All photographs: Neil Thomson
Yet again, we had a fantastic year down by the Port Eliot estuary. Rather than just doing the usual thank-yous, we thought it’d be nice to all go down the pub and discuss our favourite points of the weekend.
Jeff: So where shall we start – highlights? Who has some favourite bits?
Andrew: So my favourite bits were meeting Dexter Petley – never met Dexter Petley before, utterly amazing, miles more articulate and brilliant than I could ever imagine for a bloke who lives in a yurt and doesn’t really –
Jeff: Wear underpants –
Andrew: – Wear underpants, takes shits with birds sitting on his knees…so that was utterly amazing. And Bo Ningen – I’d never seen them before and they blew me away. Then I was stood there going “how can this possibly be followed?” and Weatherall played that first record. I don’t know what it was but it was…it was amazing.
Robin: It was very good.
Jeff: [to Andrew] I can’t believe you had that little faith in me! Booking a band and then putting Andrew [Weatherall] on…
Andrew: No, that wasn’t a faith issue, it was more…how does Andrew follow THAT, cus that was amazing…
Jeff: It wasn’t random, I did really think about how that would all work…and I also thought about how Martin Nesbitt would be good to play records between the groups that night, which I thought was a really good run of groups as well. They all did really good that night, right? Amber Arcades, Meilyr [Jones] was really good…
Diva: I was gunna say, it’s so boring for me to always be like “MEILYR WAS AMAZING!” – but he always is.
Jeff: No, Meilyr was really good! And I like that band he’s got with him – with the Younghusband kid – Euan, I thought played really good guitar, they’ve got that whole Kevin Rowland meets Roxy Music thing down to pat – I haven’t seen him in 6 months, maybe longer, but I thought that was really cool…
Carl: He even kicked a monitor off the stage, didn’t he?
Jeff: Meilyr? Yeah he properly did…really really really good. Gwenno was great – best that I’ve seen her play with the group, I think. And going back to Martin Nesbitt, I loved how he thought about what was going on before Bo Ningen and he played Motörhead, and he played Sabbath, and then Bo Ningen came on and I mean they were knockout, weren’t they? Really good, a really good thing. I mean the night before, again, I thought about that programme – and, in fact, actually, was slightly worried about that programme – three men with guitars. They all play quite differently but they’re all inspired probably by the same sort of sphere. So you’ve got James Blackshaw – he wasn’t as extreme or experimental as I expected him to be, but I thought he was really interesting. Michael Chapman – real highlight I thought. Really, really good – was anyone else into that?
Carl: Yeah, very much.
Jeff: I thought he was amazing.
Carl: He came off stage and I spoke to him and I said thank you – and he looked at me and just said “Don’t thank me man, like when my guitar’s sounding that good I can just play for like, you know, hours.” I think that was a nod to Carey basically, doing the PA – he was just saying that the room – and it did didn’t it – it sounded absolutely massive – he commented on the sound, on how good his guitar sounded – “I was just loving the sound of my own guitar.”
Jeff: Well it did sound good. I actually dropped Carey a line to say thank you, once again, for making it so brilliant for all of us – artists, audience, us. “D’you know”, I said, “I spend a lot of time – a year, straight after, getting this together and putting it on, always safe in the knowledge that you’re gunna make it sound amazing, and the artists are all gunna be happy.” I thought Chapman was mind-blowing. Really, really really mind-blowing. I thought Ryley was great, though I was annoyed by the fact that there were people down the front who didn’t really care because they were waiting for Erol…but we’re about highlights aren’t we? So – probably the best year yet?
Robin : Yeah.
Andrew: My favourite year.
Jeff: Did anybody enjoy Laura Cannell as much as I did?
Carl: I loved it. That first number she did with the double recorder action, was just proper, like, war shit, wasn’t it.
Diva: “War shit?”
Carl: Yeah, it was a proper like…call to arms.
Jeff: And I love that she spoke – you know she said she never speaks, and she said “I guess you’re expecting me to talk” and she was just bloody lovely! It adds to the spell, I think, of the music – which I do find really magical, and interesting, and odd. Sometimes, talking can break that sort of spell, but to me it didn’t. To me it just added to the good.
Robin: My highlight with it isn’t really music or talk related…I loved the fact that it felt more like a family than ever this year. When we got there – you know – it’s been a horrible year for everyone, and it just continues to be shit – and it really felt like an escape. An escape that we probably all needed. We got there and it was all, kind of, hugs and everything was really sweet – and then seeing people like Carey, who we haven’t seen for 360 days, or [Stephen] Parker and [Simon] Benham and that – everyone who does the 78 rpm Orchestra and all that – that really, really filled me with a sense of hope – you can just snap back into those things, and the world can carry on doing what it’s doing outside of it. You create a bubble around yourself, and I thought at what was a really good year at Port Eliot – I thought it was the best version of us. There were no bad vibes this year.
Andrew: John Andrews was particularly good this year. He really spoke for us, everything he said felt like he was saying it for us.
Jeff: He choked up when he was reading with Dexter [Petley], didn’t he.
Andrew: That’s partly the reason that was such a highlight, how emotional that was…
Jeff: Him and Dexter – just the importance of them in the growth of – well, in the BIRTH of the site…
Robin: One of the things that was really nice about it, I think, is that to have those two sat there and doing their thing – it’s always been brilliant, it’s always been irreverent, it’s always been…it’s been their sort of weird little world, but it’s been there just to the left of the heart of Caught by the River, you know. But then to have, alongside that, young writers, who we’ve kind’ve nurtured – like Amy [Liptrot], Dan Richards, people like that who’ve kind’ve – you know, who are now published authors…
Jeff: Yeah – Will Burns –
Robin: Yeah, people like that – you’re kind of looking at it thinking…you can kind of see how the cycles of the site have gone – but everything is still given equal respect –
Jeff: If you think about it, when we started, we had no idea what we were doing, right? You know, you go back to day one – picture of perch and a little quote from Peter Stone you know – we knew we wanted to do something and we weren’t quite sure entirely what it was. There was just enthusiasm between us that was “we’re going to do something” – John and Dexter put their stamp on that. We gave them this opportunity to get that out in the open, which for them was a massive deal – for us it was interesting, and created our uniqueness, I think? It’s interesting to see where we’ve gone since then – and how that’s all gone since then – but the principle’s the same. How we had these people talking to each other, and always talking to each other, or writing to each other, or discussing things with each other, and now, for example, Emma Warren, who was at Port Eliot talking to people, interviewing people, questioning people, talking, like that – that’s a role that’s being fulfilled – and I think we’re really lucky, and unique, that we’ve got such a strong team of intelligent, smart, interesting, bloody funny and lovely, lovely people that want to be around us. It’s actually beyond that now, they ARE around us, they ARE part of it, it’s not just us [at this table] – “us” is massive now I think, “us” is really big.
Andrew: Do any of you get the feeling that when you leave, sometimes there are people who you just didn’t see enough of? I didn’t get to chat to Roy Wilkinson properly, Rob St. John – I just saw him briefly, but loved his new setup, with the band…
Jeff: OH I though that was good as well, yeah. Modern Studies. They were really good weren’t they?
Robin: They were brilliant. I thought the programming of each day was spot on –
Carl: I was dead worried that after all the energy of Saturday night – how it went from Meilyr to Bo Ningen to Weatherall – all of a sudden Sunday – I was looking at it and I was like…wow…tomorrow’s going to be really, reallllllly chilled…but it wasn’t, it was really happy and ending with Black Peaches was…
Jeff: Oh it was great! I mean that was the biggest success story we could’ve ever imagined. Shame Night Beats couldn’t come. But anyway, Black Peaches were absolutely great. We had no idea we were going to be that busy, either! I’d wandered around a lot that day, and everywhere was quiet, so I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen. But then things picked up in the evening, and I thought bloody hell! Actually, ok, maybe word IS out that we have a party on the Sunday night now…we were even pretty busy in the bar, for dancing and that, you know – as busy as it could be…
Carl: It was really busy in the bar! On the Monday, you went to me: “what time did I finish, on Sunday night?” and I went “you finished at half three” and you sort of spat out whatever you were drinking – you were like “I thought I finished at twelve…” but nah…you finished at half three. One of my highlights was Mathew Clayton and his Kling Klang, which kickstarted the festival, it was absolutely amazing. Everyone who was there found it really hilarious, and also it came full circle, cus we started with Mathew Clayton’s Kling Klang, his history of the cowbell, and we ended with Black Peaches, and Black Peaches’ last number heavily featured a cowbell – and people dancing. There’s a definite circle going on.
Jeff: There you go, I like that one. That’s a good one.
Carl: And Ted [Kessler] interviewing Barbara [Hulanicki] was totally brilliant…really, like, hands-off…you know, asked the right questions, wasn’t into the sound of his own voice, skilful, delicately done. And I mean her story was amazing. The other highlight – slightly biased, this one, coming from the stage manager – was the backstage. It’s the most beautiful backstage of any festival anywhere in the country, at least any that I’ve ever been to. That quarry – you don’t see it from the front – it’s actually a bit of a waste. When you’re out the front of that stage, you don’t realise how beautiful that quarry is. I collared some punters on the Saturday night during Bo Ningen who’d crept out there – I sort of collared them and said “I’m sorry, you’ve gotta go back in the front” and they were like “We’ve just come out to look”…I imagine they’d just had a spliff or some mushrooms or something – but they just came out to go “I can’t believe how beautiful it is back here” and I was like – y’know what, fair enough! (laughs)…you can stay out here.
Jeff: It is a beautiful backstage. What were you into Diva? What did you enjoy?
Robin: Cus it was your first year there…
Diva: No, I’ve been going for years!
Jeff: That’s where I first met Diva! We first met at Port Eliot, I’d say, about five years ago. You had good shoes, you had a good jacket, and you were rolling fags…and we met, and I knew that I’d be seeing you again – or we’d be seeing you again.
Diva: Well there you go.
Jeff: So this was your first time actually working, representing…
Diva: Yeah, and the first time I’ve actually managed to go in the estuary, which was nice. Amy Liptrot sort of forced me to go in – she said “when’re you going in?” and I went “oh I dunno, tomorrow or something?” and she kind of went “no, you’re going in now, go and get your swimsuit.” It was amazing! I couldn’t stay out of it after that. That was definitely a highlight.
Robin: You didn’t become one of those “mud people”, did you?
Diva: No, I didn’t get muddy, I just – y’know, swum off my hangover. Speaking of which, had some good bloody marys…
Jeff: Good bloody marys, good swimming…good talks?
Diva: Well obviously, Barbara Hulanicki’s like, massive in my world…I thought that was really interesting in terms of the fact that the focus wasn’t really on Biba, until the end – it was a nice combination of her personal life and the things people already know her for. And I think it was also quite nice to have someone who’s not from…a “nature world”…down on our stage –
Jeff: Did we stray too far from nature, do you think?
Diva: We need a balance…
Robin: I loved the fact we had Simon Fisher Turner talking about making films with Derek Jarman.
Jeff: I thought Luke [Turner] did a good job interviewing him, as well. It’s interesting cus on the site we’ve been – c’mon, let’s blow our own trumpets – we’ve been bloody good at spotting writers, creating space for them, helping them with advice, opinions, ideas, suggestions, all of those things – ultimately, support, that’s the one word I think – and to then go “do you want to come and interview this person at this event” you know what I mean – like Luke – good platform for him to talk about his book – but also a good platform for him as a journalist to talk to an interesting person like Simon Fisher Turner. Emma [Warren] – you know, someone give her a book deal! Come on! I mean bloody hell. Going back to Simon, I thought that was really good. Watching him and his family enjoy themselves all weekend – he’s got the two loveliest kids, and they were just running around getting involved in everything – he got so carried away, he came running up to me during the middle of a talk to show me the rosette he’d won as the runner-up in the Rubbish Olympics. But it really worked, didn’t it, the programme this year, even if it did look a bit odd on paper.
Robin: The workshops, as well – Pete Fowler is tireless…you know, being there with kids just making really mad stuff, and he’s ALWAYS just “That’s amazing! Add this to it!” For a kid to have that kind of encouragement, to be bonkers, I think that’s a real special skill he’s got.
At this point, all that remains is to thank, from the bottom of our hearts, everyone involved in making Port Eliot happen – all our organisers, artists, crew, the Eliot family…and of course, everyone who dropped by for a taste of what we had to offer. Jeff’s already booking next year.