Housed in a barn on the Muncaster Castle estate, it felt like a legal rave and while there was only one stage, four catering vans (one of which, Earthworm Kitchen, served a blissful vegan nut burger) and an old silo serving as the chill-out zone, every act was perfectly chosen so there was no need for multiple choice scheduling. Where else would you get hear every kind of music, alongside a reading from the poet laureate, late night DJ-ing from a snooker legend, and musically enhanced bingo from Japanese punk band?
The stage itself didn’t crank up until late afternoon, but before that we had organised nature enjoyment (this is a band who sell ‘Heron Addict’ t-shirts and sing about collapsing ice-bergs), including a bird-watching walk led by an RSPB guide alongside BSP guitarist, Noble, which included sighting a peregrine falcon striking out across the moorland. Markontour also learned that the wheatear gets its name from its white backside, rather than a penchant for eating cereal crops. Sunday’s hangover was neutralised by a ramble up and down Muncaster Fell, led from the rear and with a casual approach to map reading by semi-official Sea Power archivist, Roy Wilkinson. The falconry display at the castle was almost as exhilarating as the Sea Power mosh, particularly the Saker falcon which swooped so low in pursuit of its meal that we felt its wings brush our heads.
On stage, Squid, a band promoting the current trend of drummers who sing lead vocal, impressed with a muscular display that fully justified their tremendous live reputation. This Pictish Trail, the biggest band on the Isle of Eig, were similarly hard to pin down, powered by their frontman’s powerful voice, buzzing energy and audience engagement (there was a lovely riff on Michael Gove), alongside a lot of electronic knob twisting. Rozi Plain’s beguiling folk would have kept me captivated all day. Joy Division / New Order drummer, Stephen Morris, revealed his comic timing in a fun interview about the cracking first instalment of his auto-biography, and Simon Armitage followed with a similarly deadpan delivery and almost as many jokes. His wonderful poetry often seems to start from the noteworthy detail in everyday situations, before veering into surrealism (I loved the one about the shoplifting academics, which Armitage assured us contains the best line he has every written), a trait also evident in the songs of Mr Ben and the Bens, one of which concerned a Sheffield woman who gets abducted by aliens and becomes the best disco dancer in town.
British Sea Power themselves treated us to a rarities set on Friday night, followed by a stormer of a greatest hits on Saturday. Such was the energy expended by an ecstatic audience, Snapped Ankles did well to keep people moving thereafter, although it is hard to say “no” to a man dressed as a tree and urging you to barn dance. Markontour’s Saturday night ended with Steve Davis and Kavus Torbai playing an eclectic mix of tunes that finished beautifully with Beck’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But My Own’, after which I walked home by the light of the milky way and encountered a hedgehog.
I was gutted to miss not only the hosts’ third set, but also Hannah Peel and Will Burns, in order to get back to London on Sunday, but glad I caught Carlisle band, Mylittlebrother’s catchy tunes before I exited.
This was a small festival by any standards, but much the better for it with a tremendous atmosphere of togetherness generated by the shared love of British Sea Power and friends, a camaraderie that was further enhanced by the realisation that members of the band were also taking responsibility for rigging up the stage, and seeing members of the Pennington family who own Muncaster Castle litter picking at 2am.
Art doesn’t get any better than this. Please BSP let’s do this again next year.