DO NOT GO GENTLE FESTIVAL | LIVE REVIEW
Various venues, Uplands, Swansea, Fri 21-Sun 23 Oct
What other festival in the world would give you Ralph Steadman [left], beamed in live via Skype, operating his new electronic fart machine? It wasn’t just farts: Ralph, who is 82 years old, played us a tune on his ukulele, did some live painting, told stories about surviving Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas with Hunter S Thompson and gave the audience an exclusive tour around his studio and inside the corners of his mind. A real treat for hardcore fans of the Gonzo Gog and the sort of magic moment this festival is fast becoming renowned for.
Ironically, the Do Not Go Gentle Festival is fairly gentle going, as festivals go. Like its organiser Pierre Donahue, the events are so laid back as to appear supine. A slightly omni-shambolic affair at times, and some bigger audiences would be appreciated for sure, but the combination of chaos and intimacy has become the festival’s charm.
That, and its carefully curated line up; easily as literary and highbrow as Hay, certainly as sweet-sounding as Sŵn, and just as loony as Laugharne but with a mischievous Swansea spirit all of its own. Clustered around the increasingly well-heeled, high-heeled, well-oiled suburb of Uplands, one can skip from bar to bar, venue to venue, like a young Dylan, taking in the sights and sounds as you go.
Arthur Smith provided the jokes on Saturday night in his own laconic, if slightly lazy style – his show included a lot of very old material and a quite bizarre impression of Leonard Cohen before it finished with Smith’s well worn dancing bear routine. He was followed on stage by the pumping synth-cult-pop-punk of Helen Love [left], an immediate juxtaposition to Smith’s sardonic grumpiness. Though someone spoiled it for me somewhat when they said the lead singer now works in the DVLA! Not sure if that’s true.
If that felt too raucous, there were the whispers and wisdoms of writers and storytellers to find in Uplands’ hidden nooks. Merthyr’s Rachel Trezise was in town and always provides an interesting listen. There was a sharp focus on film too; Twin Town director Kevin Allen chaired a talk in which he teased the audience with the possibility of a Twin Town Two. And documentary maker Ceri Levy (who once made a fine film following Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz) was in the front room of Dylan Thomas’ old house telling tales about his dad, Mervyn, who was a great friend of Dylan’s.
Music, film, comedy, discussion all covered comprehensively – but this whole event is underpinned with a real passion for poetry and the spoken word, something sadly missing at so many of our festivals in Wales. Standing out, and outstanding, were the Poets On The Hill, a riotous mob of rhyme-slingers from Townhill, and Jonathan Edwards, possibly pushing to become Wales’ greatest living poet.
The weekend was neatly bookended by two of the best word-bandits in the business: the delightfully named Johnny FluffyPunk performed late on Friday and the wonderfully erudite Murray Lachlan-Young [below] spoke of unspeakable sins as the Swansea sun came down on the Sabbath. The latter found fame in the 90s as the first ever million-pound poet and has spent the last 20 years trying to recover!
Lachlan Young all but stole the show on Sunday night but the Cornish poet made way for the closing act, The Irascibles – a crazy bluesabilly band who know just how to shake the house down. And duly did.
words JOE TOWNS photos ANDREW DALLY