If the only certainties in life are death and taxes, then the only givens at a Kozfest appear to be that a. that at some point you’ll hear ‘The Glorious Om Riff’ being performed on site and b. you’re likely to get passed every few minutes or so by someone wearing a ‘Camembert Electrique’ T-shirt.
As a veteran now of the last three Kozfests I’d like to add a couple more: c. you’re likely to see Mike Howlett and Graham Clark popping up in guest capacity with numerous bands; and d. you’re going to get covered in orange clay dust following a torrential downpour.
Precisely what Kozfest – A Psychedelic Dream Festival is to you depends on your own personal take: despite the festival capacity being a relatively tiny 500 it takes on many forms. For many it’s a grungy post-Hawkwind vibe, with low-slung basses and leather-clad outfits; for others it’s a chance to fraternise with other grizzled survivors of the free festie movement. You can add into the mix in 2018 a new element: a doomy psych feel as demonstrated by Saturday headliners, the Cosmic Dead, all flailing hair, dark clothing and unrelenting barrage of noise with few chinks of light permitted.
The Cosmic Dead
For me, this time around, the Kozfest experience was partly about mingling – the more you go to Kozfest the more connections you appear to make. My 9 year old son came away with a more rounded musical education than me, and I’ll unashamedly admit that in between having a bloody good chat with familiar faces such as Jonny from GAS and Shankara Andy Bole, and making some lovely new connections with Gong violinist Graham Clark and Invisible Opera Company of Tibet luminary Brian Abbott, that my own musical landscape was dominated by those numerous Gong connections which have always drawn me to the festival. I’ve described Kozfest’s unique winning formula in terms of its setup and scheduling when reviewing previous editions, so please refer to them for a fuller flavour than what is written here.
The author, Graham Clark, Brian Abbott
I’m afraid to say that in amongst my own general mayhem I missed out on seeing previously loved Kozfavourites Deltanaut and Beastfish (whose keyboard player and good friend Mick West, died earlier this year), and caught only snippets of the splendid Deviant Amps, old punky faves Back to the Planet, the folky festival uplift of Flutatious and the band of star bass player Tom Ashurst (he of last years Ozric pop up band, but this year reinvented as a startling guitar soloist with UBOA). I only heard what sounded like a splendid Mugstar performance through the trees from my tent in the Friday headline slot and had left camp complete with soggy gear before Kangaroo Moon and Ed Ozric’s Noden’s Ictus headlined on Sunday night, but for what I did see, well here goes…
I’d been most excited by the appearance of Canterbury’s scandalously hidden secret Lapis Lazuli, and I was not to be disappointed. I don’t know if by Sunday evening Kozmic Ken was still of the opinion, expressed after their set on Friday, that they’d been the best band of the festival, but I certainly was. This extraordinary quartet of musicians had the confidence to perform an hour’s worth of entirely new material, and they were certainly like nothing else on the bill. Kozfest prides itself on its ostentatious display of the full gamut of psychedelia: be it spacey drones, bubbling keyboards, or driving rhythms interspersed with guitar heroics. But Lapis Lazuli peddle something rather different, and I go back to drummer Adam Brodigan’s take on psychedelia aired at the Canterbury Sound day last October: to bombard the listener with so many ideas, changes and effects that the listener is transported somewhere else entirely during the course of their set.
Generally Lapis tracks clock in at around 20 minutes, although there are so many twists and turns that they might get through 10 distinct themes in that time. In fact, for what will be their first album without saxophonist Phil Holmes, they managed to race through a good 8 or 9 different tracks, but unlike their performance in Canterbury, where they replaced Holmes’ lines with midi’d effects, mainly through the guitar, here the overall sound was more of a guitar power-quartet, tuning into a myriad of styles, the most prominent of which is funk. It’s also a band that appears almost without ego: four very gifted musicians pulling together consummately in weaving their way through a mesmeric, tightly written series of compositions.
Neil Sullivan, Lapis Lazuli
At times the gear shifts are so complex that one can only laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. A nominal front man might well be Luke Mennis, by far the youngest of the quartet – the Lapis may get through their fair share of bass players, but they are all ridiculously talented: Mennis adds a certain visual presence through an engaging hyperactivity. If I can’t quite describe Lapis Lazuli’s music then that’s in one part testament to their own bloody-mindedness in defying categorisation and in another proof that Brodigan’s vision is being achieved: you are spat out at the end of a set not entirely sure what’s happened, except that an awful lot has. I can’t quite believe this band were off my radar until less than a year ago – each of their 4 albums to date has been stunning, and No 5 sounds like it will be maintaining their own exemplary standards.
On arriving on site on Thursday night, we’d headed up to the festival’s main drag, not expecting to witness anything in particular (the music doesn’t start until midday on Friday) but ended up not just watching an old Jimi Hendrix concert on screen in the tiny Wallys Tent (more of which later) but also talking to various luminaries in the GAS tent. One, I realised later was none other than Basil Brooks formerly of Zorch – it turned out that he was due to play on Saturday in a band calling themselves Yamma – this had the stellar line-up of Cary Grace (American singer and synth player who has appeared in various guises in the last few Kozfests, notably in 2016 with Steffe Sharpsrings on guitar), Brooks, Graham Clark (on guitar) and Mike Howlett. An impromptu supergroup if ever there was one.
The Yamma effect!
A mid-afternoon set saw the crowd in Judge Trev’s tent in chilled out mode and the sounds initially reflected this: building layers of keyboards, effects, the WX7 of Brooks (an instrument I think I’d last seen Didier Malherbe play in the 90s) and subtle guitar themes under Howlett’s hypnotic bass lines. This moved on in the last third or so of the gig to a memorable blues based piece which brought out the best in Cary Grace’s vocals, with some superb inflections, as well as some outstanding touches from Clark’s guitar – this was high class work and I was surprised to hear later that this quartet was a pop-up band working their way through material together for the first time ever, all in an live environment too.
Cary Grace, Yamma
The rest of Saturday drifted past, kids were put to bed, and just before midnight I found myself wandering back up to the site hoping to catch Shankara Andy Bole’s interpretation of ‘Nosferatu’, something he’d performed last year, but which I’d missed. This was staged in the aforementioned ‘Wallys Tent’, capacity around 20, most of whom were horizontal. Thanks to gremlins the actual film never cranked up, despite various scurrying about by others off-stage, leaving Andy and right hand man Brian Abbott to perform an hour-long continuous piece based on triggered loops from the Bole guitar, with additional themes and treatments. Andy Bole has an extensive back catalogue of material, most of which I am not (yet) familiar with, but what I can tell you is that he crafts universally beautiful music with a glorious sense of space and imperceptible changes in direction. He is also renowned as a bouzouki player and whilst I don’t think this made an appearance during the set various nods to its tuning were exercised. I haven’t ever watched Nosferatu, but am passingly familiar with the story: what was surprising was that the music was uplifting rather than doomy or terrifying – the duo admitted later that they’d gone off on a completely different tack than intended: whether this was as a result of the lack of visuals wasn’t clear. Whichever way, the result was sublime, and alongside the Lapis Lazuli gig a clear highlight of my Kozfest 2018.
A ripple of anticipation went around the Planet Gong and Kozfest Facebook groups when the line-up for Sunday’s Judge Trev tent went live, showcasing as it did a whole host of Gong-related acts: The Glissando Guitar Orchestra, Sacred Geometry Banned, Magick Brothers, Invisible Opera Company of Tibet and Kangaroo Moon, punctuated by the Gong-ish Sendelica and the more folky Flutatious in mid-afternoon. I missed the first two bands: the Glissando Guitar Orchestra, based around the Seven Drones recorded by Daevid Allen are the perfect Sunday morning tonic after a hard Saturday night’s partying and were quite a spectacle when I saw them in 2016. I’m still not entirely sure about the make-up of the Sacred Geometry Banned who I’ve managed to miss every time at Kozfest (we were packing up our tent at the time), but based on the excellent quartet of Sacred Geometry albums going under the banner of Microcosmic, the band presumably also set out a spacey template for their audience to chill out to. When we finally arrived on site, it was in time to see the wonderful Magick Brothers, sadly reduced to a duo since the death of Daevid Allen but today augmented by various guests.
Magick Brother Graham Clark
Magick was indeed the word to describe my first live viewing of ‘Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do’, the opener from my favourite Allen solo album ‘Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life’, superbly sung here by Mark Robson over his own piano accompaniment. Other superb renditions followed of Robson’s interpretation of ‘Wayland Smithy’ the perfect vehicle for both his penny whistle, probably his finest suit, and Graham Clark’s virtuoso violin. Other tracks included ‘Herbaceous Border’, plus a fiery version of the road protest song which I recognised but can’t at this minute put a name to, complete with apology from Robson for ruining the peaceful Sunday afternoon vibe, and, blessed be, ‘Wise Man In Your Heart’ replete with its trademark bassline performed by the bass player from the original version on ‘Good Morning’, Mike Howlett. Brian Abbott also appeared on guest guitar for the Brothers – of the many gigs I’ve seen by this band, this performance was my favourite…
Mike Howlett guesting with the Magick Brothers
And so, finally (for me), the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet. If the Magick Brothers carry forward the Allen acoustic vibe, then the Invisibles rock it up. I didn’t see the full set as we were in a queue for food and listening from a distance, but the way my son shot off into the tent told me that the Om Riff was getting its final incarnation of the weekend as the Invisibles joyously rumbled through ‘Master Builder’ with an extended line-up including Andy Bole, Mike Howlett and Graham Clark. I think by this point they’d already performed ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ but thankfully I was witness to a triumphant finale, a rousing version of ‘We Circle Around’ and finally, courtesy of a manic cameo from Tim Hawthorn on vocals, ‘Bad Self’ from the ‘Jewel in the Lotus’ release. A great finale to our festival as we said our goodbyes, admired the sunset and watched others doing the same, then rather misguidedly hit the road before Kangaroo Moon in order to ‘miss the traffic’ on our way back up north. Two hours surveying the centre of Stafford in all its minutae at 2 in the morning allowed to reflect at our leisure as to quite what a poor decision that had been….
All photo credits Anne Roberts & Georgina Filby