From little acorns ............... great and mighty festivals grow. Since opening its gates six years ago to the inaugural event Lounge On The Farm has grown bigger and better each year. The initially modest numbers of virgin 'Farmers' eagerly over the cattle grids numbered only about one thousand. Fast forward six years and Merton Farm is now host to a ten thousand strong sold out crowd of marvellous diversity. During the previous five years LOTF has had a reputation for putting together a roll call of talent that both capture the imagination, excite the crowds and stimulate interest. They champion new and up and coming acts (Example '07), make sure you are never short on surprises (New York Dolls '08), re-discover old favourites (Martha Reeves '10) and showcase them to a new audience and blend it all in such a chilled out way that makes you appreciate the music............and the food all the more. 2011 was no let down either, it had all these elements and a few more besides.
Unfortunately it became clear upon arrival that the dastardly weather man was for once right and there was to be no repeat (yet at any rate) of last years blisteringly hot temperatures. As Phoebe (4) and I were sent ahead to set up camp two things were clear, firstly it was very windy with the occasional heavy burst of rain, and secondly.....................someone forgot to pack the tent pegs!!! Pitching the tent we decided could wait for fairer skies and two more pairs of hands. After having a quick saunter round we picked up the rest of our crew (plus the missing pegs) and began to ease ourselves in for a fabulous weekend of indulgence.
Friday's highlights all began to build from the early evening onwards, although we were gutted to have missed Eliza Newman and Hannah Peel who both had relatively early slots in the folk tent. Never mind we were not going to let a small scheduling faux paux dampen our resolve. After the unpacking and pitching had drained our energy somewhat it was decided that sustenance was in order. The 'zero food miles' Aberdeen Angus Merton Burgers were a delight , especially when washed down with a few Aspall's Suffolk ciders! (The kids chose the seemingly 'never not busy' option of a Moo Moo's Milkshake each, and mighty fine they were too!) All refreshed we strolled closer to the main stage, now no longer in the confines of the Cowshed but as is more customary, with most festivals, out in the open air.
Devlin (enhanced by JD) was trying his damndest to liven up those assembled on the meadow and quite coincidentally seemed to have forgotten that the main stage had in fact moved outdoors.."Let's go f..king mental me p...heads (The kids were oblivious, they were still on their Boost and Kit-Kat flavoured shakes), make some noise in the building, I don't know what to say now, I'm out of breath, grime! I got one more song, who knows Runaway? The throngs did indeed and they did their best to satisfy his rallying call to go mental. The Vaccines followed up next. Not an obvious choice to slot between two purveyors of gritty urban beats and rhymes, they nevertheless went down a storm. Added as a rather late addition to the rosta they whipped up the crowd good and proper with sensational versions of 'Post Break up Sex', 'All In White', 'Lack Of Understanding' and 'If You Wanna'. Over in The Sheepdip Morrocan food loving Benjamin Francis Leftwich was laying down some rather more subtle sounds from his new album. He bewitched all before him with a set of ballads highlighted by the beautiful 'Butterfly Culture'.(As an added bonus Kim Brulee, who could on occasion be seen wearing her table, whipped us up a nice pancake whilst we listened)
Around the farm Cornershop were in a party mood over on the Meadows Stage prior to a strong performance from the newly reformed, rejuvenated Brit Pop 'giants' Cast. Marcus Foster was showcasing songs from his new album 'Nameless Path' and the cowshed had started to rumble in its new incarnation as an homage to Tony Wilson's clubbing Mecca, the Hacienda.
On the main stage it was one of the last chances to see The Streets and Mike Skinner in the guise to which we have become accustomed, but sadly, the one which he has reluctantly decided has run its course. The headline act of the evening didn't disappoint. Mike and his band were in fine form ripping through their back catalogue of most loved and greatest hits. The emphasis fell on his earlier work with tunes from his debut album 'Original Pirate Material' getting by far the best reception. 'Weak Become Heroes' and Turn The Page' ramped up the excitement as Mike (now in character in Fred Perry and gold bling, having formally arrived on site in preppy chinos and a pink and white gingham shirt) stirred up the crowd. He was obviously enjoying himself and had taken time to sample the festival prior to his slot..."It's a nice festival, lots of parents trying to keep a lid on it, lots of wild girls" He was also in a rather mischievous mood as he set about renaming the festival by removing the 'O' from the front of the stage graphics to make it 'Lunge On The Farm' ................unbeknown to him it was back later the next day so his wish for it to remain until Ellie Goulding appeared the following evening did not come to fruition! 'OMG', 'Fit But You Know It' and 'Everything Is Borrowed' helped maintain the heady momentum before they closed off in style with 'Going Through Hell'.
Competing for attention, over in the Farm Folk Tent, were The Smoke Fairies but I was pleased to have dipped out briefly (From The Streets) to catch part of their rich sounding set. They were heavier than anticipated with some great reverb, possibly due to their mentoring from Jack White and had attracted a decent crowd. "Thanks for coming, I know there's a lot going on, I can here it all!" 'Dirty Red Rose' and 'Strange Moon Rising' were well worth the walk. Over in the cowshed things were warming up for the turn of the night. Annie Mac all but tore the roof off the new dance arena. The historic acoustic problems of old that the cowshed was prone to were now banished, the Drum N' Bass beats obviously suiting the new sound system better than any old guitar and vocal Rock or Pop act of the past. ........................Annie cranked it up and got the crowd pumping to usher in a new day..............'Just one more tune, just one more tune....
After devouring the obligatory bacon and sausage sarnie and cup of splosh Saturday started rather sedately with a trip back to the Farm Folk Tent. Smugglers Records took over the venue for the best part of the day and delighted the ever increasing audience with turns from most of the acts from their talented stable. 'Ladies Of the Lake' got things off to a fabulous start with their three part female harmonies singing a mix of traditional songs. With an air of The Unthanks about them they imparted tales of impotence.."Me husbands got no courage in him....I throw me leg over him and plant me hand between his thighs' and American attitudes to child care "Wrap him up in a table clothe and throw him up in the hay loft" before singing songs about women and piracy that would "have been traditionally sung by a man, but we're parting with tradition today!" Pete Row followed them on with his blend of observational folk, very much in the Thea Gilmore mould.
Over on the main stage the afternoon was hotting up, literally. After Tom Odell apologised for the rain it only lasted five minutes. His blend of piano and horn drenched tunes got feet tapping and the crowd gathering. Chad Valley and Visions of Trees were over at The Sheepdip but for us it was off to The Meadows stage to see one of the weekends outstanding sets. Tom William & The Boat gave the former 'Further' Stage an act to savour and one that wouldn't be surpassed all weekend. Ending his first number with a rousing version of Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain' he and the band never looked back. The tight and driven percussive beats of 'Concentrate' set them up nicely for the Libertines meets Supergrass amalgam of the terrific, Dexy's horn infused, 90MPH. "It's lovely to be here, I think it's my 4th LOTF, we've done about 20 between us," They closed out the set with 'Little Bit Of Me' and 'See My Evil'. The evocative tales were played with power and presence and pulsated to the last note. Next on the bill, Spectre, did their best to rise to the challenge and entered into some amusing banter with those assembled before them "We're donating our fee to the people at the front, if you could follow their lead and look enthusiastic". Playing new songs that have an air of comforting familiarity the clear winners were 'Lay Low' and their newly released single 'Never Fade Away'.
Plucked by Smugglers, after a stint at The Greenman Festival, Laura J Martin mesmerised the Folk Tent with her looping foot pedal work, virtuoso flute and high set vocals. 'Salamander' was a joy to hear and see performed, her work rate easily equal to that of the four/five parts she was performing, and she even told jokes! "What's Bruce Lees favourite drink?.....water (You had to be there, I can't write accents!) Later in the day, after our Beef Curry (The wife obviously not hot enough as the Sun shone) we were treated to the bass heavy beats of Jamie Woon. He filled the bank early on the main stage with his blend of beats and sophisticated high harmonies. For all enthusiasm of his musicians he did seem ostensibly a one man band, capturing those before him with a great 'Lady Luck' and killer 'Night Air'. The Urban Nerds had taken over in the cowshed and were throwing out some bone splitting bass beats. At one point the dancing resembled that of one of last years major acts, namely Buster Bloodvessel from Bad Manners, which seemed apt as it was on the same stage and added a bizarre thread of continuity to proceedings. The clowns, elves, village people and trannies all seemed to be enjoying it at anyway. (Their ad-break needed some work. A worse commercial plug is unlikely to be seen even on this years Apprentice, "Who wants a nerd on their t-shirts? You can buy them you know!")
Early evening was now upon us and it was time for a red headed Katy B to skip onto the main stage with probably the most self effacing introduction of the weekend. 'My name is Katy B and this is my band and we're gonna play some songs for you." And so she set about firing up the crowd with her top ten hits. Whilst she belted out 'Broken Record' and 'Wounded' as she skipped about the stage looking a little like Catherine Tate's love child we ambled over to watch Will Varley close out his polished set. Then with minimal fuss up stepped Cocos Lovers and up stepped the audience. The Folk Tent was properly heaving for the first time this weekend. The troupe of 8, 9 or 10 (It was difficult to keep score) set about ramping up the atmosphere with some stirring tunes that were both riotous and infectious in equal parts. The whistles, flutes, drums, guitars and violins worked a treat in just the right venue. The crowd loved it as the tent roof was lifted with each stomping tune. 'It's nice to see you, good evening. Very soon we're gonna go mental, but before we do we're gonna sing you a romantic song". It was like witnessing a grown up set of Mumfords devoid of the baggage or pretension.
Meanwhile back at the main stage old farm hand Example was doing a fine job as warm up for the nights headliner. "Has anyone got any energy left?" he shouted out before 'Kickstart' got the pulses racing again. "Where's me bouncin' crew?" Turns out they were there all along they just needed the wake up call. Scene set, crowd enlivened, a little anxious and definitely excited they waited patiently for the wedding singer to arrive. With a blast of light and a crescendo of drums Ellie Goulding stormed the stage entering into a brief double drum solo before rockin' out all over the place like a metal head on speed. High heels ("they said they make my legs look longer") hot-pants, boob tube and spangly jacket accessorised the blonde tousled rocker look. She apologised for being late "Not mentioning any names but one of my crew members (radio) packs went down the bog!) The set seemed to whiz by with 'Your Song', 'Guns And Horses', 'Starry Eyed', 'The Writer' (Complete with public health service announcement..."You should not smoke but put your lighter and phones up if you do") and her ode to sweating 'Salt Skin' being among the best of the night. On the other side of the farm Sean Hughes was a poor imitation of his former self in the Playhouse. Looking disinterested and dishevelled throughout he plodded through his mediocre material, at one stage reverting to mocking a fourteen year old boy to find some cheep laughs. He may have not liked being billed too close to Ms Goulding but I doubt she will lose sleep over his jibes that the audience will just be saying 'Just play the F..cking Elton John song will you." as it happens, she already had, they loved it, but loved the rest too.................time for bed.
Sunday started in glorious fashion with near cloudless skies and a sunny day forecast. The best t-shirt of the day was spotted early on, 'I-Pood'. Very nice. Men, predominantly, were still happy to throw conical wooden shapes up in the air and catch them on pieces of string (this still baffles me at every festival, it must be the water, the fencing, the drugs, the cider....I don't know but what ever it is it grows like a flu pandemic..............someone make it stop!) Aunt Petunia was spotted Lounging again, her HP duties now laid to rest. The morning belly dancing, yoga and occasional work outs from the Motiv80's kept the muscles moving whilst Mr Chuckles did his best to entertain the kids.
Our musical entertainment on the final day started with Mr Lupen Crook and his 12 string guitar. Singing rousing songs about love and life, dirt and decay and imparting some great relationship advise along the way, Mantra #29 "Get over yourself" being among his best". (Quite how Relate would find his frankness is up for debate). 'The Dirty Mile', Julian's Song', 'Lunacy' and especially the finale 'Chasing Dragons' all hit home with the enthusiastic onlookers. Early risers Lets Buy Happiness (They got up at 4.30am in Newcastle that morning to be playing The Sheepdip at 1.15pm) didn't seem dazed from their lengthy travels. The power pop quintet, headed up by vocalist Sarah Hall (Think Rose Elinor Dougall + Claire Grogan), tore through a heady set including 'Killing Time' and new show stopper 'Clear Mistake'. Elsewhere that afternoon the San Fran influenced, summer of love evoking, psychadelic folk Scots, Haight Ashbury were clearly playing to their strengths in the sun kissed meadows. They were followed on stage by more psychedelic sounds, this time with a laid back Jazzier infusion courtesy of Boot Lagoon. Jazz not top of our agenda we headed for the Italian Kitchen to see us through to closing time.
During the evening there were to be two brief forays away from the main stage. One was into the The Folk Tent to check out the somewhat weird world of C.W Stoneking And His Primitive Orchestra. Looking like something out of the Great Gatsby and singing songs of depression era America whilst playing on instruments that looked older than the Constitution itself, he seemed to have pulled a very appreciative bunch who were all keen to take the trip down somebody else's memory lane and raise Minnie The Moocher from her grave. The other was to The Meadows stage to see local Canterbury legends Caravan. Here, partly to celebrate the 40 year anniversary of their most loved album 'The Land Of The Grey And Pink', they too had pulled a sizable crowd all keen to hear them in all their former glory. Upon hearing them live you'd be surprised if Mark Knopfler wasn't a fan, there was clearly an influence to be heard. These two brief ventures aside meant that Sundays focus centred around the main arena.
Dog is Dead mixed up some calypso beats, introduced some Sax and sang some tight harmonies under the beating Sun. Flipping between The Strokes and Arcade Fire with leanings towards Vampire Weekend and a final crescendo complete with virtuoso guitar solo they may sound all over the place but were anything but, drawing the crowd in with each chord played. A little later on Art Brut upped the ante considerably. Their set was a belter from start to finish and saw showmanship a plenty from lead singer Eddie Argos. The bassist and drummer both seemed to be able to keep tight reign over the ad-libbing frontman. Telling tales of parental worry, trips to Amsterdam and giving a mini lecture on art in the process, whilst actually among the crowd, all proved very enlightening and extremely entertaining. Singing songs about Axl Rose whilst mixing in parts of Paradise City put a wry smile on many a face. 'Summer Job', 'Modern Art' and 'Good Weekend' and 'Lost Weekend' just proved what a terrific band they are. (It was great to see Eddie and his band out and about to appreciate the other acts, although they should have probably been watching him!)
The Joy Formidable had the unenviable task of following a stunning Art Brut performance. Whilst it was good, it was only workman liked and the trio showed little charisma, although they did release their pet snake into the crowd! They were pitch perfect and thundered through a very impressive set that peaked towards the end with the two part fake finisher 'Boy' and the epic 'Whirring' getting the crowd jumping and clapping. The boiler suited (Ghost Busters meets Kwik Fit) boys from Everything Everything continued with the clapping from the off, playing a sonic soundscape of thrashing guitars, keys and falsetto vocals that required a degree of stamina to listen to in its entirety. As the sun set the band wound up to massive applause from the giddy crowd.
Liverpool legends Echo And The Bunnymen strolled on to close out the main stage in fantastic style. Strutting on like he owned Kent, let alone LOTF, Ian McCulloch was master of all before him and he knew it. With the petulance of youth still in his swagger and the ego of an inspirational figure he and his band lit up the night sky with tune after tune from their majestic and at times sublime back catalogue. 'Bring On The Dancing Horses', Zimbo', 'Do It Clean', Seven Seas' Over The Wall' all sounded absolutely fabulous. Fag breaks came and went and then fever pitch arrived as Ian announced that they would be playing the 'Holy Trinity'. If anybody in the packed crowd were as yet unmoved by the whole experience the last trio of songs was sure to change all that. 'The Back Of Love', 'Killing Moon' and finally 'The Cutter' tore up the Kent night and served as spectacular end to an awesome gig and brilliant weekend.
LOTF#6: It was definitely bigger and in the most part better. In getting bigger and catering for a more commercial market it has lost some of its quirkier, boutique touches. It was sad to see no Bandstand this year, but putting the main stage outside makes much more sense. The Sheepdip is a destination tent rather than a drop in venue which means that there's less chance you see something normally off your radar, but the addition of The Meadows Stage was masterly. It was a shame to cut all the crops down on the walk through but the Cowshed turned Dance arena clearly worked and then some. So on balance there was more to appreciate than bemoan, more to cherish than to criticize and many more acts to love than to loathe. The weather may not have always matched last years but the headliners and supporting acts more than did. LOTF#7 has a lot to live up to!
And finally would someone, for Gods sake, (And mine for that matter) find Alan.............where ever he may be! ALAN!