I had got myself organised very late on for the Summer’s End Progressive Rock Festival, and now it was the Friday morning and I had to get going. Unfortunately, I had missed Summer’s End last year, but there was no way I was going to miss it this year, not least because Bad Elephant Music had three acts on the bill (Simon Godfrey opening the Friday evening; The Fierce And The Dead opening the Saturday morning; and The Gift opening the Sunday morning) and I would be needed to help out selling copious amounts of merch. In fact, my record label duties began before I even got to the festival because I had volunteered to transport some of the talent down to Chepstow, which is why I found myself heading southbound round the M25 to get to Chessington so that I could collect the Godfreys, Simon and Stacy. There is more to Chessington than just the zoo, by the way. The northbound lanes looked horribly congested for some distance before I reached my own southbound exit, so I decided we would be far better off continuing our journey through Kingston to the M3 and connecting back to the M25 that way. As I parked up I suddenly had an awful thought – I was going to be camping over the weekend (which is not the awful thought) and was also planning to do some running and hiking, so the boot of my car was pretty full of my stuff. Simon and Stacy would have their things for the weekend, they would each take up one seat, but then there would be Simon’s equipment for his set. When Simon answered the door there was not the huge pile of bags I was expecting, and thankfully not only were he and Stacy travelling light, but he was also borrowing a guitar from the brilliant Matt Stevens, so my worries were dealt with. Now we just had the Kingston one-way system to contend with.
I will cut a very long story very short. The journey through Kingston and down the M3 was not so bad. There was a hold up getting off the M25 on to the M4. The M4 was not brilliant, then became worse, and finally became the very worst. In all, the two and a half hour journey took us 5 hours, so I was very glad I had left some contingency in my schedule because we would still get Simon to the festival on time. My old satnav did a terrible job of finding their hotel, so thankfully Stacy noticed it was across the road from where the electronic directions were taking us. Apart fromit taking so very long, the journey down had been very enjoyable, catching up with Simon and Stacy while we listened to Tightly Unwound by The Pineapple Thief, New Day Rising by the Von Hertzen Brothers, and Signals by Rush. My own travel problems were not quite over yet, though, as a drive through Chepstow revealed that my easy route to the Beeches Farm campsite was closed due to work on a bridge, so I would have to take a diversion. As it turned out, that was not so much of an inconvenience and I was soon out of Chepstow and on my way, passing many signs for the Offa’s Dyke Path, which I planned to explore further over the weekend. I checked in at the campsite, pitched my tent and took a moment to enjoy the glorious view, then changed into my Shineback tshirt and drove back to Chepstow to find somewhere to park (and the Castle car park turned out to be convenient (and free !) at this time on a Friday evening) and then walked round the corner to the venue, The Drill Hall.
I had not been to this venue before and from the outside it immediately struck me as being great for this type of festival, with parking right outside and nearby, space outside for people to hang around without being out on the streets, and I had passed a few pubs which were close enough to be handy between bands. A few of the likely suspects were here already and after catching up with them I got talking with David Elliott about Bad Elephant Music stuff and we went inside the hall. The interior decoration was interesting, to say the least, depicting the people of Chepstow through the years, and the layout of the hall looked promising – a big, wide stage, a large floor area, and a bar and kitchen in a separate room at the back. I was told that Simon had got to the venue, as had Matt Stevens and Robert Ramsay, so we were all ready to roll. Celestial Fire were doing their soundcheck, which seemed a little strange this close to the time the doors were meant to be opening, and as time moved on a rumour started about the inevitable – because things were now running late there was not going to be time for Simon’s set. The rumour was confirmed, and it was agreed that he would play on the Sunday instead. The good news from a Bad Elephant point of view was that we did not need to get all the merch out now !
Stephen Lambe made the annoucement about Simon being delayed until the Sunday, saying Simon had been very kind enough to agree to this, while Simon stood in the wings shouting “bastard !” Lambsie then informed us that we were almost back on time, and so we moved on to the first band of the weekend, Abel Ganz. I cannot believe I have not seen them before now, so I was going to enjoy this opportunity, and I got the feeling they were going to make sure they made the most of it too, especially as getting here had been “a journey and a half.” The opening was not as good as they wanted it to be, so they began all over again, and from that point they were rolling ! For me, they have a wonderful Scottish folk sound at the core of their music, strong melodic ideas within excellent songwriting, and this evening they expand that acoustic progressive rock of theirs into something much bigger that really continued to grow as the set continued and the audience got into it. Their sound was tight after that initial stutter, from a group of clearly accomplished musicians who are enjoying what they are doing and taking us along with them, and the vocals are very impressive. I suspect they picked up more than a few new fans tonight. If you were not there and want to know for yourself what I am talking about then get along to see them at the CCA in Glasgow on Friday 18 December, supported by the excellent Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales) and Bad Elephant Music’s very own We Are Kin (and this after Abel Ganz played with The Gift in Edinburgh in September – maybe our people should be talking to their people).
We had Bad Elephant Music things to discuss, so, together with a couple of honorary Bad Elephants (Andy Hall and Mark Buckingham, both very good friends of the label, and always very welcome companions), we went off to find somewhere to talk over a curry. You can read more about that here.
Unfortunately, the talk went on too long for us to get back in time for the set from Celestial Fire, so that will be a band for another day. I went to my car and drove back to the campsite. My tent was still standing. It had been a good day.
You can see more photographs from the Friday at Summer’s End here.