It was Port Eliot the weekend before last. I always enjoy this slightly deranged literary festival that manages to make even fashion people nice for the weekend, and this year was no different. It even marked the end of the biblical deluge we’d all been suffering for the previous three months.
I’d gone along as part of the brilliant and funny Caught By The River coterie, and hosted a conversation with Richard King about his book How Soon Is Now (read it, it’s great) which saw King tell funny and scurrilous stories about everyone from the KLF to The Smiths and explained why having a hit can be a disaster for an indie.
Caught By The River are a bunch of people I’m proud to be associated with, partly because, collectively, they’ve got more ridiculous music stories than almost anyone else, and also because they combine a serious love of music with a widescreen enthusiasm for the natural world. Down in their tent I heard Robert MacFarlane and nature soundman Chris Watson perform a reading and sound piece that wrapped around like a wave-lapped lullaby and I saw TOY frontman Tom Dougall (and his thousand yard stare) destroy the tent with a snaking mindbend of feedback and drone and tunes you wanted to adopt immediately.
However, the biggest mindbend came not from a bunch of bound-to-be-massive young and wild loopsters, but instead in a small white tent just across the green, hosted by Andrews of Arcadia. In fact, they bent my mind twice: first, when Andrews ran a series of slides and films that showed the tunny fishing madness that swept through the north-east coast of England in the 1930s. There were men and women, far out at sea in tiny white boats, dressed like they were about to go for tea with the captain, landing huge 700lb tuna in man V fish battles that sometimes went on for 14 hours. I’m going to blog more about this another time, but for the moment, let’s just say that it opened up a whole new world, and made this part of England’s past look alien and compelling and genuinely mesmerising.
The second Arcadian mindbend came from photographer Neil Thomson. He showed a photographic project he’s working on called Phantom Fields and Ghost Squadrons about the disused airfields that are hidden in the undergrowth throughout Norfolk and Suffolk. It’s a remarkable project that brings the relatively recent past into mesmeric rub with the future, and where’s he’s conjoured up the ghosts of stiff-upper lipped squadrons and jitterbugging GIs by photographing the fields that now cover the tarmac they landed on. Again, more on this later. For the moment, all you need to see if one of the photographs.
And if you’re wondering, it was Andrews of Arcadia who provided the title for this post. When he and Neil Thompson were interviewed by BBC Radio Cornwall, the presenter asked whether they’d donned their trademark look (roughly, from a laywoman’s point of view, original 1930s-early 1950s shirts and high-waisted trousers) just for the occasion. “We always dress like this,” said Andrews, dry as you like. “We’re like the Great Gatsby meets The Wild Geese uptown.”
All photography: Neil Thompson