The National’s Bryce Dessner: 10 years of the MusicNow festival

MusicNow-compilationPerhaps all rock stars, at some time, get the urge to bring the artists and the musicians they love together in one place and present them to the public. Some are happy to curate established events and use them as kind of living mixtape of favourites. Others – like Bryce Dessner, the guitarist with the US rock band The National – have a larger, longer-term vision which results in the establishment of a completely new festival. Dessner began satisfying his own personal urge ten years ago this month after holding a series of discussions with Murray Sinclaire, an arts benefactor and businessman in his home town of Cincinnati. Those discussions led to the creation of the MusicNow festival.

“It really just started as a conversation about honouring our hometown and the long tradition of great music that we have in Cincinnati,” Dessner says. “Murray acted as a sounding board to my ideas on bringing a really intimate, arts-driven, homemade feeling festival to the city which would combine Cincinnati’s classical traditions with the amazing indie, punk and rock scene that has existed here for a long time. I wanted it to be the antithesis of the huge commercial rock festivals we have here, like Lollapalooza – which are great but are a certain kind of experience, and for MusicNow to act as a kind of alternative space for artists to really develop new work and new collaborations.”

As MusicNow took shape, Dessner held on to an unshakeable tenet at the core of his vision for the festival: artists would be provided with an environment in which they could collaborate and experiment without the pressure they may get from their own big tours and shows. Over the festival’s decade of life, this tenet has provided the basis for eclectic and exclusive performances from artists such as influential American composer Philip Glass, Grammy Award-winning Tuareg troupe Tinariwen, Big Apple troubadour Sharon Van Etten and Burmese musician Kyaw Kyaw Naing.

“MusicNow has always fostered works in progress and given artists the confidence to take risks,” Dessner says. “By keeping it small, using volunteers, creating a family vibe… We’ve built something of a refuge for creativity here. You can almost see the weight fall off the shoulders of some artists who may be expected to perform a certain way on the commercial circuit but who feel free to present radically different works here or allow work to develop organically in front of a live audience.”

As with any experiment, reactions cannot always be predicted and some audiences attending the early days of the festival got more than they bargained for from artists such as Detroit balladeer Sufjan Stevens who arrived with a certain reputation but immediately used MusicNow’s climate to play with perceptions.

“There was always a risk at the start that the audiences could be confused by some performances, especially as we offered them only the most oblique hints of what might happen when they arrive at the show,” says Dessner. “But this became part of the festival’s identity over time. You may think you know Bon Iver but you may not expect him to workshop and perform a whole new album in front of you as he did in 2010. You may know composers David Lang and Nico Muhly but you probably never expected them to unveil world premieres here alongside works by Krzysztof Pendereck, the Polish master, and Alexander Scriabin. But they did, without fanfare, last year. That potential for unexpected magic is now what draws people to MusicNow.”

“I’ve played a bunch of times myself, both as a collaborator and as a solo artist,” says contemporary classical music composer Muhly. “Each time, I have presented things that were not just new to Cincinnati, but new to me: pieces with the ink still drying or pieces in desperate need of a set of ears other than my own.”

music-bryce-dessnerBryce Dessner has high hopes of more magical moments from this year’s anniversary roll call. Sufjan Stevens returns to the festival for a third time, along with Will Butler from Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire, Seattle-based solo artist Perfume Genius and Brooklyn alt-country rockers The Lone Bellow. Dessner’s band The National will also perform, collaborating with the full Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to the alternative music talent on show, Dessner has commissioned works from last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Music winner Caroline Shaw and Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason. Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center will also play host to Ragner Kjartansson’s film, ‘A Lot of Sorrow’, documenting The National’s MoMA PS1 performance in which they played their song ‘Sorrow’ for six hours straight in front of a live audience, as part of the festival.

Once this ten-year anniversary has passed, Dessner admits that he may finally take stock of what the festival he created a decade ago has truly achieved before moving ahead with future programmes – although what direction these will take is anyone’s guess.

“I always saw it as a ten-year thing so I’m not sure what happens next,” says Dessner. “I’m open to ideas. What I do know is that we’ll continue to champion cutting edge, progressive programming and hope that people will continue to be inspired by that.”

MusicNOW Festival. March 11 – 15, 2015
http://www.musicnowfestival.org

This article first appeared in The Economist.

Tales from the Front Row: Sir Alan Parker on his career in film

 

alan_parker_bw__fullTales from Down the Front goes Down to the Front Row for a third time to talk to yet another Hollywood legend. This time, Oscar-winning director and Knight of the Realm Sir Alan Parker

SIR ALAN PARKER began his career in the advertising world of the 1960s, working first as a copywriter and then as a director of commercials. He progressed to feature films from the mid-1970s, directing movies such as “Bugsy Malone”, “Midnight Express”, “Fame” and “The Commitments”. But in 2003, he said “Cut!” for the last time. Speaking to Nick Amies at the Brussels International Film Festival, where he appeared as a special guest, Sir Alan looked back at his time in the director’s chair.

You made your last film, “The Life of David Gale”, 11 years ago. Why did you decide to stop after that?

I discovered that I enjoyed not making films. It started as a break and then I discovered I liked my life as it was. I’ve been making movies since I was 24 and I’m now 70. Some directors will keep going and probably die on set, but I won’t be one of those. Making films is an extremely demanding process; as a director you work 14- or 15-hour days, six days a week for about three months and then another two years finishing the film and promoting it. You need the same enthusiasm and energy from start to finish. It’s a young person’s game, in my opinion. I’d much rather go to the pub these days.

Have you not been tempted to make another film in that time?

I had maybe five projects in mind in the early years after “David Gale”, but as time went by I decided that my life was better without making films. I’ve been pretty lucky though. All the projects I developed have been made into films. I’m not one of these people to have scripts knocking about in a drawer. Some ideas never came to fruition, but those which became solid projects got made.

There was talk of you filming a remake of the Marlene Dietrich movie “The Blue Angel” in the 1980s, with Madonna in the lead role. What happened to that?

Diane Keaton was keen to produce the movie, I was enthusiastic about making it and we had Madonna and De Niro pegged for the lead roles, but it just never came to anything. Everyone just lost interest in it.

You worked with Madonna on “Evita” a few years after that. What was that like?

When you make musical films you either have to work with actors who can sing or singers who can act. Somewhere along the way, you have to compromise, let’s put it like that. Madonna sent me a six-page letter detailing why she thought she would be perfect for the role, which must have worked because I eventually cast her. We had originally wanted Michelle Pfeiffer, but she had two young kids and wouldn’t leave Los Angeles.

Music is central to a number of your films. How would you describe your relationship with music, with regard to your film-making?

Music and images have such a strong connection and music can create such dramatic energy in a film. It is always my taste of music which makes it into the film and I have a wide appreciation of music, as you can see in the contrasts between something like “Evita” and “Pink Floyd The Wall”. There are only a few times where others have influenced my choice of music. Nic Cage was driving me mad on the set of “Birdy” by constantly singing “La Bamba”, so when it came to a scene where we needed him to sing I told him to just go with that stupid song he’d been driving me round the bend with.

“Birdy” is one of a number of your films whose ending is opening to interpretation. Is this a conscious use of the device on your part?

I think it’s always good to make your audience work a little. If people leave the cinema debating the ending of the film, then my goal to provoke is achieved—as long as they’re satisfied with the journey they took to get to the end. In the United States, the rule is to never let the audience leave unsatisfied, whereas in European cinema, they just don’t care. If it makes you think, then that’s good. I like open endings because they make film mysterious. And anyway, most directors don’t actually know how to end a film.

Alan-Parker-Nicolas-Cage-Mathhew-Modine-Birdy

You’re appearing at this year’s Brussels International Film Festival. What’s your opinion of the contemporary film scene in Europe?

It’s becoming harder to see good and interesting European films, especially in London where I live, as the United Kingdom is so dominated by films from the United States. I have a nine-year-old son so I have to sit through a lot of big Hollywood special-effects blockbusters and, to be honest, I sleep through most of them. That’s not to say that there are no intelligent films coming out of the States or Europe, it’s just that special and original films are rare. Films are more about recouping costs and generating revenue these days than pushing artistic boundaries.

Would you say that financial constraints are hindering creativity in the film industry?

There’s never enough money. I’ve been asked this same question about funding for the last 25 years and the answer, sadly, remains the same: without cash, European cinema will die. My belief is that we need to foster new talent to keep film alive and to create new and exciting projects which will bring people into cinemas to watch them. Who wants to see the same old director making the same type of film over and over again? But for this, you need money and it’s very hard—especially in today’s climate—to ask for such large sums when you have priorities such as health, social care and education.

This Q&A originally appeared in The Economist

See other Tales from the Front Row | Film:

Fear & Loathing in Hollywood – Terry Gilliam

“Monsters Don’t Scare Me” – John Landis

Fear & Loathing in Hollywood

Tales from Down the Front goes Down to the Front Row for a second time to talk to another Hollywood legend. This time, maverick director and ex-Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam…

Terry Gilliam last released a full length feature film in 2009. The ex-Monty Python animator has spent the three years since The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus struggling to get a long list of follow-up projects off the ground. When he staged a well-received production of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust at the English National Opera last May, many thought Gilliam’s days as a film director were over.

However, rather than abandoning cinema, Gilliam has kept in the game by making short films, the latest of which, The Wholly Family, opened the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in April. Nick Amies met him there to discuss the current state of his career, the film industry and the world in general.

You’ve been living in London now for 45 years. Do you consider yourself to be more European than American these days?

I’ve lived the majority of my life in London so I guess I do feel more European than American. But then London doesn’t want to be European, does it? London lives in its own dream. In actual terms, I am closer to being European as I renounced my American citizenship about six years ago when George W. Bush got re-elected. I just thought, this idiot has been voted back in by more American idiots so it’s time to leave. I’m still in the probation period so I won’t truly be free of the US for another four years. At the moment I can only spend 30 days a year there, less than if I had a British tourist visa. My kids can spend more time there than I can.

How does this interfere with your film-making?

America isn’t the only place where you can make movies but the citizenship situation has certainly added another layer to my problematic film-making relationship with the US. The irony is that two weeks after I renounced my citizenship I was offered a film in California. I couldn’t take it. I can still make films in Canada, which looks like America, so I’ve made a couple of films there (Tideland in 2005 and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in 2009), and there’s Mexico on the other side if I need that kind of environment.

When you originally left the United States in the 1960s after becoming disillusioned with the government’s response to the social unrest there, you began channelling your anti-establishment politics into your art. Where do you see parallels between the response of artists then and the response to the current global instability?

To be honest, I don’t see anyone dealing with the state of the world, asking questions or making challenging statements in their art. I don’t think there’s any kind of artistic response to this current situation. People are just looking for jobs and looking to get paid.

What’s your own personal opinion on the current state of the world?

The situation today is depressing because we kinda predicted it in Brazil back in 1985. A couple of years ago I was considering suing George Bush and Dick Cheney for the illegal and unauthorized remake. They infringed on my copyright! What else is the Department of Homeland Security than the Ministry of Information made flesh? In fact, Homeland Security is even worse. It’s terrible and what’s worse is that people accept it. It’s incredible how easily intelligent people have been convinced by this idea that we’re under threat from terrorists. There was a lot more terrorism going on 30 years ago; there was the IRA bombing London, Baader Meinhof was terrorizing Germany, the Red Brigade in Italy… Scary stuff was happening. Today’s situation is based on fear and the best way to control people is to keep them scared.

How is Hollywood reacting to this situation?

Hollywood has been afraid to take risks for a long time now. All the studios want is a safe pair of hands who can deliver the package. That’s been my experience of Hollywood ever since I’ve been involved in it. They don’t want to take chances so they continue to hitch their wagons to the same old tried and tested formulas. That’s why the studios are so obsessed with franchises and comic book heroes. I’m concerned about where this is taking us. I love super heroes but not to the extent that they should be dominating not only cinema but consciousness.

To what extent do audiences have a responsibility to challenge the film industry and say enough is enough?

I’ve been moaning about the dumbing down of audiences for years now because the longer you keep churning out this production line crap, the more audiences are going to like it – and need it. There’s an element of security that re-makes and re-hashes provide which supplies audiences with a kind of visual soma. We’re at the stage where audiences just want to know that everything will be the same and I feel a real sense of desperation about that. Maybe it’s because the world has become so diffused and unclear that people just want to go back to what they know over and over again. Maybe that’s one of the clearest reflections on the state of the world right now. Maybe that’s what people need to do rather than exploring new things all the time, to reassure themselves that Spider-Man can still do the things he’s always done.

Given the critical and commercial success you’ve enjoyed in your career, are people still put off by your reputation as being something of a maverick director?

Even now, I’m still seen as a rebel in Hollywood. They see me as someone who won’t be controlled as easily as a young guy straight out of making commercials. They don’t want some 71-year-old hippie who still hasn’t learned to play the game after all these years, coming in and having his own ideas. And that goes against me sometimes. Take the first Harry Potter film, for example. I was the perfect guy for that movie. They all knew it. JK Rowling wanted me to do it, David Heyman the producer wanted me to do it. So I went into the meeting feeling really positive and one half of the people there wanted me and the other half I won over. But one guy from Warner’s over-ruled everyone and Chris Columbus got the gig. I was furious at the time but in hindsight, the level of studio interference on a project that size would have driven me insane.

You’re famous for having numerous projects in various stages of development at any one time. What’s the state of play with the current batch?

I still have the Terry Pratchett-Neil Gaimon project Good Omens sitting there, I have the Defective Detective screenplay in the catacombs of some studio gathering dust… These need digging out and brushing up but people in Hollywood don’t like hard work and resurrecting projects is hard work. They only want whatever is hot at the moment. They live on today’s heat. The truth is I spend most of my life depressed; I get depressed about trying to get the money I need to do what I want to do. It’s a very frustrating experience trying to find the money to do what you love. People think that there’s a sell-by-date on my projects and that makes it hard to find investment. There’s no sell-by-date on anything.

You recently said that you were worried that you may never get the chance to make another full-length feature. How much does that have to do with the struggle for financing?

Well, I need about $20 million to make my kind of films. If I could do it on $10 million, I’d be making a movie every week. So the money’s a factor, for sure. But the Hollywood structure is another. There is someone who has the capacity to make big budget films outside the main framework who could help. I just need to get off my ass and get back over to Hollywood – which I dread. It’s getting back into a world that I despise.

So if you get the financial backing you need, will we finally get to see The Man Who Killed Don Quixote?

I can’t tell you what’s happening with Quixote. Not because it’s a great secret…I just don’t know! I wish I did.

This interview first appeared in edited form in the May 17 edition of the Economist’s Prospero culture blog.

Photographs ©benitalipps

Rocking with The Roller: Eye to Beady Eye with Liam Gallagher

The side door of the monolithic ebony tour bus hisses open like a space age air lock and Liam Gallagher steps out into the light but constant Brussels rain. He throws a heavy hold-all over one shoulder, lowers his sunglasses from his mop of Brian Jones hair, fixes them in the default position over his eyes and swaggers his way past gawping shoppers in the direction of the hotel lobby. It’s the exit of a seasoned pro; a man who has spent much of the last two decades alighting from heavily tinted vehicles in cities all over the world. As the singer of Oasis, Gallagher has stayed in some of the finest hotels on the planet. But he’s not in Oasis any more and while this particular Sofitel has a certain amount of glitter, it is still a gold star or two below the norm. You see, things have changed for Liam over the past two years but as he explains later over espresso and cigarettes, in his opinion they’ve changed for the better.

After eighteen years of ecstatic highs and violent lows, combustible and controversial British rock band Oasis – perhaps the last to truly deserve the battered crown of king anarchists handed down by the hell-raising likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who and the Sex Pistols – finally imploded. Only those who were there really know what went on backstage at the Rock en Seine festival near Paris on August 28, 2009 and despite vague allusions to the reasons behind the split and the conflicting accounts of the two main protagonists, the true nature of events remains a mystery. What is known beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the fight between Liam and older brother Noel, just minutes before the band were about to go on stage, was serious enough to finally rip the band apart for good.

Oasis had been close to ending on numerous occasions in the past as the Gallaghers’ often abrasive relationship – one which not only constantly threatened its existence but also powered it – regularly stretched the band to breaking point. On every occasion before Paris, the warring siblings had somehow managed to see beyond the black eyes and foul abuse to reach a rapprochement. However, this time would be different. A statement from Noel, just two hours after at least one guitar was turned into kindling, confirmed that he had quit the band as he “could not go on working with Liam a day longer”. It didn’t take much reading between the lines to see that there would be no reconciliation this time. The fears of those Oasis fans who continued to hope for a reunion were finally realised when Liam announced on November 19 of that year that the remaining members of Oasis – guitarists Gem Archer and Andy Bell, drummer Chris Sharrock and himself – would continue to record without Gallagher Senior, saying: “Oasis are done, this is something new.” Six months later, on May 25, 2010, the final nail in the Oasis coffin was hammered home when Liam and Co. announced that this something new would be called Beady Eye.

Resplendent in a camouflage wind-breaker from his own Pretty Green clothing range and with his piercing blue eyes now unshaded, Liam Gallagher sits back and wearily blows a plume of smoke into the darkening sky above the hotel’s roof garden as he once again contemplates that fateful day in Paris. “I think I wasn’t in the band for about one beer,” he says. “That’s how long it took for us to think about what we wanted to do. After that it was like, let’s keep going. What else am I going to do? Work in McDonald’s?” Liam maintains that his brother “had had enough of Oasis” and just wanted an excuse to leave. At a press conference to launch his solo project The High Flying Birds and his two forthcoming albums, Noel Gallagher rejects that idea, saying simply that he’d “just had enough of Liam.”

After the tabloid-christened Wonderbrawl in Paris, Chris Sharrock returned to his home in Liverpool while Liam, Gem and Andy headed back to London to begin work on the songs which would ultimately come together to form Beady Eye’s début album Different Gear, Still Speeding with producer Steve Lillywhite. The atmosphere, by all accounts, bordered on euphoric. “There was something in the air,” Beady Eye’s somewhat cosmic guitarist Gem Archer says, his eyes lighting up at the memory. “I don’t know if it was the universe just doing it’s thing but there was something magical going on when we got down to working.”

“We always felt like we wanted to do something fantastic and new whether it was with or without Oasis,” Liam adds, brightening up as talk now moves away from the past and turns to the new musical love of his life. “We were always gearing up to do something great. That’s what you live for. There was never a doubt in any of our minds that we weren’t going to knock it on the head. We’ve got to be in there. People need us. We need it.”

With the four ex-Oasis men forming the core of Beady Eye – on tour the band is augmented by ex-Gorillaz bassist Jeff Wooton and keyboardist Matt Jones, formerly of Britpop band Ultrasound – the writing duties are shared between Gallagher, Archer and Bell. The credits also extend to include drummer Sharrock in a show of unity. Both Liam and Gem are quick to point out that Beady Eye is a collective, with everyone sharing responsibility for the direction and every aspect of the band.

“We all do our thing to make Beady Eye happen,” Liam says. “There are no chiefs here. It’s not like as soon as someone has a top idea and thinks we should do it it’s suddenly like ‘oh here we go, he’s getting too big for his boots’. We’ve been there before with someone taking responsibility for everything. It’s a bit late in the game to be fucking around with power struggles and insecurities with your mates. That’s just rubbish. Whoever’s closest to the kettle puts the fucking kettle on.”

“We’re into it to the level of thinking about what lights to take with us on tour, what to have on stage with us other than the amps,” adds Gem. “We’re deep into it all. The photos, the clothes, the artwork – we’re doing it all.”

“With the new song, Andy [Bell] took the photo for the cover,” adds Liam. “We took one look at it, said it looked the bollocks, so we slapped our name on it, stuck the banging tune inside it and away you go.” Suddenly he’s out of his seat, comically mincing around the table. “There’s no need to ponce about with design teams full of geezers called Quentin when we know what we want and can do it ourselves.”

“It’s a top vibe, man,” he continues, sitting down and switching his face back to stony conviction. “Everyone is loving being involved in the creative side of it. It’s not like when Noel would do the lot and we’d be sitting about, twiddling our thumbs. People think I was a lazy bastard and always in the pub. I just never got the call, man. But now everyone’s getting a share of the drug. We’re all getting high from being a band and what makes being in a band great.”

To emphasise their break from the past, Beady Eye took the very un-Oasis-like step of releasing a couple of songs as digital teasers before début single The Roller was unveiled in January. Rather than it being a clever marketing ploy, the band floated Bring the Light and Four Letter Word on the Internet in a surprisingly humble attempt to gauge where they may possibly stand in the post-Oasis musical landscape. “We released the digital tracks and posted videos ahead of the first release because we didn’t even take it for granted that people would know who we were,” admits Gem. “We needed to let them know what was coming.”

“The average Joe didn’t know what was going on,” adds Liam. “People were coming up to me in the shop asking when the next Oasis record was coming out and I was all like, ‘you fucking what?’ I wasn’t getting into it because they were obviously on drugs or living in a can of beans or something. A lot of people thought Oasis was still going so we had to get the new stuff out to them.”

The reaction to the Internet teasers was underwhelming as were those accompanying the release of first single proper The Roller. Beady Eye’s début peaked at number 31 in the UK charts – the exact same position as Oasis’ début Supersonic reached back in April 1994. When the next single, Millionaire, floundered at number 71 it was open season in the British press. For Liam’s adversaries in the media, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Well-worn comparisons of the Gallaghers were once more dragged across the pages of the tabloids, with Beady Eye already condemned to failure for having what many people considered to be the less talented brother in its line-up. Liam admits the poor performances of the singles was a reality check but the media reaction was less of a surprise.

“I expected to get shit from the press before we started out because I dish it out and I thrive on that so I expect it back,” he says. “They’re always going to be gunning for me but I’m always like, ‘bring it on’ because I’ll always be gunning for them. That will always be there because we need the love-hate thing but deep down they’ve probably all got posters of us on their walls. We’ve got to be on top of our game because we’re there to be criticised. But we’re ready for it. We’re big boys.”

While certain critics ratcheted up their dismissals of Beady Eye once Different Gear, Still Speeding was released in February, the majority of the world’s music press was much more generous. The album, which debuted at number 3 in the UK album charts, was widely praised with many commentators welcoming the band’s efforts to move away from the Oasis legacy. The public’s response was equally positive with the album going gold in the UK within a month of its release.

“Of course, it was nice to get good reviews for the album but it wasn’t like we were then saying ‘we showed you’ to those who’d slagged us off without even hearing it,” Liam says. “It’s nice but we don’t care really. When the reviews are good, you know the writer got it and understood it. They say what we already know and they think exactly what we think about it. We wouldn’t have released the record if we didn’t think it was having it. Bad reviews which say ‘well, he’s no Noel Gallagher’ – I’ve got no time for them. Go back to journalism school. They’re just idiots who just want to take a pop at me because I slagged off Blur in 1992 or whatever. There’s a lot of that what goes on and always will.”

After all this time, Liam Gallagher remains a divisive figure – a situation he admits to contributing to but one he feels is rooted in the behaviour of his younger self: the Liam of smashed hotel rooms, cocaine busts and numerous punch-ups with the public and family alike. He appears to accept that whatever level of success he may reach now or in the future is unlikely to make a lot of difference to how people perceive him.

“Beady Eye’s probably not gonna change the way people see me,” he says. “Nothing I do probably will. They’ll still see me as that 20-year old who made the most of life by going a bit fucking mental. But answer me this: who wouldn’t have done the same in the circumstances? I don’t give a fuck what they think of me to be honest. I am who I am. I was Liam in Oasis and I’m Liam in Beady Eye. If I’m Liam in another band, it’ll still be me and they’ll still have to deal with it.”

“People have the wrong idea about Liam,” Gem responds. “It’s just laziness to keep up this perception of him. He’s full on in this band; from production to mixing to arranging. In addition to Beady Eye, he’s running a clothing line and making films [with production company In 1 Productions] at the same time. He’s not sat on his arse waiting to sing his bits just so he can get off again and go on the piss. He’s as fully committed and invested in this collective as the rest of us.”

Few would have expected Liam Gallagher to have the initiative to diversify but the singer has shown an entrepreneurial bent in his latter years. His Pretty Green clothing label is now in its second, award-laden year and work is continuing on his first film, an adaptation of Richard DiLello’s The Last Cocktail Party which details the rise and fall of the Beatles’ Apple Records empire. “Pretty Green and the film production thing was always probably going to happen, it was always in me I reckon,” he says. “Maybe there were fewer opportunities to explore that side of me when I was younger or maybe I just couldn’t be arsed back then. But I’m nearing 40, man. Things change. Priorities change. You’ve got to keep the brain ticking over, man, or you’ll end up a cabbage.”

As the sky above again opens with yet another deluge, sending everyone ducking for cover, talk turns to the evening’s coming show; a late – but not headlining – slot in the Pyramid Marquee at the Rock Werchter festival. This is the latest open air show of Beady Eye’s début festival season. For any new band, an evening show at any festival would be considered a mighty step up given that debutants are usually awarded the early afternoon slots. But Beady Eye are no ordinary ‘new’ band. Surely the fact that they are four-fifths of Oasis, a band used to playing to tens if not hundreds of thousands of their own fans, would be enough to secure top billing.

“We are where we are, you know what I mean? We’re getting what we deserve right now,” says Liam. “It’s like paying your dues, man. We’re a new band. It doesn’t matter what went before. Half the people at the festival shows probably haven’t heard the record and you have to keep reminding yourself that. This isn’t Oasis, so we haven’t got a big back catalogue of songs which people have already heard over the past 18 years.”

“That’s the good thing though at festivals,” adds Gem. “You’re playing to people who may not normally come to see you. We just go out there and just try and play the best gig we’ve ever done to date and if they like it, all well and good but if not then we’re probably just not the right band for them.”

“It’s all new with Beady Eye, man,” Liam chips in. “It’s all fresh. We’re getting off on it. And we can see that the crowds are getting off on it too. They’re getting it and they’re coming out to see you which is great. We were never so far up our own arses to think that we could guarantee that either. Nothing was taken for granted.”

The festival season comes in the middle of Beady Eye’s first tour, one on which the band have returned to their roots by playing smaller venues that would never have been able to cope with the demands of housing an Oasis gig. Liam explains that this was a band decision based on the current reality and that at no time did they think that Beady Eye possessed the pulling power to continue where Oasis left off by playing colossal concerts.

“We never had this idea that just because we were Oasis we could go out there and start off in arenas,” he admits. “We always had the idea to start again, to start small. We don’t have the songs right now either. When you’re playing arenas and stadiums you’re on for an hour and a half. What we basically have is the album and that’s an hour so we’re happy with that. It’s not like we’re sitting there going ‘I can’t wait to start playing stadiums again’ and moaning about where we are. Someone was looking at us playing a venue of 8000 when we were planning the first gigs and we said no, it’s too early for that. You’ve got to have something to aim for and build up to.”

Despite fronting numerous concerts including the mighty Knebworth shows of 1996 where Oasis played to over a quarter of a million people over two days, Liam admits to a bout of nerves before taking Beady Eye out onto the road for the first time on March 4 this year. “There were a few nerves but we just wanted to get out of the rehearsal rooms and get playing in the end,” he says. “We had these tunes we believed in and wanted to get them out there but because it’s new, you never really know what’s going to happen. We didn’t know if everyone was going to start shouting for Oasis songs. We could have played it safe and took off to some tiny little foreign hole to début but we chose Glasgow Barrowlands and they were fucking immense. The jocks will call you on it if you’re shit – Glasgow’s a hard school – but they were top notch. The nerves soon went after that.”

“Big gigs are a piece of piss, you know what I mean? The crowd are miles away. With these shows we’re doing they’re right on you and you’ve got to be on it. You’re all in it together in these smaller venues, in the trenches, and it’s instant. You kick off and suddenly the whole place is rocking and you’ve got to keep that going.”

Later that evening, under the cover of canvas, Beady Eye certainly gets Werchter’s Pyramid Marquee rocking…and rolling, swaying, seething, ebbing and flowing with their Different Gear set-list. Welcoming the crowd with a chipper “Good evening brothers and sisters” it’s clear the surly, bating Gallagher of old is tucked away for the night. Throughout the evening, Liam’s banter with the audience is jovial and there are even smiles from the stage to match those beaming back from the steaming mass. Reconnecting with the fans has been key to the response the band have been getting on tour and from the opening fusillade of Four Letter Word, Millionaire and Beatles and Stones to the crescendo finale of World of Twist’s Sons of the Stage, both band and audience seem to feed off the energy generated under the sweaty canopy. The performance is as tight as you would expect from a group of seasoned campaigners the majority of whom have been playing together for the best part of a decade but there is a new lightness of spirit and atmosphere which helps these songs of hope and belief soar. It’s clear throughout the show that the shackles of the past have been cast aside.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” says Liam. “If being in a band is pressure then you’re in the wrong game, mate. We’ve been at the top and we want to be at the top again but we’re not young lads chasing the dream. We’ve all been round the block in this industry a lot of times and we know it’s hard but we’re dead relaxed, man. We’re doing our thing. We’ve got nothing to prove.”

With new material already written, Beady Eye are eager to keep the juggernaut rolling with another album pencilled in for 2012. “The thing with Oasis was that we could have made more records and it’s a shame we didn’t but with this we’re not going to sit around for five years before putting new stuff out,” the front man says. “Hopefully by the time we get the next record out, there’ll be more people digging us and knowing what we’re about.”

And what will the future hold for Beady Eye? Can it get as big as Oasis?

“We don’t go about saying we’re going to be as big as Oasis, despite some of the quotes people have me saying. I’m talking about the music. I believe in the music and the quality of it and I’m talking about that not that we’re bigger or better than Oasis. People on the whole get that. They see where we’re coming from and give us respect for that.”

“Beady Eye will evolve. It already is. We’re listening to stuff we’re putting together for the next record and it’s already changing. It’s Beady Eye and it’s our sound because that’s what we do but these tunes are blowing our minds and we just hope they’ll do the same for other people. We’ll do what needs to be done, man. If it needs to rock, it’ll rock. If it needs to swagger, it’ll swagger.” A wicked glint flashes across those heavy-lidded blue eyes again. “And it’ll be the bollocks.”

BeadyEye_RedBull_CoverFirst published in: The Red Bulletin (September 2011)

Related content: Andy & Gem: In the Belly of the Oasis Beast (2005)

Another Score for Satan: Introducing The Black Box Revelation

blackboxxxJan Paternoster is missing. Two hours before Belgian blues rockers Black Box Revelation are due on stage at the Cactus festival in Bruges, the singer/guitarist is AWOL. No-one knows where he is. Thankfully someone knows who he’s with, which seems to reduce the latent unease among the group’s entourage dramatically. “He’s with his girlfriend,” says Dries Van Dijck, the band’s cherubic drummer. “Don’t worry, he’ll be here,” he adds, calmly. “Want a beer?”

This confident and cool response speaks volumes about the relationship between front man Paternoster and his pint-sized powerhouse partner-in-crime. After the laconic singer eventually ambles into the backstage area, it’s clear the bond is strong. They banter like brothers; cracking each other up with shared anecdotes and memories. On stage, the connection is almost telepathic. Trust is everything. It has to be when the show, the music and even their futures rely so heavily on just the two of them.

“From the very first rehearsal, we agreed that we wanted to become a really good band and not stay a shitty little Brussels group that just played for about 20 people,” says Paternoster, after relocating to the band’s dressing room in a nearby school. “We like the fact that it’s just the two of us. In the old band, there were four of us and when we wanted to rehearse there was always trouble getting everyone together at the same time. There was always someone who couldn’t make it. We ended up hardly rehearsing. With the two of us, it’s easier and we’re more committed to making it work.”

The old band is – or was – the Mighty Generators. Legend has it that after a demo session for a recording the Mighty Generators were entering into Belgium’s biggest band contest, Humo’s Rock Rally, Paternoster and Van Dijck used the remaining time to jam on some songs the singer had been toying with away from the band. “I wrote one song, Love in Your Head, and it didn’t fit with what the Mighty Generators were doing,” Paternoster says. “So I said to Dries that maybe we should try and play this song together, just guitar and drums. We rehearsed just the one time and it was like ‘Nah…’ but then I wrote two more songs and we played them again and it sounded pretty good. The music we played, just the two of us, was more like the music we wanted to play.”

Both the Mighty Generators and the embryonic Black Box Revelation recordings were entered into the contest. The Mighty Generators were eliminated in the first round. The Black Box Revelation won the silver medal. The rest is recent history

“After that, we thought we should stick with Black Box Revelation and try and make a go of it,” says van Dijck. “We’ve never really regretted the decision to leave because we’re doing quite well and this is where we want to be. From the start we said to each other that we wanted to go for it and become famous. And it’s happening.”

It certainly is. Despite their tender ages – Paternoster is 20, Van Dijck is just 18 – they already have a wealth of knowledge gained from growing up in the business and stories from the rock ‘n’ roll’ coalface.

“My first gig ever was with a band called The Feminists,” says Paternoster.  “I wasn’t playing guitar at the point. I could only sing and not that well, I hadn’t learnt how to breathe properly in the songs and I had this very low voice. And they made me sing Stairway to Heaven. On the one hand it was terrible but on the other it was really fun. Robert Plant had nothing to worry about though. And the guy on drums is the only drummer I know without any rhythm. He just played whatever he wanted over the top of the guitars and my singing.”

bbr

Just how famous the Black Box Revelation will get remains to be seen but the initial signs are good. They already have a growing reputation and a burgeoning following in their home country while high profile support slots on international tours and increasingly large headline shows around Europe are helping to spread the message.

“We’ve done three tours since the start of the year,” says Paternoster, putting his band forward for a nomination as one of the hardest working new acts around. “We toured through Europe with the Eagles of Death Metal and then we toured France with (fellow Belgians) Ghinzu, which was weird because in the Flemish part of Belgium, they’re not that big but in France they were selling out big venues of 2000 people every night. Then we did our own headlining tour in Germany and Switzerland. But now we’re playing one or two festivals a week.

“Things are also going okay in the UK,” he adds. “We were in the NME three times and our next single comes out there in three weeks and then we’re going to play a show. But it’s hard to create a buzz around our band in the UK because they have lots of bands there. I think they have so many bands that some people wonder why they should listen to bands from outside the UK. It’s working out well though, but it’s not easy. “

“We played the Scala in London with dEUS and White Lies and that was cool,” says Van Dijck. “The guys from dEUS told us that we had to come back and play as many times as we can in the UK. Just keep coming back and playing. Get as much attention as you can. So we will, when we get the chance. Last time we played in London it was a great show and the people said they liked us, so…”

Despite the increasing exposure to the hard-living rock’n’roll lifestyle, these young Belgians seem to have their heads screwed on and their feet planted firmly on the ground.

“We’re not the type of band to have superstitions and rituals,” says Paternoster. “I think it’s too dangerous to start with superstitions. Once you think you have to have those things, like the lucky underpants, you might have one day when it’s like, ‘oh shit, the lucky underpants aren’t clean’ and then you think it means that it’s going to be a bad show.

“We know how important this all is,“ adds Paternoster. “We always drink a beer before a show but we never get drunk. We’re not drunk onstage because we did that once or twice and it wasn’t that good so from that moment we said that we would always be sober on stage. But we have the one beer to get in the mood.”

“We don’t act like big stars because we’re not…yet,” adds Van Dijck. “On our rider, we only ask for two bottles of wine; one red, one white; a bottle of whiskey, enough beers. If we get really big maybe we can ask for something stupid before every show and see if they bring it for us. We can see if they pay attention to the rider or not.

“Dries used to have Red Bull on the rider,” laughs Paternoster, imitating an over-caffeinated drummer. “He would say that he wouldn’t go on stage without his Red Bull. Some bands have their booze album, some have their cocaine album – our first record was our Red Bull album. The next one will be the coffee album.”

TheBlackBoxRevelationTrue to their word, after a series of neck rolls and intense pacing, they toast their band with a single beer and go into a two-man huddle before taking to the stage. The atmosphere, already electric due to a series of passing downpours and threatening storm clouds, crackles from the moment the band greet the crowd. After the briefest of introductions, the band tears through an hour long set of funked-up punk blues at illegal volume and breakneck speed. The majority of debut album “Set Your Head on Fire” gets the high octane live treatment, with Van Dijck splintering drumsticks with abandon while Paternoster struts and screams like a possessed young Jagger, torturing supernatural riffs from his battered guitar. While the White Stripes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club comparisons make sense when confronted with the cut-and-thrust of songs like Love, Love is on My Mind and Gravity Blues, it’s the band’s love of the Rolling Stones which drives the scuzzy jive of crowd pleasers like Stand Your Ground and I Think I Like You. It’s a fast-paced celebration of the Devil’s best music.

They are even granted the festival rarity of an encore, an even more anomalous event considering they aren’t even the headline act and this is a mid-afternoon slot, not a closing set. One breathless discussion later and the band are back on stage for a ballsy, truimphant version of Fighting with the Truth. Then they’re gone in a squall of feedback; ears ringing and drenched in sweat.

It’s obvious from the state of them after the show that creating such a noise and generating such incredible energy leaves both band members on the point of collapse.

“We have to create this wall of sound, just the two of us, so we have to give 100 percent all the time,” gasps Paternoster, as he shakily signs autographs while Van Dijck struggles to find the power to hand out drumsticks to young fans nearby. “I have three amps but it’s as much to do with the power and effort we put in as much as the amplification. I think it has a lot to do with the way we play together. We’ve been getting louder and louder as we’ve gone on. The first year, we never used ear plugs but after that, the ringing in the ears was so bad we had to start wearing them. I think since then we’ve been even louder. I can’t put my amp at just one or two because Dries is drumming so hard I can’t hear it. I have to turn it up to eleven, like Spinal Tap.”

Once the adoring hordes have been satisfied, it’s time for friends and family. “I’m here for all the Belgian shows,” says, Elisabeth Van Lierop, Paternoster’s girlfriend, as she props up the exhausted singer. “It’s the only time I get to see him at the moment. They’re either in the studio or on the road.”

Considering the band are due back in the studio in August to put the finishing touches to their much-anticipated second album, she may have to get used to her boyfriend being away from home a lot more.

More Crazy, Crazy Nuits: Les Nuits Botanique 2009 Part 2

botaAfter Monday’s day of rest which saw a depletion in paracetamol stocks and contributions made to the burgeoning sleep deficit, Les Nuits Botanique gets underway once more. Over at Cirque Royale, the capital’s culture vultures are enjoying the smörgåsbord of world talent collectively known, for tonight’s purposes at least, as Babel Live. The second incarnation of this eclectic free-for-all includes, among many others, orchestra maestro Jean-Paul Dessy, UK indie stalwarts Tindersticks and trance-roots experimentalist Hindi Zahra. As the Cirque stage creaks under the weight of a hundred styles and voices, across town Le Botanique is serving up a wholesome feast of noise-mongers.

Despite the shiverings of mid-festival flu, I’m sufficiently medicated and ready to enter the fray once again. I’m particularly drawn to the tent tonight for the arrival of We Are Wolves and Metronomy. But before I get my post-punk and electronica fixes, I slip into the Orangerie for a taste of Quebec. Opening on the stage dedicated to bands from the Francophone province are Karkwa. These alt-rockers begin by cranking out their disconcertingly offbeat tunes to a threadbare crowd as if it was a bulging arena. It soon turns out to be a self-fulfilling approach as the Orangerie starts to fill up as more and more people are drawn in. I buck the trend and leave, not out of making any statement on quality but because fellow Canadians We Are Wolves are expected to draw a big crowd and I want to get in on the front stage action.

A line-up to howl for

A line-up to howl for

The buzz is not wrong. The Chapiteau bulges with eager fans all wanting to confirm their lupine status. Soon rolling bass and screeching electronica sends seismic calls of the wild through the crowd and the place is soon howling. This is where post-modern rock, punk and dub collide; it’s like the Jah Wobble-inspired Public Image Limited jamming with Basement Jaxx. And everyone here seems to love it. They Are Wolves, no doubt about it. Me? I’m not all there yet…which maybe makes me a dingo or perhaps some kind of mongrel. It’ll take a little longer for my canine affiliation to be confirmed.

Metronomy are a weird bunch too but there’s less full moon madness about them which, given the return of my mono hearing and thick head, suits me just fine. Flitting between the more whimsical aspects of Frank Zappa and the pop sensibilities of late 80s Bowie, Joseph Mount and crew deliver a thoroughly professional set of alternative electro pop which distracts me long enough from my ailments to achieve a level of normality. As the steam in the tent rises along with the voices of the crowd, I pop another DayMed and delay the inevitable for another day.

Wednesday sees a banquet of Belgian bands laid out on Le Botanique’s already groaning table of talent as the noisy old greenhouse plays host to musical fledglings, bands on the rise and established and celebrated national treasures. The Nuit Belge line-up throws up a lot of names I’ve never heard of – which is the whole point of the exercise, not just tonight but every night. While the festival can give some international acts their first taste of Belgium, it also prides itself on bringing homegrown musicians to a wider audience. And just as Le Botanique has provided now world famous artists a foothold in Europe, the festival continues to give Belgian bands their first rung on the musical ladder.

Great White Sharko

Great White Sharko

Headlining act Sharko are just one of many Belgian bands who credit Les Nuits for giving them their first big break. David Bartholomé, the band’s lead singer and founder, recalls the moment he went from pub singer to big stage act courtesy of the festival’s Nuit Belge policy. “I’d been playing in the small clubs and pubs for about six months when Le Botanique asked me to play Les Nuits for the first time,” he tells me as we stroll through the grounds in the early evening sunshine. “I was supporting Arno in the Chapiteau and this was a big step up. Arno is this big act and then there’s just me with my acoustic guitar. I thought the crowd was going to tear me apart because they didn’t know me. So this was pressure. But there was also no pressure, no expectation. I could just do my thing. So I really wanted to take that chance to impress these people who didn’t know me and make an impact. It gave me a huge boost. I’ve been back about five times now but I’ll always remember that first time and the opportunity it gave me.” Bartholomé believes the festival’s success and its track record of nurturing and promoting local talent comes from getting the basics right. “With something like Les Nuits, the concept has to be good first. And it is,” he tells me. “How it brings people here with its philosophy and its choice of bands. It works. It creates a wider audience who are attracted by the festival’s range. Then you can bring the Belgian bands in and they can connect with a lot more people. But the concept has to be right before you can do that and Le Botanique has it just right.”

Once the gigs get started, the festival soon offers further evidence to that effect. After a week of wondering what it takes to make a Brussels crowd lose its mind, the answer comes in the form of the Experimental Tropic Blues Band. Peddling Luciferian speed blues which would make Jon Spencer look like a Valium-addled couch potato; this high octane trio injects something previously unseen into the Orangerie crowd. It may be the light speed boogie-woogie; it could be the relentless rockabilly rhythms or it may even be the sudden flash of the guitarist’s penis – whatever it is, it turns the front of the stage into a writhing unbridled mass and prompts two separate stage invasions by unknown crash-helmeted space cadets.

Ground Control to Major Space Cadet

Ground Control to Major Space Cadet

“That was totally surprising,” exhibitionist guitarist Dirty Wolf (or Jeremy to his mum) tells me after the show. “We get crazy crowds back home in Liege, the people just go nuts but this is Brussels, you know? Usually they’re too cool in the capital. But these guys were mad. The guys in the crash helmets? Well, the one in the front with the radio tied to his head, he’s a regular. But the other guy? No idea. He’s new. He kinda surprised me. But you know, shit like this happens sometimes.”

The fact that this type of behavior is seen as commonplace in some corners of Belgium suggests this particular reporter is either going to the wrong gigs or needs to do an extensive underground club tour of the country. However, things start to become a bit clearer when Les Vedettes Disque No. 1 hit the stage. Again, the crowd goes wild for the satin-clad, eight piece girl troupe and their glittery male band. Looking and sounding like Belgium’s next Eurovision Song Contest entry, Les Vedettes squeak out trashy 60s pop which seems to hit the spot with the over-excited fans beside me.

You put your left leg in...

Les Vedettes keep their modesty covered

As the girls on stage struggle to coordinate their basic choreography while keeping their modesty covered by tiny running shorts, it soon dawns on me that this enthusiasm doesn’t come so much from the music – which, in Les Vedettes case, is patchy to say the least – but from national pride. These audiences are upping their game because these are Belgian bands. The local crowds are out in huge numbers to support the homegrown talent, as I discover as I try and catch Lionel Solveigh in the Grand Salon (no visible view available) and Major Deluxe in the Rotunde (one out-one in policy on the door). Even negotiating my way through Le Botanique to watch Daan in the Chapiteau takes twice as long as on any previous night. After briefly watching The Bony King of Nowhere from the last available space by the speaker and snatching a glimpse of BaliMurphy through the stairs, I take one look at the bulging tent and the massive queue outside and decides to give Sharko’s headline slot a miss. Hailing a cab, I speed home with a new perspective on Belgian music – and Belgian audiences – to consider.

Come Thursday my flu is back with a vengeance and I’m wondering if any of the crowd on one of the nights I was sandwiched between sweaty strangers had recently arrived back from Mexico. Such is the level of wooziness and the paranoid fear that I have the Grippe Porcine – as well as the fact that straying outside into the massive electrical storm and torrential rain could be life-threatening – I decide that I’ll stick with the two bands I particularly want to see and forgo the rest. Luckily, one follows the other so once safely ensconced in the Rotunde with tissues and cough drops, I settle in for Sleepy Sun’s set before indulging in some Pink Mountaintops.

The former, an American octet who are not very Sleepy actually, prove to be one of those revelations that Le Botanique is adept at providing. It’s the sound of decades of San Francisco influences; West Coast harmonies drift below alternative glam while pseudo-religious influences and esoterica combine with psychedelic blues to add a spacey, trippy aspect to the band’s aura. It stops mercifully short of being flaky and provides a dose of aural soothing to my now aching bones.

pink_mountaintops_14_05_2009

Man Mountain

Friday begins with disappointment as news reaches me that, despite my best efforts and my hard-earned festival press pass, there’s no way that I’ll be able to get in to see Bat for Lashes in the Rotunde tonight. The policy of sold-out shows being only open to VIP passes and those with tickets prevents me from exercising the freedom I’ve enjoyed for the past week. All credit to the security staff, though. I can blag with the best of ’em but there’s no getting past the burly dudes on the door even when I employ the exaggerated English accent ploy ( – this is sometimes perceived as exotic and adds some kind of weird credibility, although I have never quite worked out why).

Never mind, eh? Faint heart never won fair maid and while bat-lashed Natasha Kahn was my main target tonight, I’m more than happy to settle for Anita Blay, otherwise known as Thecocknbullkid. This 22-year old East Londoner peddles electro-trash and grime with a combination of rapid-fire sing-speech and full-on diva swoops and hollers. Her songs are catchy and insightful with more than a little dash of dark humour in them. The way she commands the Orangerie with her attention-grabbing image and powerful voice certainly adds credence to the hype that she’s stardom-bound. It’s not my musical cup of tea but I like to think that preference rarely clouds my judgment. This girl has a good chance of becoming huge – and we, oh leery Orangerie audience, can say we were there.

And so to the last day.

Saturday dawns and my voice finally gives up. The scratchiness of the past few days has been replaced by a thick swelling and while I can now breathe through my nose without the aid of menthol, I can barely make my voice heard – which is a pain in the arse, as well as the throat, as I’m meeting Paul-Henri Wauters, Le Botanique’s artistic director and the brains behind Les Nuits, for a chat this afternoon. Luckily, the ever-affable and accommodating Paul-Henri has a lot to say and needs very little prompting from yours truly to wax lyrical about all things Les Nuits.

I manage to croak out a question on attendances and he runs with it.

People have been deciding to buy tickets later this year than in other years; we’ve had more people just turning up than we have had buying in advance, but in comparison to other years, the attendance is about the same, maybe a little higher than most years,” Wauters says. “I think the big artists have attracted less people than we thought they would and the lesser known acts have seen more, maybe because of the lower prices for the tickets. The first week was down on our expectations but this week has been better than we expected.”

I’ve seen him scurrying through the complex on a number of occasions over the past week, I tell him. Does he get to see many bands during such a hectic time?

As the director, I try and see as many bands as possible but there are always people I have to see or there are people I bump into and have to talk to. There are always a lot of questions from the crews, the technicians…we have between 200 and 300 people working on the festival…but even when things are running smoothly, the chance to watch a band and just enjoy it is pretty rare. But I did get to see some bands. A lot of bands have impressed me this year. I loved Sleepy Sun…the Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Battant and Beast were great…Babel Live with about 40 people on stage together was amazing…And The Experimental Tropic Blues Band during Nuit Belge were also fantastic. Last night we had Thecocknbullkid, the first time for her and an artist that no-one knows, which really shows what we’re about. Of course we like to promote new artists but there has to be a mixture of unknowns and big names. If people don’t have confidence in your program, they won’t come. If we have 100 unknowns, we won’t attract anybody. With around 25,000 people coming here, you have to provide known bands to get that amount of people to come.”

The festival has been running for a long time now, I ask Paul-Henri how he manages to keep it fresh.

Les Nuits has been built up every year by learning from the experience of what we did, what we can do to improve this, what worked, what didn’t work,” he says. “We’ve found out that people want to be closer to the bands, which we’ve tried out with the Grand Salon this year, and maybe we can try other things like that. We have an idea to make some themed rooms, perhaps, or bringing the stage into the middle of the room. We will also be looking into ways of making the festival more environmentally-friendly. But the beginnings of next year’s festival are here now with what we have done with this year’s event. The future of Les Nuits begins with the end of the current festival. We will build it from there.”

His phone rings and after a warm hand-shake, he’s off again, making a promise to meet for a drink later which I know he wants to keep but ultimately won’t be able to. I stand and look out over the botanical gardens under the darkening sky as the sun sets on Les Nuits Botanique 2009. Sunday, the day of rest, beckons over the dimming horizon and I decide to go out in style. My sore throat cries out for constant lubrication and I oblige in the form of beer. These tokens I have in my pocket will be useless tomorrow anyway so I exchange them for as many cold plastic glasses of the local brew as I can carry and head off to catch the much-anticipated (by me anyway) Great Lake Swimmers.

GS1

A Great Lake Swimmer

The Canadian folk rockers have been bleeping loudly on my radar ever since their festival appearance was confirmed a couple of moths ago. Tony Dekker’s troupe arrive with more melodic tunes in their arsenal after releasing their fourth album, Lost Channels, just six weeks earlier and from initial listens, the new record has enhanced the band’s already impressive repertoire. Live on stage, the dreaminess of songs like Everything is Moving So Fast and Stealing Tomorrow takes on a more robust hue while faster numbers like Palmistry and She Comes to Me in Dreams become cinematically epic. Dekker and Co. even get a few toes tapping with the Gram Parsons-inspired The Chorus in the Underground. While it may not be the most explosive end to the festival – Autokratz in the Chapiteau would have provided a more up-tempo finale – Great Lake Swimmers bring down the curtain on Les Nuits in the perfect way for me; a show which embodies the class and professionalism of the ten-day soirée.