Warm spring sunshine finally made its way to our shores, and not a moment too soon. Actually it was great timing as there were a number of outdoor events taking place in the city, with many to choose from. The sunny weather brought out the crowds and just after midday I arrived at a vibrant Chapelfield Gardens where there was a great atmosphere. The event was organised by the Trades Council, who wanted to put some of the feel-good factor into the community during these times of austerity and cruel cuts with a free event. That goal was accomplished with much success. A healthy attendance with children, families and smiles in abundance, to look at the stalls, hear the music and poetry, sample the circus skills, face-painting, hula-hooping and much more besides.
May Day Celebrations at Chapelfield Gardens
I met so many familiar faces here, the first of which was Earl Harlem, who was compering for the day, and doing it brilliantly, looking very splendid too, even if he did think his fading vintage attire was giving him a Charlie Chaplin look!
The band playing when I arrived was the Red Flags, probably Norwich’s most overtly political band, who play some covers by the likes of Woody Guthrie (This Land is Our Land) as well as some gypsy-styled instrumental numbers, with The Vagaband’s Hugh on accordion. Always fun and entertaining. In fact Hugh was to go on and play three sets today, two further ones with The Vagaband.
I took some time to look at all the various stalls and chat to all the friends I kept seeing, including the gathering members of the Vagaband and The Dirigibles, the only two bands I was aware who were definitely playing. A nice surprise was when Earl Harlem introduced the Woodland Creatures, who I had no idea were due to play. Always a pleasure to listen to these two.
After a really fun and suitably uplifting set by The Ouagadougous and one or two more speakers, it was once again time for The Vagaband. They seem really on fire at the moment, and Jose’s voice is sounding the best I have ever heard it, they also produced the best sound I have ever heard from the Chapelfield bandstand. They are playing with a burning fire in their belly and got many people dancing. Joe ‘the Bow’ was booked to play somewhere else, so we had the unusual sight of him leaving the bandstand midway through Sixteen Tonnes, during which Jose cleverly adapted the lyric to “Joe’s gotta go”.
Norwich Rocks was another massive event being held today, and so I did not catch as much of the Dirigibles as I would have liked, nor the local John Cooper Clarke influenced Luke Wright, who has just put up an excellent piece about UKIP and Nigel Farrage. Graeme of The Dirigibles is such a good showman and engages well with an audience with his easy wit, I hope to catch them soon as so often they seem to be playing at the same time as something else I am attending but each time I’ve seen them they have always been great fun.
So, hoping to catch the opening acts of Norwich Rocks just after 2pm, I made my way to the Gibraltar Gardens rather later than planned, and sadly missed Jack Pout & The Dirt Level, and Scott Wright with James Maas, but I did catch Ame Just Sing, and once again, The Vagaband. Having mentioned about one or two of their covers in a recent post they have made me eat my words on this. Sixteen Tonnes was played again but with such gusto and power that I could not possibly question its inclusion or any of the others. They sound so ‘punchy’ and beefed up with Dan at a full drum kit and accordion slightly higher in the mix. There are some others too which are just sounding amazing, and one of my favourites of the covers is Wagon Wheel, for which Tristan handles vocal duties. He also has an excellent voice, perfectly suited to this song. Jose’s huskier sounding voice was at its best, and storming renditions of their own compositions of El Molino, Aye Aye Aye and many other favourites got the crowd dancing, as usual. At the beginning of the set, before it got very crowded later on, I was fortunate enough to be able to record a snippet of their set, and this mesmerising, talented girl dancing with the hula hoop. Moments after this the place became packed and people everywhere were dancing and there was little room for hula hoops. Their version of Cuckoo has rapidly become one of my set highlights, awesome version of this song, best I have heard!
The Gibraltar Gardens has a vast garden area, backing onto the river, and so is a perfect location for such an event. In fact barely anything could be heard from the road, so the sound seems to be well contained at the back. The audience itself was quite a mix, with a healthy sprinkling of musicans too, from Piratones to the Sepiatones, Dumbfoundus, Grazing Saints, and many more.
By late afternoon though the place was totally packed, both bars were almost dry but everyone was chilled and relaxed, and again there seemed to be familiar faces everywhere. Apparently about 1200 people attended, I would not be surprised if during the entire event more people passed through than that.
Here are some random crowd shots, plus one or two photo requests while I was walking with the camera.
There was not a drink left in the pub by the time Killamonjambo rocked the place in the evening, and people resorted to buying cans from the local corner shop, which was also sold out of booze by early evening!! But what an event, crazy mayhem, good humour, nice company and first days of summer. Norwich does indeed Rock!
MayFest 2013 at Cow Tower
After the craziness of the previous day, the anarchist / hippie MayFest at Cow Tower was just the relaxed and chilled event that was called for. Incredibly peaceful and easy going, in yet more warm sunshine. Paul created a lovely event with some easy acoustic performances, some stalls, fire jugglers and mellow ambience. It was a joy to see yet more friends, including the return of Miserable Man (see my post about him: https://norwichblog.com/2013/05/08/miserable-man-afronesia-new-download-available-proceeds-to-save-the-turtles/ ) and hear the lovely music of Sefo Kanuteh, Jasper Taylor, Dandelion, Koi Paraga, and more. I ended up staying here for hours and at the end there was barely a sign the event had happened within moments of it finishing. Next to no litter other than a few empty cans which were quickly cleared up for recycling.
A truly beautiful and memorable May Day weekend in Norwich, proving to me yet again that this is a special place and something special is happening here right now.
Words, videos and photos (c) by richard shashamane 2013