it all began with disappointment. What was originally intended to be a full three-day visit to All Tomorrow’s Parties 2005 was whittled down to one by my bank manager and my girlfriend’s exam timetable. Nonetheless, I left North Shields at an obscene 4.25am on Saturday in order to drive down to Camber Sands (360 miles) armed with a dawn soundtrack of Wilco, Loose Fur, Robbie Williams, Medulla, and Malcolm Middleton’s debut.

Even without roads signs it was obvious I was getting closer to the venue due to the steadily increasing amount of dazed hairy, dyed, tattooed, and lip-pierced figures carrying milk and Ibuprofen at the roadside. A good indication that Peaches’ set on Friday must’ve gone off as well as was predicted. I ended up crashing at the shingle beach for a few hours before the day was ready to start and arrived bewildered, hair sticking up with pillow marks across my face, fitting in perfectly amongst the last night’s survivors.

The setting of the Pontins holiday camp isn’t as bizarre a place as you would expect to see this kind of gathering, despite the fact that much has been made of the clash of the anything goes 00’s with faded fifties glamour. The family friendly signposts, wacky bike hire, mini crazy-golf and primary colour playgrounds seemed to match the crowd perfectly. I will admit though to find it odd to see someone like Sean Lennon wandering the reception area of a UK Pontins.

Autolux were first up on the big stage on Saturday at a hangover-respecting 15.15 and were a good choice to kick the day off. A three-piece consisting of guitar, bass, and drums isn’t going to stretch the mind too much that early in the day. Shame then, that I’ve got a thing about bands that don’t speak to the audience. I understand that, by default, an artist is officially cooler than me because they have the six-string and are up on stage, but a quick “hello” doesn’t cost anything. From the audience’s mid-set calls of “Are you not saying Hello then?” the crowd didn’t appear to be acknowledging fringe-flicking or hip-grinding as acceptable non-verbal forms of communication either. The San Franciscan trio played an outstandingly loud and interesting set, but I think their appeal was more volume than any amazing performance on their behalf. Although the bassist / lead singer had an uncanny similarity to a Jon Marsh (Beloved) / Evan Dando hybrid, even the ladies didn’t appear to be biting. The obvious Sonic Youth thrashy noise pop sound was marred a bit by the predominant layering of feedback acrobatics over melodies. Although it was interesting to hear them recording and layering loops in real-time, it wasn’t enough to move me to investigate them any further. Regurgitating the obvious MBV / SY comparisons might be called lazy, but Autolux don’t seem to be reaching much beyond those sonic constrictions anyway.

In the past I have easily taken or left Buck 65 records depending on the mood of the day, but I thought a quick glimpse at his live act would be worthwhile. The fact that I stayed for the whole set says a whole lot about the strength of his performance. In direct contrast to Autolux, he made a point of interacting with the crowd, coming across as friendly and funny as he explained some of his odder lyrics pre-song. Dressed up like a charity store Hank Williams, he split his time between the mic, the DAT machine, and his turntable rapping / singing in his Marlboro scuffed voice. His tales of lonely bar drinking, clever wordplay, and the perpetual outsider were always dark and were topped off with excellent production which moved from slide guitar melody-heavy country, sludgy Sabbath bass style riffery, and old school Rubin beats, and he rhymed over all of them without losing his flow. He even blessed us with an unreleased exclusive of a recently recorded Tortoise collaboration possibly entitled “Black Angel” which managed to combine their desert twang with his underbelly Americana lyricism. Managing to sound introspective and sociable, he totally won me over and I left the show keen to check out more, even though he was basically rapping along to a DAT. By the time I got to the merchandise store his stuff was all gone. Bugger.

Bungling through the increasingly drunken crowd to get downstairs I managed to brave the heat, cigarette smoke, and tall people to see a collaborative set between Money Mark and Kid Koala. As a set opener Koala took a written request (on a banana) from the audience to play his famous interpretation of “Moon River” and, bathed in a deep Lynchian blue light, he manipulated the three turntables stopping everyone in their tracks. Giving the song a deeper more melancholy feel via reverbs and overlapping vocal lines he set a pretty high bar for his onstage partner to follow. Promising to ‘freak’ it up a little bit since Gallo was the host, Money Mark managed to perform a few straight songs on keys and guitar as well some sonic experiments with some freaky noise generating boxes, whilst playing drums with a microphone rammed into his mouth. Both artists did themselves proud even if Koala was only given a quarter of the stage time Money Mark had.

Trust Vincent Gallo to end up getting booed and jeered at his own festival before he’d even played a note. Taking what seemed like a good thirty-five minutes to sound check he didn’t exactly endear himself to those already aware of his Hollywood reputation. Loud boos, hand clapping, and calls of both “Gallo is a wanker” and “You pompous twat” started to build as he fannied about with his guitar and fancy mic. Perhaps unsurprisingly due to the shouts, he hardly acknowledged the crowd’s presence up until the last few songs and it was lucky that his onstage collaborator Sean Lennon was the perfect gentleman. Apologising and explaining Gallo’s monitor problems and even playing a solo song to keep the crowd placated, he won himself more than just the adoring females in the front row. But even with an excellent set of material from Gallo’s two excellent releases on Warp the set was still overshadowed by elements of his ego. His demands that there should be no flash photography at all meant that an event security guard actually patrolled the front of the crowd answering to bellows and pointing from another event security member who was spotting flash offenders. According to some fan sites from other ATP acts there are rumours of legal action to those posting pictures from Gallo’s set?! Despite this, his set was well received and he and Sean made a great sounding pair vocally.

Even though I’m a huge fan I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the incredible response to John Frusciante's onstage arrival—the place went absolutely apeshit. I’m talking Beatlemania-style screaming people apeshit, and I’ve been to a tiny Robbie Williams club gig so I’m not underestimating what apeshit is all about. The turnout was pretty good considering that Polly Harvey was playing a solo set upstairs (the overlap wasn’t originally planned, but Gallo’s delays were to thank for that). Noticeably enjoying the crowd's obvious devotion/enjoyment, Frusciante good-naturedly strummed his way through a twenty song set which centred on Shadows Collide with People and his recent Record Collection album releases. Slipping a couple of covers (Cream and The Ramones) into the set, he apologised for being unable to deal with requests by having such an appalling memory for his own material since he was in the middle of recording the new RHCP’s record. As his set closed and the lights came on, the idea of the drive ahead of me (yes, 360 miles back during the night) drove the suggestion of enduring Suicide’s music-as-abuse from my head. Besides who needs that when you have Burt Bacharach, Ministry, and the new Pajo release for company?

While the concrete environment of Pontins never really had the air of a ‘real festival’ with sunburn and shorts, it certainly didn’t stop the twenty-four hour Frisbee á la cannabis or the cups of warm lager from being hurled over people from the back of the crowd. But the reclamation of the site year after year for some music that pushes beyond the top 40 and karaoke is a very welcome step. But did they have to hold it all the way down there?

Thanks to Alison at Hermana Press and frusciante.net for making this article possible.


By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2005-05-02
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