Sun and fun at Port Eliot Festival 2012; Review

Somerset County Gazette: Mad Hatters at Port Eliot              credit: Michael Bowles Mad Hatters at Port Eliot credit: Michael Bowles

WITH perfect timing the monotonous rain and grey skies of the past few weeks gave way to glorious sunshine for that little corner of bohemian middle class heaven that is forever the Port Eliot Literary Festival.

Set in the grounds of the beautiful Port Eliot Estate, St Germans there’s no other festival I know which has such a preponderance of Cath Kidston blankets, picnic baskets and plum accents.

With a village fete feel this rolling valley site is a maze of hidden performance areas and small oases of calm alongside the beautiful Tamar Estuary.

On the Friday, for the inner indie kid in me, there was an interview with rock legend Lawrence from perpetual under-achievers Felt, Denim and now Go-Kart Mozart, talking about the acclaimed documentary Lawrence of Belgravia with the director Paul Kelly and Times music critic Will Hodgkinson.

Over in the Caught by The River tent, while wild swimmers bathed in the sunlit estuary, Cate Le Bon’s wild acid guitar freak outs were thrilling the audience including the two to three year olds dancing at the front.

This was followed by The Bees whose sunny good time vibes went down a treat to a packed tent while local boys Louis Eliot and the Embers rocked the joint over in the Vive Le Port Cabaret Tent. In the past the festival has attracted big names such as film director Martin Scorsese and actress Kate Winslet.

This year it was The Wire star Dominic West, interviewing Sanskrit scholar and paragliding pioneer Sir Jim Mallinson, as well as judging the Spelling Bee contest.

Author Geoff Dyer’s talk on his new book Zona was as obtuse as the Russian film Stalker which it dissects, but still left me wanting to read it.

On the Saturday Beth Orton played for one of the biggest audiences of the weekend playing encore after encore but much more up my street was Toy’s psychedelic Kraut rock freak-out reminiscent of Syd Barret era Pink Floyd.

Former Clash icon and now successful artist Paul Simonon joined rockabilly band Black Kat Boppers for some riotous Clash covers and Johnny B Goode over in the Vive Le Port Cabaret tent.

Meanwhile acoustic folk pop band Maia played an intimate gig for about 50 people in the front porch of their tent at 1am under the stars. Magical.

Sunday was a much more civilised affair. On arriving at the Dove Grey Reader patch work tent for a Q&A with Old Ways author Robert Macfarlane we were all offered a nice cup of tea. Poet John Cooper Clarke offered a master class in stand-up in the Idler curated tent, riffing on the film Snakes on a Plane, preferring his version Parrot in a Car. You had to be there.

Following his performance as the Friday night headliner, Suggs also curated the one minute disco. A van that arrived randomly around the site to orchestrate everyone dancing to Hot in the City for exactly 60 seconds. Apparently it’s always Hot in the City because the first year they did it the CD got stuck on that track and it became a tradition.

Constantly inspiring, its mix of the cerebral and the joyous and its eclectic line-up is the key to the festival’s success. The kids, and some grown-ups, created dresses and hats out of newspaper in the wardrobe department, a feast of fashion. There were cooking demonstrations from Tom Parker Bowles and Nathan Outlaw and even a flower show for people to take part in.

There’s so much going on that it’s impossible to take in everything but that’s the beauty of it all. The festival is taking a break in 2013 but returns in 2014. Can’t wait.

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