Greenbelt Festival, August Bank Holiday, Cheltenham Racecourse – getting excited!  In honour of this, here’s a quick list of my top musical memories from the festival since I started going in 1996:

– Moby (Deene Park, 1996) – already famous but still not the global superstar in his pre ‘Play’ days.  Two slices of dance and techno at either end of the set, with Moby haring around between keyboards and drum machines, pushing buttons and setting loops going.  Then, as an interlude, he pushed the synths to one side, slung on a guitar and did twenty minutes of speed metal with two supporting musicians – absolutely priceless entertainment.

– All Star United (Deene Park, 1998) – an American band with an ear for Britpop, a card-carrying Christian band but with a grammy nomination and a good line in satire.  We moshed up and down some great indy rock songs.  For me there’s been a hole in the Greenbelt line-up since their departure – that of an openly Christian band who can sing warmly but provocatively about God and faith in music that I actually like listening to.

– Vigilantes of Love (Cheltenham, 1999) – a small crowd for the first Greenbelt at Cheltenham, but a fond memory of sitting on the steps behind mainstage with the woman I was one day to marry, listening to Bill Mallonee singing ‘Nothing Like a Train’ – still my favourite piece of Americana ever.  And a great band name, by the way.

– Billy Bragg (Cheltenham, 2003[?]) – the final act on the final night of that year’s Greenbelt.  Preceeded by fairly well-known band of the day who shall remain nameless, who spent the best part of an hour setting up their gear and then performed shambolically.  Enter Billy, alone, with one electric guitar, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand.  He finished with Jerusalem and had everyone singing at the top of their voices.  The words are bizarre of course, but the rendition that night was a genuinely spiritually electric experience.

Smaller stage surprises (Cheltenham, 2006[?]) – maybe we were beginning to feel our age but one year Alison and I decided to shun mainstage and check out some of the smaller venues.  We discovered some real gems, from the speed funk of Gojira (the other day I saw them on a poster so they’re clearly still touring – check them out) to the drum-tight grunge of a bunch of long-haired teenagers called Lynchpin.

Duke Special (Cheltenham, 2007[?]) – had heard good things, decided to have a listen and ended up enjoying what was undoubtedly the most entertaining live set I’ve ever heard.  (It’s so rare to hear an audience laugh out loud repeatedly with – rather than at – someone’s music).  The Duke’s musical range is enormous, from the English pastoral of ‘Scarlett’ to the Vaudeville-esque ‘I don’t love you’.  Humour, beauty, brilliant ensemble musicianship and silly percussion instruments all in one gig – priceless.

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