PHOTOS BY John Bull ([email protected])
After a year’s enforced absence, the New Day Festival welcomed back fans to listen to three days of music, performed by a wide assortment of acts, in the sumptuous settings of beautiful Mount Ephraim gardens, just a few miles north-west of Canterbury. A new day perhaps, but it seemed as though it had never been away.
There can be fewer locations to stage an event like this which are more picturesque than Mount Ephraim gardens, situated in the very heart of the Kent countryside, with its beautiful environs, rambling gardens, orchards and scenery, not to mention the lake behind the artists backstage area. Several acts were spotted sitting and reflecting by the lake before going onstage. For fans, access to the arena is via a narrow country lane (performers enter another way, which is just as well) and, once inside the grounds, fans park next to the orchards, then it’s a short trek across the fields, through the camp site to where the bands play .. just follow the music. New Day is a very friendly event and, in all the years I’ve attended, the vibe from a largely though not exclusively fifties-plus crowd is one of the best I’ve ever experienced at any outdoor venue.
It’s also a very efficiently run event. We’ve all been to outdoor events when X band is scheduled to appear at Y but eventually come on at Z. There are many reasons why this occurs, not always within the organisers’ control … weather, etc … but at New Day, the running order is largely adhered to, with bands and artists appearing at the time listed, and much of this is down to the sterling efforts of the New Day backstage crew, led by the indomitable Baz, who remove a bands equipment off stage and get the stage ready for the next act while another band is performing on a nearby stage, having already been prepared by the backstage crew. Such timings allows the festival to run almost like clockwork, though it does mean there’s little scope for encores, despite the crowd demanding one and the artist wanting to do one. The strict time scheduling meant, at New Day in 2018, Hawkwind, due to finish at eleven PM, had the power turned off at this time before they could start another song. So, no ‘taking a ride the other side of the sky in a Silver Machine’ for the crowd that year!
Soft Machine opened this year’s event on Friday taking to the stage at the decidedly un-rock ‘n roll time of 12.50pm and, immediately, set the bar very high for all other acts – and, over the weekend, no band equalled them for sheer musical prowess. Every player is a virtuoso, with John Etheridge making some impossible guitar licks look simple, and it’s just a pity they were playing some quite complex jazz-rock at a time when fans were still entering the site, meaning pieces like Book Of Taliesin and Mike Ratledge’s The Man Who Waved At Trains were wasted so early in the day.
“If you know us, you’ll know we don’t play short songs,” said Alan Carter of the Emerald Dawn, who, in a forty minute set, played only four tunes and, with pieces like Beyond The Wall and As Darkness Falls, they showed why they’re beginning to be heavily talked about in prog circles. Ozric Tentacles wove their uniquely trippy soundscapes, fusing psych with prog and trance, in the bright mid-afternoon sunshine, which meant their light show, swirling synths and liquid guitars weren’t seen or heard to the fullest effect. Kindred Spirit, despite having to follow the Ozrics, did well in the afternoon sunshine. Their line-up has undergone three changes since their last appearance at New Day, but their eclectic mix of ‘folk-rock’, with a touch of prog, was well received, and they performed songs from right across their career, including The Alchemist, the gorgeous Children Of The Stars and the dark Wolf At The Gate.
But it was Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash who provided the first real vim of the day to really get the crowd going, playing a blistering set, with songs from Argus, King Will Come, Sometime World and Blowing Free, plus Doctor and Jailbait, with an enthusiastic audience sing-along. Martin Turner is, of course, still a fashion icon with his enviable choice of stage wear! Flutatious have the unenviable task of following on but, in the late afternoon sunshine, their mix of flying fiddles and spacey guitars had the crowd reeling and a-rocking, particularly on The Road To Skye.
Krankschaft’s brand of Space-rock was appropriate for the time of day, mid evening, with a delightful version of Alex Harvey’s Faith Healer a highlight, though personally I’d have loved them to have swapped times with the Ozrics. After this, Martin Barre’s band opened with several early Tull classics, such as Fat Man, For A Thousand Mothers and Song For Jeffrey, before giving us their take on the classic Aqualung, which they perform in its entirety, with the help of ex-Tull original drummer Clive Bunker, who slides onstage almost unnoticed – though, sadly, Dee Palmer, due to play keyboards, was unable to perform at the event. If anyone has the right to change Jethro Tull arrangements somewhat, it’s Martin Barre, given his contribution to Tull’s sound down the years, though it was strange hearing Mother Goose and the epic My God performed without a flute. However, Martin’s take on a classic album and other Tull tracks was admirable and performed with style.
Opening act Paradox Twin came onstage at midday Saturday to a largely empty field as there were a few ticketing and bag search glitches at the gate, though more arrived during their set. Their take on atmospheric prog rock was impressive, with a set drawn from their Mr Bedlam debut album, such as Gravity Time Dilation and Planeta, and their soon to be released follow-up, but they really need to be seen in a hall as their music got lost in the open air. Solstice followed them and showed they’re still keeping the spirit of the free festival scene in the early-mid eighties alive, and with new singer Jess Holland proving herself an amazing vocalist; given this was only her second gig with the band, she handled the day with aplomb. They performed songs from their excellent latest album, Sia, notably Shout, Seven Dreams and Cheyenne, plus New Day, which they dedicate to festival organiser Dave Rees. We also got some earlier tunes, notably Sacred Run and Morning Light. John Otway followed and did what John Otway does best, which meant a stream of manic bursts of humour and guitar strumming, delivered almost without drawing breath, and, along with roadie / straight man, Deadly, he’s hilariously funny. Cor, baby, he was really free!
Mostly Autumn have a new album out in October but, surprisingly, they elect to play nothing from it. Opening with When Tomorrow Dies, their set was a trawl through some of their better known songs, including Evergreen, Into The Stars, Mother Nature and Heroes Never Die, with Olivia Sparnenn sounding great and looking divine in black flowing chiffon. As always Mostly Autumn were a class act onstage and, along with Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, you’d never realise that neither band had been on a stage for eighteen months.
The Enid played with all the pomp and precision they’re known for and, in places, sounded like they were playing extracts from Zappa’s King Kong. Vambo then proceeded to change the vibe completely – and they rocked up a storm. Singer Jack Stiles does a credible job of bringing the late David Byron to mind and, with tracks like Running In Circles and This Is Your Life, they really got the crowd moving.
Arthur Brown’s Crazy World headlined the day and, despite being almost eighty, Arthur’s voice is still capable of hitting the high notes – though he can no longer scream as loudly – and he’s still a manic performer. His show is largely based around songs from the Crazy World’s only album … Prelude, Fire Poem, Come And Buy, Spontaneous Apple Creation, plus Tribal Sound. When Fire begins, he leaves the stage, and returns to a big cheer as he’s sporting a flaming helmet. Arthur’s place in music legend is assured.
Sunday was mostly ‘rock’ day, with a heavier vibe than is usually the case at New Day. Due to an unavoidable delay in leaving for the event, I missed the opening two acts, arriving just as Band Of Friends were in mid-set. Featuring Rory Gallagher’s bass man, Gerry McAvoy, they do a grand job keeping the memory of Rory’s bluesy-rock alive and the crowd appreciated their efforts. They’re more than just a tribute act, they’re a band in their own right.
Inglorious took the stage next. and were obviously delighted to be playing again. They were clearly ready to rock, and pumped out tracks like He Will Provide and Eye Of The Storm, appropriate given the rain Saturday and Sunday, and also a version of Heart’s Barracuda. ‘Live music is back and it feels fuckin’ amazing!’ singer Nathan James screams at the end and the crowd certainly agreed with him. NWOBHM survivors Praying Mantis remain a going concern after all these years, and they had the difficult task of following Inglorious’ big guitar sound and chunky chords, but they coped well with songs like Panic In The Street and Children Of The Earth.
Collateral were the penultimate band. They’re beginning to make a name for themselves and they showed exactly why, mixing rock with a healthy degree of swagger onstage. They’ve expanded to being a six piece band and have a more powerful sound. Big Shot, Lullaby and Midnight Queen were highlights of their set. What they now need is the ‘killer’ album to get their name really ‘out there.’ The closing act was Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, who came out to see us and made us smile ..sorry! Steve had to perform sitting down, having broken a hip recently, but he’s an experienced trouper and he and his band gave us a run through of many of their well-known songs, bringing the curtain down on what was, for a ‘live’ music-starved crowd, a welcome return to being at a gig again.
Full credit has to go to the organisers and the backstage crew for managing to stage the event at all, given the uncertainty of the Government’s position regarding Covid safety procedures right up till almost the last minute.
Running orders might need rethinking, however. When the Ozric Tentacles came onstage, they performed in bright mid-afternoon sunshine, which meant their stage show, featuring a light show, swirling synths and liquid guitars, wasn’t seen or heard to maximum effect. But, for the artists who appeared, the biggest thing about New Day was the fact it actually ran at all. Starved of gigs, and therefore income as well, during the pandemic, for virtually all acts on the bill this was the first time onstage for at least eighteen months, yet from the quality of many of the sets this was hardly noticeable, and every act deserves credit for the music they performed.
AROUND & ABOUT AT NEW DAY
In between sets I managed to get a few minutes to chat to a few of the musicians about the festival.
Kindred Spirit ‘mainwoman’ Elaine Samuels was certainly pleased to be playing again.
“We’re playing with a different line-up for this show. Les Binks (drums) isn’t available so we have Aleem (Salah) playing drums and Keith Buckman now on bass.”
I thought Keith looked familiar, then realised he also plays in The Far Meadow, who’d performed at New Day in 2018. I asked where Catherine Dimmock was. “She isn’t with us now as she has lots of other commitments,” Elaine explained, “but we do have Stevie Mitchell in her place, playing flute and sax.” Stevie is also a Maths teacher but didn’t want to be reminded of this! Asked what Kindred Spirit would be playing, she said their set would consist of tracks drawn from right across their albums. Considering, for many people here, they’re a new band, this tactic worked as the crowd very much appreciated what was played.
Andy Glass, Solstice, was pleased with both the performance and the crowd’s response to what was a sparkling set. He’d mentioned onstage the usual rule is, if you play at New Day one year, you’re not usually invited back the following year.
“ But we had this really good new album coming out, called Sia, so I thought, what if we write a song, New Day, and dedicate it to him? (festival organiser Dave Rees) – so we did, and it worked,” he grinned. “I mean, we started off with a thirteen minute number, what’s that all about ?”
It was mentioned Jess Holland is a really good singer and had slotted into the band easily. “She’s an amazing singer,” he agreed. “She gives the band something extra.” The merch tent was doing good business afterwards, with CD’s and vinyl albums of Sia available, after Solstice had taken care to ensure 2019’s error in forgetting to bring the merch with them wasn’t repeated! It was heartening to see vinyl albums of a new release being sold, and from a band who don’t usually ship shedloads of albums. In fact, most acts performing at New Day had the usual range of merch available … CD’s and occasional vinyl, plus T-shirts, a chance to make some much needed revenue after an eighteen month gig-free, therefore less revenue, existence, though Collateral upstaged everybody by having their own merch stand where, amongst the range of produce, Collateral ash-trays, pictures and signed posters were available!
Jess Holland was asked if this had been her first gig with Solstice. “It’s my second,” she replied. “I’m still feeling my way in but I thought it went well.”
How had she come to jointhe band, I wondered? “Andy and I have known each other for some while, as we’d done a few things together, so when Emma Brown left the band, Andy asked me to join as a full member almost immediately, and I agreed to do so.” She’d looked nervous to begin with, I suggested, but, by the end of the set, she was really getting into it and moving freely about the stage. Is this how she felt it went “ Yeah, I was a little nervous,” she agreed, “but, once I’d settled down, it was okay.”
While I enjoyed hearing the tracks from Sia which’d been performed, I expressed some very mild disappointment Solstice hadn’t performed Long Gone, not only (for me) the best track on the album, but in this writer’s humble opinion, also the best track David Crosby and Graham Nash never wrote and performed, as the harmonies on the album are breathtakingly divine. “ Thanks”, she smiled. “The reason we don’t do it onstage is we can’t always hear what the others are singing, and this is a song with some close harmonies so, until this changes, it’s a song we can’t perform just yet. But I do hope we’ll be able to do so at some point.”
Henry Rogers said, before going onstage with Mostly Autumn, that the band wouldn’t be performing anything from their forthcoming new album at this show. Perhaps this was no surprise. This was the first gig for over eighteen months and so attempting to put across a new album under festival conditions might not have been easy.
How had he himself coped with Lockdown, I asked? “I’ve kept busy, I have my studio and I’ve been playing all the time. It hasn’t been ideal, but I’ve been playing sessions and trying to keep working. There’s also been the band’s new album to be involved with.” Henry, as well as being in Mostly Autumn, also drums in Touchstone, and I wondered what the situation was with them. Are they still a going concern, given they’ve not been seen on a stage since Trinity, 2018? “That’s up to Hodge (Adam Hodgson, guitar)”, he stated. “He decides what’s happening, and there’s stuff which is been worked on, but we’re not doing anything at the moment – though I hope this changes.” I agreed, adding that Hayley Griffiths is an amazing vocalist, who did incredibly well at short notice when asked to stand in for the recently departed Aggie at Trinity. We shall ‘watch this space’, as they say…
Thanks to everyone who gave me their time to chat. Roll on next year!