Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: All Tomorrow's Parties End of an Era Part Two @ Pontins Holiday Camp, Camber Sands, UK

Mike Watt w/ Il Sogno Del Marinaio
All Tomorrow's Parties End of an Era Part Two @ Pontins Holiday Camp, Camber Sands, UK
November 29 - December 1, 2013
Photos/Review: Rhona (Wiglet Bill) Aquilina

So this is it. The end of an end of an era.

I can wholeheartedly say that for me, this really is the end of an era. I have attended seventeen UK ATP festivals over the last thirteen years. I was here at Pontins in 2000 at the first ever ATP festival curated by Mogwai. Ever since then ATP's UK holiday camp festivals have been a fundamental akin to nourishment or warmth. And I genuinely mean that. Why else would I have repeatedly reached into my pocket, scraping together all my resources in order to purchase tickets for a just-announced event that had no announced line up? Needless to say when the End Of An Era events were announced it was a no-brainer. I was going to be there!


Having been here just a week earlier, with Fucking Nostalgic's head honcho Chris and his fiancée Jen (at End Of An Era Part One), our already well honed ATP travel routine runs like a dream and we make it to Pontins 15 minutes before they open the gates. There are no bands on for 5 hours or so, but anyone who's been in one of those chalets in December will tell you it's worth getting there early to warm it up before the sun goes down. That and the fact that I'm really going to miss this place, this experience and the feeling of community at these events. So I'm here early and I'm going to luxuriate in this feeling one last time. As I approach the check-in desk the lovely ATP ladies inform me that we are the first chalet to book in and snap a quick photo of my grinning mug. I win!

A few hours later we are joined by our chalet mates and the three day cider, lager and apple schnapps binge begins. We catch up over a couple of card games and head out to see Fuck Buttons. Having seen them five or six times (all at ATP festivals) the set they play comes as no surprise. The performance is hypnotic as are the silhouetted psychedelic on screen visuals. I'm unsure whether it was just the effect of the previous weekend's ATP on my ears but the show was insanely loud. Standing there feeling the dull pain in my eardrums, I smile to myself and think, here we go again.

Fuck Buttons
After a short jaunt back to the chalet for a top up it's time for ATP House Band Shellac. Steve, Bob and Todd take the stage all dressed in matching tuxedo t-shirts, presumably as a nod to the anticipated black tie Sunday. Bob Weston in particular appears to have splashed out on a pair of shiny P.V.C. pants and tells us "I'm savouring every moment because I'll never see this again". Highpoints of the show included a Prayer To God sing along, Wingwalker complete with Albini's plane impression and vocal instruction "Look at me I'm a Plane" and the traditional dismantling of Todd's drum kit as he plays, until he is left with only the snare, bouncing stick after stick off the drum and into the crowd. Also note worthy is the Q&A session during which Steve told us which chalet to go to if we fancied losing our money to him over a game of poker and we learnt that Bob Weston's favourite pasta is salmon pesto linguini.

A couple of drinks and a bit of ATP TV later it's time for Slint. During the opening song, For Dinner from 1990 release Spiderland, the band are practically drowned out by incessant talking from the crowd. The set is a real treat, including almost all of Spiderland and a few tracks off both their debut album Tweez and their 1989 untitled EP. Brian McMahan is even moved to stage dive and is enthusiastically passed around by the crowd.

Before we know it it's 2am already and we head back to the chalet and have a quick night cap before bed.


Day two and I'm awoken by the alarm I set myself so I wouldn't miss the early morning ATP TV screening of Wizard People, Dear Reader. Brad Neely's hilarious alternative soundtrack which is played alongside Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone if you must) over the existing audio. Definitely worth getting up at 9am for even after a night like last night. You can watch it in its entirety (via a YouTube playlist below)...

After chuckling like idiots for well over an hour we decide to take an invigorating walk to the beach. We take a walk right out with the tide, three of the four of us hit some very wet loose sand and start sinking, that's enough of that then! We head back to the chalet with wet feet, covered in a thick layer of wet sand. We all take it in turns to shower whilst the others watch Trapped In The Closet on ATP TV. It was at this time that we figured out that the only way to stop the shower running was to flush the toilet. Just one of the many idiosyncrasies of Pontin's chalets, like it not being possible to shower whilst the oven is on, that I am already nostalgic for.

We head into the venues to catch British post punk band 23Skidoo, the room was packed and people were dancing. We stood at the edges of the crowd, getting bumped by people as they passed by. A little way into the set I became aware that our friends, who were standing behind us, where getting somewhat irritated by a man enthusiastically dancing behind them and inadvertently hitting them in their heads. Soon afterwards the man decides to move a few feet from us. "I'm glad that drunk guy moved, he kept hitting me in the head" says my friend. So I turn to get a look at this dude. It's only Mike Fucking Watt!!! After a bit of persuading from my wife (I never know what to say to people I admire THAT much), we went over and said hello. My wife asked him how he was enjoying the weekend, to which he responded, "It's intense!" He then proceeded to throw his arms open so we both went in for a three way cuddle and he kissed our cheeks and squeezed us with a vice-like hug. After that we couldn't wait to run back to the chalet and tell our chalet mates. As the cold hit my face I could feel that my cheek was slightly damp and I considered never washing it.

We then caught the start of The Pop Group's set before heading downstairs to see Comets On Fire. This was a popular idea as it wasn't long before they stopped letting people in and the temperature started rising to oppressive levels. But who cares when you're taking part in such an awesome psych freak-out. Each ATP I have attended has brought bands I knew nothing about to my attention. And this one is no different, Comets On Fire are the surprise highlight this time! At one point they are so raucous that the light covers start falling from the ceiling into the crowd.

Last up on Saturday were curators Loop who I must admit weren't really my cup of tea, or perhaps it was just hard to follow Comets On Fire. The band seemed pleased to be on stage again and enjoying the party. Robert Hampson tells us that he has "seen a lot of very messed up people today". This is another violently loud show and we decide to be kind to our ears and move the party back to the chalet.


Sunday morning. The very last day of any ATP UK holiday camp festival starts in style with a performance from Michael Rother who is performing the music of Neu! and Harmonia. We take up positions on the floor and lie back lost in his performance. My foot starts to fall asleep and I sit up just in time to see a man dressed as a coffin followed by 4 or so men in cassocks, soon ATP will be dead and buried and many have dressed for the occasion in black tie attire as suggested by ATP. It doesn't seem to have dampened many spirits though. And whilst I sit listening to Rother and watching a group of four or five audience members performing a perfectly synchronised square dance routine, I wonder if I'll ever be able to experience anything like this again.

Next are Il Sogno Del Marinaio featuring Mike Watt. A band made up of Watt and Italians Stephano Pilia (guitar) and Andrea Belfi (drums). They play a beautiful operatic set. Pilia and Belfi especially cooperating like one consciousness on two instruments. If you get the opportunity to catch these guys live then take it, you won't be sorry. Watt addresses the crowd several times throughout the performance to thank Barry and Debbie for putting ATP on all these years, and to thank and congratulate us the audience for being here. As they are leaving the stage Watt throws his fist into the air and shouts "Start your own band".

We take a little break from the shows and go for a few drinks before heading off to check out Girls Against Boys and do some more people watching. Closely followed by masked voodoo Afro beat act Goat. They are rhythmically and visually exciting. The stage a sea of movement. The band danced unrelentingly as though possessed. And cascades of crowd surfers tumble across the room.

Now all that is left is Mogwai. They play a set that neatly spans their entire career including several tracks from soon to be released Rave Tapes. Between the punishing crescendos, I found myself looking around at the faces of the other people in the audience and taking in the details of the room. Acutely aware that I'll never again see the inside of this room, or the faces of the people I recognise from seeing them here once or twice a year for the last thirteen years.

The set ends with a three track encore, the final live track of ATP is Mogwai Fear Satan and with that they are gone. No grand closing statements. Just gone. Numb apart from the persistent dull pain in my ears, I join my brethren who are politely filing out of the room, down the stairs and out into the cold.


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