Landed returns after a Covid hiatus and reminds us why festivals are good for your heads, hearts and feets.
Landed used to kick off the festival season in April, until 2016 when it snowed. It then moved to a slightly warmer weekend in August. As part of a cunning plan, this year they arranged to move the start of the festival season to August, so once again they can open the season.
For new readers, Landed sits in the heart of the Wye Valley, snuggled between the mountains with the river Wye on the one edge of the site and Doldowold House on the other. The house and its estate were once owned by James Watt – him watt (pun intended) invented the steam engine back in 1775. The house is still owned by his descendants, the Gibson-Watt family.
Above the site at 2pm you can catch a glimpse of the hundreds of kites that rock up to the Kite Feeding Station for grub.
The festival started out as a pre-season shakedown of all the gear they keep in the shed, ready to use at other festivals but it soon made sense to hold their own party. And we are glad they did. Unfortunately, it has moved around the calendar a bit since the infamous snow year and finally found itself a home the first weekend in August – which clashes with Green Gathering. We have a long-established loyalty to helping run the Campaigns Area at Green Gathering so for the last few years we have missed out on Landed.
When the announcement was made that Green Gathering was cancelled for the second year running due to Covid, our hearts sunk. But hey, silver clouds and all that stuff: within ten minutes we had booked ourselves in for Landed.
The journey up the legendary A470 was a tractor free treat and, before we know it, we are dropping down off the main road into shangrilanded. The site layout has changed since our last visit in 2017 when almost everyone had to be towed out of the mud. After quickly checking-in to get wristbands we were soon plotted up with some old faces we have not seen since before the great plague of 2020.
There was much merriment, laughter and jolly japery but, as the old saying goes, what goes on at festivals, stays at festivals. Apart from the non-incriminating bits that go in a review blog obviously.
When we eventually wandered into the ‘arena’, several things were missing. First was expensive beer. At £4 quid a pint it wasn’t quite pub prices but very reasonable and at 8.4% ‘The Beast’ is a cider we will not forget in a hurry.
Another thing missing was the marquees the stages normally sit in. Tents are good for keeping the rain off your head, but presumably a breeding ground for el-Covid, so all stages were outdoors – except for the Doof Doof stage which everyone was dancing outside of anyway.
There was one thing missing that was slightly annoying – any clues as to who was playing where and when. Some of the bands didn’t even know when they were on – or where. But hey, all the bands were worth seeing and it is good to catch new artists you haven’t seen before.
It was slightly frustrating to discover the next day that we had missed one of our favourite bands, Astralasia, because we were completely oblivious to the fact that they were on at 1am. But at that time we were all gathered under the communal eventatent talking bollocks and were oblivious to more than just who was on the stage.
Aberdare’s very own Shovelface opened up the live stage on the Friday, with an in ya face heavy is rock set. It’s hard work opening up on any day of a festival but to be the first band on a Friday is something of a curse. They coped well and managed to get a few people up and shaking their thang.
We then went for a mini tour, first taking in the Doof Doof Stage, which was where all the old skool cheesy quavers were hanging out, giving it ‘big box little box’ and practicing their gurning. Further down the river was a psy-tracne area that was either run by the boy scouts, or run by people who had stolen a boy scout van (Dib Dib Stage?). This was a more psychedelic space than the Doof Doof, with lots of ultraviolet lights and ‘whoooshes’ in-between the repetitive beats. There was lots of ‘big fish little fish’ and people practicing their grinning.
By this time ‘Dropping Like Flies’ had established where and when they were going to play their first ever gig. On the acoustic stage. Even though they are not very acoustic. They had a few technical problems to start off with – and indeed throughout the set – but with typical valleys humour they managed to keep the gathered masses entertained.
Although this was the band’s first gig, they have been touring together under various guises for the over thirty years. In a twist of synchronicity, their last ever gig as 100,000 Bodybags was at Landed in 2019. The soundman seemed quite keen for them to get off stage almost as soon as they got on it. It wasn’t clear if it was because they were late starting or if he had just had enough – but he lost the battle of wills and they carried on regardless. They have been told to get off better stages than this…
If you want to hear what they sound like without the technical issues, their debut single ‘Game Over Man’ is actually rather good.
Meanwhile, back on the main stage, Cartoon Violence were a big let-down. They were neither cartoon characters nor violent. But they did play some pretty good ska though and the area in front of the stage was a throbbing skank fest while they were on. Wales seems to be turning out a nice little crop of ska bands at the moment and these local boys were just the first that would poke the Landed audience till it danced this weekend.
Oblivious to the fact that the live music was going on till 2pm we made our way back to the campsite to sing ging-gang-gooley and reminisce about things that I shall not repeat here in order to protect the guilty. And in doing so we missed Opaque and Astralasia. Grrrr.
When I woke on Saturday I felt remarkably fresh, considering the previous night’s session on ‘The Beast’. (Although at the time I had not known it was The Beast, simply that it was a medium cider and was 8.4%).
Although when I moved my head, I noticed that my brain was moving slower than my cranium, so shortly after I stopped moving my head, my brain would crash into the side of my skull. After several cups of coffee and a veggie breakfast from the onsite café (all the food we had bought to take was still by my front door waiting to be put, or rather not put, in the car. Including the tonic for the gin). It was clear that the only solution would be to drink more Beast to take the edge off the fuzz.
This proved to be a good move, because not only did the brain fog start to clear but one of the girls behind the bar had the holy grail in her pocket: a line up and running order! Although she only had one copy. We were allowed to take a photograph of it but we weren’t allowed to tell the bands what time they were on.
We did have a secret weapon though. Alka, AKA Dust Me Off Man, who had been just as oblivious to what was going on as we were on Friday, informs us that he had blagged a ticket on the grounds that he would be the compare on the main stage for the night. This was as much of a surprise to us as it was to the PA engineers who tried to throw him off stage several times before eventually giving in and they even turned the mic on towards the end of the night. I am not sure he really helped the situation though, given the only information he had about the bands was what we fed him – which did not include the correct name of the bands.
We had another couple of laps around the site in the afternoon to take photographs. Although I quickly discovered that for some reason I had turned autofocus off the night before and forgotten to put it back on. Sorry Dropping Like Flies, the photos I took of your first ever gig were incredibly well composed, but even more out of focus than my head.
As the afternoon wore on the undead of the site crawled out of their tents and vans, staggered to the front of the stage and did the monster mash, whilst the Monsterometer boys provided a soundtrack for their zombie hop.
Reckless Breakfast were very late, they wouldn’t even have got away with calling it brunch, it was more like supper time when they hit the stage. But in fairness, they were quite reckless and their upbeat ska (I told you there would be more) had arms and legs flying around the dancefloor (field) with reckless abandon.
As the evening wore on, we had a book running, taking bets on whether or not Alka ‘The Compare’, resplendent in his cardigan stolen from Val Doonican, was going to get beaten up by the stage crew, with the option of an accumulator on whether or not he would get the name of the band right if they PA guy turned the mic on.
The Upbeat Jugglers had forgotten to bring any juggling gear but were certainly upbeat and were not offended by being introduced as the Beast Jugglers. By this time the party was in full swing – which might be explained by the fact that the bar had been drunk dry of The Beast and we had to make do with The Beauty – a shandy by comparison, weighing in at a mere 7.1%.
Grubby, the man that herds all the cats that need to be organised to put on Landed festival, does lots of other stuff the fifty-one other weekends of the year. Like being a stunt double for the Wild Man of Borneo and providing amazing lighting for other festivals and events up and down the country. Which explains how a small grassroots festival in the middle of nowhere can provide a lighting display that will match and even better many events ten times its size.
And the Upbeat Jugglers were just one of the many bands that benefited from this after dark, with lasers painting patterns in the smoke and rotating coloured spots dancing along with the crowd. And boy were they dancing as the Jugglers let the good times roll.
Zion Train will always have a special place in my heart because they were the first band I ever interviewed for my zine back in 1995. They have been through a fair number of changes in the quarter of a century since, both in personnel and style. I was eager to see (or should that be hear?) how they sound now that Cara from the Defekters (and Pama International and Cara Means Friend) is part of the live unit.
Neil Perch has been the one constant throughout their history, ever present at the back providing the dubby rhythms and beats. The Crispy Horn brass section have been pretty constant as well, although they have new blood in the ranks tonight.
Alka manages to get their name right and off they go sending heavy bass vibrations up and down the valley. Ska might be big in Wales at the moment, but for one precious hour dub was king – and indeed queen. Anyone familiar with Cara will know that she simply radiates peace and love vibrations, and tonight that made for a perfect match with the Train. She held the audience’s hearts in her hands, whilst Perch moved their feet and Crispy Horns got their arms swinging. The A470 and the River Wye were connected briefly by one giant smile.
And that, for many festivals, would have been that. But hey, this is Landed. We still had the amazing Three Daft Monkeys and Spacehopper to keep us going till 3am. Although, to be perfectly honest, after jigging about to the Three Daft Monkeys for a bit – this old punk was heading for the airbed.
For the first time in history, I slowed down on the Sunday, conscious of the drive home on Monday. Well, to be honest, I held back on the Saturday. I must be getting old.
The head was far clearer Sunday morning as a result and after a healthy brunch and a coffee, we headed down to the river in anticipation of the legendary Duck Race.
Basically, up until lunch time on the Sunday everyone has an opportunity to ‘pimp’ a duck. Then in the afternoon they are all thrown in the river at the north end of the festival the first one to arrive downstream wins a prize – sort of pooh sticks with injection moulded plastic. To avoid clogging up the river with non-biodegradable plastic, a shed-load of volunteers stand in the river to catch them all and scoop them out at the finishing line.
Some people cheated by making ducks out of empty cider cans or plastic bottles, but their cunning plans failed because it was the ducks what won it.
People got wet, smiles were cracked and no ducks were harmed in the making of this event.
We then met up with some friends who had an even better blag than pretending to be a compare. They had come as guests of some people who were hanging bits of coloured cloth on the frame of a sheep – next to the tent with the giant farmers in. But hey, a crew pass is a crew pass.
By today a board had gone up with the band running times, spoiling the fun of those that had just got used to guessing.
In keeping with the long list of disappointments, The Deadly Lightshades were neither deadly nor a light fixture, but they did pick up the baton from Monsterometer and woke the dead with their DIY-psycho-zombie-punk-core. As zombies go, they weren’t very scary, and seemed to spend a lot of the time smiling.
Things were getting serious now. All the lightweights were going home, leaving only hardcore festival heads (and old men worried about being too pissed to drive the next day).
But those going home were missing out on one of the best bands Wales has ever produced, the Chalk Outlines. Yep, more ska. I just can’t get enough of these guys. A seven (or is it eight? They moved around a lot) piece band, with a three-piece brass section. From the word go they had people dancing like it was Friday night and they hadn’t already had two nights of wild abandon.
When I was a kid dreaming of being a rockstar but not having the patience to learn an instrument, it never entered my head to think about playing a trumpet or a trombone. What sort of geeky kid wants to play a saxophone? But hey, go figure, several bands this weekend prove that brass is actually quite cool. Including the Chalk Outlines.
And then The Last Tree Squad confirm this by extending their brass section for tonight’s show (although their trumpet player hedges his bets with the cool thing, I’m sure he was playing guitar with Culture Shock last week).
Some of the Squad have been around the block a few times, and it shows with them having their shit so tight together. Front-man Lofty demonstrated his professionalism by performing with one of his ears not working due to DJing too loud the night before. They also have youth in the ranks – including a father daughter partnership going on.
Merging hip hop and dub, with punk sensibilities, they were lively enough to keep the party going, but chilled enough to slowly wind the weekend down.
At this point I should be chucking in a few words about Oood, the last band of the weekend. That’s the thing I love about festivals, discovering new bands. I had been listening to Oood in the days running up to the event and was really looking forward to them. Incredibly funky trancey sort of tip. But alas, I was back on the old airbed by the time they came on. Reports from those that lasted the distance? “Even better than the psy-trance stage”, apparently. Sorry Oood, definitely next time though.
Landed continues to be one of the best events on the festival calendar, not just in Wales, but anywhere. If anyone could pull it off as we emerge from a pandemic, it was going to be the incredibly organised Grubby and his loyal crew. It was safe, organised, clean and the most fun you can have with your clothes on. We also, as ever, discovered new bands to explore for months to come.
Hats off to you Landed – you did it again and it was all the more special to be with friends in a field dancing for only the second time in almost eighteen months. What a perfect way to end the festival drought.