Followers of the Facelift blog may have noticed a lack of posts recently. But if anything was going to shake me out of writing torpor, it was bound to be Kozfest, that little slice of July Devonshire psychedelia, returning after a 2 year enforced absence. Let’s not forget that it was our first visit to KF back in 2016 that inspired the creation of this blog in the first place….
We missed the festival in 2019, having just moved house, and so this was our first experience of the new site, perched up on a headland on a sprawling single field site looking over Woollacombe bay. What would it be like? Weather watching from about 10 days out revealed that the site was due to endure fairly cataclysmic thunderstorms on Friday night, and that forecast never really deviated – even being augmented by a BBC report saying that campsites in the south were likely to be closed due to imminent impact. Another unknown quantity was which bands would survive from the previous year’s billing, given changes in circumstances, plus last minute COVID notifications. And probably most important of all, what would be the mood in camp with this being the first festival since the passing of Kozmik Ken, the much loved public face and compere of a previous 9 festivals.
This year we were running the Kids tent, which meant several days of packing up and organising before heading down, (a mercifully short journey clocking in at a tolerable 6 hours), broken up by scrumping a large bag of plums at Gloucester Services, and arriving on site around 6pm, glorious weather still intact. Initial site for the kids tent was hastily reconsidered as space was made for the ‘luxury’ toilets next to the Judge Trev stage, a byproduct of the sanitation company somehow overlooking a long booked order from the festival and having to up their game a little to compensate. Back in our little world, both tents were set up and set out, and kids fed and watered in time for a dusk-time wander around site.
Onsite affection towards Ken was reflected by a large audience present for the premiere of the film based around his life, aired in the Wally tent at 10pm. I’ve never seen the festival so busy at this time of the weekend, people spilling out into the main drag watching a loving tribute to a man I knew little about other than his friendly presence on and off stage at the three previous festivals we’d attended. Curated by Jay Canterbrigge, it featured interviews and reminiscences with many familiar musician faces but it was probably footage of Ken’s appearance on ‘Fifteen to One’ which stole the show. The video is here for a very limited time, I am sure it will appear elsewhere at some point.
Friday dawned, a little windier but still set fair. Some last minute pull-outs, COVID-related, meant that the eagerly awaited schedule for both the main Daevid Allen stage and the more intimate Judge Trev stage, this year both festooned in the festival’s trademark red and yellow stripes, was delayed. In fact the net result was that the music didn’t kick off bang on midday, but times were adjusted on both stages so that things only really get properly going in mid afternoon. Festival co-organiser Paul Woodwright confessed that due to last minute changes in circumstances there would be a certain amount of ‘winging it’. It was the last and only time, from the outside at least, that things didn’t seem to be running like clockwork. I suspect even if that had been the case that the general feeling of bonhomie around site from a somewhat reduced audience would have prevailed (the organisers had very generously agreed to defer tickets for another year for anyone not comfortable with attending in 2021).
Highlight of Friday’s music for me was Magic Bus. Canterbury sounding through and through, with crisp changes of direction, Pye Hastings-esque strummed guitar and a pastoral dreamy vibe, I’d been somewhat nervous that following the departure of excellent integral flautist Viv, the band wouldn’t have the same impact. But, airing material from a number of albums, most notably ‘Zeta’ from ‘Phillip the Egg’, plus salient parts from their latest album ‘The Earth Years’ and buoyed by an extraordinary performance from stand-in and very youthful keyboard player George, this was tightly delivered and sonically pristine music par excellence. Myself and son Joe, a budding guitarist, marvelled at the economy of lead guitarist Terence, bandana and all, no note is wasted…
We also caught bits of the opening act Aura, an Ultramarinish blend of electronica and live guitar; the lively Dubbal, the excellent driving groove of the Spacedogs, and, alas too late to capture their full set, the really excellent trio Nukli, who I have somehow managed to miss in all previous Kozfests, a travesty as guitarist Kev Hegan and bass player Mark Huxley are fairly omnipresent and create funky, expanding soundscapes which are truly excellent.
That just left Friday headliners Here and Now, who arrived on stage to a real sense of anticipation, and for me a real surprise… When we saw them at the Golden Lion a couple of years back it was clear there was some strong new material to back up the best of the Keith Bailey side of the band’s repertoire (‘What You See Is What You Are’, ‘So Glad You’re Here’, ‘Secrets’ etc) but what I didn’t know was their tradition of blindingly good guitarists was continuing with none other than Tom Ashurst, whose duo with H&N keyboard player Mark Robson had been so memorable. Here and Now were very much an assault on the ears, none better than a hypnotic groove somewhere in the middle of the set I can’t put a name to, which was quite transportational. And it would appear that Tom (also of the Hawklords, who had originally been billed to play here) has found a home for his clear sense of showmanship – his unbelievable guitar abilities were never in doubt…
After all that, I managed to miss the much anticipated storm overnight, enough to flatten a few tents and filter a wet sea breeze through a few more, but not enough to disturb my soundest sleep for several months. We woke up to a watery morning, all intact and set fair for a couple of busy days in the kids tent. Still, I wasn’t going to miss out on Shankara Andy Bole’s set, always a highlight of the festival, a beautifully poised blend of stringed instruments, the primary one being the bouzouki, augmented by guitar glissandoed and electric, built up in looped layers. Another musician later told me this performance had moved him to tears – me too…
Andy stayed on stage for a somewhat unheralded set by Zinc RSI, which turned out to be a 45 minute performance of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’, a composer (and piece) that was so influential for Daevid Allen and other musicians from the first generation of the Soft Machine. One of the performers, Billie Bottle (on keyboards) later explained the process… of there being a set number of pre-written phrases to be delivered, with musicians having control over when each segment was delivered, and how many times, subject to a sequence order and the various phrases not being too distant from one another between the players. This rather made sense of the fact that whilst Brian Abbott (amongst others) had sheet music in front of him, the page was never turned, even though the music extended into scores of minutes. Intense concentration, beautiful flute playing (from Viv Goodwin-Darke) and multiple intertwining layers of instrumentation (from memory there were multiple keyboards and guitars as well as the flute) was immersive and hypnotic – a unique and memorable performance.
And aside from a rollicking performance from the Judge Trev Band over on the Daevid Allen stage, that was pretty much it for us until the evening, despite the very many treats on both stages, Deviant Amps included. Apologies to the many fine bands not mentioned here, we’ll do our best to catch up with you next time. But I am sure that we were not alone in reserving the greatest excitement for Saturday’s double header of The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, followed by the mighty Gong.
The Invisibles have undergone a few line-up changes since last time I saw them, due to a variety of circumstances, the most alarming being the absence due to illness of lead singer Jackie Juno (we wish her well). Joining guitarist Brian Abbott (tonight taking on board most lead singing duties) and bass player Phil Whitehouse and two players already ensconced in the band for their last release (drummer Matt and flautist Viv) was last minute addition Billie Bottle on keyboards and vocals. Prevailing memories are of a funked up first half of the set, a most unexpected and euphoric Flute Salad/Oily Way/ Inner Temple/Outer Temple segue which had the majority of the crowd wigging out, and, with time running out, a hastily convened, brusque and hilarious finale. A little back story here: knowing that Billie was appearing with the band, I’d messaged her a week before as my daughter Ella had been asking whether ‘Bad Self’ would be performed by the band. The answer came back as a polite ‘no’, but the seed had been sown, and as Tim Hawthorn burst on to stage in theatrical manner, Ella had the song dedicated to her by Brian Abbott and chaos ensued. A priceless moment.
Dead Otter sounded excellent from a distance over on the Judge Trev tent, shades of early Black Sabbath there, but already thoughts were turning to the main act. I’ve now seen the current version of Gong 7 times, but it is still possible to get extremely nervous as the sun dips below the skyline, crowds start to build up towards the front of tent and tension builds. The sideshow of having two excited but slightly overawed kids towards the front of the crowd (Joe had met two of his guitar heroes from Gong a little earlier), surrounded by equally excited but shall we say, carefree, adults added to the nervousness. (One of the children even said “I’m staying up at least until they play ‘The Elemental’” – which in retrospect would have been a very long wait!). Kavus Torabi succinctly welcoming the crowd with trademark wide-eyed wonder at the fact that the band and their most ardent audience were celebrating their first post-lockdown performance together (‘Look at all your beautiful faces’!).
Working their way through the first 3 tracks of the latest album ‘The Universal Also Collapses’ they also fitted in ‘Rejoice!’, the exultant finale ‘Insert Yr Own Prophecy’, and a raucous ‘Kapital’ from the first post-Daevid album and still managed to squeeze in ‘Selene’ and ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ for the ‘traditionalists’. I must have heard the latter track on every single occasion I’ve ever seen Gong, and that is probably more than 30 times now, but tonight’s rendition was electric in the extreme, taking on double significance in the light of COVID and the absence of Kozmik Ken. So, no real surprises in the repertoire, but context is everything and I don’t think the kids, who lasted about half way through the 90 minute set will forget it in a hurry!
I can’t think of any more therapeutic ways of spending a sunny Sunday, particularly after a gnarly Saturday evening, than being in the environs of the Judge Trev Tent. Kozfest Sundays appear to be reserved for gentler, somewhat more forgiving musical sounds, with very obvious links to the Gong global family. This was the first time I had sat through an entire performance from the Glissando Guitar Orchestra, its numbers swelled, as I’d hoped they would be last time Gong played Kozfest in 2016, by Kavus Torabi, and the peerless glissman himself, Fabio Golfetti.
As Kavus pointed out in his later solo gig, Fabio had made the extraordinary trip from Sao Paolo primarily to play a single gig with Gong here, going through the excruciation of enforced and extortionately expensive quarantine for 10 days en route. I hope this performance soothed his soul a little at least, it sounded good from our vantage point just outside of the tent where Ella met Billie Bottle for the first time!
From a distance I then heard Saff Juno (daughter of Invisibles’ Brian Abbott and Jackie Juno), then a solo violin set from Graham Clark, and then more proximately a solo performance from Kavus Torabi on guitar, harmonium, loops and gliss, particularly evocative for me as his streamed performance of his solo album in the early days of the first lockdown remains the soundtrack for me of the start of a very weird alternative reality for all of us in 2020. The Magick Brothers, consisting of Graham Clark and Mark Robson, very much take forward the acoustic legacy of Daevid Allen, and although again I didn’t see them in person, the strains of ‘No Other Than The Mother Is My Song’ from ‘N’Existe Pas’ stopped me in my tracks a few hundred yards away, another beautiful moment.
Before arriving on site I’d vowed that one of the performances I simply had to see was with Tim Hawthorn’s band The Anarchetypes. Since the last Kozfest I’ve started to delve into his excellent solo work and there is a timeline running through his work with GAS, the Invisibles and Silver On The Tree which would be irresistible enough, even if it were not for some stunning recordings here on soundcloud. Ashamed to say that I missed this also as duty called, apart from a sneaky escape to catch a quick 5 minutes of the set, where some thundering bass remained the prevailing memory. Slightly later on, whilst running an errand, I was startled to hear a rendition of Soft Machine/Caravan’s ‘Backwards’ complete with theremin interjections, courtesy of Canterbury afficionado Richard Armstrong-Sealand who guests (as does Graham Clark) on the latest Anarchetypes CD. Soft Machine with theremin, must be a first. Next time I will see the band in its full glory.
With the kids tent winding down for the evening, we managed to jig our way merrily through the latter half of the Kangaroo Moon set, violinist Elliet Mackrell rarely fails to send one into orbit, before the final Judge Trev offering, The Utopia Strong. As detailed elsewhere, every performance by this three piece involving the modular synths of Steve Davis and Mike York (who also plays pipes) and the guitar and harmonium of Kavus Torabi, is unique, and tonight the music, bubbling away into the night sky, was simply beautiful.
Whilst the Groundhogs thundered away in the main tent a little while later, and Wally’s Tent continued to offer up a series of low key jammed gems into the small hours, this seemed an appropriate way to sign off for another year.
Massive thanks go to Paul Woodwright and Snake Lee, masterminds behind Kozfest 2021, and to all the crew who made this edition possibly the most memorable yet for us. Great to catch up with Banana Steve and Harma, Shankara Andy Bole and kids, Billie Bottle, Fabio Golfetti, Richard Armstrong-Sealand and partner, Kavus, Ian and Dave from Gong, Tim Hawthorn, Jonny from Gas, Graham Clark, Brian Abbott, Ali and Robert and all the pot pourri of punters and musicians which makes the festival so unique – a testament indeed to the spirit of Kozmik Ken Ingham…