Glastonbury 2008 - Plaster of Paris
some experiences - arguably, the best - are definitively transient, their longer-term sentimental residue operating as an inverse function of their brevity. it's a sad but well-documented fact that, by some perverse alchemy, that bottle of retsina you lugged home from your magical holiday in Crete will, once opened under the leaden summer skies of England, be transformed from the nectar you experienced at that harbourside restaurant overlooking Odysseus' wine-dark sea into something vaguely resembling cat's piss cut with a splash of disinfectant.
music forums are alive with the buzz of that old chestnut - live or recorded - which is best? - and quite rightly so, since that dialectic inevitably exposes the mutual dependence in the relationship between the recording industry and the live music promoters, and to understand what that is about is halfway to understanding why CD's are so indefensibly overpriced and why Ticketmaster gets away with overcharging on a scale that would make a Dubai estate agent blush. a personal preference between the live and the recorded experience of music is as likely as not a reflection of our personality (at its crudest - how are you with crowds?), but - although this is moot - since the human experience of music has, for most of our history, been a social one, the live experience continues to be the one we think of as the most real. because real includes the possibility of bad, and bad, as long as it's live, can be good. welcome, dear Cylon, to the wonderful world of human complexity.
music festivals, of course, are all about the moment, and the best festivals' best moments tend to be the stuff of personal legend. "who can forget ... Glastonbury ... (insert a random year, a random band name, and the word 'mud')?" must be one of the top ten clichés in music journalism.
everyone comes home with a Glasto moment. it might be a stumbleupon or a sit-through-three-rubbish-bands-for-two-hours-to-be-sure-of-a-front-and-centre-position at a headliner one. it needn't even be a musical one. I have to confess that one of the things I look forward to every year is the stall by the old railway line crossing that flogs little steam-powered tin sailing boats. round and round the tub they go, kept chugging along by the flame from a simple night-light. and I stand there, entranced, my inner child practically jumping out of his Clarks sandals with joy, reliving something totally forgotten but clearly formative. I've never bought one. (see 'retsina' above.)
this year's magic moment happened for me at about half-two on Saturday afternoon. I'd arrived on the local bus about two hours earlier with Brianna, the ravishingly beautiful girlfriend of one of my twin sons, and a Glasto virgin. we had tickets just for the day, and she was eager to make contact with Jack as she hadn't seen him since he'd gone onsite on the Wednesday. however, as neither he nor his twin brother had thought to switch their mobiles on that early (!) we'd divided our time between doing the festival flaneur thing - wandering hither and thither with no particular purpose other than to immerse ourselves in whatever we found - and fruitlessly wandering around the camping area that we thought they were in (which, as it turned out, they weren't ) shouting his name. proverbial needle in a haystack stuff. so dear patient Brianna had been stuck with me for far longer than either of us had anticipated, and I was becoming slightly conscious of what this extreme mis-match might be looking like to the casual passerby (although, at the same time, not a little flattered by the assumption).
when, all of a sudden, whilst we were ambling through Shangri La, the new version of the old Lost Vagueness field (which, apart from the renaming, looked very like the old version), we both heard this sound - a voice, a siren song, irresistibly alluring - coming from the tent we happened to be passing. and we both stopped, ears cocked, and, with feet no longer under our own control, were drawn, hapless floppy-finned netted amphibians, in, out of the sunny unrealities of Shangri La, to the murky cavernousness of the Club Dada.
I exaggerate, of course (don't I always?). the murk was relative to that sun-gloom iris adjustment thing, and the cavernousness to the small number of punters in a space clearly capable of holding many hundreds. but what was going on to one side, on a small black-and-glitter-draped stage with surprisingly good stage lighting, was - without a scintilla of exaggeration - just - mesmerising.
she was dressed in a nifty fifties bathing-costume-inspired outfit, white with a multicoloured jazzy carnival-themed pattern, and a jaunty, very short little darted skirt, red tights, and lippie that matched the flaming red corsage in her piled-up hair. hot as Hades. cool as Cuba. and she was carrying the large brass horn off a wind-up gramophone that turned out to have some sort of a singable kazoo in the narrow bit that did something similar to the kind of Vocoder much favoured on early Air albums but less robotic, and she sang ...
I hardly remember what she sang except to say that each song seemed to deal in a Björk-like way (ie tangential, labyrinthine, hermetic, and slightly rude) with the vagaries and vicissitudes of love (although one image lingers - that of amorous tongue-tiedness likened to an independent creature moving inside her mouth and blocking her speech) - but it was how she sang that was so mesmerising: a beguilingly mellow, slightly uncertain contralto voice that ambushes you, occasionally, with jet-backpacked leaps up the kiloherz scale into regions that make dogs and teenagers wee themselves, a liminal zone somewhere between Kate Bush on laughing gas and Diamanda Galas on tranks, where time and space are obliged to bend ever so slightly to accommodate its tidal eccentricities.
it's a rare thrill to experience such a presentiment of future diva-dom in such unexpected surroundings. I might be wrong (I often am), and my reaction could as well have been a manifestation of the Glastonbury magic (although no brain cells were harmed in the making of this motion picture, I swear) but I experienced something a little bit rapturous during that too-short set, and hope to be hearing a lot more of Molly and her über-laid-back guitar accompanist Lewis in the next year or so.
their myspace is, at the moment of writing, an unprepossessing page that does them scant justice - barebones background, a couple of listless home-recorded demos, no label, no releases, no gigs in the offing - at least, a few days ago, there were a couple of videos, filmed in either a junk shop or an interesting attic, but they seem to have taken those down now. you might want to check those demos out, anyway, just to get the idea: http://www.myspace.com/weareplasterofparis - and, if you have a click to spare, check out this video of a performance at the ICA's Quiet Nights in the Nash Room, on 4 April 2008.
see what I mean?
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