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

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The Powersteppers launch new dub night in Swansa

Pretty Shitty City. A harsh and possibly inaccurate description of Swansea, but one that it is going to have to live down for may years following the cult movie, Twin Town. It is only down the road from iguana HQ, but it is a place I have not really bothered much with. I have been to union meetings there, I have travelled through it on my way to the Gower and, of course, have had ‘interesting’ trips to watch Cardiff City playing at both the old Vetch and the Liberty Stadium. Oh.. and last year I went to see Ozric tentacles in Sin City, a gig memorable for the band taking a half an hour break to have a spliff in the middle of the set, which in fairness, seems like a pretty Swansea thing to do (there you go, I have fallen into the trap of stereotyping the place). Tonight though, we head for the Monkey Café, a venue that looks like it might smash my preconceptions of the city.

The Monkey Café aims to bring a touch of jazzy, funky coolness to this coastal town. Inspired by venues in Australia, Europe and Asia, in particular Schemes like the arts factory in Byron Bay Australia. It aspires to be a “meeting place for artists and musicians and a forum for their work, a progressive and ethical policy in terms of business practice, styles of food, waste management and a relaxed and bohemian atmosphere”.

Originally opening in 1998 as a restaurant with a difference, in 2004 it expanded and gained nightclub status. Since then they have played host to artists such as Hybrid, Freestylers, Scratch Perverts, Dreadzone, Mr C and LTJ Bukem. They host regular club nights, including salsa, Latino, funk and hip-hop nights. Tonight we are Monkey bound for the launch of a new monthly Dub night and who better to kick the night off than The Powersteppers with Molara on the mic.

Being a nightclub, things don’t really kick off till traditional pub closing time. My travelling companions tonight are veterans of the Monkey and often don’t leave Blackwood till midnight to get there. Tonight we have a few jugs in Cardiff then head west. We arrive about half eleven and the place is almost empty, so head for one of the two ‘smoking balconies’ to ‘acclimatise’ ourselves for what is to come. As we wait, the walls, doors and teeth rattle as Colin sound checks in the main room.

A quick scout around reveals a nice funky ground floor bar restaurant thing. Head up to the first floor and on the left you have the main room which will hold about 400 sardines with, what has to be said, a pretty fine sound system which handles the bass very nicely if you are stood in the room, but when in the toilet you think you are in the middle of an earthquake. On the right you have the smoking balcony, complete with its own bar and extremely friendly bar staff. Leg it up to the second floor and you have another smoking balcony, which security tend not to pay too much attention to, and a chill out room.

All the staff are friendly and laid back, even the security chick dressed all in black with bum length blonde dreads and looks like she an extra from Kill Bill.

The balcony slowly fills up with reprobates, rascals and rogues, with a few bohemians chucked in for good measure.

Eventually the main room opens. Colin twiddles and tweaks his knobs like a good ‘un and people drift in and out to check the vibrations. The dub connoisseurs set up camp in the corners and of the room and let the heavy weight bass lines wash over them, but the lure of the smoking balcony proves too much for those that have just dropped by for a late night. Eventually Molara picks up the Mic and soon the smoking balcony empties as the lure of the dance floor becomes too much. Those in the know nod, knowingly. For those that are new to this, smiles of discovery and skanking feet are the order of the day.

Then at lost track of the time O’clock, the Powersteppers give way to Manasseh in Session with Brother Culture on the mic, live and direct, straight outta Brixton SW9 for some rootical sound system stylee goings on to keep the bass lines coming and the feet moving.

In no time at all it is 4am and we have to head back to civilisation, with a quick stop at an all night superstore to buy some cheese!

Monkey Café? Yeah, not bad, certainly more bohemian than your average nightclub and whilst it may not have smashed my preconceptions of Swansea, it certainly dented them.

PS a big shout goes out to Mr Pat Pending (as seen on Dragons Den) for staying straight and driving home at dawn. A trooper once more.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009


Sheep Music Festival (Day 3)
There are a few advantages of going to a festival on your own. Not many, but a few. The best way to do a festival is with a small gang of close mates who are on a similar wavelength and just party for the duration. Too big a gang and you get sucked into seeing bands you don’t want to see just to go with the flow. Even in a small gang you can be distracted from what you really want to do. Which is where flying solo comes into its own.

So, after gliding home after dawn, I was up at the crack of noon. The weather had changed though and today would be a test to see if the new tent was waterproof. During a break in the rain a leisurely stroll was embarked upon and a healthy does of vegan curry was consumed. Sick Note are off home so it is back to entertaining myself for the day. I did consider the prospect of and early return to Iguana HQ myself, but the thought of the Dub Pistols kept me going.

After the curry was demolished, the rain returned so it was back to the tent to be absorbed into Oliver Grey’s ‘Volume’. See, now if you were with a gang you would never get away with reading for hours.

Eventually the rain stopped so I headed out to suck in the last few hours of Sheep Music 2009. Some photographs were taken of spectacularly large, but musically unremarkable bands.

The Antipodean Mr Grunwald

There was one act I was determined not to miss though and that was Australian blues maestro, Ash Grunwald. Not only is he an awesome guitarist but he also has a full arsenal of foot pedals at his disposal to provide various beats and percussion. His stool even doubled up as a bass drum. A clever, bluesy, funky and sometimes witty set was only slightly marred by what appeared to be a constant battle with the PA. He was chuffed to bits with the fact that he had travelled half way around the world to play a tiny little obscure festival in the middle of nowhere and people knew his stuff and shouted out requests.

No one appeared to be in full on party mode, but there was a definite air of ‘last night of the festival letting your hair down’ going on. People who had been drunk all weekend were casually topping themselves up and I spotted a few security guys in off duty mode indulging an a few shandys.

The Suited and Booted Dub pistols

I headed up to the Big top to catch the main attraction. The MC whipped the crowd into a frenzy, the smoke belched out, the tension rose, and slowly but surely the Dub Pistols wandered onto the stage all suited and booted. The crowd went mad as the chunky bass lines gave them something to jump on and surf. I watched for a few songs and was taken by the vibe, but I have to say after four or five songs they lost me. It was not that they were not good, they are very competent at what they do, but it seemed to lack a little bit of imagination for my tired head. I wandered back down to Café Seren.

Mr Sheen getting grungy

Here the night was brought to a close by Mr Sheen (at least that’s what the programme says), who were a very grungy, unpolished (sorry could not resist) lo-fi garage rock, in the vein of Beefheart, and Zappa, with a stoner rock edge to it. I decided they were more challenging and interesting than the Pistols and made myself at home on the carpet. A drunk walks in and shouts, “F*cking hell man, you are great, much better than that nonsense in the Big Top, I am going to go back up there and drag everyone down”, then promptly disappears, never to be seen again. Whilst the Dub pistols had been a disapointment, Mr Sheen had made staying the extra night worth while.

As things wind down I witness someone old enough to know better, trying to perform a death defying skateboard stunt, presumably too drunk to remember he cant do skateboard stunts. His departure from the top of the ten-foot high ramp, with all the grace of a goose with one wing is only excelled in its spectacularness by the head first crunch into the concrete below him. Luckily the first aid tent is only yards away and he is soon in the hands of professionals and off to hospital.

Why do I mention this horrific accident? Well, I suppose to demonstrate that even though the event is geared up for entertainment and hedonism, the professionalism and sobriety of those that need to be professional and sober is spot on.

I suppose this sums up the festival. It has been relaxed with no bad karma; people have enjoyed themselves with out upsetting anyone (whether it be the locals or the balloon heads). Very few have gone over the top, but when they have there has been paramedics with first aid, or passing hippies with sound advice, to ensure every body keeps calm and carries on.

There has not been any music that I would say was actually crap and one or two of the bands have actually been excellent. The food was out of this world and the toilets possibly the best at any festival I have ever been to. I have made new friends, built on existing friendships, made a few contacts, discovered new music, eaten good food and drunk good cider. RESULT!

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Saturday, July 18, 2009


Sheep Music Festival (Day 2)
The advantage of an early night is that you wake up fresh and ready to take on the world. This morning I was up with the larks, or at least up with the balloon people next door who were larking about thinking it was still Friday. I took a deep breath of fresh air and strolled down into the site with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. Or something like that.

I start with an exploration of the site. It is only small, but there seems plenty going on. There’s the main stage in the Big Top, The Dome, which will host lots of acoustic stuff and a bit of theatrical stuff, Café Seren which is a funky little venue with a stage and .. erm.. a café. The Village Hall will host everything from Knitting classes, through theatre workshops to acoustic folk sets and The Gamelan will have percussion, percussion and percussion all weekend long. It seems the amazing drummers I saw last night were not any band in particular, but part of a three day long jam (at least I think that was what was going on).

On top of this there were a few food outlets, a bar, a kid’s area and a few art installations to ponder on or freak you out, depending what mood you are in.

Knitting at the Village Hall

The whole thing is taking place right next to the village, my unusually flat and comfy camping pitch is actually the local football pitch, there’s a tennis court right next to me and there is even a skateboard park within the festival itself. The kids area is amazingly in the middle of an orchard.

There is also a ‘sculpture trail’, which, quite frankly, unless I took a wrong turn somewhere, was a bit crap.

The security, despite walking around in shirts and ties like night club bouncers, seem friendly enough and on the whole there is a very relaxed vibe about the place.

I try to ring Martin to arrange the interview but find there is no reception anywhere on the bloody site, so decide to have a wander into town to have a nose about and to see if I can get reception. There is not much to Prestigne, but for a small place it does seem to have more than its fair share of boozers. I pop into The Royal Oak for a swift one.

I float out six pints later to try and catch Martin Harley’s second set, having established that the natives are very friendly and they have no problem with the festival because there is never any trouble. On returning to the site I find Sick Note hanging out in Café Seren and I slur praise for Martin Harley before heading off to find him.

The Dome is, strangely enough, a dome. I believe geodesic, is the term. Like most of the stages on site, is powered by wind and sun. Inside we have carpet, tables, chairs and lots of civilised people who chuckle politely when martin Announces, “This guitar is made for me by a friend in Germany with the unfortunate name of Andreas Cuntz. This song is dedicated to you Cuntz”.

Martin harley with a Cuntz on his lap

The set is the perfect laid back blues for a lazy afternoon, although he does get the slide working over time to funk things up occasionally. Even Sick note enjoyed it, which surprised me a little.

After the set I introduce myself to martin, who informs me he is off to Germany to see his favourite Cuntz straight away, so the interview will have to wait for another time. I am disappointed, having done my best to stay sober enough to talk to him, but slightly relived because I had failed to stay sober enough to talk to him.

After this events sort of shuffle themselves about a bit in my memory. At one point I find myself sat with Sick Note by their tents. Filthy the drummer decides to make himself a ‘meal’. After messing about with changing the gas cylinder on his cooker (one of them little calour ones where the valve goes straight into the canister) he lights it, but next thing you know the is gas coming out of the canister instead of the valve, and it's on fire. To avoid setting fire to the tents he holds it up in the air above his head, like the statue of liberty, but in the process almost melts Flapsandwiches sun glasses to his head (which would actually look pretty good on stage). A passing hippy reassures us, “So long as it is on fire it is not going to explode”, so Filthy puts it out. Luckily it reignites and once more presents no danger of blowing up. Eventually calm is restored and he finished cooking his boil in the bag pasta (was it worth the effort?)

Squib... cool, even when straight

As darkness descends we go off in search of music. Flappy was keen on checking out Dub FX, who don’t turn up. I was keen on checking out Maroon Town, who turn out to be crap. As all the main stages close down we find ourselves in Café Seren watching Squib. I camp out next to the stage, enthralled with their funky uptempo brand of jazz rock. I love it and at the end of the set buy a CD, with my mind churning over the possibility that they might have just been good cos I was stoned and when I get home the CD will be crap (it wasn’t). I find Sick Note in the corner, who are moaning about having to sit through a jazz band.

Eventually everything on site shuts down so we head back to the tents, stopping off for five minutes at the all night café on the edge of the campsite. Five minutes chilling turns into five hours of turpitude and when I get back to my tent even the balloon heads from next door are crashed out.

Flapsandwich later writes in his blog that I have a calm aura about me and he felt peaceful and relaxed around me in the all night café. This is very nice of him but maybe I should share with him the proverb about the old bull and the young bull.

An old bull and a young bull are at the bottom of a field. At the top of the field is a herd of cows. The young bull says to the old bull, “Dad, lets run up the hill and f*ck one of them cows.” The old bull responds wisely, “No son. Let’s walk up the hill and f*ck them all”.

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Friday, July 17, 2009


Sheep Music festival (Day 1)
“It’s still on fire you nutter!”; “Let’s all hold hands and have a séance” and “This one is dedicated to you Kuntz”; three phrases you don’t often hear in one weekend, but this weekend we will be treated to them all, and more.

The days leading up to Sheep Music 2009 were frustrating to say the least. First the Ginger Prince wimped out because they would not allow caravans on site. Then there was an almighty cock up with my wages that resulted in me running around various banks moving cash about; in the process Barclays bank in Porth landed me with some counterfeit notes that my own bank refused to accept. The final straw was Tara Iguana deciding she was too tired to come to the festival, following a week in London with school. I was destined to go to a festival on my own for the first time ever (unless you count Frogstock … oh, and there was one in Belgium about 20 years ago)

Friday morning I was in no mood to go a festival on my own. I watched some DVDs instead. Then I watched some more. I was determined not to waste the ticket though and eventually decided I had to make a move or I would be putting my new £35 tent up in the dark. So at around 6pm I set off, weaving my way in and out of the Welsh border, landing in Prestigne some two hours later.

The lack of signs for the festival in the area was somewhat surprising, but with my map at my side I found the town fairly easily. What was really frustrating though was the total lack of signs even when you reached Prestigne itself. After driving around like a bloke for ten minutes, I eventually stopped and asked a local, who seemed incredulous that I had not spotted it on my tour of the village. No matter, the car was soon parked, wristband strapped on and the perfect pitch located.

The £35 tent was liberated from its bag (it had to go up now, there was no way I would get it back in the bag). Like a bloke I started rummaging trough the various parts trying to decide how best to put it together. Like a woman (mainly because she is) Caroline from Llanidloes, my neighbour for the next few days, grabbed the instructions and within five minutes we had it erected (the tent that is).

Sick Note were due on shortly, so I proceeded to make up for the couch potato time and guzzled a few down me quick sharp. In no time at all I was stood on the edge of the crowd swaying in time to the post new rave beats of Cardiff’s finest dance floor terrorists.

The usual visuals were not in attendance this weekend, but the house lights and the smoke machine managed to do the trick and the tent was ‘avin it’, ‘banging’ and ‘appening’.
Every time I see this bunch I think of the near orgasm I had when my brain was first invaded by them three years ago and look around the crowd at the faces, wondering if anyone is going through what I went through. I think a few are.
Doghouse asks everyone to join hands for a séance (he’s not all there you know) and the tent becomes a temple of techno for the gathered masses to worship in.

After The Note I head off to The Dome to catch Martin Harley, who is thankfully late on stage, which means I don’t miss anything. I had prearranged to interview him at some point during the weekend but keeping in mind you only have one chance to make a first impression, and me being now three sheets to the wind, I decided to ring him tomorrow.

In a bizarre looking Bedouin tent thingy two kit drummers play the most amazing percussion set I have ever seen. I make mental note to look them up in the programme tomorrow. More wandering is done and then it is back to the tent for an early(ish) night. Sleep is only disturbed by the young tikes next door having fun with balloons. My overworked imagination tells me nitrous oxide must be involved, but I would not like to give evidence in court about it officer.

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