Friday 28 July – Sunday 30 July, Bobby’s Farm, Uffculme, Devon
For the unitiated, Kozfest is a unique festival set in the rolling hills of the Devon countryside. In the big picture of festivaldom, it’s a tiny speck, limited to 500 punters but blessed by up to 300 performers, many of whom have direct or indirect links to musicians covered by Facelift magazine over the years, particularly at the psychedelic end of the scene. Unlike last year’s sun-drenched bake-out, this was a muddy affair, not quite Glastonbury but enough to dampen the campers’ spirits a little, if not deterring musically from another feast.
The festival is almost like a private party, except that firstly you can invite yourself (if you get hold of tickets in time) and secondly that you might not know anyone – (at least at first). It’s unique because at any set time you can look to either side of you realise that you’re surrounded by people you’ve spoken to around your tent or at the various stalls, or musicians you’ve been watching. There’s no distinguishing between punters and performers in terms of egos at least, it’s all one happy colourful family. The place is festooned with memorably coiffeured, dressed or chisel-featured characters – it’s almost inevitable that the bloke in the cape and goggles in front of you in the pizza queue is going to pop up on a stage at some point – it’s just a question of when. Kozmic Ken, who gives the name to the festival, bumbles around the festival amiably, presenting the bands on the main stage and dispensing good vibes to all.
Spiral Navigators – photo Annie Roberts
With Here and Now, System 7 (Steve Hillage/Miquette Giraudy) and Soft Machine headlining the 3 nights respectively, it seems strange to report that I only saw Here and Now, but I was visiting the festival, as one does, very much in punter rather than band bucketlist mode. Plus with two young children in tow, energies were flagging when the final band came on each evening at 10.30pm. More about those three headlining bands later.
For all the undoubted kudos for Kozfest of attracting the headliners, which ensures a steady build up of anticipation throughout the day, much of the vibe of the festival is exploring a few musical connections, delving into something entirely new, or witnessing a spontaneous happening. The musical onslaught is relentless – it’s possible but probably not advisable to see every band on the main billings through drifting sheeplike from one stage to another. The festival layout is inspired: within its tiny acreage, the entire event is spread over only two fields – a flat one at the bottom for motorhomes, cars and a few tents, and a sloping one above leading to a flat platform at the top in which is contained the entire gamut of facilities: 4 or 5 food stalls, the Tat for Tibet quartermasters stores, Gong’s GAS merchandise tent, and various other small arts/crafts/clothes concerns. At either end of the platform is a marquee – the Daevid Allen stage a larger, more functional, white-sided marquees with official merchandise at the back; and the Judge Trev stage – smaller, more atmospheric with its red interior setting a more atmospheric feel for the bands within. The scheduling is pure genius – bands play their 1 hour sets in one tent whilst the following band in the other tent do their soundcheck. There’s a 10 minute overlap where two bands will be playing simultaneously, which also means that most bands start off with a very small audience only for half the festival to drift in to populate the tent after 10 minutes or so. Browse the photos on the Kozfest Facebook pages and you could be forgiven for thinking that the festival is populated by a load of untogether stoner types – and in terms of us punters that might have a ring of truth, but in terms of organisation this is as tightly scheduled as anything I’ve seen – bands arrived and left the stage on the dot, and not just to meet the midnight curfew. At the Judge Trev stage the meticulous nature of the timings was particularly evident with soundchecks punctuated with shouts of “5 minutes”, “2 minutes” barked out in the preamble to a band coming on. One band (Magic Bus) were hauled off stage for starting 4 minutes too early! It’s possible to spend 12 hours meandering between each stage without a break and have constant music piped into your ears – and we certainly dipped into this mode of operation at times, but at the same time with two small children to entertain we also managed to engineer a weird parallel universe: a sort of soundcheck crawl where we arrived in an empty marquee as bands finished to allow the kids to run free in the open spaces as the rain beat down outside. I now know lots about how sound engineers set up their rig, as well as being the proud patentor of a new children’s game where the participants attempt to throw soggy rolled up socks into a pair of open wellington boots.
If Kozfest 2016, was for me at least, savouring not just the new Gong incarnation, but finding Gong emigrees such as Steffe, Mike Howlett and Graham Clark popping up in a variety of new contexts, then 2017 was very much about the wider Ozric Tentacles family.
Whilst I managed to miss the Oroonies and Zub Zub, (both with Ozrics connections), I’d identified that the band I really wanted to see at Kozfest was the Ullulators, a band led by original Ozrics guitarist Gavin Griffiths. Familiar with their early cassette tape (Share a Clam), the superb official release Flaming Khaos LP and having streamed their recent comeback album, their highly polished blend of reggae beats, electronica and Ozricsesque guitar work was an undoubted highlight of the festival – slick, spacey and utterly compelling. Added spice was given by the fact that we’d already spotted Ed Wynne, the Ozrics main man and guitarist around site – anticipation grew as he moved towards side stage and was then seen twiddling with an amp ready to come on. Outstanding versions of ‘Gunk Rock’ and ‘Special Brew’ preceded him appearing on stage for the last two numbers: with Gavin and Ed on guitars Tig on drums, Joie Hinton on synths and I think Paul Hankin on congas, this was pretty close to an original Ozrics line up. The icing on the cake was the announcement at the end of the set that Ed and associated musicians would be appearing on the final morning at midday for ‘an hour long jam’. Given that we’d also seen ‘Jumping’ John the flute player also on site, could this be a bona fide Ozrics reunion?
Ullulators with guest Ed Wynne – photo – Annie Roberts
Anyway, in the meantime other matters: lots to report on the Here and Now axis. The band have just altered their lineup twice over with a new guitarist (Andy ) and drummer replacing Slim and Woody who were nevertheless on site with Beastfish (more later). First time since the late 80s/early 90s that I’ve seen the band without guitarist Steffe, and I’d probably not appreciated before quite how the (for now dormant) axis between him and Keith Missile works in terms of songs. That early 90s lineup was quite ska-based in sound, and worthy as it was, I do seem to regularly remember hanging on in there for the rollout of ‘Floating Anarchy’ or ‘Opium For the People’. Tonight’s session was a mixture of those old 80s/90s tunes on the one hand, and more spaced out stuff on the other. No prizes for guessing which I preferred, and it was admittedly excellent – Keith is such an outstanding purveyor of bass grooves. This lineup has two keyboards, with Mark Robson joined by the other Andy, both also sing. The sound suffered a bit live, which meant that the clear talents of the lead guitarist were somewhat unheard – a shame.
The Here and Now set was the finale of a Friday which also saw two of its members also perform in the Music of the Andys (!), joined on stage by Mark Robson’s didgeridoo. Much more memorable for me was the aforementioned Beastfish. I’d heard about this lot because fellow Hebdenite and multi-instrumentalist Mick West plays keyboards with them, and they also feature recent Here and Now members Slim Verhoef (guitar) and Woody (drums). A few Youtube videos had revealed some polished instrumental work and off-the-wall vocals, but that doesn’t tell the half of it – Beastfish are a quite extraordinary outfit – tight and extremely intricate compositions forming the backdrop to a quite mesmerising spoken word performance. A quick chat with the frontman afterwards revealed that the tracks are individual poems performed with considerable charisma and stage presence. Shades of the punk poets of the 80s or the Fall here (although their music was never so finely honed), others suggested Robert Calvert or the Stranglers – it was that good.
Graham Clark (Gong Maison violinist and Magick Brother) was on site but we managed to miss him performing – Andy Bole too, one of our highlights from last year – his excellent Rainbow Crow (looped bouzouki layers) album must be heard – he was performing an improvised backdrop to Nosferatu in the Wally Hope stage (actually a tipi no bigger than our own tent! – ‘bands’ popped up there all weekend). The Glissando Guitar Orchestra, a collection of 8 or 10 purveyors of the art, performed a series of Daevid Allen’s mediational drones – quite a spectacle, but also missed by us this time. What we did see and enjoyed were Red Sun, an Italian power trio of guitar/bass/drums pounding out riffs with a hint of Violeta de Outono (Fabio Golfetti’s Brazilian band), the slightly warped (post-rock) sounds of the Sendelica Drone orchestra; a shit hot young guitarist with the Cream-like Deltanauts. The Deviant Amps, another trio somewhat more unconstructed than Red Sun, and led by festival co-organiser Paul Woodwright (bass player Subs appears on the Sentient live album) were as usual, tremendous value – check out some fine videos here; Magic Bus headlined on the Judge Trev stage on one night and were a gently complex treat – proggy vibes with more than a hint of Caravan. Shom were, as last year, excellent. Lots more lost somewhere in the festival mix and so many bands missed who I heard were excellent.
Glissando Guitar Orchestra/Sendelica Drone Band- photos – Annie Roberts
Now, returning to the two other big headliners, heard from a distance back at the tent. System 7, Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy’s dancebeat act pumped out the rhythms at the back end of Saturday night. I’ve seen this duo numerous times over the years, less so recently, but you know what you’re going to be getting. Saw them memorably at the Trades Club in Hebden a few years back for one of the their Sunday ‘chillout’ sessions, where Steve ran through a number of trademark Gong/solo sounds/riffs from the 70s, explaining their origins, before then breaking into Mirror System, the ‘ambient’ alterego of System 7. Even on a Sunday lunchtime that inevitably morphed into a techno wigout, and from our fireside pitch in the lower field at Kozfest this was very much the order of the evening. Good fun inside the tent, one assumes.
System 7 (Steve Hillage/Miquette Giraudy) – photo – Annie Roberts
The Soft Machine have recently finally dropped their ‘Legacy’ monicker, but essentially are the same settled lineup of ex Softs members (John Marshall, Roy Babbington, John Etheridge) plus ex Gong sax player Theo Travis. It’s actually quite weird seeing the name Soft Machine on a gig line-up and I did wonder when the last time a band under that name played a festival – mid 70s? When I found out that Soft Machine were headlining Kozfest, I did wonder how they’d go down – their sound is almost incongruous in the mix of grungy, spacey rock which pervades 90% of Kozfest’s lineup, consisting as it does of a jazz-rock pastiche of tracks from the 70s. Again from our firepit I could hear ‘Facelift’, stuff from ‘Softs’, probably material from ‘Six’ and ‘Seven’ that I’m less familiar with, and a brief medley involving the riff from ‘Hazard Profile’ as an endpoint. Good reception, clearly audible exceptional musicianship from 4 master craftsman and although I was a bit gutted not to see them, asking around the site, few people had them as their festival highlights, due to the nature of the music, I reckon.
Finally, back to that Ed Wynne appearance – midday on Sunday saw the larger Daevid Allen tent packed out for an impromptu gig. Joie Hinton was this year’s Mike Howlett, popping up on stage for his umpteenth performance on keyboards, Ed’s son Silas was also on keyboards, and the band alternated between 2 bassists both of whom we’d seen in other bands, the more dubby sounds coming from the Ullulators’ rhythm man, the more funky grooves from quite an extraordinary young man called Tom (I think). Unlike last year’s improvised sets by PsiGong (Mike Howlett) and Sentient (Steffe), highly adventurous but occasionally patchy fusion, the music here by Ed and co was supremely polished – the archetypal space jam – for a scratch outfit there was barely a bum note or wasted chord. Christened ‘Ozfest’ by Kozmic Ken, this was wonderful stuff which hopefully has been captured by somebody, and maybe a portend of Ozrics and Kozfests to come…