell, to which I hide my excitement and pretended to know all about. “You going to the acid house party tonight, up the common?” he inquired.

Well, my feet didn’t touch the floor before arriving at the opposite side of the warehouse below the store, where my buddy priced up tins of soup. Shocking to think barcodes were still some way off, and one would have to be like Clint Eastwood with a pricing gun. But nevertheless, he stopped as I told him the news, and his face lit up with excitement, and a slight evil grin.

1991 beckons next week, as I relive my rave honeymoon, be there!


Trending….

Hoping for a Summer of Local Music Festivals

Presented a punter-based cautionary piece on the hopeful move forward for live music this year, and how chancy it all is at this stage. If the playground remains uneven, I never intended the article to be pessimistic, though it may’ve been perceived that way. I just advised applying caution may be necessary prior to a compulsory detonation of over-excitement.

The other side of the coin of this vicious circle is that, without ticket sales there will be no show. While many organisers have cancelled their regular events, some keep their fingers and toes crossed, others are trying to work through it, and are dowsing a silver lining to this cloud with a summer of festivals planned.

Let’s hope and pray it pays off. Festival websites report that it is, and tickets are selling fast, which agreed, could be a sales pitch. So, you’re left to risk the call, and snap up tickets, especially for the most popular ones. I have faith most festivals will refund you if it either goes Pete Tong, or Pete Tong is booked to DJ, or else ask to retain your ticket for another year, because they organise festivals, and festivals are all about openness and sharing. Booking agents on the other hand, might be another story.

Personally, I’ve done gone got the festival t-shirt many moons ago, and the jester’s hat too, come to think about it; I can bide my time from power-napping in a spinning canvas pyramid, paying over the odds for a baggie of basil, and sliding headlong into a ditch of piss. For many though, particularly younger generations, festivals are essential, and vital, for their wonderful feeling of togetherness. For the music industry it’s crucial to maintain this notion; ignore my aged rant, there is no ditch of piss, not really, not in this clean-cut era!

Let’s run through the locally based choicest ones, which sound too good to miss… but remember to check the individual planned conditions of entry, some will ask you to provide evidence of licensed vaccination or negative PCR test within the previous 48 hour period.

June


11th – 13th: Kite Festival

Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire

Born from a Kickstarter campaign in January 2020, but cancelled for the obvious reasons, it’s this festival’s maiden voyage this year. KITE aims to combine incredible music and breakthrough ideas in a unique programme of live performances and interactive discussions. “We wanted to bring together contemporary and legendary performers, thinkers, writers and public figures from the world of music, politics, business, technology and the arts and give you the opportunity to engage with the people who are influencing the way we live.”

Cultural icon Grace Jones, multi-Grammy-Award winning jazz singer Gregory Porter and gospel legend Mavis Staples were set to lead the music programme for the original date last year, we wait in anticipation to hear the line-up now, as Kite announce they’re working on their 2021 programme. Sign up for their newsletter for updates.


18th-20th: Bigfoot Festival

Ragely Hall, Warwickshire

Another first outing cancelled last year sees its debut this June. Just the map is enticing enough, with a boating lake and woodland and all that stuff. Local breweries and bands, who share the stages with a great line up, including Primal Scream, Fat White Family, Hot Chip Megamix, Maribou State (DJ) Baxter Dury and Dinosaur Pile-Up. There’s also an intersting wellbeing programme with hip hop yoga, boxercise, Let’s Talk About Sex Meditation & Mindfulness, and biscuits & burpees; I’ll just have the biscuits, thank you! Find Bigfoot here.


July


2nd – 4th: Minety Music Festival

Hornbury Hill, Malmesbury

Fourth outing for this popular do. A community non-profit triple day extravaganza, run entirely by volunteers which raised funds for the Wiltshire Air Ambulance, and local schools and charities last year. Guaranteed excellent music, a great, wide range of food and a well-stocked house Bar, Gin & Prosecco Bar and Cocktail Tiki Bar! There will also be a range of FREE activities in the Kidzone, including rock climbing wall, rock climbing digi-wall, an inflatable slide and assault course, bouncy castles, circus skills workshops and kids craft workshops, plus many more activities.

Line-up includes, Dr & The Medics, Space, Jesus Jones, Dreadzone, Crikey Minogue & Six Packs, a Ministry of Samba workshop, and a great local roster of Devizine favourites The Tribe, Talk In Code, The Dirty Smooth, A’La-Ska, Navajo Dogs, Sloe Train and Plucking Different. This is going to be a brilliant one, make sure there’s room in your backpack to sneak me in! Info Here.

Should get you in the mood…..

8th-10th: 2000trees Festival

Withington, Cheltenham

A largely rock and indie festival, 2000trees has a good reputation and won awards. This year sees Jimmy Eat World headline, with Thrice, Creeper, The Amazons, Dinosaur Pile-Up, The Menzingers, The Get Up Kids and many more to make me feel old!  Tickets & info Here.

9th-11th: – Cornbury Festival

Great Tew, Oxfordshire

Still in the planning stages, this ever-growing festival in the most beautiful Oxfordshire Cotswold location think it’s enough just to announce on headline act, yeah, but it is Bryan Adams; show offs! Should be good though. Info here.


22nd-25th Womad (?)

Charlton Park, Malmesbury

Still hopeful, Womad are holding off announcing acts, but you know, I know, we all know it’ll be the crème de la crème of world music on our doorstep, if all goes well, they’ve secured the date and tickets are here.


31st Mfor 2021

Lydiard Park, Swindon

A family orientated, affordable, one day pop-tastic festival I’ve only heard good things about, could be just the thing to introduce kids to festivals. And with Craig David, Rudimental, Ella Henderson, Phats & Small, Mark Hill (Original Artful Dodger), Lindy Layton on the line-up, it’s easy to see how this party is going to go down. I believe local acts will also be on agenda, certain our friends Talk in Code feature. There’s even an over 18 Friday night special additional event, with Five, S Club, Liberty X, Baby and Rozalla; everybody is freeeee, to feeeel gooood, apparently. Info & Tickets.


August


5th-8th: Wickham Festival

Fareham, Hampshire

New one on me this, but The Wickham Festival is an annual four-dayer of music and arts. Boasting three stages, and rated as one of the safest, most relaxed and family-friendly festivals in the UK, Wickham was voted ‘Best UK Festival, cap. under 15000’ at the Live UK Music Business Awards in October 2015; so, they know their stuff; I mean, they’ve got Van the man, and The Waterboys. Note also, Devizine favs, Beans on Toast, Gaz Brookfield, Tankus the Henge along with Nick Parker on the agenda; sweet! Tickets & Info Here.


6th: Love Summer Festival Devon: SOLD OUT.


7th- 8th: The Bath Festival Finale Weekend

And what a finale it is, Saturday; McFly, Scouting For Girls, Orla Gartland, Lauren Hibberd, George Pelham, Josh Gray, Novacub, Dessie Magee and Luna Lake. Sunday; UB40 featuring Ali Campbell & Astro, Billy Ocean, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Seth Lakeman, Bloco B, Hannah Grace, Casey Lowry, Port Erin Life, and Life In Mono, with more to be announced… Tickets HERE.


21st: Mantonfest

Manton, Marlborough

Any closer than this and it’ll be in your back garden! But that’s not the sole reason to grab a ticket for MantonFest! Just thirty notes for adults, a tenner for teenagers, and a fiver for kids, but that’s not the only other reason. Reports on this family, broad ranging charity fundraising annual do has never been negative, and we’re glad to hear it’s back for 2021. Number one Blondie tribute Dirty Harry headline, along with Dr. Feelgood, Ex-Men (five members of original 60’s bands), Barrelhouse, Jo Martin with his band, Devizine favs Richard Davies and The Dissidents, Josie and the Outlaw and homegrown Skeddadle. We previewed it last year before shit hit the fan; tickets bought in 2020 are valid for 2021. Mantonfest say, “we may have to introduce some anti-covid restrictions. These will be announced nearer the time and will be in line with the latest developments and best practice;” let’s hope this goes off this time. Tickets & Info here.


21st: Live at Lydiard

Lydiard Park, Swindon

Anne‐Marie, Sean Kingston, Roman Kemp [DJ set] Artful Dodger, Chaney, Fabian Darcy on the line-up over four stages for this day festival at Lydiard, with a dance tent, boutique cocktail bar and food court. Info & Tickets here.


21st: Bath Reggae Festival

Now pushed back to August bank holiday, this is the maiden voyage for the Bath Reggae Festival, and we bless them with the best of luck. With a line-up this supreme though, I’d imagine it’ll sell itself. Legends Maxi Priest, Aswad, Big Mountain, Dawn Penn, and The Slits solo extraordinaire Hollie Cook, Laid Back and lovers rocker Wayne Wonder, this is a must for reggae fans. Tickets & info here.


September


4th-5th: Concert at the Kings

All Cannings, Devizes

For locals little more can be said about how awesome this ground-breaking festival raising staggering funds for cancer research is. Since 2012 it has bought international headline acts to the sleepy village outside Devizes; legendary fables and the fondest memories have been had there. No difference this time around, save for some social distancing. Billy Ocean, 10CC, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Sweet, Strawbs, Lindisfarne and Devizine favs Talk in Code, with more to be announced; twist your arm anymore, sir? No; no need to! Tickets & Info here.


9th-12th: Swindon Shuffle

Venues across Swindon

A later date for this annual extravaganza of local live music, spread across Swindon’s premiere venues and hugely supportive of original homegrown talent, this is weekend to head for the railway town. Since 2007 the Shuffle raises funds for MIND, and is largely free to attend. Ah, there’s plenty time to arrange a line-up, which is underway, but you can guarantee a truckload of our local favourites will be there, somewhere! Info.


10th-12th: Vintage Nostalgia Festival

Stockton Park, Near Warminster

The mature place to glamp this summer if you want to get retro; classic cars is the concentrate, but there’s no shortage of great bands from rockabilly, doo-wop, blues to mod skiffle, boogie woogie jazz and beyond. Sarah Mai Rhythm & Blues Band, “Great Scott,” Shana Mai and the Mayhems, The Bandits, Junco Shakers,The Flaming Feathers, The Harlem Rhythm Cats, Little Dave & The Sunshine Sessions, The Rough Cut Rebels, Riley K, The Ukey D’ukes and loads more. Info & Tickets Here.


You know, this one could be for me, rather than trying to look youthful clutching onto a marquee pole for dear life while a hoard of sugared-up teeny-boppers check Instagram amidst a soundtrack of dubstep! But look, I reckon there’s something for everyone here, but if I did miss yours, let me know, for a squashy cup of cider at the festie bar, I must just add your do here too!


Trending….

Song of the Day 19: Macka B

Topical, in view of Mark Little of Bristol Rovers’ social media attack, here’s a year-old message which, idealistically shouldn’t need repeating, but, unfortunately, seems it does.

And who better to deliver it than Wolverhampton’s Christopher MacFarlane, better known to the world as Macka B?

His righteous, yet witty DJ toasting style is often mimicked but never bettered. Since his early days on the Exodus sound system, through the eighties fast-style origination of Fashion Records, of which the late great Smiley Culture bought to mainstream charts, to today’s international recognition, award-winning Macka B never fails to breathe charisma and charm to a subject with intelligent and amusing verse.

The premise of his song is simple, the message is resounding.

And that’s my song for the day. Very good. Carry on….


Opinion: The End and Reawakening of Rave

Intoxication levelling nicely, some friends and I trekked up the hillside and looked down at the sight below. Well aware it had become fairly large, as was the illegal rave scene in the summer of 1992, we hadn’t fathomed just how large. Overwhelmed by the unexpected magnitude, I sighed, doubting this would ever be allowed again. Still, we had no idea then, we were part of an historic moment; didn’t really care or wish to be.

Ravers were apolitical, we only wanted to celebrate life, dance harder than any generation prior, and masticate lots on chewing gum. Yeah, it was anarchy, but it was a passive anarchy, there was order and morals amidst the chaos. It was more movement than youth culture, as we only did what ancients have always done, but embracing technology to do it, and while previous youth cultures had a set uniform and rules, rave was a melting pot of expression which anyone and everyone would succumb to, regardless of their previous cultures, age, gender, race or religion. It was, basically, too radical for the conventional government.

When I eventually made it home after the festival of Castlemorton Common in the Malvern Hills, the first thing I did was check my parent’s newspaper, and smiled to myself at a job well done; then I slept for three days. Lechlade on the Beltane weekend may have made the front page of the broadsheets, now this had similar clout with the tabloids; still didn’t fear it would be the final nail in the coffin. An estimated forty-thousand revellers flocked here; government were eager to act. A change in the law was conceived the following week, and would take a couple of short years to implement; a final stand from a crumbling, desperate Conservative substitute of Thatcherism. Many of the sound systems jumped ship and took off to Europe, and although this spread the culture worldwide, those left in Blighty were forced into smaller, localised events, large scale paid raves and the clubs.

Nowadays I sigh, all I have is diminishing memories and fantastical fables like a quibbling old wino. Unbelievable to youth today, we took no photographs at the time; to bring out a camera at an illegal rave in the early nineties would’ve been frowned upon. But, I’m okay with that, never the diehard, content that it is now just a treasured part of my youth. As with every trend, they usually return, two decades normally, when the influence of parent’s stories inspires their youth. When 2010 hit, then, I was prepared to venture to the loft in search of my white gloves and whistle, just, you know, for nostalgic reasons and to hark to youngers about how we used to do it, Uncle Albert style. I don’t think I could stomach a full-on sess, the convoys, dancing all night to banging techno, probably just give me a banging headache.

The thing is, I doubt the rave scene ever completely ended, that intransigents still party and press rarely jump on it. I attended one over a decade ago in Savernake Forest, but it didn’t have the same vibe. Pushed further underground, the gabba-techno, the attitude of ravers reflected a much harsher vibe, of punk, of pure anarchy. Regrettably, the happy vibe which once reigned had passed, due to the outlawing of the culture and the spread of harder drugs. I winced at a report in the Independent which spoke of “a rave just like the old days,” when it continued to suggest ravers heard of the event via Twitter.

It was always just tremoring in the mountain. For rave is akin to the monkey-god, Sun Wukong, trapped under the mountain, awaiting release. How do I feel about three thousand youths gathering at a disused RAF airfield on Charmy Down near Bath? I feel the nature of Monkey is irrepressible! It is inevitable, if, for whatever reasons, even a worldwide pandemic, if you curb freedom you will get a backlash. Yes, it’s horribly ignoring social distancing, but so are the idiots fighting outside every Spoons in the country, and even if I’ve not attended for the longest, even if the original ethos is waning, I believe the media desire to exemplify an illegal rave without revenue for big business, negatively. I’m firmly convinced, from experience, that in the eye of the storm, any modern equivalent of what we once did would never be as vehement or disparaging as a brawl in a Wetherspoons.

So are the shoppers, the traditionalists protesting against the wearing of masks, so are the pensioners in care homes, the children in the parks, so is everyone heading for the beach every weekend. Let’s not fool ourselves, millions of us are now ignoring, rebelling from the lockdown restrictions, we only need to stop to contemplate it all, and give self-policing on social media a break. Our once happy lockdown bought about peace and tranquillity, now is causing frustration and a rebellious nature, a bit like the downfall of raves. What then, could be more apt? Instead of scorning at them, attempting to stop them, perhaps the government and police forces should suck it up, accept its inevitably and work on methods to stage relative social distancing measures for them.

What do I think of the media exposing the return of rave? You know, when the Ibiza die-hards recreated acid house in UK cities I was just a delinquent, with an appetite for exploration and in need of escapism. We were looking for something, we didn’t know what. The original acid house crew was little over a thousand, recruitment was by introduction, and some doughnut invited a tabloid journalist. “Look at what your teenagers are doing!” it over-exaggerated. If it wasn’t for the media hype we’d have never known. So, you go on, reporters, and what you think is a scare story will backfire into intrigue before your very Facebook site, and youth will look to attending, and the scene will flourish again like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Then, as a mass, they will look rewards, to how it once was, and how as a group consciousness and rising movement, it had morals and it had principles. We cleared up after ourselves, you may be surprised to note, we looked after each other. You will free a new love generation, and in an era such as this, god knows we need it.

Watch violent crime diminish, watch teenage depression wane, watch a generation free from the restraints of its former oppression, as it once did. See a rising generation thinking for itself, throwing away this baby-boomer selfishness and regain a likeminded consciousness. Wrigleys will be back in business too!


Adverts & Stuff!

Minions, and Mr Tea’s Mutiny

Put the kettle on; Balkan gypsy ska here in Bristol, Mutiny, the new album from Mr Tea & The Minions is a favourite for my best album of the year, with a top hat on.

Impressionable, I creaked the door on a near-expired student party, where a cocktail of Cinzano and shrooms polished off the amateur bassist, and he hung unconscious half off the edge of a sofa in his own puke. I witnessed scholar deprivation; comatose youth, crusty dreadlocks matted into a teetering Christmas tree, and a random arm draped over a guitar amp, howling feedback. I gulped, no partygoer standing, but an erratic noise of a “Red Roses For Me” cassette whirling. Sounds blessing such a character-building eye-opener makes you reconsider your loathing for a particular genre of music.

mr tea2

Until then, my presumption of folk music was pruned from an overwhelming desire to hold primary school sweetheart, Trudi’s hand, and the only foreseeable method to achieve it; to opt for country dancing. Ever frustrated to find myself partnered with dowdy Emma instead, I guess it rubbed a revulsion for frumpy folk music, with its delicate romances of falling autumn leaves and daisies dancing in a spring zephyr. It can be nauseating, symbolic of my failure to caress Trudi’s nail-bitten digits.

The epiphany dusted, I bought the Pouges long-player, shaking my preconception solo until crusties like The Levellers came onto the scene, boiling the realisation folk doesn’t have to be frumpy, in fact, it’s an epoch, a people’s music, and the roots of all that followed owe it. But if that era of recklessly launching yourself around, knocking down parent’s ornaments and calling it dancing has come of age, and if the Pouges are now acceptable, seasonally, (they stole the best Christmas song slot from a band in tartan trozzers and platform shoes after all,) I say unto thee, Mr Tea & the Minions; it’s my new favourite thing.

mr tea5

It’s not an awkward mesh of Despicable Me and the A-Team, rather a contemporary Bristol based, female-fronted six-piece ska-post-punk-folk Balkan-inspired riot, and their new album, Mutiny is beyond blooming gorgeous. Constructed out of lead vocalist and controller of “shaky things,” Elle Ashwell, drummer Fabian Huss, guitarists James Pemberton, James Tomlinson and James (Fold) Talbot on bass, with manager Lucy Razz on violin, they formed six years ago through James’ love of Balkan music. With the edges polished by collaborating with DJ Howla, and James’ professed love of tea, Mr Tea & The Minions was born, a name which they say was “a joke that was never meant to go so far.”

As Balkan, it’s fresh, electrifying and wonderfully danceable. Elle’s gritty shrill is apt and uplifting, the theme is often invitingly saucy, awakeningly tangible, sometimes metaphorically current affairs, but it hardly wanes in energy, and if it does you know it’s building to something. Mutiny is ten songs of splendour, drizzly evening enriching with a gypsy spin. It’s a warm musky pub of yore, where a furtive crusty band jams and you spill your cider on a scraggy dog. It also riffs like ska, boils like The Levellers and rinses fresher than Shane MacGowan on his best hair day.

mrtea3

The Eye of the Storm, like the title track, and Pandemonium are the Fruit Pastels, breezier tempo tunes like the beautifully crafted The Spider and The Fly stun you in anticipation of the melody, but no single tune stands alone, there’s a flow of prog-rock, and if it starts and ends with a little “meow,” it’s never completely nonsensical. Lyrics are sublimely executed, mostly evocative, but dashed with fun. There’s really nought bad I could say about this unique album, I’ll be dancing to it for the foreseeable future, maybe even look up Trudi on Facebook, she can’t still bite her nails.

Somebody local book these, pl-weaseeee; the Southgate or Barge would suit to a, pardon the pun, tea. Yet times are looking good for this madcap band, on the verge of another spectacular festival season and numerous gigs on tour, our closest to date is the Prince Albert Stroud Nov 22nd, Bocabar in Glastonbury on the 9th, or recommended homecoming at the Old Market Assembly, Bristol on 30th Nov. Failing this, try the Mutiny for size.

mrtea4


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