Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Green Man Festival - Thursday & Friday

This three part review of The Green Man Festival , which took place across the 20th,21st and 22nd of August, is going to begin with a slight (re: large) tangent but it’s OK because it’s entirely relevant.

The long, Thursday evening journey from Milton Keynes to the Brecon Beacons - avoiding the toll on the Severn Bridge- took my companions (Mr Jonathan Burns & Mr Samuel Duke) and I down the A40. While passing through Gloucestershire, we drove across a junction with signs for a village called Shipton. This was the very same crossroad Mr Duke and I had crossed during our wander away from the 2000 Trees festival site earlier this summer. Incidentally, you can read my review of July’s 2000 Trees Festival right here. So, enough with the filler and blatant self promotion and onward to a three part review of Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons.

After a treacherous night time journey through the Welsh hills, we arrived at the Green Man festival site near the village of Crickenwell at around 10p.m. We trudged through to what seemed to be the very end of the camping area, set up our tents then headed straight to a pub in the main festival site to escape the rain – a good decision as it was absolutely pissing it down and set the tone for the rest of a very, very wet weekend. Some nice pints of 8% proof cider were exactly what we needed...then again, 8% cider is a good idea in any situation. It certainly helped me fall asleep in a tent that had already shown itself to be not exactly waterproof.

This fact was confirmed after I awoke on Friday, the first day of the festival proper. It was pouring with rain, again – it is the Brecon Beacons after all – so the morning was mainly spent inside Mr Burns tent, while trying to figure out who we wanted to see and what we wanted to do. That and eating, and generally complaining about the weather

“Damn you and your country”

Apparently, It was my fault it was raining in my homeland and later on it’d be my fault if anything caught fire. The Welsh rains eventually subsided and we finally dared to go out and explore the festival site, quickly making our way to the main stage and stumbled upon our first band of Green Man, Spencer McGarry Season.
This band and its many, many members appeared to be weird jazz/folk combo and the music was quite interesting. Unfortunately they were let down by some flat sounding vocals, but the Spencer McGarry Season provided a decent enough start to a weekend of music...

Note: we stands for myself and my companions, I don’t have a royal like superiority complex. Not yet anyway...

There was of course more to the Green Man Festival site than the main stage, including Einstein’s Garden which, as expected, was full of that new fangled science. I saw a man talk about snakes, which was quite interesting. After all this new knowledge, it was only right to go and kill brain cells by visiting the Green Man Pub...while sheltering from even more rain. Can you spot the theme yet? The water from the skies let off a bit but unfortunately a walk round the shops in this let up didn’t provide me with the waterproof trousers I’d failed to bring. Rain soaked jeans for the day, smooth...

We then wandered to the far out stage and saw The Hundred in the Hands (who incidentally are being played on 6 Music as I type this.) The electro dance duo from New York were pretty good, so a thumbs up from me there. It was after this the rain actually stopped (for awhile) so it was used for an excuse to have another wander around before going to the Literature Tent to see Stuart Maconie and David Quantick.

If you don’t know who these guys are then you should probably hang your head in shame; Maconie and Quantick are two very experienced music journalists (among other things) and the talk was very interesting. The pair provided a fantastic insight into the world of music journalism and in the process made me do two things. The first was to actually take notes about who I saw at Green Man Festival, the second was to be slightly jealous of how easy it was to get a paid job as a music journalist back in the day. The only downside was when some wanker in a green wig appeared at the back of the crowd and started heckling for fuck knows what reason. On the plus side, the twat did get a verbal pummelling from the tag team of Maconie. The talk was definitely one of the highlights of Green Man.

You may have noticed that this review of Green Man doesn’t contain many reviews of live music so far, and that’s not going to change anytime soon as most of Friday evening was spent inside the Comedy Tent (really just the Literature tent again but with a different name). The undoubted highlight of the evening was the angry, but hilarious Robin Ince who was absolutely bloody-fantastic and the best comedian I’ve seen in ages. I was in stitches the entire time. It seems nothing is funnier than philosophy mixed with anger.

Other notable comedy acts included the surreal Tom Bell and the geeky musical styling’s of Owen Niblock – the only person I’ve ever seen play a mini guitar like thing with a dildo. The well deserved crown for the worst comedy act I saw that evening goes to a Cardinal Burns, who were shit. I didn’t laugh once, every “sketch” relied on the same unfunny jokes being repeated again and again. It was half hour of my life I’ll never get back and was perhaps the worst thing I could have seen after the excellent Robin Ince. A packed tent has never emptied so fast and after seeing this absolute shite it was almost midnight so we went in search of some tunes.

We found these tunes with a DJ playing by the Green Man pub where we drank and we drank so we could forget Cardinal Burns. It certainly did the trick before heading over to Far Out After Dark and catching DJ Yoda who’s set of musical and video mash ups was absolutely brilliant. I was spaced out by watching the videos so who knows what anyone on pills felt like. Hextatic and DJ Cheeba also provided good sets but it’d gotten to 3 in the morning and it was time to call it a night after sitting around a campfire.

But would I sleep well? Would I bollocks. Find out why in the Green Man review part two, coming tomorrow

(Originally written for Gobshout)

Monday, 9 August 2010

2000 Trees Festival - Saturday

The Saturday morning weather was excellent so waking up in a field near Cheltenham was a rather pleasant experience. The bands weren’t to start for at least another two hours so one of my companions and I went for an aimless ramble across the Gloucestershire countryside in the hope of finding a pub. We failed. We ended up in a village called Shipton with absolutely nothing in it – and it started to rain.

The weather had thankfully improved by the time we’d found our way back to the main stage, but unfortunately the mid card bands were repeating the pattern of the day before – there were a number of below par emo bands that all seemed minimal on the vocals. Somewhat fed up, we headed back to the tent and it turned out this was an good decision. Why? Well, a band called Urusen was camping near us, and having played the Leaf Lounge earlier in the day they played an impromptu gig by their tents. They played some very pleasant, relaxing folk music – a stark contrast to the bands on the main stage – and it was very much appreciate by the campers in the surrounding area. Thankfully, they also had promotional business cards which has enabled me to tell you about them.

A return to the main stage followed with an impressive Sonic Boom Six providing something very different to anything I’d seen that weekend. After their set the winner of the 2000 Trees costume competition was announced, and it was a bloke dressed as a giraffe. Just in case you found that last sentence confusing, no I wasn’t on drugs, but the festival organisers had encouraged the punters to dress up as animals. So over the weekend I saw various cats, dogs, birds, bears, bees, and a wide variety of other animals. They gave the festival a unique feel, I give it that.

Now, having looked at the line up, I’ve realised I’m a very bad music journalist. A music journalist at a festival is supposed to watch and review bands. I however, spent hours the of Saturday evening drinking cider and chatting to strangers while sitting outside the bar by the Leaf Lounge. I therefore can’t give you any information on Johnny Flynn, 65daysofstatic, or Bombay Bicycle Club. If drinking cider rather than doing that makes me a bad person, then so be it!

As enjoyable as the sweet, sweet, cider was. It wasn’t going to stop me from seeing The Subways and as usual they provided a brilliant energetic performance. Guitarist Billy Lunn and Bassist Charlotte Cooper showed off their multitasking skills as they bounced all over the stage while playing their instruments and providing vocals. It was a fantastic performance that really had the crowd coming alive – especially when hits Oh Yeah! and Rock & Roll Queen from their 2005 (feel old) album Young for Eternity. The crowd were loving it so much I needed to dive back to avoid getting sucked into the extensive mosh pit.

Now, I’ve seen The Subways many times before so I’m familiar with Billy’s stage climbing antics in that he’ll climb up an amp before jumping off stage into the crowd. This time, however, he took this to the extreme by scaling what must have been at least 30 foot up the stage supports then falling back into the crowd. To my surprise, he didn’t die and was back on stage shortly afterwards. The man has balls, I give him that. As with Frank Turner, this was the first time The Subways had headlined a festival and they also seemed genuinely touched by the support they received. Hopefully they’ll be releasing a new album before the end of the year – don’t take that as fact by the way, that’s just my humble opinion! They were excellent and thoroughly deserved the rapturous applause they received.

The final big event of 2000 Trees was a silent disco. The huge, huge, queue for headphones put me off joining with this but it was still possible to know exactly what was being played because the crowd was singing along. I personally, ended my festival Saturday night drinking the local plonk while part of a crowd watching some bloke play his guitar and joining in singing whatever he played.

Overall, 2000 Trees was extremely enjoyable, the small size provided it with an excellent atmosphere and despite a few disappointing bands, both the headliners and some bands that were new to me pulled enough out of the bag to make it a success. Plus, as 2000 Trees is an eco-festival it provided me with a nice warm feeling...or that could have just been from the whole not washing and wearing the same t-shirt for two days....

Oh well, only 51 weeks left until 2000 Trees 2011.

(Originally written for Gobshout)

2000 Trees Festival - Friday

When you consider that I’m bit of a music journalist, it’s shameful I hadn’t been to a full on multi day music festival since Reading 2006. Thankfully this changed over the weekend of the 16th and 17th of July when I went to 2000 Trees. With a capacity of just 2500, this festival at a farm in the Gloucestershire countryside turned out to be a good way to get myself back into the festival scene.

As soon as my “crew” and I turned up at Upcote Farm – with 1970’s German funk blasting from the car CD player – I knew I was at a festival. That may sound obvious, you know, what with all the people and parked cars, but of course also started to rain. Ah muddy fields how I’d missed thee...still, tents were erected more easily than expected and we headed to the main festival site.

Well, I say festival site. With the small capacity it’s obviously a smaller than average site, so despite camping in one of the furthest spots from the main stage, it still only took five minutes to walk there. Very welcome indeed.

Right, let’s start talking about the bands

There were three stages, The Tree House main stage, The Leaf Lounge and The Green House. I first found myself wandering into the second of these and watching The David Goo Variety Band, and they were very good actually. They could perhaps be described as a British Gogo Bordello, complete with two vocalists, a violin, guitars and a keyboard. The songs all had stories to go with them and the whole outfit was very lively, quite possibly mad. It’s an all important thumbs up from me.

After watching my first band of the weekend, I then didn’t see any more for hours. Why not I hear you ask? Well, the lure of the Nature walk was just too much. Yep, 2000 Trees has a very pleasant Nature Walk which goes out into the countryside and woodland around the farm. You feel so at one with nature when you’re walking through a field....clutching a can of cider.

It was back to the festival site for the early evening, and after sampling the delightful local Badgers Bottom plonk, I made my way to the main stage. The fact I don’t remember anything significant for any of the mid-card bands that played in the occasionally sunny whether that evening probably speaks volumes. No, I wasn’t drunk; it just seemed that many of them were generic LostProphets style bands. You’d probably enjoy them if you liked LostProphets, mind.

Things vastly improved with Metromony, the penultimate act of the evening. Some might label them as Bloc Party influenced electro infused indie pop but they played a variety of bouncy, energetic tunes which were pleasing on the ear and had the crowds moving their feet. The undoubted highlight was A Thing For Me, which with its simple lyrics had even those unfamiliar with Metromony singing along.

Frank Turner
was the headline act of the Friday and he didn’t disappoint. He played old tunes, tracks from his latest album – Poetry of the Deed – and a sing-along to his newest track. Frank was certainly crowd pleasing and they held onto his every word when he told stories about the songs. It was the first time Frank Turner had headlined a festival and he genuinely seemed touched by the occasion – He’s come along away since the time I paid £2 to see him in a bar when I was at university. My only gripe is that given the current political climate, he didn’t play Thatcher Fucked the Kids.

So, the bands may have stopped playing on the stages at 11 but that wasn’t the end of the night of course – this is a festival after all and the bars were open ‘til well into the early hours. Now despite Frank Turner and Metromony both being very good, my favourite was a cover band that played by the campfire. I had no idea who they were at the time, but a little internet digging tells me they were Thrill Collins.

This fantastically named trio are a Skiffle band that played cover songs from the 1980’s and 1990’s. Highlights included Chris De Burgh’s Lady in Red, The Backstreet Boys’ Everybody, Human League’s Don’t You Want Me and The Cure’s Lovecats. They were brilliant – imagine a modern day, trendier, Wurzels and you’ll be about right.

(Originally written for Gobshout)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Puzzle Agent

We all know about pilots for Television programmes: some take off massively, some get a couple of series, some never again see the light of day. With computer games arguably being higher ‘risk' than a TV show, it's somewhat surprising that this concept hasn't been applied to them...until now.

Telltale Games, known predominantly for episodic titles like Sam & Max, have launched a Pilot Programme "as a means of cultivating fresh creative ideas and fostering innovation" Or to put it simply, to introduce tasters of new titles and see if they have the potential to become full episodic games. The first pilot is Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. Is it good enough to warrant follow up titles? or will it be consigned to the dustbin of history? Let's find out...

First of all, what is Puzzle Agent? Well, with Telltale Games being involved it's not surprising that it's a point and click adventure. This time however, you won't be finding the fruit basket, combining it with the telescope then using it to distract the clown so you can grab the spanner. No, Puzzle Agent does exactly what it says on the tin, well box, well...digital distribution download description. Nelson Tethers - for he is our puzzle agent - advances through the story by solving brainteasers such as mazes, puzzles, logic and riddles. The game has quite obviously been inspired by the Nintendo DS Professor Layton series.

These puzzles range from the easy to the positively perplexing. The really tough ones can get quite frustrating... it isn't a game you want to play while tired. The game will offer hints if you're stuck but using them will reduce your score. Yes, score. Each puzzle is marked out of ten, with the score depending on how well you do. All of the puzzles you solve can be solved again but there isn't much point really. Why do back and solve a brainteaser when you already know the answer? However, on the whole the puzzles are enjoyable even if they can be very taxing on the brain.

But Puzzle Agent isn't just about brainteasers - after all if it was it'd be a puzzle book! - it's a computer game and it has a plot that is both comic and, in places, rather creepy. You play as Nelson Tethers, the lead...and er, only...agent in the FBI Department of Puzzles. You're sent to the small Minnesota town of Scroggins to find out why the factory has stopped producing Erasers. This sounds unimportant, but these particular eraser are used by The President of the USA! So you're on the case and fast.

The story is genuinely mysterious and engaging as Nelson Tethers travels round the town, investigating what's happened. The rather odd townsfolk love puzzles so while questioning them you'll be solving puzzles in order to get answers. Graphically Puzzle Agent is drawn in a distinctive 2D style which, while the most part looks good, can look very rough in cut scene close ups...the again Puzzle Agent probably wasn't designed to be played on a monitor with a 1920 x 1080 resolution! This is even more evident when iPhone and iPad releases are on the way.

So does Puzzle Agent have enough to become a fully fledged episodic series of games? Yes, it does. The puzzles may need a little work first, but the visual style, the voice work and the engaging nature of the three to four hour story shows a lot of promise so it'd be surprising if we don't see Nelson Tether again.

That, and the fact it has a totally open ending that leaves many questions unanswered. Don't leave us hanging Telltale!

(Originally written for Game-Debate)