Location: Builth Wells Wales
If you really like it wild, and if you think you stand a chance of getting past the black helicopters and the samurai-sword wielding security, then head for Builth Wells in Mid-Wales this Saturday. Once you get there, head out of town west on the A483, which is probably signposted to Llandovery. A mile or two out of town you will see on your right a garden centre, with a sort of truckers' cafe and probably some big old vehicles. Go on past this and take the first right into a little lane. A few hundred yards up the lane you turn right into a field and your troubles really begin. Bring supplies and a tent or something because this is NOT the kind of event that shuts down at 11:00 o'clock.
Regular readers might recall that last October, just when the band was starting to get good, we headed out in convoy to Builth Wells in Mid Wales for a gig at one of Fred's legendary parties. It was a memorable evening, but the members of the posse who don't eat meat did have one small problem, what with curried goat being the dish of the day. Your correspondent had a whale of a time on a diet of Liquorice Allsorts, as it goes.
So it was that this August the corner shops of NN1 were systematically stripped of Mrs. McCartney's sausages and Soylent-Green-Burgers by shadowy, black-clad marginals. Instant barbecue kits were purchased from supermarkets - along with jars of olives, jars of sun-dried peppers, multiple dips, hummus, pitta bread, buns, chocolate. Somebody has packed a vegetable grater. By the time that Saturday comes, one thing is clear: the veggie faction is not going to be caught out this year, no sir.
Something else is to be different this year; the hotel where we stayed last time has closed down while a new owner tries to make sense of it. This time it's to be camping.
Early on a sunny Saturday afternoon the convoy sets off from the Racehorse. Kathie and I find ourselves travelling with the estimable Mr. Cotton and Sarah. We stop to loot Oddbins of its Budvar and Urquell, then, intending to avoid bank holiday motorway hell, we take to the back roads: Builth the pretty way. Huge farm carts piled with hay rumble along in front of us at ten miles an hour. We play The Bad Seeds and the Electric Six as we negotiate strange, obscure country villages, some of which appear to have been occupied by stealth by the Freedom - sorry, The French. In Leominster deeply tranquillised pedestrians wander heedlessly beneath our wheels.
We reach Builth in the lovely early evening sun. As we drive up the high street we see Stevie Ward's A-Team bus parked up, MC Bot hanging out of the passenger seat window with his bullhorn, yelling "Wilson in the area!" just like he did 11 months ago. Builth Wells' picturesque little high street is heaving with people from Northampton.
After a few fraught minutes in the Hinterland, we once again find the lane that leads to the party's secret secure location. We arrive to find that a small camp has already sprung up in a far corner of the field and here we join Russ and Nita, Misery, Mister E. Wilson, Stevie G, Stevie Ward and his band. Tents go up, a fire pit is cleared for the barbie, the Budvar crate takes a hammering. MC Bot bestrides the hillside with his bullhorn.
Witness the birth of NN109.
Across the field, resplendent under their gazebo in the evening light, sit the citizens of The High Chaparral, Jamie Jab and his crew of mentallists. Relations between the twin settlements will be warm and increasingly incoherent as the evening wears on.
The entertainment is nothing like what we had been led to expect. No Welsh bands are taking part this year, and a PA has only just been secured. That leaves only us and the debut performance from Stevie Ward's new band, Good Cop Bad Cop. There are many members of P-Hex in the area (well, in the field, I should say), but they are light of a drummer. Stevie G makes a brave attempt to persuade Mr. Cotton to play the drums, but Mr. Cotton is confused, thinking that Steve is referring to Wilson's set. "Have you cleared this mad idea with Pat?" he asks. "I don't have to," replies Steve bafflingly.
There is also the inconvenient fact that Mr. Cotton is actually a guitarist, not a drummer at all.
So in the end we explain to the frightened-looking young lads with the PA that they only have two bands to worry about. Kit is set up and sound is checked. The courtyard is crowded with happy people eating barbecued goat. We leg it back to NN109 for the first hot food of the evening.
As night sets in there are amazing views of the stars. You can see the Milky Way clearly. "I can see why the Egyptians saw it as a mirror image of the Nile," I venture, and promptly fall into a hole. If you're lucky with the clouds, you can see Mars, as close as it has been to our Earth since the days when Neanderthals roamed the hillsides, making their camps, lighting their fires, cooking their food and singing their songs.
ASTERRRRROOOOOID! COMING IN FROM THE VOID!
As the awesome sounds of the new Killing Joke album split the air, the entire sky clouds over. What can it mean? My utility belt tells me "To the barn, Batman."
Good Cop Bad Cop are heavy. A mean metal three-piece. There are great tunes in there, but the PA boys have got things so cranked that it's not always easy to tell from inside the barn: the band actually sound better from about 40 yards away. Still, it's a fine first gig for them. Their drummer is quite something, a definite touch of the Grohls in there.
MC Bot takes to the decks, banging out Primal Scream, The Streets, Wepunex, The Prodigy and Killing Joke. We wire ourselves up, ready to go. Then it's time. It takes a moment to get the DAT up and running, but soon the barn is echoing to the sound of Tim Leary and his psychedelic sheep.
We start with a new, toughened-up version of God's Green Earth before diving headlong into the Hippy Shit. The monitors are fairly screaming at us onstage, but out front it's a clear, bass-heavy sound, with Misery taking full advantage of Good Cop Bad Cop's excellent bass rig (thanks, Alex!). She plays a blinder and the band feels great, we're flying. The set:
GOD'S GREEN EARTH - HIPPY SHIT - SWEET HOME ALABAMA - BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN - ISTANBUL CONNECTION - CRITTERS - SECRET GOVERNMENT - EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT - POLICE CHIEF - QUALITY PEOPLE - YELLOW PAGES - BUFFALO SNIPER - DARK AGENDA.
As we start into Yellow Pages I realise that my microphone has gone totally dead. In a mad panic, I seize Bot's mic and shout my way back on board. It ain't pretty, but it works. Confusing, though - why should it just go down like that? Bizarrely, at the end of the song I get my mic back. Life goes on, but then, just as Buffalo Sniper should be gathering force and steaming out of the breakdown, something really spectacular happens. For the first time ever at a gig we find ourselves without any kind of backing track. We're just running on our own momentum. Fascinating - no time to think about it: we adopt a kind of chug, hold our nerve and eventually rejoin the backing track as it mysteriously resurfaces towards the end of the tune. Dark Agenda goes off all right, featuring a chant of "No techno! No techno!" and an even more out-of-control finish than usual. I leave my Telecaster feeding back in a pile of rubble at the side of the stage and run out of the barn. I stand in the courtyard for a minute or two, listening to the sheets of filthy noise issuing forth. Then I run back in though another door, to find MC Bot crouched over my effects, making mayhem. We escape with our lives.
Even as we start to pack up, the techno begins. Out in the little yard in front of the barn some eight or ten youths have gathered. They play the deepest, darkest, dumbest techno at the loudest volume and set about getting silently, wholly monged. We make a surprisingly efficient job of stowing our kit and flee the area.
Back at NN109 I'm talking about the weird way that the top quality, super-loud PA just suddenly went completely random on us towards the end of the set. That's when somebody explains about the techno lads. Towards the end of the set they came into the back of the barn (like I'd notice. I'm a fecking guitar scientist, me. I'm lucky if I notice anything back there) and started taking the record decks and their attendant electronic shit out into the little yard. In so doing, apparently, they managed to unplug loads of wires that had nothing to do with the disco set-up, but everything to do with our disappearing drum loops.
I have to say that my first reaction to this intelligence is to want to go and batter the wotless youths within an inch of terminal oblivion. Happily, better living through advanced biochemistry is achieved and I come to take the broader view. Clarity, Simon, that's the main thing. With understanding comes forbearance. With half-litre bottles of Budvar come custom cigarettes and sausages in buns.
For hours people gather around the barbie, drink, smoke, speculate, celebrate the footie results. The techno never lets up. Boom! Boom! Boom! There is ill-advised cooking. Stevie D appears to freeze like a statue, completely motionless out there in the night. Then, as Stevie G goes to investigate, he drops like a felled tree. Into the car he goes. 'Night, Steve.
Daylight comes. Profoundly unevenly cooked Linda sausages litter the area. Everybody has lost everything. Ian from P-Hex goes to sleep on the ground. Jamie is heading back to the High Chaparral (though I can never remember this name - I keep on wanting to say "Camp X-Ray" but I know that's not right, so I just sort of get lockjaw), but before he goes he seals me into the back of Russell's motor, where I plan to sleep. As the hatchback closes on me I give him the thumbs-up through the glass. I feel like a spaceman being sealed in his little capsule.
I awake to the sound of somebody (Curtis, as it turns out) playing electric guitar. It's quite beautiful, but it's coming from far away and I'm still three-quarters asleep and it's a little bit hard to make out. There are weird little high frequency squeaks going on, which I assume must be the amplified sound of fingers on strings. Once I extract myself from the back of the car in an ungainly fashion, it becomes clear that these high frequency squeaks are, in fact, coming from a small and excited dog, whom Misery and Sarah are tormenting with a luminous green frisbee.
The morning is overcast but incredibly hot. Bodies are strewn across the field. There is suffering. Somehow, heroically, Mr. Cotton takes the wheel of his car and prepares to take us home. Russ urges him to visit the cheese shop in Monkland.
"Yeah, just gimme the fuckin' cheese!" cries Stevie G with feeling.
That's right. Monkland. Also, not far from here, they have a place called Paincastle.
A road closure because of an accident on the A-44 leads to our being compelled to drive home over the very roof of the world. I fall asleep in the back of the car, and awake to find that we are pulling into a gas station. In Telford. It has to be said, it is a class gas station, with a proper shop and a nice Days Inn attached, so that you could - in theory - check in for a few days and get a proper feel for the place. A kind man in London subsequently sent me the attached illustration, showing clearly the delights of checking in at the Telford Days Inn.
We arrived in NN1 at teatime, battered. Once again, a superlative party out in Builth. Some of them were out there for days. Thanks to Fred and everyone for making it such a good trip.