Just some of the conundrums the 2014 Laugharne Festival failed to solve.
Icke did not attend and his entourage were reportedly uncontactable. The Kinks’ genius fortunately did appear and was full of bizarre, well-observed tales from an extraordinary career.
The festival attracted roughly 1,500 people in its eighth year which coincided with the 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas’s death. A sort of post-Glastonbury event for fiftysomething former razzle-dazzlers, Guardian readers and Radio 4 listeners.
Friday, if you fancied it, was a rock day, though no doubt Green Gartside might argue eloquently and elegantly that he is not a ‘rock’ performer.
Former NME, Smash Hits and bloke off the telly, Mark Ellen has written a book – as all these people seem to do now – on the gilded life – as it appears from the outside – as a rock writer/working on the NME/hosting Live Aid.
He doesn’t do dishing dirt, apart from pointing out that fellow NME scribes were keen on Berwick on Tweed (speed) and what seemed like the old chestnut, sure I’ve heard it before: “There are two types of people in the world. Those who like Van Morrison and those who’ve met him.”
Green Gartside’s voice, for me, is one of the wonders of the age which I never clocked back in the 80s.
A breathy, girlish, achingly tender tone, it’s a startling contrast to his between-song boom.
Not even a big fan in the Eighties, I’ve been thunderstruck by how good they are live and how close to their recorded sound they come.
Understated tunes so gentle and peaceful you want to stroke them. Phil Jupitus head-jived in his seat, Mark Ellen admired from the side and I’m still trying to work out why they are not more popular.
Proselytising Pete was in classic Scouse gobshite form – that’s a compliment not a criticism – and it was entirely fitting to see him preaching from the pulpit of the English Congregational Church.
All the passion of a deep South Baptist preacher, some northern chippiness and some ‘legendary Liverpool wit’ as I think we are obliged to call it teamed up for rousing session that made you wonder why he hardly played outside his home territory for more than ten years.
‘Pete Widely’, as he introduced himself to Mark Ellen, having put on some weight of late, looked like a stocky middle-aged trade union official in his black leather jacket and slick-backed hair.
He sported a spangly blood-red tie and swigged Stella.
The tie and jacket were jettisoned soon after he started off with Better Scream and Come Back, backed by Tom Carroll – both played acoustic or semi-acoustic guitars.
As a keen activist in the Justice for Hillsborough Campaign, he was keen to promote the cause.
Other numbers played included Seven Minutes for Midnight, Sinful, Story of the Blues and Heart as Big as Liverpool.
It was slightly surprising by the end that no steam could be seen rising above him.
“Maybe I should play more often outside Liverpool,” he concluded. “But not Birkenhead.”
Yes, Pete, maybe you should.
Almost a crow-black sky for most of the day. The weakest bill of the three days and the alleged highlight, David Icke, didn’t turn up, not that I was going to see him anyway. Insert your own conspiracy theory joke at the bottom of this piece – I think he may have been kidnapped by aliens.
Pal Iwan stayed up til at least midnight on Friday as Icke’s entourage, not Icke himself, was due to stay in his barn in St Clears. “Still haven’t heard from the fuckers,” he harrumphed on Sunday evening.
Bez, from the Happy Mondays, replaced him and probably made more sense but I missed it.
The discussion on music in the Congregational Church was too male-dominated and infuriatingly wayward but still worthwhile if you are a music geek and like to over-analyse esoteric bones of contention.
The personal discovery of the day was ultra-cerebral comic Robin Ince and the musician Grace Petrie.
Motormouth Ince somehow manages not to gabble when he talks. He speaks as though he would like to talk even faster than he can but is only held back by the chronic inability of his tongue and mouth to keep up with the meteoritic thoughts flashing through his brain en route to another galaxy.
Petrie’s great line in self-deprecation revealed that the English Defence League have dubbed her a ‘smelly lezzer’.
Gamine Grace is a cross between Joni Mitchell and Billy Bragg. She’s got the wistful charm of the first and, like Bragg, sometimes tries to cram too many words into her breathless sentences as she charges crisply, confidently and impressively through her songs. An unexpected highlight of the day.
It was like London-on-the-Taf or maybe, if you stretch the first vowel, Laugharne-don.
All the headliners seemed to be down from the Smoke although, disappointingly, but you’d never criticise him – he’s almost a God – Wilko Johnson did not make it to the festival.
Most of the Londoners tried out their attempts at Welsh accents – as Londoners like to do when they come down by yer – to polite titters.
You had posh London – Julien Temple interviewed via the estuary accent of Johnny Green, gorblimeyily matey and enjoyably insightful. The former Clash roadie sported bootlace tie, frock coat jacket, Michael Caine 60s specs, lovely bright socks and an air of implacable permanence. Definitely the best-dressed man in Wales for the day. You wouldn’t want to walk around Tredegar like that though.
Temple then teed up Ray Davies. Later on, a Great Train Robber’s son, Nick Reynolds, talked of his father, Bruce, who masterminded a £2.6m heist (supposedly the equivalent of £46m today) and then London’s angriest man Mark Thomas marvellously and hilariously detailed his latest stunts.
Local talent to feature included Super Furry Animals’ bass player Guto whose band Gulp were upstairs in the rugby club but I only caught one song.
The director of the Great Rock n Roll Swindle, The Filth and the Fury and, my favourite, Oil City Confidential, about Dr Feelgood, spoke largely about the Sex Pistols.
As with the Beatles, the subject of a talk the day before, us Pistols devotees will never tire of reminiscing of the punk heyday.
Temple discovered the band while walking in London’s desolate, almost deserted docklands in 1976 on a Sunday. He heard a Small Faces track in the air and followed the sound to a building in Rotherhithe. He walked up the staircase to see the band rehearsing. They were murdering the Small Faces tune, twisting it viciously into something it had never meant to be.
“You were like the Bisto kids following the smell of gravy,” mused Green.
Temple failed to ask their name, and scoured the music papers to discover who they were, spotted their name, decided that was who he had seen and turned up for their second gig six weeks later.
The initiation into the Pistols’ inner circle was arduous and involved smuggling cameras into concerts, being spat at by Sid Vicious and viewed, due to his posh roots, with suspicion.
Thank God for his tenacity. Without him, as an audience member explained, we would have fewer testaments to the Pistols’ power and importance.
As one mother, thanking him for his work, pointed out – her two sons had not quite understood the Pistols and why they were so important until footage of the band’s last UK show, in Huddersfield on Christmas Day, was screened recently on TV.
The national newspaper cartoonist @martinrowson was busy in the High Street.
Happily posing for this picture outside Pelican House.
He explained: “David Icke (top left) didn’t turn up so that’s him being rimmed by a lizard (top, middle and right).
“Bottom left is Dylan Thomas’s father, the one over the door is Dylan with Caitlin and the last one is death. This was the house where Dylan was laid out in his coffin after he died.”
A man with more stories than the Bible, the train journey down sparked his memories of early Kinks gigs.
Bravely, they played Neath. Brother Dave antagonised the promoter of the gig and they ended up being thrown out of the venue with the immortal line: “You’re finished in Neath.”
As many visitors since to Neath can testify, they were lucky to get out alive. Neath’s loss was the world’s gain and Davies detailed how a ban from the US in the Sixties may have been the making of his band.
Unlike the other British bands who took the US by storm, the Kinks stayed in the UK where Davies retreated into himself, perhaps, to hone the classic English observational storytelling style that’s never been bettered. All his early hits were set very close to home.
He outlined the influence of his sister who married a US serviceman and helped form his early musical ‘core’ by sending over records from the States well before they became available in the UK.
This appearance at the festival was to talk rather than perform, about his book Americana, which is about the role America has played in his life.
We learned that he knows where the guy who shot him in New Orleans ten years ago lives and he added fuel to the notion that the Kinks may yet team up – saying he and brother Dave had played together at Christmas.
The question he’s always asked? Lola really did exist. At a venue in Paris, Davies clocked what she was and passed her on to someone else.
Fitting that he came to Laugharne. In a revealing nugget, he said: “I’m the lonely guy in the bar, but I’m not self-pitying, I like it.”
Dylan Thomas wasn’t the only one to wander lonely as a cloud.