“Build it and they will come,” the Mekonville poster declares, and they did. Walking in the sun to the campsite in the beautiful Suffolk countryside, you can feel the comradeship and love amid the boozy ambience.
You sense you already know everyone here, as it is a 40th birthday bash for The Mekons, who along with the Fall are the longest-running of the first-wave British punk bands. Some of the crowd saw them live in 1977 but many have flown in from across the globe to see the original members play again alongside the current line-up.
The Mekons are both a British and US institution as well as socialist outsiders. This amalgam of talented multimedia artists generates a unique country punk, rock and folk music which blends genres and influences, depending on mood and time.
Their talent in visual arts, writing, thinking, agitating and having a great time haven’t stopped them evolving as individually skilled songwriters and musicians. Their live shows are legend, with a rampant energy infused with humour, strong liquor and all driven along by the Stakhanovite Jon Langford.
As well as the 30+ musical acts, there was poetry, theatrical performances, films, arts and crafts and it is impossible to do full justice to the myriad of stunning talent on display. But the play What Happened in Leeds and artists Hill Bandits, Striplight, Calva Louise, Esper Scout, Chambers, The 4DGs, Eton Crop and Tilly Moses were all excellent.Singer-songwriter Charlie Law’s voice transfixes on the opening day.
Effortlessly clear, his bright timbre and tuneful guitar work captivate and This Could Be the Day, the title track of his excellent new CD, proves he is one to watch.
Interrobang?! scorch into a typically brilliant terse set with the dapper Dunstan’s vocals, underpinned by Harry Hamer and Stephen Griffin pulsating sonic assault, excelling. Watching him again the next day reciting his existential angst over Phil Whaite and Kate Dornan’s glorious sax and keyboard soundscape show him as a brutally honest and an eloquent wordsmith.
Sometimes there is nothing better than a great song sung with just a guitar, bass and drums and Chris Mills proves that point gloriously. His opener Little Bird, with the line “You’ve gone someplace I can’t go,” aches on the back of a runaway beat. His voice is clear and he plays with a thoughtful intensity, aided perfectly by Mekon Steve Goulding on drums. An infectious grin matches his tunes which one minute are grand epics and the next delicately sparse.
The Men of Gwent cannot but be enjoyed. A Welsh gang who sing songs about their history around Newport, they are huge fun as well as being superb musicians. Guto Dafis is a glorious storyteller and a wonderful accordion player who excels on opener Solomon Jones. Matt Gray’s Adrian Street — the wrestler who brought glam to the Welsh valleys — has everyone singing before Old Wet Argus, Pill Sailor, Tubby Brothers, Home of the Vote and Deep Sea Diver get the crowd dancing joyously. But it is Sentimental Marching Song which delivers a truly awesome climax to a great set.
The original Mekons are celebrating a new vinyl release with humour and an obvious enjoyment at getting back on stage together. “We used to reckon that if we all started roughly at the same time and finished at the same time it was a result,” says Andy Corrigan.
Close your eyes and the angular discordant guitars of Kevin Lycett and Tom Greenhalgh cutting across Jon Langford’s thumping drums and Ros Allen’s bass and the distinct vocals of Mark White and Andy Corrigan takes you back to the F-Club in Leeds and the true birth of post-punk. Highlights were many but 32 Weeks, Trevira Trousers, Never Been in a Riot, Lonely and Wet, a superb rendition of Building, a chaotic new song I’m Still Waiting and the inevitable stripped-down classic Where Were You? is exceptional.
The modern day line-up of Mekons take to the stage every day of the festival, both as a band and also as solo artists. They are just as much fun, challenging, and anarchic as the original line up, musical style notwithstanding.
Hugely talented, we are treated to some moments that will live in the memory, with Heaven and Back summing up the whole weekend. Memphis, Egypt has Suffolk shaking as Mitch Flacco joins the stage for a rendition that makes everyone euphoric. Sally Timms sweetly sings: “Lust corrodes my body, I’ve lost count of my lovers, but I can count my money forever and forever,” on the hilarious, danceable and head-messing Millionaire. The sound is excellent and Lu Edmonds and Rico Bell shine.
But it is legendary violinist Susie Honeyman who delights on Last Dance and the final set-closer Help Me Make It Through The Night as Will Oldham, aka Bonnie Prince Billy, gets the band to recreate a memorable gig from his Mekon experiences where the band responded to a fight in the audience during Lost Highway.
He was adored by the crowd throughout his own set but even more so belting out lyrics with the band he loves.
It is a moving moment after three days at this wonderful festival and the perfect foil for yet another mass singalong encore of that incredible second release from 1978 Where Were You? I was there and I will never forget it. Roll on another Mekons anniversary get-together.
Review by Bob Oram