“SOMETHING Else in the Dean was something properly special for the Forest in which I dwell. Many of us in these here woods had longed for the glory days of the Forest Fayres and Severn Revels of the 1990s, kyboshed generally by the neighbouring rat-race escapees, rich incomers from the stockbroker belt who’d bought acres for their own peace and quiet, while we in our more humble abodes yearned for some revelry in our backyard.
Having been on the organising end of one of the later festivals, I always wondered whether anyone would be able to circumnavigate
the powerful and vociferous nimby minority, and their retinue of lawyers, council inspectors and police. So it’s incredible that this all went without a hitch, from getting the licence to having a party – and it’s already in the diary for next year.
The aspects that p*ssed off the toffs back in the day – convoys of travellers, all-night gabba and jungle, f@ck-off soundsystems, filth and nakedness – were avoided. Rather it was sound off at midnight, and a rave-free zone. Instead of the fest catering for thousands, it was a couple of hundred. It also helped that the site wasn’t in the middle of a Tory scumbag’s estate but on the edge of the village of Littledean.
The very same village once used to be the Forest’s centre of bluegrass-psychobilly back in the 1980s. From the perspective of a tanked-up underage drinker, those Littledean nights with Thee Blue Chickens were sure wild! Now it’s one man and his backing tape playing The Final Countdown in the remaining pub.
Despite spending my formative years in this neck of the woods, I’d never ventured to the festival site –like a secret garden and amphitheatre in one. All the sights and sounds of the fest were contained within the former tennis court, speckled with white fairy lights, leading to a field for campers and swiftly filled Portaloos.
We arrived on Friday just in time to catch GHOST OF A DOG, whom I am well acquainted with as part of the Forest/Wye Valley music scene. Tonight, they were on fire. Their own brand of Americana sounded crunchier, harder-edged and sharper than I’d heard previously. Singer Tamzin’s full-throated expansive-lunged holler is somewhat comparable with Janis Joplin, and also Maggie Bell, Rosetta Tharpe and Robert Plant if he was a girl. Musically, for me, they faintly echo The Pretenders and Tom Petty, solid rocking with a country twang. GOAD have just landed a fairly substantial record deal, so their next gigs will be in-store promos across the country.
QUERCUS BURLESQUE, next on, were everything GOAD weren’t. They were brilliantly ramshackle, with the weirdest percussion I’ve yet seen, and also the maddest attired. Imagine The Archers set in the alternative communities of West Wales instead of redneck farming country, with run-ins with the old bill and chaotic parties being the everyday tales. QB’s songs were mini-plays, vignettes, often with a three-chord garage-thrash background, except played on acoustic guitar. A big hand is due at this point for the soundman Ollie, who coped admirably with every unpredictable bag of tricks.
It seemed many at the fest had come to see CAKEHOLE PRESLEY. “Welsh legends,” I was told. We were back in Americana territory, many accents on melancholia with the occasional fiery streak of psychedelia warp-out, a singer with an admirable command of the stage and the crowd and a brilliantly honed band.
Friday’s festivities were closed by COSMO. Again, an artist I’d heard much of but not seen live in a proper ‘gig’. Actually he almost took me back to 1906, the height of the music hall era, and his between-songs repartee would be at home in any Empire Ballroom or jollified pier, just replace the old Johanna with a fascist-killing guitar and you’re there, almost. “Strike! Occupy! Resist!” he urged us all. How could we resist that?
I missed COSMO 4 KIDS (but a friend told me it was great) and the earlier sets from Ukulele Dave, James ‘Bar’ Bowen and Chris Lee, until the mid-afternoon arrival of CHEAP SKIRT & SOAP BOX (billed as TONY HOPKINS & FRIENDS), reduced from a trio to a duo – the bassist arrived 30 minutes after the gig! A tonic for any sore head, even if an unpredicted key-change to Leon Rosselson’s The World Turned Upside Down flummoxed Jim on mandolin. Some delightful Irish tunes and a few originals later, the festival was buzzing.
CHARLIE BATEMAN, singer of the band Thinker, strapped on his acoustic guitar and sang some pleasingly melodic and lyrically direct songs, followed by PETE LEATHERAT, who was something else. Playing what I’m informed is a mandola (a giant mandolin), his rasp reminded me a bit of Captain Beefheart and Blind Lemon Jefferson, but in a different cultural place.
GAZ BROOKFIELD’s mastery of the guitar as a percussive weapon as well as a tune-plucking one was most engaging. Then it was SKEWHIFF, like nothing that had gone before or since. It was sort of Pixies and British indie-pop with a dash of festy-space-rock spice.
SHOOTIN’ THE CROW took us back into country territory, with Kentucky born-and-raised Jane Pearl’s evocative bluegrass roots coming out when she got to sing solo. BEMIS followed with a set to chill us out.
The night was then given over to the festy organiser, MUDDY SUMMERS & HER DFWs (which I believe stands for Dirty Field Whores). MS must surely be the Sade or Billie Holiday of anarcho-folk, as she’s more soulful and bluesy than I’d yet realised. I’d heard her before on YouTube and in a drunken haze in Weston-Super-Mare but tonight it was early daze on the local real ale (delicious and full-bodied) so I could now contemplate the group with near clarity. Her top hit song Cameron I Would Call You A C*nt is supreme sugary aural sustenance.
ONE EYED GOD fired up the Something Else massive – many of them by now covered in face-paint. Being a bit of a sucker for Can, Faust, Ozric Tentacles, Hawkwind, Gong, The Orb, dub and ska, their noisy, skanky, rocket-fuelled space-rocking melee were my personal festival fave.
DEFERRED SUCESS, I’m led to understand, is a few skiffle-loving folk from Essex who augment their band with diverse people wherever they play. And so Cosmo and Gail (aka Muddy) joined them for a tune-heavy yet raucous party finale, with certainly the best version of Carter USM’s Sheriff Fatman I’ve yet heard.
On Sunday there was an unmissable open-mic mass jam on the stage. But it being the Lord’s day of rest I refrained from such profanities as dancing and merry-making on the Sabbath…
Ok, I was beset with a deluge of arsepi*s and a head like a pumpkin so stayed indoors.
Too much information. All you need to know is that Something Else In The Dean was almost miraculous, and I am very glad to see it is happening in 2013. The few other locals who made it down there have expressed their gladness similarly. As one Forest festival veteran said to me: “It’s so nice that this is going on again.” “
– by Owen Adams.
Photos courtesy of Helen Sandford, Nathan Cubitt & Bob Shaw.