Getintothis favourite’s British Sea Power hosted their own festival deep in the lake district, we sent Getintothis’ Matty Loughlin-Day into the hills to see what was what…
Several years on from their fabled Tan Hill festivals, British Sea Power opened up the gates into their world once more, with their own Krankenhaus Festival, located in the grounds of Muncaster Castle in the Lake District.
Disclaimer: British Sea Power are the greatest band in the world. If that is a truth you are not acquainted with, then the rest of this review might make you think I am, to quote the band themselves; “a hobbyist of deranged proportion”.
We could split hairs about such a statement, and I might even entertain challenges to it, but if truth be told, it would be a superficial activity from my half, for the simple reason that they are in fact the greatest band in the world.
Now that has been established, let us continue; Allons-y, let’s go.
Since their formation in 2000, British Sea Power have consistently exceeded the national average when it comes to spectacles and occasions.
Gigs in locations such as the UK Czech embassy, the Mersey Ferries and the highest pub in Britain are stuff of legend and are better documented elsewhere, and the announcement of the first – of hopefully many – Krankenhaus Festivals seemed to follow suit.
Set within the grounds of Muncaster Castle, near Ravenglass and offering prime opportunities to watch wild heron feeding, bird of prey displays and discounted trips on the La’all Ratty steam train between Ravenglass and Eskdale, the festival appeared to offer something for even the most casual of BSP fans.
Limited to 500 tickets, the festival was centred around a barn and courtyard, which housed a stage with an impressive PA, food and drinks vans and, naturally, a ping-pong table.
Very much a DIY affair, there was a charm to the slightly ramshackle at times running of things and although there were occasional mix-ups over timings and events, nothing felt forced or chaotic.
There was no phone signal on site, which was not only refreshing, but also meant that the festival had an air of seclusion and isolation, in the best possible sense.
For the best part of two decades, British Sea Power have created their own world, seemingly unaffected by outside forces and this lack of communication with the ‘real’ world out ‘there’ gave the festival a sense that we were stepping into this universe, in which visitors are encouraged; “drape yourselves in greenery and become part of the scenery”.
Offering three BSP sets, the line-up itself was as diverse and off-beat as one would expect from a festival curated by a band who have played both the Royal Chelsea Flower Show and a gig with Faust, which saw an onstage fist-fight after the psych-legends took offence at BSP for being “too avant-garde”.
Alas, traffic on the M6 on the Friday meant that we were still trying to set up our tent as festival openers Penelope Isles took to the stage.
Owing to the excellent sound system, we were able to hear their swooning fuzz-coated indie-pop whilst battling against a wind that did not want us to ground our tent and in other circumstances, we would have been greatly impressed.
Single Leipzig, in particular, sounded crisp and urgent and we only hope it’s not too long before we get the chance to see them proper.
Wind abated and tent up, we were able to make the very short walk to the gig area in time to catch Squid. A band hard to define, think a bit of The Fall, a bit of Captain Beefheart, a bit of Neu! and you’ll be halfway there, they are very much in ascendancy, having released their latest EP Town Centre just hours earlier.
Their frenetic, jagged sound is largely built around frontman-cum-sometimes-drummer Ollie Judge’s yelping and relentless energy.
Songs covering topics such as celebrity chefs and pamphlets might suggest an air of the comic or surreal, but the tightness and effortless ease with which they deliver their blistering set suggests that even if they don’t take themselves too seriously, they do take their art seriously.
Drawing their set to a close with a song that features at least three members clattering cowbells, such is their indefatigable vigour and apparent joie de vivre, half an hour doesn’t seem enough.
After the sonic assault of Squid, the languid, free-floating tones of Rozi Plain are welcome. Delivering a chilled-out yet melodic set, Plain and her band lull us all with a set drawn from her back catalogue, including this year’s excellent LP, What a Boost.
Dreamy, but never dreary, again a half-hour set seems a little short, such is the quality on offer, but likewise, such is the nature of festivals. She’s playing Leaf in November; we’ll be there.
Reassurance seeking is a safety behaviour that keeps many anxiety-based disorders going, acting as a self-perpetuating mechanism that only relieves worry in the short term and not only prolongs but actually adds to it in the long-term.
That said, we were terrified given the earlier winds that our tent was currently a mile high and heading towards the Isle of Man, so a reassurance-seeking based trip back to the campsite to check on our abode meant that we missed most of the DSM-IV.
Quite ironic, given that the band takes their name from the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but there we go, we’re only human; human to a fault.
Our anxiety relieved but bellies empty we wondered around the courtyard outside the barn sampling the delights of the food vans, with a heavy emphasis on the delight.
Eye-rollingly vegetarian, there were enough dishes on offer for us, so with voracious appetite we devoured a wonderful black bean aubergine and jasmine meal from one of the vans.
Granted, this is a review of a music festival, not a food one, but it must be highlighted that we were catered for not just aurally, but also culinarily. Reading & Leeds, this was not.
From what we heard on our travels, DSM-IV delivered a full-on set of post-punk synth-based dance with Guy McKnight’s deep growl at the heart of things and the audience appeared to fully approve. It was back into the barn for us as Pictish Trial took the stage.
Fronted by the charismatic and naturally funny Johnny Lynch, there are hints of Beta Band and Talking Heads to their sound and the Scottish delivery of lyrics do bring to mind a cheerier King Cresote.
Much of the set is built around a new album which is apparently completed and due for release next year; that some of the strongest songs come from this bodes well.
More established songs such as Far Gone (Don’t Leave) are welcomed and as darkness falls, the atmosphere within the barn gradually becomes livelier, with some even daring to dance.
During the set, Lynch jokes that he is the only man on site with phone signal and as such, can relay news from the outer world, we are informed in between songs that not only has Michael Gove died, but Michael Hesseltine has taken to urinating on his body.
Given the current chaotic and unpredictable nature of UK politics, although we laugh, we’re not quite sure if this is wholly untrue.
Once Pictish Trail departs the stage, however, the outside world is soon forgotten once more, and anticipation builds for the first of three British Sea Power sets.
We were assured that Friday’s set would be a chance to hear some of the lesser-spotted BSP numbers.
Opening with early b-side Heavenly Waters and Spring Has Sprung from 2013’s Machineries of Joy, the band blister through a 75-minute set that spans their career. Early single Fear of Drowning and Oh Larsen B from 2005’s Open Season are nestled next to Praise for Whatever from 2017’s Let the Dancers Inherit the Party and highlights just what a magnificent band they are – these are songs that other bands would sacrifice their bass player for, yet when it comes to the Sea Power teamsheet, they are judged to be benchwarmers, not quite up to making the starting line-up.
Two new songs, both sung by bassist Hamilton suggest a more motorik-based theme and we are then treated to a chaotic, frenzied ending with the epic 15 minute plus Lately and a cover of Julian Cope’s Out of my Mind on Dope and Speed that features crowd surfing singers, flailing limbs and two eight-foot bears charging through the crowd. Of course it does.
The band tumble off stage and it is time for the dancers to inherit the party as Simon Armitage DJs into the wee hours. That’s right, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. He spins indie-disco classics and at one point invites dancers onto the stage – we don’t need asking twice, so we find ourselves in the middle of quite possibly the most indie situation in the universe as we dance to Belle & Sebastian with Simon Armitage at a British Sea Power curated festival.
If a job at BBC 6 Music ever comes up, that would go straight to the top of our CV.
Punctuating the DJ set too is a set by Modern Lovers/Jonathan Richman cover band, the Modern Ovens. Featuring Hamilton and Noble from BSP, classic after classic is gifted, including Don’t Let our Youth go to Waste, Astral Plane, Morning of our Lives and culminates in a raucous Roadrunner which sees pogo-ing galore.
Our calves paid for it the next day, but it was worth it – it’s hard to go wrong with a catalogue like this and we made the most of it.
Saturday morning featured an RSPB guided walk around the environs, but was sadly overbooked, which meant that the morning was ours to roam the grounds and amble over to the castle itself.
Handily, this meant we were able to attend a reading-cum-performance featuring Luke Turner and ‘Spaceship Mark’. Turner gave us readings from his book Out of the Woods, a fascinating account of Tuner’s relationship with Epping Forest, set against Spaceship’s field recordings from the forest itself and ambient drone.
It was a wide-sprawling, engaging reading that also featured a Q&A session with former BSP manager and author of BSP annal Do it for your Mum, Roy Wilkinson. Turner spoke of his love for BSP and seemed a perfect fit for the festival.
The reading was set in a small room within the castle, with portraits of previous occupants and ancestors looking on. This created a surreal location for Callum Easter who follows to deliver his stark, accordion-based set.
At Green Man Festival, we described him as very much the anti-Gerry Cinnamon and this set confirms it his sparse, meandering songs are built above almost trip-hop beats and delivered with a thick Scottish accent with droning accordion at the heart of things. It’s fantastic.
At other festivals, one might kill time between acts by hanging around the tents, embracing ‘holistic healing’ or scoring illicit substances; at Krankenhaus, we go to a bird of prey display. Again, Reading & Leeds, this is not. With vultures, owls, falcons and kites on display, the show is thrilling – honestly, it really is. But, again, this is a music review, so back to the artists… kind of.
Following Alison Cotton’s haunting performance of minimalist drone and violin, we are treated to a game of Bingo Ningen, which sees Japanese math-rockers Bo Ningen acting as bingo callers by blasting short bursts of their noise before calling the numbers. It’s bonkers. It’s brilliant. Reading & Le… well, you get the point.
Celestial North was next and featured a full band, rather than her normal solo act. Her Anna Calvi influenced, driving set also recalled Echo & the Bunnymen and Twilight Sad. Featuring BSP’s drummer Woody, it did at times bring them to mind, but this is no bad thing – there are still edges to be ironed out, but things are highly promising; we hope to hear more soon.
Back to literature and Celestial North’s set was sandwiched between a Q&A session with Joy Division/New Order drummer Stephen Morris and readings from last night’s superstar DJ Simon Armitage after which, last night caught up with us and it was time for 40 winks. This meant that we missed Mr Ben and the Bens, unfortunately, but were refreshed by the time Bo Ningen took to the stage, regrettably bingoless.
Long-time BSP support acts, theirs is a sound that allows us to imagine what Fishmans might have sounded like if they’d listened to more Can than dub reggae. It’s furious and hypnotising, with eyes drawn to singer/bassist Taigen Kawabe who weaves his body around his instrument as much as his basslines weave throughout the songs. Punk meets Bitches’ Brew via (forgive the term) krautrock with piercing vocals sailing above and the crowd are enraptured – it sets the scene perfectly for the second British Sea Power set.
I had such a great time this weekend playing at @BSPOfficial’s @Krankenhausfest at @MuncasterCastle in the Lake District.
So many fantastic bands / acts & a lovely crowd of people in the most beautiful setting….thank you British Sea Power for inviting me! pic.twitter.com/oIlIxhm9wK
— Alison Cotton (@alison__cotton) September 9, 2019
Much more of a ‘standard’ set, all the classics are delivered, from opener Machineries of Joy to closer Great Skua with Remember Me, Please Stand Up and arguably their finest moment Carrion peppered throughout. Again, two newbies are thrown in, with Green Goddess in particular sounding more than promising. If at times the world of BSP seems somewhat cult-like, then this is our ceremony.
The two bears make a reappearance and Spirit of St. Louis sees singer Yan crowd surfing and passing the mic around to we can all “oi” in sync with the band. It’s thrilling and at times emotional, especially with set closer Great Skua finding the crowd, hand aloft, joining in with the wordless chorus that is anthemic in the truest sense of the word; noun – a hymn of praise or loyalty.
Following the all-conquering set, Snapped Ankles emerge, in attire than might be best described as the “it’s… man” from Monty Python. Their set-up is equally difficult to describe, as they have hooked up tree branches to microphones with instruments that warp the sound made as they clatter them. It starts equally exciting and baffling, yet things soon become quite one-dimensional.
Granted, it is a unique dimension, but starting so bizarre means there is little room to go anywhere else. It is however received rapturously and is in all likelihood a matter of taste – that smallest of factors that ultimately renders all criticism essentially useless.
If things are in the realm of the surreal, then a DJ set from former snooker ace Steve Davis follows does little to bring us back. Davis, since giving up the cue has thrown himself into the world of psychedelia and clearly knows his stuff – his set is fantastic, however the cold weather gets the better of us and we retire before it ends. A stupefying end to a wonderful, all-encompassing day.
What better way to start the last day of a festival than a ride on a steam train and a four-mile walk through the hills?
As more than hinted at, this is no normal festival and this is exactly how our Sunday begins. A charming ride on the Ravenglass-Eskdale line, followed by a bracing walk over the Muncaster pass, with BSP archivist Roy Wilkinson sets the scene for a more relaxed day.
By the time we return from our ramble, mylittlebrother have kicked things off in the barn. A charming set of fine indie-pop, with hints of Mull Historical Society and Aztec Camera, they go down well with a slightly smaller crowd than previous days, with an increasing number of punters opting to make the most of clear weather and beat the motorways.
The pace is much slower today and Slow Tree match this. Consisting of Hamilton and Abi from British Sea Power, they play a woozy collection of songs that are minimalist and often mantra-based. Things take a while to fall into place, but once they do, it’s an enchanting set that reaches its slowly built climax with a cover of Mazzy Star’s Into Dust.
Next up are William Burns & Hannah Peel. Peel starts their set with a delightful cover of New Order‘s Blue Monday on a handmade music box. Once joined by Burns, they play numbers from their recent beguiling Chalk Hill Blue album. Peel’s piano and violin sit on top of electronic drones and beats that jar against Burn’s sometimes bleak poetry. It’s a wonderful performance and one can hope this album isn’t the sole result of their pairing.
Steve Davis and co make a reappearance next with the three-piece The Utopia Strong. Featuring Davis, Gong-man Kavus Torabi and multi-instrumentalist Michael J. York, the set is a one-song psychedelic journey through Steve Reich, Eno and other stalwarts of ambient/minimalist music, with added bagpipes.
It’s mesmerizing and entrancing. The novelty of a former snooker champion being in the band quickly wears off and we are all quickly caught up in the trance of the one song that sprawls across its half-hour.
It’s with heavy heart that the end of the song means that we’re down to our last set and indeed the last British Sea Power set of the weekend.
Lacking keyboard/trumpet extraordinaire Phil Sumners, Sea Power billed this set as their ‘gentle’ one; that does not read low-key or subdued, as they play a set that again spans their career, but does not involve crowd surfing or eight foot bears.
It’s day two of the @BSPOfficial-curated @Krankenhausfest here at the sun-kissed @MuncasterCastle. Here’s BSP playing Larsen B last night in a set of songs they don’t normally play. You can’t tell. Absolutely polished set of seldom heard tracks. #Krankenhaus pic.twitter.com/dUBUUZUp4x
— Phil Viles (@StageTimesUK) September 7, 2019
The more mellow sounds of Albert’s Eyes, A Lovely Day Tomorrow and Childhood Memories wash over us and the haunting A Light Above Descending soothes our frazzled psyches. A phenomenal cover of Galaxie 500’s seminal Tugboat sounds huge and makes more than one person’s (i.e. mine) eyes a bit moist.
Things are rounded off with To the Land Beyond and then the band departs the stage and before long the stages are disassembled, leaving us last hardy campers to sit around campfires and talk of our hopes that next year will see a return of Krankenhaus.
A total success, all concerned should be proud of the achievement – it surely can’t be an easy task to assemble and run such a festival.
Totally wicked, equally ace.