Our annual trip to AFOB, so this is not the first review. We have been to every one since its beginnings in Nantwich and it has had a few twists and turns in its history. Huge place to set up the tent, we politely ignore the steward’s directions, knowing it is not necessary. But first to the music, the other factors to follow.
Friday. First task is to spot Mike Stephens’ annual spelling mistake in the programme! Sat on one of the chairs inside , which collapsed and I rolled a**ehole over breakfast! Thankfully I had put my pint (or ‘not a pint’, see later) down first. First out of the blocks are Wildfire Folk. A lot of enthusiastic people of a lot of ages playing a lot of instruments. Dan Webster Bloke from York with his group, the first number was reminiscent of The Waterboys. Maybe it was because they just featured over the PA? The song ‘Bo’ seemed to be a clone of the bluegrass standard ‘Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms’ …but there are lots out there! Much of his banter seemed to revolve around his headline spots, Her Ladyship switched off and turned to her 30p book purchase from Castleford Library ‘The Smiling Man’ by Joseph Knox. But she was back on track on hearing the last number ‘Plastic Jesus’. One of her favourites from her days in The Penthouse, Scarborough. Josh Burnell Another outfit with a violin, I always find it a bit naff when there is an instrumental number before the (female) vocalist makes an entrance. Music based around traditional folk songs but considerably beefed up. Steeleye Span get an early nod, but not sure if the later treatment of their ‘Blackleg Miner’ completely works with the big Jon Lord keyboard effect. ‘Port of Amsterdam’ is more restrained and Her Ladyship was among many who thought they were very good. It was interesting that a young lady put her chair down in front of us but politely asked if we could still see ok. We could. We happened to be there as we had moved from our previous spot when some noisy morons stood next to us, neglecting to ask if we could still hear. No, we f**kin couldn’t! Fleetwood Bac. Tribute act based on the ‘Rumours’ line-up both visually and musically. Even in their banter they are in character, so you get the full job! And there are many people who come to see them and close their eyes and listen. And say they save themselves a fortune by not buying a ticket for the current ‘real thing’. Yes, I hate the whole ‘tribute’ industry (see later comment) but this lot are bloody good. The two girls are frighteningly accurate in their roles as Christine and Stevie. This is their acoustic ‘best of’ set.
Saturday. A good night’s sleep on our lonely pitch. But the walk into the town was disappointing as car boot sale wasn’t on and I also forgot to buy a newpaper. Gaz Brookfield. Festival veteran from the West Country with pithy songs. His opening number was about songs with two chords. (The ubiquitous ukulele tent can vouch for that, namely ‘Dance the Night Away’, ‘C’est la Vie’, ‘Copperhead Road’.) I remember his song about diabetes from earlier events. the one about bullying had Her Ladyship reaching for her industrial strength Scotties. Chris Difford. His 7.00pm slot was moved forward. Possibly so he could shoot off down to a little festival near Biggin Hill to join the rest of Squeeze for a ‘secret’ gig? No matter, he was bloody good here last year. This year he has not got Boo Hewerdine with him but has Melvin on pedal steel. His solo show is very much a ‘History of Squeeze’ with much humourous anecdotery and appropriate songs. ‘Take me I’m Yours’, ‘Up the Junction’, ‘Goodbye Girl’ all work ok, but ‘Tempted’ should be left to either Mssrs Tilbrook or Carrack, methinks. Bloody good again. We had to leave early, to be sure of getting a good seat for the excellent Swampcandy. Two young men from Maryland. I am sure I am not the only one who pestered Mike Stephens to book them ages ago, he has finally succeeded. First song is Bukka White’s ‘Aberdeen’. Next up are Mississippi Fred McDowell and Robert Johnson in quick succession and the audience is full of smiling faces. It made me think of the famous line in ‘Butch Cassidy’… were they all thinking ‘Who ARE those guys?!’ Their older songs like ‘Positive Drinking’ and ‘Drink Whiskey With Me’ are mixed with newer stuff like their murder ballad ‘Candy’. Trevor Babajack Steger was here giving approving looks and they should have been in one of the bigger tents. I stayed behind to watch the bass fiddle being packed away like something from IKEA! Spot Joey’s feet on one of the photos. 3 Daft Monkeys They reckoned they hadn’t been here for ten years, I reckon it was nine at the first event in 2010 but not important. Lots of middle-aged women jumping about at the front. I think one song was called ‘A slow start for maybe twelve bars then a brief pause then 1-2-3-4 Bash Bash Bash Bash Bash Bash Bash Bash’. Strangely enough the next song had the same title. Then there was a waltz which started out a slow waltz then…as the Steve Earle song says ‘You know the Rest’. Jo Carley and the Old Dry Skulls I came across this lot on Youtube somehow and was keen to see them in the flesh. Most of their songs seem to feature the words ‘Bones’, ‘Voodoo’ and/or ‘Zombie’ but it makes for a really good act. Only the occasional nod towards ska, which I can happily overlook. Check them out. I saw Bernie Marsden at Linton the other year, mixing Whitesnake stuff with blues standards and promoting his book. Not bothered about another view. Trevor Babajack Steger A highlight from last year’s AFOB we made sure we were in early and away from the (inevitably) noisy bar area. Starting out with ‘Daddy’s Gone’, ‘Sawdust Man’ (the title track from his rightly-lauded lp) and ‘Runaway Train’, he tells us he is preparing a new record and gives us a new murder ballad. Sadly it is 10.30pm and there are clumps of wazzoed women talking about dress sizes (sorry, ‘lying about’), haircuts and reality tv shows rather than listen to this great troubadour but then, the Terms and Conditions don’t mention no taking. ‘Ramblin’ Man’ and ‘The Black Dog’ are given the Full Monty but ‘The River’ is one of his few numbers that isn’t delivered with a pint of gravel in his throat and reveals a very good softer vocal tone. Sleepy John Estes’ ‘Brownsville Blues’ gets a real seeing-to as the encore , he is another must-see.
Sunday Caught the end of the Welsh giant that is Candy Mountain. A pretty full tent gave him a big round of applause. Hattie Hatstar. Jolly woman plus accordian (and occasional uke) giving us her witty songs. very reminiscent of Victoria Wood. Would I be wrong in suggesting that her songs were mainly aimed at the proportion of the audience who were born with a bum at the front as well as the back…or Morris Dancers? Not for the first time in our festival frolics over the years did I have to charge back to the tent for a new pack of incontinence knickers for someone seated very close to me with firmly crossed legs and tears rolling down her cheeks. (‘You lying get!’). A good addition to the line-up. After a while Bon Accord came on to give us their take on the Stephane G/Django R canon of work, and Her Ladyship made a perfectly acceptable comment ‘ Is there any point in stopping?’. Sadly. there wasn’t. Beautiful South tribute ? Run-of-the-mill ska jumpabout? Ironically, my final t-shirt of the weekend was an R.E.M. one and (after a gallon of beer) there was a chance of my throwing something at the R.E.M. tribute later (it wouldn’t have been ‘praise’) so we upped and left. Home and in bed by 9.00pm. So, overall…?
1. The actual event. The brochure touched on how difficult a year it has been for Mike Stephens personally. I agree that lesser men may have pulled the plug and let punters apply for a refund from eg Visa cards. No good for us, we pay by cheque.
2.Line-up. Yes, it sounds harsh, but you can polish a turd as much as you like, it is till a turd. Look back to the earlier posters over the years and just compare them. It is not Fake News.
3. Beer. Not cheap at £4.40 for a pint of amber nectar.
4. Tankards. I said ‘pint’ above. The festival pots really do push the concept of pint. I measured out a pint at home and transferred it to the festy pot. Even right to the very top I still had a small mouthful left. That’s lots of mouthfuls over a weekend!
5. Food. Good chunky pasties@£4.50.
6.Toilets. Cleaned regularly.
7. Sound. Pretty good everywhere.
8. Security. Polite and not heavy-handed.
9. What next for AFOB? Very sad to have to sum up by saying that this could well be the end for it as we know it. Organiser Mike Stephens is a good bloke and listens to the customers. He proposed last year of having a Sunday ‘stand alone’ day packed with tribute acts. Many years ago he succumbed to having one copy group per year. But the music industry has been swamped by tribute acts. He actually gets more ‘next year please’ requests for Stones, T Rex, Beatles tributes than any other. Thankfully though, I think the parallel resultant wave of negativity made its mark! He will be the first to tell you that nowadays is much different to 2006. Many, many more festivals mean artistes and agents can put up their fees far beyond the rate of inflation. The decision to ‘not have’ the big stage and the likes of Big Country ‘not appearing’ has drawn much wrath. Many think that poor advance ticket sales may have had a big influence on these ‘circumstances’. AFOB has always had a loyal cohort of 500 or so, and we are amongst that number, but the bottom line is £sd. No matter how you try, you cannot justify this line-up as warranting a £115 ticket including camping. Yes, many of the rival festivals are almost ‘pop-up’ events with poor facilities and little regulation but ‘money talks’ in the end. I don’t know if Mike had any comments at the end of the night.
Admittedly the new setting with no big outdoor stage did work but the line-up would have been ordinary at best even with the ‘absentees’. By all means slim it down but the ticket prices will need some severe pruning.