I feel that I must say a word or two thousand about the fantastic experience I had at Woolf Music last weekend. I had such a fun time hanging out at Cleeve House in Wiltshire. We got there (me, Bridget Hayden, Jake Blanchard and Jo Turner-Baker) after a bit of a mission down the motorway from Todmorden. Some other festival called ‘V’ was on in Staffordshire which slowed us down a bit but we were cheered up on arrival – what a building! So this place is about a thousand years old, famous people lived there etc but what the history books don’t write is that a lovely family live there now and brought their kids up in those walls, what a place to grow up. Also they are cool and open minded enough to allow 200+ people onto their grounds for a properly alternative festival. Obviously I took my AAA wrist band status very seriously and we all went on a bit of an off road investigate around the gaff sticking my nose into every room and body through every door possible. Even ended up on the roof at one stage where I feared my wellys could let me down. Despite being offered a bed in the bridal suite (!) my boyfriend wanted us to camp outside. Ho hum. That evening we had a few beers and beans on the grass with some record collecting obsessives and our good friend Jason Steel (who we use to live with in London) Good times were had and the 5 Lidl beers we’d purchased “for the weekend” quickly went, somewhere…
Got up on the Saturday. I’d forgotten that Jo TB is a total camping pro (this wasn’t our first time in the wilderness together) and she was whipping up sos-mix on M&S bread (purchased with a LOVEFILM voucher on the M4) for our brekkie. Dunno what I would have done without Jo TB there over the weekend who insisted on us having 3 square meals each day – thanks Jo. We had a bit of a wander up to a tiny hamlet called Seend where we met a local shop keep who sold us a few locally brewed beers and made a couple of wise cracks about it always raining in Manchester. Ho ho ho, like I don’t know mate.
The music kicked off around lunchtime. I watched a lady I’d met the night before called Jeanette Leech read a few paragraphs from her book ‘Seasons They Change’ which is about psychedelic folk. Jeanette must have done a good job as I wanted to read the whole thing by the time she had finished but she immediately sold all the copies there… Gonna check it out, fairly sure my dad would like a copy as well.
Other highlights of the day included Bear Bones Lay Low, who is Ernesto Gonzalez of Sylvester Anfang 2. I have a funny story about those boys which took place in a back stage room in Holland – beer chat that one. Anyway, Ernesto was brilliant! Everyone was chilling on the grass and he made great use of the decent sound system which made everyone perform crazy, seated, grass dances. Beats made on keyboards, always a winner for me. The weekend in general had an awful lot of synthy stuff, is this a trend I’m not aware of perhaps? I had worried about the inclusion of bongos but I’m happy to report not a bongo in sight (or ukeleles thank the lords) all weekend.
Chicoloyah was great although I only caught a tiny bit of her set. Going to Bradford tomorrow to see her play again.. Black Tempest and their heavy space synths, Innercity were fun and they had a couple of the United Bible Studies dudes play with them. Vanessa Arn was also brilliant.
My highlight of the entire weekend came in the form of the outstanding United Bible Studies. I’d never seen them before, I think I’d only ever really heard about them and had formed this kind of “oh yeah, they are a folky band” opinion. I’m into folk music but the total trad. end I can take it or leave, UBS were nothing like this. The set managed to encompass every type of music I’m into they were folk, they were metal, they were doom, loud, quiet, constantly changing and more. They were led by Alison O’Donnell who is an Irish folk singer and completely wild! She threw on this decorative cat mask and ran around the front of the band doing an appreciative dance, her enthusiasm really got me into the sound. I was sitting down but still moshing. I didn’t know what what going on really or that this sort of emotion was possible! (my heart is racing just writing this down..) They had to cut the set short because of time constraints which was absolutely gutting. At the end of the set all I could do was lie down in a heap and some bloke (I later knew as “Tony”) came and drew the sign of the cross on my forehead in cider. He told me I’d been baptised in the church of United Bible Studies, I think I have been. Oh my, what a band. If you’re reading this and thinking “I want that” fear not because I had a chat with them after the show and fingers crossed they will take up my offer of shows in the North West next year. Yes, and you will be there.
The rest of the night is a blur. I felt a bit claustrophobic and couldn’t handle being inside the little room for the other bands that night which is a shame because I heard they were all great. I trotted off to “bed” around 1am but the party did continue, audibly, in the marquee across the way until much later.
On Sunday I got up and felt really smug that I’d managed to not get drunk the night before meaning I felt alright to get up have a feed via Jo TB and a quick practice in the bridal suite. I was playing at 1.30pm and felt thankful I would be on early to get over any nerves asap!
Brendan Quinn played first and he was just great. He had a really warm and friendly approach to playing his set and his guitar playing reminded me of Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo (a favourite of mine). I liked how he explained his pieces and just effortlessly knocked out the songs. I could imagine him being a great dinner party guest, one that you wouldn’t get annoyed with when he produced the guitar at the end of the meal. Nice bloke.
I played after him, I think it went well! I had a couple of Walkmans with me, one had a tape of my brother pretending to be Steve Wright and the other was a radio so I played with those providing a backing track to my guitar. I had also borrowed a plectrum from Dave of UBS to gain some magical powers from and really enjoyed playing. The crowd weren’t scary at all and I got some nice compliments afterwards. so can’t moan! I was mightily relieved to have played as it meant I could get to know the amazing beers on offer…
During the day I got to see my good friend Ellen Mary McGee get back onto the stage after a bit of a break from live performance. I think the last show she played before this was up in the lake district where she and I were named the “Psychedelic Queens of May” by Barry of Fell Foot Wood. I supported her set on guitar that night and for this performance she had the charming Nick Jonah Davis by her side for half of the set. They both played a couple of solo tunes each as well. Ellen has such a beautiful voice, I really wish she’d do more live stuff because she is a true talent that needs to be heard. She is really great at writing lyrics as well… “I have known love, for I have read a thousand books” from her song ‘He is no earthly man”, gets me every time with how simple and clever that image is. Her album The Crescent Sun is awesome, I hear that there is another one in the pipeline for next year so keep an eye out for that.
The afternoon was all excellent after this. I particularly enjoyed Bare Boneswith their droney instrumental and singing, H who I wish I’d seen more of, Deej Dhariwal who I’ve known since living in Stoke, he plays in Thought Formsas well and for this solo show he was looping and distorting tons of guitar and moaning into the microphone – really excellent stuff. You can tell he knows what he’s doing with all those pedals which I always find impressive.
Eric Arn properly rocked this festival! He was playing rock folk guitar and did it so well, I was really impressed by his command of the instrument. I caught a bit of Kull who were bit like a doomy Bjork sounding duo, I was relaxed byMichael Tanner’s Plinth group who took me to the drone zone… the evening saw Bridget Hayden play who was one of the best acts this weekend. Bridget does noisy, bluesy rock music and just has this presence on stage which is really compelling and mysterious. She owned the stage and produced a sound which she seemed totally in control of doing West Yorkshire proud. Josephine Foster was obviously brilliant. I love what she does and it’s always a pleasure to see her play live.
For the rest of the night everyone was in party mode. The beer flowed and Phil McMullen had done us a solid by getting the owners to agree to a controlled bonfire for everyone to hang out around. I guess I’ll leave it to you to imagine how the rest of the evening panned out. We were up until the birds sang their dawn chorus. Everyone still up was really proud we’d managed to be up that late despite being a bit older than the last time it had happened.
What a festival. Aside from the fantastic music curation what made this special was the definite feeling of community that everyone felt part of. Phil refers to the musicians who were part of Woolf or Terrastock which is the ‘mother festival’ as part of a “family” which is a sentiment I can definitely get behind. Everyone was so supportive and encouraging of one another, this was not a place for egos or big shots. Another thing I must comment on was the thoughtful programming which included an equal number of men and women on the bill. This is a rarity in British festivals and what I liked about it was that the inclusion of so many talented women on the bill wasn’t shouted about, it was just the case that they were there for their musical talents alone rather than some political statement. Sometimes when you speak to promoters about the lack of women on their bill the excuse often is that there aren’t as many women out there doing music which I think Woolf Music absolutely proved wrong. I spoke to so many female festival goers at Woolf who said that seeing women on stage this weekend had inspired them to do some music when they got home, this is just wonderful and shows how simple it is to provide role models for everyone in music through smart programming. Thanks to the organisers of Woolf Music for making this happen.
Ok, so there you have it. A bit of a blow by blow account of my experience of the festival. Next years is already booked for the middle of August and I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s a perfectly sized festival, you’re not going to get really tired walking for miles to get to the next stage, it’s family friendly, it’s thoughtful, it’s in a gorgeous location. Very good, very good.
Simon Lewis, Steve Palmer and Ian Fraser share their recollections:
(Photos this section by SIMON BECKETT, used with kind permission 1. Charlie Romijn of Thought Forms, 2. The Marquee at night, 3. Josephine Foster)
Set in a beautiful house and garden that used to belong to the sister of Virginia Woolf, this gathering of musicians, writers, sound manipulators, and lovers of good music proved to be a magnificent weekend that will live long in the memory.
Whilst the focus was on the music, it was the chance to meet old friends, put faces to internet names and relax in the company of the Terrascopic Nation that really made the event special, it is not every day you can sit and chat to Alison O'Donnel in the sunshine, get a hug from Sharron Kraus and a wave from Phil McMullen all before midday.
Despite some warm English rain, Saturday lived up to its promise with local band Terrapin kicking things off with heavy guitar, samples and a hunting horn gracing their music, their fine set swiftly followed by an equally intense collection from Thought Forms, their music flowing from drifting ambience into heavy slabs of noise.
Throughout the day there was a mix of songs and improvised noises with The Left Outside offering some divine acid folk to counterbalance the stranger sonic worlds of Joined By Wires (marbles in a metal bowl), Inner City (sublime and intense drones) and Black Tempest who's set was plagued by technical hitches although they win the prize for best masks.
Highlights of the day though were the brilliant Bear Bones Lay Low, one man and a collection of machines that produced an astonishing array of noises, rhythms and drones that got your head nodding as they engulfed you, and the fabulous United Bible Studies, their intense music levitated the marquee or so it seemed.
Up in the house the evening was completed with the beautiful songs of Sharron Kraus, watched through a window as we could not get in the room, the audience bewitched by her presence, this followed by a slightly more experimental set than usual from the enchanting Woodpecker Wooliams, the audience treated to noise, songs and even some disco, wonderful stuff indeed.
Phew, that was just saturday and I missed a lot of sets in the house including, Vanessa Arn and Byron Coley, although I did catch Maximillian Speigel whose discussion of the interconnectivity generated by the underground music scene was highly engaging and enlivened by the glitter he wore on his cheeks.
Awaking on sunday to warm sunshine and fluffy white clouds was a lovely thing, being stung by a wasp was not, however the local beer numbed the pain and I was ready for another day of intense and inspirational music.
Having sat outside and listened to Brendan Quinn through the window, a great way to wake up, it was time to head to the marquee for Spaceship, whose long, sample-laden music was excellent, although the leather trousers got a bit hot, apparently. The rest of the day was spent in the company of Steve Palmer and I will now hand over to him for his thoughts on Sunday's delights although before I go I must mention the excellent H another highlight for me, her set being highly inspirational and creative to my ears.
I drove down to Seend in Wiltshire with the cosmic sounds of Ozric Tentacles on the car stereo; not perhaps the most apt of soundtracks to the Woolf festival, but quite close - the sound of musicians pushing sonic boundaries.
Much of Woolf was about pure sound. Curated by the tireless, waistcoated and smiling Phil McMullen, it featured both sound-sculptors and more traditional folk and song-based musicians. The beautiful environment of Cleeve House resonated to delicate clawhammer guitar fingerpicking, fragile vocals, less fragile vocals, drones, bass thrums and a wide range of noise…
Down in the Marquee at one o'clock the Sunday session was opened by Spaceship, aka Mark Williamson, whose brand of synths, found sounds and guitar introduced us nicely to the events of the day. The Spaceship set - a half hour of audio exploration - was most enjoyable, with the leather-clad Mr Williamson manipulating synths, guitar and mix to very good effect. Louise's Guidelines was one guitarist, Westcountry resident Owen Maynard, whose rambling maze of effects pedals allowed him to conjure a fantastic variety of sounds from his battered and gaffa-taped instrument. This was a really good set, especially where Maynard brought simple guitar figures back out of the shrieking, distorted mix. Great stuff.
Back in the Salisbury Room of the main house, Ellen Mary McGee and Nick Jonah Davis performed a set of songs to the delight of their audience (a very enthusiastic reception), with both musicians on fine form. McGee's delicate voice led us through various folk stories, followed by the clawhammer picking of her accompanist. We sat out on the verandah listening, with the sun shining and the atmosphere about as "English" as could be imagined…
Bare Bones in the Marquee came on mid-afternoon, creating a kind of weird ritual music built around tam-tam drum, drone keyboards, banjo, harmonium and voices. Considerable intensity was built up during this captivating set, not least when the dual voices took the audience deep into the heart of sonic ritual. As afternoon waned into evening, Uiutna's set was a twenty minute excursion into trance and noise, beginning with a superb rhythmically underpinned section that slowly degenerated into sounds and more… loved those hand-cymbals! The audience definitely enjoyed this set. Deej Dhariwal, guitarist and one third of shoegaze noiseniks Thought Forms, then came on to provide another entrancing gaze into the future of guitar noise, which he augmented with synth drones, monotron bubbles and what can best be described as post-apocalypse howls, to create something special. A particularly good set, this one.
Back in the library, Terrascope Reviews Editor and mysterious crystal Simon Lewis and I visited the room of Kore Kosmou, who with Ernesto Gonzàlez, the man behind Bear Bones, Lay Low, created an improvised work of intense sound that was one of the best experiences of the day. With Kosmou's Tibetan-like opening chants and howls reverberating as if through the Himalayan mountains, and Gonzàlez creating all sorts of sounds from cassette players on fast-forward, to synths and even an African thumb piano, the set was a visceral experience, quite unlike anything I've heard before. With weird images projected and a small but appreciative audience, this was quite a set.
Back in the Marquee, Kull were playing. A female duo - Marina Elderton and Lika Protsenko - this was ghostly psychedelic folk underpinned by simple bass lines and decorated with occasional guitar, but led by the evocative voice and dramatic stage presence of the vocalist - quite an atmosphere built up here. To conclude events in the Marquee, Plinth, a quartet led by Michael Tanner of United Bible Studies (and more), presented a single shimmering transcendental chord created by bowed instruments and electric guitars, augmented in the quieter sections by Tibetan singing bowls, bells and cymbals. This wonderful piece seemed to hover around us for the duration, as if announcing something heavenly. Fantastic, and a wonderful ending to the day.
With Steve leaving to drive home, we moved up to the house for Joshua Burkett again listened to through a window as evening fell, turning the site into a magical realm. The final act of the event was Josephine Foster, someone I was looking forward to hearing, however the room was packed for her performance so instead we wandered across the lawn and stood by the bonfire just talking and reflecting on the weekend. As time went on more people arrived, giving us the chance to get to know some more of the performers, swap tales and drink the excellent ales and ciders that were available, finally wandering back to the tent in a slight haze and wearing a huge grin, the perfect weekend was over far too quickly.
As well as myself and Steve, Woolf Musicwas also graced by Terrascope Reviewer (and maker of an excellent samosa) Ian Fraser, here are his recollections.
Well it seemed like it was never going to arrive but all of a sudden here it was. Woolf Music might not have been so much Terrastock as Tinystock but had many of the essential ingredients of a classic festival. Let me see there was the sumptuous setting (Cleeve House in the heart of Wiltshire), eateries, ales, and an interesting and eclectic audience surpassed only by the hand-picked line-up performing alternately and alternatively in an amply proportioned marquee and up in the historic house. Oh, and for day one (Saturday) we were also inundated with some typically unseasonal festival weather. This inclemency meant that the less adventurously inclined (and here I’m guilty as charged) clung to the marquee area and just occasionally venturing out for (usually liquid) sustenance and periodic checks of the lavatory facilities.
There was nothing unadventurous aboutthe entertainment though. The marquee line-up on day one featured mostly free form experimental electronic music and unleavened drone but occasionally more conventional fare. Indeed what a jolt it was to the system The Left Outsides performing one of the longest sets of the weekend proved to be. I mean melodies and song structures?! Who let these weirdoes in, I wondered? In truth they were one highlight among many notable turns, which included a frustratingly short set by the wonderful Thought Forms and one of the revelations of the weekend, Bear Bones, Lay Low (Ernesto Gonzales from Belgium via Venezuela). Like many acts who either spent time bent over tables strewn with boxes and wires or else sat on the floor manipulating various gadgetry (in this case the latter) Ernesto was not the most visual of acts and would have been well served by an eye-catching backdrop. More optically stimulating was the much anticipated Black Tempest but alas their sound suffered somewhat from a rather rushed set-up which was the result of trying to get the programme back on schedule. Terrascopic darlings United Bible Studies closed proceedings in the marquee in ebullient and entertaining style at which point, thankful for the fact that we’d now seen the last of the rain for the weekend, we all decamped to the house for some well-received readings by Byron Coley, the organic folk of Sharron Kraus and Woodpecker Wooliams (how you’d hoped Joanna Newsom would sound like).
Sunday dawned brightly and held its shape throughout. Alternating more between the house and the marquee – with occasional forays into the library to see what Kont Kosmou was up to with his/their bass drones, backdrops and occasional guest artists were up to -, special mention must go to Ellen Mary McGee, Bare Bones (no relation to Bear Bones, Lay Low), Deej Deerwal of Thought Forms – a master of overload and under-length sets it seems – and the delightful Kull from London who served a similar purpose to The Left Outsides on day one in providing a diversion from Death by Drone (not that too many were complaining about the latter). The nightly decamp up to the House following Plinth’s closing set in the Marquee was rewarded by sets from the very fine Bridget Haydn, guitarist Joshua Burkett and arguably the big name of the weekend Josephine Foster who trilled sweetly enough although her cellist affected a look that suggested there was something deeply unpleasant under her nose (that would be my trainers then). Her look of mild disapproval and annoyance at everything around her was somewhat undone when she started bowing her hair instead of the cello at one point. What larks, Pip.
And that was that, two days of perfectly convivial entertainment and company – thanks especially to Heather, Simon, Cara, Steve and on the occasions when we got to see him, Genial Mein Host Phil McMullen and to the many others we met and enjoyed. Thanks too to Katie and Kim’s Kitchen for their deliciously sloppy Dahl and no less delicious but even messier bacon wraps, but most of all to Phil and Sonic Sanctuary for putting on such a great little event. I’m already compiling my wants list for the next time (Phil, are you reading this?).
So there you have an almost perfect weekend, thanks to all the organisers, performers and participants, it was the community feel that made this gathering of the clans so special, long may it run. (Simon Lewis)