24/08/18 – 25/08/18 I have not been to Totnes for at least 30 years and to be honest I had no plans to revisit until being introduced to the Sea Change Festival by a good friend. There is little to recall from this last visit apart from faded memories of a pleasant and a quintessential quiet English country town. Totnes today seems a bubbling town with independent shops, eco-friendly shops, which include a very good veggie restaurant Willow, (87 High Street) definitely worth a visit and the excellent Drift Record Shop (103 High Street) amongst others.
This is the 3rd Sea Change Festival, and the convincing ingredient for my attendance is the regular presence of artists signed to the Erased Tapes label. Over the years artists from the label have increasingly featured in my music collection. This year the festival is effectively a two-site affair with the core of the business taking place within the town, while a larger stage (offshore) is located in a field at Dartington Hall approximately 1.6 miles apart. The line up is once again diverse, imaginary and offers excellent contrast, a full list of the artists can be found on the Sea Change Festival website, so here are my personal highlights and small grumble.
Hatis Noif is a vocal performer from Japan and now resides in London. A delicate and diverse mixture of avant-garde, classical Japanese music, operatic in styles with hints of Gregorian Chanting were perfectly framed in St. Mary’s Church. The programme proposed a beautiful ambiance atmosphere, and she did not fail to deliver. Gwenno (Saunders), in the civic hall, who is a sound artist, DJ and singer from Cardiff added some psychedelic power watts to the proceedings, along with the mysteries of songs performed in entirely Cornish. The Immix Ensemble Present: Kosmologie Ancience by Jane Weaver and Sam Wiehl, back to the St. Mary’s Church and you can’t keep a good cornet player down! A multi-disciplinary performance, which included voice, guitar, classical instruments and a visual trance-like, projected backdrop. Folk singer Shirley Collins gave a fascinating, heartfelt and often humorous talk about her life in music and how she traveled the word collecting songs before performing a number of songs from her recent album. Listening to these stories, but a totally different slant on the songs, as if you have been let into a hidden secret.
Those people (like me) who are long-time fans of the hugely influential German band Can were given good opportunity to bathe in our obsession on both days of the festival. Let’s start with Saturday, which provided the chance to listen in on a conversation with Rob Young, author of All Gates Open: The Story of Can. A meticulously researched piece of work. Back to Friday night and the 1.6-mile journey to the Offshore stage at Dartington Hall to catch Damo Suzuki (ex-lead singer of Can) supported by Japanise noise band, Bo Ningen leads to my only criticism of the weekend. Firstly, and I appreciate some people will wholeheartedly disagree with me here, but the performance had no heart and it just felt everybody was going through the motions. Secondly, I felt no cohesion between what was happening in the town centre and what was taking place at the Offshore stage. They seemed and felt like two entirely separate types of events, which in turn run the risk of one part dragging the other down. I voted for the intimacy of the town centre venues and did not return to the offshore site for the remainder of the festival, although there was a perfectly strong line up on offer. It’s a dilemma, which I am sure the organisers knew would be challenging and one that they will need to juggle in future years, but based on my experience at this year’s festival it’s not quite right. Setting these little grumbles aside, which you will find with all festivals, I would happily recommend this little gem of a festival.