A New Day Festival - Day 3

Sunday 21st August 2022

Mt Ephraim Gardens, Faversham, Kent

While the day before had focused on Prog Rock almost exclusively, Sunday’s line up was a more eclectic mix of styles, ranging from Progressive Folk, New Wave, Blues, African, sixties Rock, Southern Rock and, most gloriously, 70s Pop Rock.

As I followed the path from the car parking field, chatting to a festival helper who’d travelled down from Wales, walking through the peaceful surrounding orchards, the gentle sounds of a very English band started to rise up towards us. Gryphon are described as a renaissance Folk Rock band. Formed in 1972 they play the sort of whimsical and very traditional sounding melodies that you might expect. I remember them being popular with people at school that bridged the Prog and Folk Rock spectrum; having listened to them a bit in advance I wasn’t expecting to be exactly blown away. However, on a gorgeous sunny day in the Kent countryside their music was totally delightful and suited the occasion perfectly, just right for a recovering Day 3 set of festival goers who might have overdone it the night before. With three of the original line up leading the group, Graeme Taylor on guitar (whose classic 70s long hair must have been the envy of many of the audience as they reflected on their own faded glory in that department), Dave Oberle on percussion and Brian Gulland (very much rocking a Gandalf look and similarly hirsute) on various wind instruments, primarily the bassoon and its sort of medieval predecessor, the crumhorn, the band had a strong sense of connection to its own past. Their accompanying musicians all have credits as long as your arm (if you’ve got long arms), especially the thankfully bald-headed Andy Findhorn on reeds (there’s only so much hair envy an ageing audience can deal with) and their combined efforts seemed effortlessly joyous.

In complete contrast they were followed over on the Sabine Jerram stage by, I suppose it’s fair to say, one of the many New Wave bands that didn’t have a long initial recording career, Department S. They were right up my street and of course were responsible for one of the absolute classics of the era, the wonderful ‘Is Vic There?’, which I bought at the time (and of course still have in one of those square shaped boxes designed to carry your 45s around in). This is a classic case of a band that has been resurrected with original members passing the live baton onto other capable musicians in order to keep the name alive. Original singer, the punningly named Vaughn Toulouse (the penny for which only dropped for me when I started thinking about the band while writing this; better late than never!) died a long time ago and the band is fronted these days by Phil Thompson who did a great job and, God bless him, provided many a photographic moment with feet tucked up jumps through the air and general on stage liveliness. Playing as a three piece with Simon Bowley, a powerhouse on the drums, and stand in bassist Mic Stoner (on loan from Eddie & The Hot Rods) they crashed through their set with ‘Going Left Right’ and ‘Vic’ (with a suitably teasing extended intro) standing out as highlights. Brilliant stuff.

Back on the main stage Deborah Bonham and her excellent band strutted their stuff. As the only real Blues act performing over the weekend I was getting quite excited, home turf material for a change. I don’t know what it was but I just wasn’t feeling it. You could see why the band were chosen to back Paul Rodgers; they locked into that slow burning Blues groove, tight as the proverbial, with guitarist Peter Bullick reflecting the influence of Paul Kossoff, making each note count and soloing with a lovely fat tone. Deborah sang with passion, but apart from a Free cover later in the set there was nothing that really stood out for me.

Blackbeard’s Tea Party were another contrast in styles: the young York based Folk Rock outfit played with a great sense of fun and in Stuart Giddens have a front man who commanded attention and was adept at getting the crowd to join in. Laura (not many surnames on their website) on violin must have had the coolest, calmest gaze of anyone I’ve seen on stage. She seemed to take in the audience and the onstage shenanigans with a serene stillness and an amused look. The rest of the band camped it up and did a few daft moves as they played their sort of rocking shanties. Good fun.

The good time festival vibe continued on the main stage with N’Famady Kouyate from Guinea (now living in Wales – a definition of culture shock?) performing dance friendly West African Mandique songs. This young musician is a virtuoso on the Balafon, which is a wooden xylophone. He played this at lightning speed to create lively clusters of notes that were taken up by a large band consisting of drums and bass, a two-man horn section, guitar player and keys, who collectively created music that was uplifting and got some of the crowd throwing some cautious shapes. This was the only act that brought a smile to the face of a young stage side security guard who up till then had looked like he’d been doing community service.

On the smaller stage Ken Pustelnik’s Groundhogs were next on. This might be a bit harsh but the best part of their set was when the slightly sinister looking guitarist bashed out a short burst of a SRV song as part of a quick soundcheck. The veteran drummer looked a little like he was haunting the stage rather than performing but managed to create a big sound on the skins without any trouble. The original Groundhogs had some good songs, featuring the distinctive vocals of founder Tony McPhee (not present), many of which were played here, such as ‘Garden’, ‘Cherry Red’ and ‘Eccentric Man’. Maybe it was the sound engineering (which had been excellent up till then; in fact the sound quality on both stages was superb) but it all sounded like a bit of thrash. I took some pictures, went off to get some food and drink, ate while listening, drifted into a reverie and it seemed to go on …and on.

Any sour taste in the mouth was washed away by a quite brilliant set on the main stage by The Sweet. They had been due to go on last, which would have been a superb finale, but due to circumstances they did a switch with Atomic Rooster (who to be honest were a poor substitute for that spot). It’s a seemingly simple thing but it seems to elude a lot of musicians, i.e. you have to have good songs. The Sweet benefited from the pop songwriting talents of Chinn and Chapman back in the seventies, to which they added their own songs like ‘Fox On The Run’ and ‘Love is Like Oxygen’, which has left them with a catalogue of songs with killer hooks that are instantly recognisable to folk of a certain age. Andy Scott on lead guitar is the only surviving member of the band and his powerful playing drives the songs. They were great, starting without a sound check due to travel problems they blasted their way through a greatest hits set, ‘The Six Teens’, ‘Ballroom Blitz’, ‘Blockbuster’ (saved for last of course) and on and on. Each song delivering a short adrenalin rush of power chords and high-pitched vocal harmonies. Lead singer Paul Manzi had all the vocal power required, not to mention all the stage craft.

Skinny Molly closed proceeding on the smaller stage with their brand of Southern Rock. The sound was definitely off for this performance with cowboy hatted Luke Bradshaw’s bass up way too high and Jay Johnson’s guitar way too low. Despite this they delivered a typically rocking performance with numbers like ‘Snakebit’, a version of Steve Earle’s ‘Copperhead Road’, ‘I Don’t Give A Damn If You Don’t Care’, ‘Better Than I Should’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. Almost inevitably they ended with an elongated version of ‘Freebird’, dedicated to the lady whom the stage was named after, the deceased wife of the festival’s lighting director.

Atomic Rooster’s performance to close the festival felt anti-climactic. Personally, I couldn’t connect to them at all. There are no original members in the band, but I’m not sure if this mattered given the limited quality of their material. Veteran singer Pete French on lead vocals looked the part and had some moves with the mic stand but not a particularly strong voice. It doesn’t help that the band’s best material isn’t that memorable. Steve Bolton on guitar provided some physical energy to proceedings (and the award for most distinctive hair style) but, to be brutally honest, I can’t recall one moment that stood out.
Maybe it was that end of a long weekend feeling but I took the opportunity to slip away into the night before the end of their set, reflecting that this festival offers a uniquely relaxed experience as well as the opportunity to hear some really good music. The line-up can’t hit the sweet spot every time but there’s enough variety and excellent musicianship to keep most people more than happy. Well done to promoter Dave Rees for organising such an excellent event in these troubled times. Long may it continue.

Simon Green