Category: Music

In Captain Thunderbolt’s footsteps – All Tomorrow’s Parties 2009

My expectations for this event were stratospheric as soon as it was announced. Either because of the superlative reputation it had in the UK for being a grown-up, chilled out festival, the involvement of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the venue itself or, more likely, a combination of all three.

As I was getting the ferry in blazing sunshine at 10:30, I was momentarily jealous of others that were enjoying a relaxed Sunday morning, but as soon as a sun-drenched Cockatoo Island came in to view I knew that this would be an experience to enjoy for as long as possible.

Located at the junction of the Lane Cove and Parramatta Rivers, the island, a former prison and shipyard, was a jaw-dropping setting for a festival, especially one that promised such an eclectic and unique line-up. Wandering round the island, it felt as though we were exploring dockyards and penal buildings that had not long been abandoned, such was the immediate evidence of its past.

With such a wondrous location, the position of each of the four stages was intrinsic to the overall experience. Two stages were on the water, another inside the vast turbine hall and the fourth in a divine grassy courtyard at the top of the hill on the western edge of the island.

It was in this courtyard that the dream-like music of Hunter Dienna floated on the breeze to open the festival, perfectly suited to the lofty venue and the early morning mood. It was already clear that the crowd had come with an open mind and were here to appreciate all that could be thrown at them musically.

Bridezilla were sitting on stage together an hour before their set started, apparently jamming, rehearsing and enjoying the view. They attracted an appropriately large crowd for their expansive sound, the folky violin complimenting the post-rock guitars vocals and drums.

Not sure what to say about Afrirampo. It seems too easy to describe them as bonkers, but from the minute they ran on stage it was clear they were going to keep the crowd guessing with their unpredictable performance. There were noisy bits (for two people they made a LOT of noise), there were quiet bits, and they managed a 5 minute drum solo using twigs, branches, and the whole of the stage, including the framework. Not to mention each others arses. Bonkers.

The promise of Psarandonis meant a walk back up to the top of the island, but his beautiful Cretan lyra-folk, the backdrop of stone ruins and the phenomenal heat transported us to the Mediterranean for the duration of his set. Only the Ouzo was missing.

Fuck Buttons’ loud droning electronica could have been a gamble following on from Nick Cave’s blistering set but for those that weren’t quite ready for the ferry queue they were a hidden gem. Our location was reminiscent of the past, but it felt like we were listening to the sound of the future.

This was an event with a focus on the experience, the atmosphere and the ambience and it all came together to mind-blowing effect. If I could buy tickets for 2010 today then I would do so without a second thought. This is what festivals are meant to be like.…

Tony Allen – Master Drummer

It’s hard not to be a little overcome in the presence of afrobeat originator Tony Allen.

After all, Brian Eno has described him as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived.” Since the early sixties he’s been a pioneering force in contemporary African music, and his influence can be heard across a broad spectrum of musical styles. I asked Tony what first inspired him to pick up the drum sticks.

“I wanted to create my own style of music. God gave me a gift, and I followed my own path.”

He pauses to reflect for a moment, and adds “I always wanted to be different than other drummers, that’s why I’ve never tried to do anything else than afrobeat.”

Afrobeat was borne of an aim to provide social commentary on the inequalities inherent in African society. As a part of Fela Kuti’s Africa ‘70, Allen was a foundational force in its development. He is quick to note that the problems afrobeat confronts are not exclusive to the continent, and in fact much of the drive behind the movement was motivated by struggles overseas.

“The social problems are not concentrated in Africa. Don’t forget that Fela had to go to the USA in 1969, meeting with the US black people to start to realize his Africanism.. As soon as we came back from the states, he started his fight against the governments and the dictature.”

A thoughtful expression crosses his faces as he muses “One sometimes has to move away from his own country to be completely aware of his home.”

Rather than adopt the same style of protest that his American contemporaries were developing, Allen states that he was always drawn to create something unique.

“I always wanted to sound different than U.S. jazz or hip hop artists. I hoped that maybe this alternative music vision would be able to effect someting in our society.”

With such a long history, I ask Tony whether he feels afrobeat might have lost some of its political urgency. I wonder whether it is still as politically charged.

“As long as African people will suffer of many diseases, there will always be artists fighting for them.”

His influence on popular music cannot be understated. The past twenty years have seen him collaborate with many big name artists. It would seem he has a soft spot for Blur and Gorillaz front man Damon Albarn.

(As Albarn does for him. The 2000 Blur single ‘Music Is My Radar’ is a tribute to Allen, the song ending with Albarn repeating the phrase “Tony Allen got me dancing.”)

“My aim has always been to fuse afrobeat with other styles of music and to spread it all over the world. I love to experience my drumming with others, like my different collaborations with Damon Albarn.”

His work with Albarn has included drumming on The Good, The Bad and The Queen album released in 2007, and he assures me there will be more to come from the pair, among other works.

“I am currently working with Damon Albarn on a new album project with other guests. I am also involved in Africa Express, a series of events promoting African music. We’ve had some hectic shows at Glastonbury, Liverpool, Lagos and Kinshasa, and there’s more to come in 2009.”

The world of music has changed a lot since Allen first taught himself to drum, but he remains optimistic about the industry as a whole. Whatever some might say about music losing some of its soul, it remains essential to him.

“It is vital for me. I don’t care what people may say about it.”

Allen shows no signs of retiring as time goes on, with his many collaborations in the works as well as a new album ready for release.

“My new album “Secret agent” will be released next June under World Circuit Records. But I won’t play my new album in this Australian tour.. next time for sure!”

Allen tours Australia in March. For info, head over here.…