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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Thermal Festival

Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, 21 - 23 September 2007

Written by Amelia Gregory

Word about town was that Peter Pilotto was going to be an interesting one.

Turns out that everyone had heard the same thing; as a sizeable group of showgoers were ushered through various vast white rooms and corridors filled with clothing and blown up photographs, price buy information pills the entrance to the show room emerged from a bounty of colourful fabrics and mannequins. The remaining throng of show-goers picking their way through the labyrinth of racks only to be told at the door that the room was at capacity and to watch it from the ‘big screen’, help which turned out was a rather hazy projection onto a white wall, to be observed on a balcony from a height.

Never fear, despite the rather feeble view of the show from a projector, the quality of the design did not disappoint. An amalgamation of a number of influences were apparent; the collection being a futuristic take on decidedly tribal and almost Edwardian sensibilities, with vague Mary Poppins-esque references in the shape of jackets nipped in at the waist with deep scoop collars and Dick Van Dyke style flat holiday straw boaters thrown into the mix. Unexpected elements were juxtaposed; A-line silhouettes with cinched waists as well as pleating for small volume in a subtler version of the bubble skirt. Bodices were manipulated into rosette-like features. Add to that the neo-tribal, yet weirdly industrial prints in dove greys, browns and creams and you get Peter Pilotto’s Spring/Summer 2008. Splashes of orange highlighted the sophisticated and subdued palette.

A highly unified collection, strong and urbane. I just wish that I had seen the clothes in the flesh and not projected onto a wall – if I’d wanted to do that, I would have just tuned into Fashion TV.

“There he goes!” says guitarist Jeffrey Foskett as Brian Wilson pads offstage like an acid scarred Yogi bear. “65 years old and he’s still got it!” After years of false starts, sickness the music performed that Sunday evening was a testament to the creative re-birth of one of this century’s finest composers. The man who single-fucking-handedly invented a state of mind had come home – his spiritual home – and shown just how transcendental and awe inspiring his talent still is.

Back by royal request: the re-opening of Royal Festival Hall was enough of an event for the Southbank Centre to commission an album of brand new music….hmmm. Since Smile’s belated release, sales new music from Brian was hardly going to prompt fevered anticipation. This was to be special though. A Van Dyke Park assisted song-cycle premiered in London. A post-Smile triumph? Almost. And an ‘almost’ for Brian Wilson is more than we could ever hope for.

It’s easy to forget how utterly magnificent the back catalogue of the Beach Boys is. Prior to That Lucky Old Sun’s performance, and we were reminded with merciless efficiency. One after another – sun kissed albeit heartbreaking teenage symphonies to God. Obvious classics such as Californian Girls and Do It Again have us dancing like idiots but we were also treated to other nuggets from the Brian Wilson cannon of genius. I’d Love Just Once To See You and Sail on Sailor sit perfectly amidst the AM hits. I bet Mike Love feels even stupider now. If, indeed, Mike Love feels at all.

So how was the new music to fare next to this audacious display of pop history? Admirably. Set to four, spoken word Van Dyke Park narratives (Pumps drunk with oil/Dance like prehistoric locusts on the hills of L.A.X) this was rich, multilayered power-pop. A tribute to the City of Angles, her flaws but mostly her wonders.

Often a disconcertingly open lyricist, Brian’s words here held much weight. It was during the set’s centre piece, Midnight’s Another Day, that the tears started rolling down my cheeks for the umpteenth time of the evening. It’s not just the song’s un-earthly beauty and eerie similarity to Surf’s Up but the way Brian’s soulful voice intones, “Took the dive but couldn’t swim/All these people make me feel so alone”.

40 odd years of making grown men weep. That night proved some things – thankfully – never change.


Ever been to a festival hosted by a key member of a well-known band, sales who then gets up early to cook sausages on the barbie for all his guests every day?

Well, this web I just did, decease this weekend. Sam Genders of Tunng – possibly the nicest man on Planet Indie, put on Thermal in his local pub, The Fishpond, in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire. A bizarre mix of chip shop and arcade seaside town (at the most landlocked point in the UK) and genteel townhouses, Matlock Bath defies any kind of stereotype. I have been looking forward to it all summer long and didn’t let the fact that I would have to go on my own deter me from heading up the M1 with posh projectionist Diana Mavroleon.

Diana has three dogs and to say that her car smelt of doggie and was a little hairy would be an understatement, but we had a pleasant trip – our cargo of ancient projectors, super 8 films and assorted slides driven rapidly north by Jono, aran cardigan wearing artiste.


On arrival I was commissioned to pin up white tablecloths in the Fishpond’s Ballroom, already cosily decorated in bunting made by Sam’s lovely mum (more on her later) – extra decor was added over the weekend, including a fantastic stuffed badger.


I wasn’t much help with the rest of the projectors and gradually wandered off, to discover that there were lots of people I knew randomly around so I never once felt on my own (always a fear of mine, gregarious person that I am) Liam Bailey was first up – with a fearsome voice and a reggae-influenced version of folk, then Tunng did their thang – cunningly placing themselves as headliners on the first night, thereby avoiding anymore work for the rest of the weekend. Sam and Mike have developed a nice little line in formation dancing since I last saw them – which eventually at least persuaded Sam’s mum to get up and dance, if not the rest of the crowd. “That’s my mum!” he cried, excitedly, for the very few people that he hadn’t introduced her to already. Aww, bless. Loving the bizarre instruments – Becky twiddling with a kid’s butterfly toy and melodeon, and generally flying the flag for the folktronica label. Afterwards came Sam brother Harry’s band.


Oh boy, they’d been up to some fun in the loos with the foil! Definitely more of a novelty act, complete with superman pants and kazoos – musically Hero Force won’t be giving Tunng much competition, but it was fun for the night, and having met every single member of the Gender family I really can’t be too rude. What a bloody lovely bunch! Harry was also in charge of the second Grandpa Stage which ran during the day downstairs.


Around midnight we found ourselves wending back towards the farm, followed by a lengthy walk up a dark tree- lined track into some fields where the camping site was, where I managed to erect my tent in the dark without too many mishaps (I keep ripping it, I don’t recommend Vangos, overpriced and overcomplicated) In the morning I awakened to the most breathtaking views out over the Derbyshire dales, and then had to figure out which route down the fields I had to take down to the main barn buildings!


Offers to help Sam and his sister Zoe with breakfast were rebuffed, and feeling duely refilled, I caught a lift back into town in the Danmobile “your name’s not Dan your not coming in…” For the duration of the journey we were all Dan. Maybe you had to be there.

First up was Nancy Elizabeth, down from Manchester (barely) with her harp and a raging hangover, thanks to the driving skills of John Smith. Nancy has a stunning voice and some great lyrics “it’s not always apparent on the surface that things are really moving,” and some equally oddball lyrics, “you smell like coriander”. Joined onstage by John Smith for an impromptu duet, she was delightful in a little black dress (£15, TK Maxx folks) Singing Coriander made them both laugh “it always makes us think of that wierd advert with the Schwartz spice dresses.”

They were a bit random, and I thought that John was just Nancy’s mate, helping her out a bit, but oh boy was I wrong. The man is a genius, a god amongst guitar players. His set was just AWESOME. Following on from local duet Murder City Sweethearts, all footstamping big voiced Derbyshire lass (she helped herself to my mate’s yellow welly boots later that night. “Sorry luv, I just liked them!”)

John Smith does things to a guitar that I did not think were humanly possible – twisting the strings out of tune as he plays, and bouncing it up and down on his lap as a drum and a guitar dulcimer. Then, with the aid of his banjo and a loop pedal, giving us a real treat with an outstanding version of Billie Jean. John gives wonderful banter too, and I haven’t even got to his beautifully husky voice. He was utterly mesmerizing, and you have to remember that the room was full of musicians, sitting there absolutely agog. If John Smith visits your town GO AND SEE HIM. Currently unsigned (not for want of the big labels giving chase by all accounts) he prefers to do things a bit more DIY, and sells self-produced albums at his gigs.

Despite some sound problems there was some excellent stuff to see on the Grandpa stage. Neil Burrell was every bit as barking in real life as he is on his decidedly out there debut album White Devils Day Is Almost Over, muttering obliquely and not exactly tunefully into his microphone over far-too-loud jangle jangle guitars. Definitely an acquired taste.   

The Loungs brought their brand of hairy bloke psychedelically enhanced harmonies to the small pub stage, bouncing up and down and thoroughly enjoying the whole shindig. The Loungs redefine the cliche of a manc band. Highly recommended.


Upstairs again Jon Redfern played competantly but maybe we had just been spoilt by John Smith, because there just seemed to be a bit of a spark missing. He is more established and certainly took his playing seriously, but I found myself drifting off. Most people were probably being more entertained by the cheeky little girls racing around the room in fits of giggles. Having just signed to Reveal Records, I do declare that he was using the very same distinctive Wurlitzer that Joan As Police Woman used to record her album.

The Memory Band produced some wonderful tunes with tuneful guitars and Nancy Wallace’s gorgeous voice. I was sad to miss her on the sunday. As I was sad to miss Serafina Steer on Sunday too – she dragged her huge harp all the way up from London with her brother, who was set to accompany her on banjo. But work called and I had to get back home.

Soft Hearted Scientists  I am sure were brilliant but by this point I was distracted by various snogging couples and my pint of cider. I switched back on again to watch Admirals Hard, featuring Becky from Tunng, and an assorted motley crew, who play together only rarely. With lots of rearranged traditional sea shanties I was happily able to sing along to the majority of their tunes. Soon everyone was doing a bit of barn dancing and we returned to the farm merry and ready for the bonfire, premade for us to light.

With such a plethora of musicians it was no surprise that the resulting campfire was a fantabulous musical menagerie – the highlight for me being John Smith’s rendition of Christina Aguilera’s infamous Genie In A Bottle, done in such a style that it took everyone fairly the whole song to catch on to what he was playing. Truly a star in the making.

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One Response to “Thermal Festival”

  1. Amy says:

    Small festivals are the best, I was talking with friends last night about the beauty of small music festivals…. this sounds wicked, and John Smith is absolutely wonderful! I can’t wait to see him play live in London. Nancy Elizabeth I love too, and The Loungs are wicked – not to mention TUUNG! What a wonderful festival, everyone looks so friendly and happy! x

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