BACK STAGE AT PEPPERMINT IGUANA HQ: Gigs, Festivals, Parties, CDs, Books, Protests, travels, photography and Cardiff City FC

Saturday, July 29, 2006

PROTEST MARCHES: Brief thoughts on thier validity

After about two months of record-breaking heat, the day the heat wave would break was bound to coincide with ‘The Left’ organising a march though Cardiff.

There was not a massive turn out, about 200, but by Cardiff standards, in the rain, that is not bad. They had gathered to protest about the Israeli attack on the Lebanon.
As well as the ‘usual suspects’ from the Left, there were quite a few Muslims present, which was cool to see because it demonstrates we are all speaking with the same voice.

I have my doubts about the ability of these set piece marches from A to B to actually make a difference to anything. I marched with 2 Million others through London to stop the war on Iraq, but Bush and Blair carried on regardless. When it comes together, with hundreds of thousands marching, the Government may carry on regardless, but they do take note that large numbers of voters may be thinking of not voting for them in the future. At the end of the day they cannot survive without a popular mandate and although the impact of large marches are often not seen immediately, they can send out ripples that change things a little bit at a time.

They do serve another purpose though; they enable people to network, to allow people with similar views to come together and meet new people; and it gives a focus, something to campaign around, a reason to reach out and talk to people. It also gives the left an opportunity to sell more newspapers. This might sound condescending, but they are all useful tools for building ‘The Struggle’.

I am in the middle of writing an article, ‘Summit Mobilisations: what’s the point?’ so will leave it at that for now. If you have any thoughts on the meaningfulness of popular protest please e-mail me or post a comment.

I think a lengthy rant like blog on the goings on in the Middle East is also on the cards, but i want to spend some time on that.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


The British Museum has never been a place I have felt the need to go and look for, but given that we were staying directly opposite it this visit, it seemed like destiny that we had to have a butchers.

It was another scorching hot day and we only lasted an hour or so before we had to get some fresh air, so we did not see it all but we did get to see a few things of interest.

We seem to be on a bit of a Marx theme this trip, because apparently he wrote the Communist Manifesto in the reading room here.

Although the outside of the reading room has had a bit of a make over in recent years

The mummies were actually far better preserved than I had imagined, x-rays have shown that the bodies are pretty much still in tact.

Some things are a bit newer than the mummies, like modern art from Africa.

I find the history of the actual museum just as interesting as some of the artefacts, like the story behind the Cairo Museum wanting the Parthenon marbles back.

Not far from the museum, is Bookmarks, the best socialist bookshop in the country. I had to nip in. I went in looking for the new Mark Thomas book, ‘As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Stories from the Arms and Torture Trade’ and was disappointed that they did not have it in. I left with a copy of ‘Babylon and Beyond’ by Derek Wall. The Mark Thomas book was picked up in a book chain store around the corner (you had your chance Bookmarks!)

Further down Charring Cross Road we nipped into the Photographers Gallery, two exhibitions were on, one was a set of stills from the 1966 film ‘Blow Up’ and the other was a selection from the 300,000 strong collection of photographs from the London Fire Brigade Archive.

After few cold beverages in the pub, it was back to civilisation. There have been times in my life when I have quite fancied living in London because it has so much to offer, but I think you would get bored of it if you lived there and you would see more of the downside (cost of living, lack of community spirit, street crime etc). All in all, I am now happy to just visit a few times a year.

PONGMASTERS BALL 7: Ozric Tentacles and friends in a feast of spaced out crusty psychedelic trance-core

Last night (and this morning) was the ‘Pongmasters Ball’, a gathering of Ozric Tentacles, plus related ‘friends and families’.

The last time I went to a Pongmasters Ball was a good ten years ago, it was in Brixton Academy, which holds 5,000, was on a Saturday night and sold out in advance. This year’s ball (number 7, which implies they have ceased to be annual) was held in the Mean Fiddler, which has a capacity of about 1,000, was held on a Wednesday and did not sell out.

This fall from grace has its advantages though, the venue is a nice size and you could move about easily and no queues at the bar, although there was still a big enough crowd to create a bit of an atmosphere.

There is a problem with the venue though, it is owned by Vince Power, the money grabber who owns several other venues throughout London, runs the Reading and Leeds festivals and looks after security at fortress Glastonbury. It is annoying that I have to line his pockets to see one some of my favourite bands, but £3.20 for a can of Strongbow really was taking the piss… yes, that’s a can, not a full pint, the type that go for 50p in your friendly neighbourhood off licence (this may account for the lack of queues at the bar).

Was not going to let that spoil me fun though….

NODENS ICTICUS, turning on, tuning in and dropping out....

NODENS ICTICUS: This was side project of Ozric Tentacles that played chill out types stuff late 80s early 90s. Featuring guitarist Ed Wynne and keyboards of Joie Hinton, it was basically Ozrics without a Rhythm section. They were later joined by Merv Peplar. They ceased to be in the early 90s when Ed decided to concentrate on the Ozrics, while Hinton and Peplar formed Eat Static.

They have been getting together again of late and have finally released a CD, but the unit still remains a side project.

Tonights show started the night chilling and slowly warmed up, building the tempo to give a mild dose of what was to come later in the night.

System 7 bombarding the brain with soundwaves

SYSTEM 7: Steve Hillage has been working on this project since 1990 together with Miquette Giraudi and at various times guest artists including the likes of Alex Paterson.

Hillage is no stranger to psychedelic ambient vibes … he has his roots in the 60s psychedelic outfit Gong. Some of his early ambient stuff is well cool, but he also kicks it up with full on banging techno and has recorded a few decent albums.

Now the problem with live techno acts is that there is not a lot to see on stage. Some bands bring on dancers, some use live instruments and there are a few that really can carry off a live performance. System 7 do not fit in this category, their techno is beefy, but not ‘intelligent’ enough to keep you entertained for long periods, it turns into.. well, repetitive beats I suppose. Alright in small doses but not enough variety to keep you transfixed.. unless you are on drugs!

OK... out of focus, but pretty much how i was seeing things while the Ozrics were on stage.

OZRIC TENTACLES: The main attraction. Unfashionable, hippies, prog rock.. call em what you like, I f@ckin' love em. With their roots in the travellers/ festival scene of the early 80s they play psychedelic spaced out trancy rock.

Completely instrumental they take you on a blissed out ride through space, into another dimension and back. When combined with the ‘Fruit Salad Lightshow’ they can be like tripping when completely straight…. And when you really are trippin’…..!

Tonight’s light show was not quite as good as the full fruit thing, but standing close to the stage with the music washing over you, around you, underneath you, picking you up and sucking your brain out with a straw, the lights made you feel like you were inside a Mandelbrot Set.

NB: The official Ozrics Website appears to be off line, but check out this pretty hot fan site

Eat Static, not dropping out, infiltrating and taking over
EAT STATIC: Ozrics build you up to such a pitch when they finish you just think things cannot get any crazier, then on come Eat Static. These guys really do know how to fry the dance floor with full on banging psy-trance.

Far cleverer that System 7, the lack of much on stage really becomes an irrelevance, but turning the lights up to spaced out psychedelic level 11 does help.

Over the years they have pioneered several different styles, dabbling with big beat, drum ‘n' bass, industrial techno and even salsa techno, but tonight it was ear to ear trancedelic vibrations as we travelled though time and space using area 51 as our portal. It was all so wigged out that the addition of drugs may well have caused your brain to fry.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I regularly travel to London to go to gigs, football matches, protests, union business etc, and my visits tend to focus around that particular purpose and not much more, which is a shame, because London has such a lot to offer. This time we decided to fit in as much ‘tourism’ as possible around the gig, so after quickly dropping off our bags, armed with out underground travel card, we headed for the legendary Highgate Cemetery.

The there aren’t many cemeteries, other than war cemeteries, that can be considered tourist attractions, the only other one that I have ever bothered to visit is Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris.

Highgate has many reasons to be famous; it is listed by English Heritage as a site of outstanding historical and architectural interest, it is a nature reserve with countless rare and exotic plants, animals and insects and of course (it is a cemetery after all) there are lots of famous dead people there. It was one of seven private cemeteries opened up in London in the 1830s and is resting place to over 100,000 bodies.

The most famous dead geezer planted there is Karl Marx, the memorial there now was paid for the Communist Party of Great Britain to replace the original humble one placed there at the time of his death in 1883. Some people do not like Marx, hence the attempt to blow up the monument in January 1970.

Marx tomb is in the Eastern Cemetery, which itself is quite impressive but is nothing compared to the slightly older Western cemetery which can only be visited by guided tour. The architecture of some of the tombs and mausoleums is incredible, but I was somewhat taken aback by the condition of the place, it is completely over run by ivy, brambles and various other foliage, and many of the graves are literally falling apart. After getting your head around the condition of the place it actually makes perfect sense, it adds to the character of the place and makes it all the more interesting to visit.

Apart from the ‘real history’ of the place it has lots of myths around it, like the legend of the Highgate Vampire, and the Hammer House Of Horror studios used it as a set for many of its movies.

The beauty of the guided tour means some interesting looking tombs take on a whole new perspective when you know the background to the person lying beneath.

There is too much to say about the place to put in a blog, so check out the official site, or the Wikipedia entry.

The cemeteries are located next to Waterlow Park. It never ceases to amaze me that these wonderfully maintained huge parks exist in the middle of a city of 10 million people and manage to resist development.

On the way back from Highgate we called into Camden, for years my favourite part of London and it still holds a special place in me heart, but I have been there so many times now it has lost its excitement. I am not sure it is actually the same place now anyway, it is no longer a punk DIY heaven, it is more a place for people who want to sell you mass produced punk DIY. I still like it enough to make a flying visit when passing though.

Then it was back to base to get ready for the main attraction that had brought us to London… watch this space!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

ASHTON COURT: Better than a day at the beach

Someone turns up for the bristol ballon festival early

Ashton Court Festival, Bristol, has an odd place in the psyche of the Iguana. You can’t camp there, so we don’t really consider it to be a festival. They often have a few good bands on the line up but it is not something that forms part of the planning of the Iguana summer. I have probably been 10 or 15 times but it is usually somewhere we go if there is nothing else on that weekend; in fact the decision to go this year was not made until the morning of the gig.

There was a time when it was free but as it grew they started asking for donations, which was fair enough. Then Or*nge took over running it and the donations became mandatory, although it was still only a fiver; this year though it has gone up to £9 which I suppose is still value for money but is definitely a disincentive to attending both days. The arrival of Or*nge also meant just about every stage is sponsored these days, so they must be making a lot of money before a single punter has gone through the turnstile.

The Cleverly named WKD stage

They tend to splash out on a handful of headliners over the weekend and fill the bill up with mainly local bands. Fortunately Bristol has a history of producing some half decent talent so there have been some cool bands over the years.

It has grown over the years in terms of entertainment; there are now 7 stages, plus the usual market, food stall and mini fun fair.

The Relentless Stage... no doubt we will be hearing lots about this new energy drink in the months to come.

This year I had been contemplating going but the final decision was actually made by Tara Iguana, I had planned on taking her to the beach, but when she found out Aston Court was on there was no choice as far as she was concerned. Made me quite proud actually!

The noiseiest maze in the world

Of all the years I have been I think there are probably only two or three years where I did not end up driving (SPARKY, GINGER… are you listening?), but as I had Tara on board I did not really mind. When we got there we headed straight for the kids area, face painting, out door theatre, swing boats, banging, cutting and sticking etc.

Tara sends herself around the bend for a change
After a while we met up with some of the other usual suspects (Sparky and Ginger still not driving) and soon we had a bigger than expected posse together. We chilled for a while watching Small Axe, then Tara and I went for a walk, firstly via the fun fair then around the market. Needless to say we ended up in the bubble stall, where Tara got waylaid for ages. She discovered edible bubbles, which you were supposed to blow then catch, but she opted for drinking neat bubble fluid….

By coincidence a few of the others from the gang had moved to a spot near the bubble stall, where you could see the main stage, so we chilled with them for a while before finishing off our look around the market.

We had to set off early to pick up Zoë Iguana who had gone to see the Lost Prophets in Cardiff (number one daughter going to gigs on her own, and decent bands at that, something else that has made me proud). I did not mind too much, it meant missing Dreadzone (who I saw last week) and The Heads. I would have loved to have seen the Heads, never seen them yet. They were playing in the ‘Blackout’ tent, a tent that has the sides down so it is dark all day. They were going to have a full on lightshow and the volume turned up to 11, which I would have loved to experience, but I am certain that Tara would not have tolerated that for one minute.

All in all a great day out, despite not really seeing any bands, and as Tara put it, “much better than going to the beach”.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

LARMER TREE SUNDAY: All good things must come to an end

The Ugly Bug Ball Bloc ready to move on the G8

Day four, and we be still rockin’.. and the sun is still shining. We have been up and about early every morning because the heat in the tent gets unbearable by about 07:30, but we usually hang around the gazebo chilling. Today we make a point of heading into the main site early though to catch a lunchtime set by another bunch of Iguana favourites, Dorset’s very own Pronghorn.

Songs about death and interbreeding in Dorset... surely not!

PRONGHORN: These boys (and girl) had the honour of being interviewed for Issue four of the Peppermint Iguana fanzine. They describe themselves as ‘hogbitch dogshit cowpunk’, and I don’t think I can top that. Playing country with punk attitude they belt out a mix of their own compositions and covers of stuff like ‘Ace Of Spades’ and ‘Smells Like White Spirit’ at full pelt, like a tractor out of control, but always with a smile on the face.

The next generation of Pronghorn
This afternoon’s show was typical Sunday afternoon cabaret stuff to get the drinking muscles relaxed and the jigging legs loosened up. A nice touch was various Pronghorn kids added to the line up playing drums, harmonica and washboard… yes, they have two washboard players; it is that sort of band.

Dug deep for yet another CD, Pronghorn's latest, 'Londis calling'.

Marin Harley and gang buskin' with a full PA
(Tip for taking photographs in the day, change the settings you were using in the dark!)

MARTIN HARLEY BAND (Again): If we had not come across these boys busking on the Saturday night we probably would not have bothered checking them out, but hearing them on a decent PA confirmed what I had originally thought, this band are CLASS. Melting folk with blues they sound like a cross between John Martyn and Ry Cooder, slick but laid back with plenty of slide guitar. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon. As soon as they finished I was off to the CD stall to pick up the album.

Too much sun and not enough cider can do terrible things to your head

CARNIVAL PROCESSION: While we have been hanging around enjoying the sun the kids and some adults have been tucked away making costumes for this afternoon’s carnival parade. And what a sight it was, there must have been about 500 kids all dressed up in blocs with a different theme. To add a bit of noise to the colour were two marching bands; Brighton’s Carnival Collective and Orkestra Del Sol.

I was disappointed that Stan from Flannel was not with the Carnival Collective; he has been working with them for a few years now. I have not had a chance to speak to him since Bloke shuffled off this mortal coil and it would have been nice to have a drink with him.

The Blues take on the Reds
BALKAN DATERIA SOUNDCLASH: After the procession the two bands took to the main stage for a bit of a sound clash thing, which was noisy to see the least. Carnival Collective doing their samba thing, while Del Sol added their Balkan polka vibe. Then it was back to the gazebo to get ready for…..

"Did you spill me cider?"

PRONGHORN (Again): There are quite a few bands that turn up at the Larmer Tree on a regular basis, but Pronghorn have closed the Sunday night on the big top ever since the festival started. And what a way to finish, feisty drunken moshing like there was no tomorrow, which of course there wasn’t.. in terms of the Larmer Tree.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

LARMER TREE SATURDAY: the beat goes on

MORE WALKABOUTS: The tea ladies, not original but a classic and still raise a smile.

I will say one thing for the market, there was plenty of colour

ELEPHANT TALK (AGAIN): This time in the big top in the dark and this time in fancy dress. It was after all supposed to be fancy dress day, but not many bothered (unlike the way everyone goes for it at the Shambala)

SHOOGLENIFTY: A definite improvement on the afternoon slot they had at the Workhouse Festival, proper Celtic folk rock as it is supposed to be played. Jigtastic rip roaring stompalong stuff that gave all the Arran jumpers just what they wanted.

It was at the Larmer Tree I first caught this lot, our mate Mez was a massive fan and insited we all went to see them. I was totally blown away that first time and always think about being stood there with Mez, he was tragically killed in a bike accident not long after.. gawd bless him.

MARTIN HARLEY BAND: We sat for a while chilling eating Mexican Fajitas, when these buskers came up and started strumming away. I was fascinated, I thought they were brilliant. As they finished they announced that they were the martin Harley band and would be on stage tomorrow. I made a mental note to check them out properly the following day

BABY HEAD: Bristol based ska/soul/funk/hip hop outfit that well and truly had the big top bumping and grinding. Must make a point of nipping over the Severn bridge to check them out again soon.

DJ ANDREI NIKOLSKY: Twenty-one year old DJ, producer, record collector, multi-instrumentalist and self confessed beat junkie finished the night off with some cracking funky vibes that reminded me on times of Paul Murphy. Nice to know that not all these ‘youngsters’ are into commercial house music. Perfect way to end the night… well no, perfect would have been sitting around the campfire till dawn but we wont go there!

Friday, July 14, 2006

LARMER TREE FRIDAY: Fiddling while Beruit burns

The Ace of Spades seems to be turning into something of a 'country' standard. Bizare!

The second day of the festival… and it is still only Friday! After lounging around most of the morning reading about the goings on in the Lebanon in the Guardian, which was quite depressing, we headed for the site once more.

One of the first things we came across was a ‘Duke Box’, which was basically a chopped up caravan turned into a juke box with a difference, it actually had a live band inside it. A simple idea I suppose but it made me chuckle.

New look Elephant Talk line up get the garden grooving

ELEPHANT TALK: An old favourite here at Iguana HQ. They play a blend of instrumental Celtic fused dance music with a strong influence of trance, funk and eastern musical styles. This line up is slightly different from the last time we caught them, the didge has gone but they now have a harp instead (although I am sure I detected the didge on the sampler that was beefing up the sound). Very pleasant, but I think I preferred the old line up.

WALK ABOUTS: There were a few walk abouts on show, one that particularly caught the imagination was the 23 hour rolling news desk.

DREADZONE: After considerable lounging about trying to find shade, drinking Cider and Apple Moonshine we headed over to see the mighty Dreadzone. Originally formed in 1992 they were among the early pioneers of the reggae techno crossover that is still vibrating dancehalls today. Their second album ‘Second Light’ set the world on fire and is still regularly spinning here in Iguana land. There have been several albums since then, demonstrating a mixed quality, and there was a bit of a break while the line up went into a state of flux. They returned with a new line up and a new album in 2005 and are now shaking the planet with dub vibrations like they have never been away.

Tonights set touched upon all stages of the Dread evolution and even had the beardy folkies skanking… but then you cannot help but be moved by these boys.

"Syd Barret died this week, so this is a song by another dead guy, Johnny Cash"

LARRY LOVE SHOW BAND: To all intents and purposes, this is our old mates the Alabama 3 without keyboards drums or bass. But this stripped down ‘unplugged’ set was still able to raise the ghost of Johnny Cash to lower the tone of the festival, or as Larry put it ‘bring a bit of the ghetto to the Larmer Tree with songs about guns and f*cking’. Larry had to admit defeat though in the face of such ‘overwhelming fluffyness'.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

LARMER TREE THURSDAY: Not a proper electric guitar in sight

Loud hats, and even louder dresses

This was the fourth time in about 16 years that I have been to a festival either without my caravan or someone else from the gang having a caravan. So off we set, armed with my new £35 Gazebo and new £7.50 gas cooker and a boot full of Strongbow.

On arrival we set up (not sure how many festivals this gazebo will last, it is a bit flimsy) and commenced drinking. Then about 4ish we headed into he main site for a look around and watched a few bands sound checking.

Afro Celt's Simon Emmerson sound checking

"Finished with my woman cos she couldn't help me with my mind.."
UOGB perform Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid'

UKULELE ORCHESTRA OF GREAT BRITAIN: I have been intrigued by these for quite a while. Their renditions of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Anarchy in the UK’ are so bizarre they are bordering on genius. At first they come across as just a piss take, but once you get over the idea of the ‘Theme Tune From Shaft’ played by a bunch of white musos playing bonsai guitars, they really are an entertaining bunch. And the ‘garden stage’ of the Larmer Tree Lawns on a summers evening really is the perfect place to catch them. I even bought a copy of their new CD and got it signed by them, which I think is probably only the second time I have asked anyone for an autograph in almost 30 years of gig going.

Nothing anti-social about this lot
SMERINS ANTI-SOCIAL CLUB: We were heading back to the gazebo to get armed ready for ACS when we wandered past the big top. As we passed, this bunch came on. We only saw three or four number because we need to sort our heads out, but they really did impress. Check out the website, they have a handful of wicked MP3s to down load.

ACS wake up the gardens
AFRO CELT SOUND SYSTEM: What can I say; these really do have a special place in the heart of the Iguana. Perhaps the first to mix African, Celtic and techno vibes in one melting pot, certainly not the last. They have provided a blueprint for many to follow but few to come close to equalling them. Tonight they played a storming set that had the gardens rocking (well, as rocking as these gardens get).

Didge and hurdy gurdy thrown into a techno mix. Clearly we were going to get an A to Z of things that make anoise this weekend.

LE COD AFRIQUE: After ACS had closed the main stage we went for a wander. We sat and had a bit of a chill and sampled some potato wedges, but could hear this incredible vibe coming from the Big Top. We went to check it out and found this amazing outfit tearing the tent down with a sort of techno vibe all based around this guy playing a hurdy gurdy as if he was Jimmy Hendrix. They reminded me a bit of the Headmix Collective and I had to trawl my way through all my pockets to find the programme so I knew what it was we were witnessing. The next day the CD stall was my first port of call to stock up on their album.

No, that is not the sun, it is the lights next to the bogs

Then it was back to the gazebo to discover the landmark we had camped next to, to ensure we could find the tent when pissed, was going to ensure we never needed to switch on a torch or light a candle.