Farewell to the Hunters
I swear these vans get bigger every year. This time round it was an enormous Mercedes that had every kind of useful facility except an ability to play CDs, which apparently have gone the way of vinyl, although inspiring less emotion and leaving a smaller gap on the shelf once they have been consigned to the oblivion they deserve. I like CDs, they are a sensible size and shape and cats can’t track their claws up the spine and wreck them, but the van had no discernible slot to insert one so Emma and Hugo competed with an I-pod all the way down to Tewkesbury. Alternating Heavy Metal, and their mother’s sprawling collection of Indie Pop went in one ear and out of the other as I enjoyed the enormous white whale’s space age configuration down the M1, M42 and M5. I only make them listen to Radio 4 if I’m really tired or if Newsquiz is on, though I miss Sandy Toksvig so even that is not such a treat these days.
But I digress. It was Ashes time again and we swung effortlessly onto the gravel car park at the Hunters Inn and stalled conspicuously in front of someone. Apologies. Thereafter ensued the usual feast of tent erection and we had a whole street of them this year as Emma has graduated to her own. Little evidence of change on the campsite. Even more early arrivals this year for the Thursday ‘night-before-Ashes’ pre festival settling in and the weather was lovely. Just as well really as the marquee, which leaked so badly last year, has received little or no attention beyond a partially replaced floor. The whole thing sags like a badly deformed blancmange and looks more like it should be occupied by a terrible old crone in some fairytale forest than UK’s premier folk-rock combo Blyth Power and their friends.
Still, the toilet block is still there, and as the sun continued to shine, early arrivees were duped by the fragrance at the top end of the campsite where the slurry generally gathers later in the cycle. This early in the proceedings the plumbing can cope, and it’s only really once the weekend gets going in earnest that the miasma kicks in North of Astonia. This year, those in ‘the roach end’ were treated to an additional hazard in that permission was granted to dig a fire pit right up around the top end of the site, and we are once again grateful to Tony for the van load of fence panels that were to go up in smoke during the late nights of bacchanalia that I understand raged.
So all was set and ready for what was to turn out as the best Ashes yet, for so many reasons…
Friday dawned late for Mr Porter, who lacking a toilet to rise early and clean elected to sleep late and was not out of his tent until the sun was well up and the neatly restored trampoline was fully occupied by the Ashes Youth, gleefully ignoring the ‘six at a time’ rule and bouncing boisterously in the morning sunshine. First order of business was to get The Tally Ho! distributed, and with the first edition of the weekend perplexing its readers we were able to commence preparations in the tumbledown ruins of the marquee.
As is traditional, music commenced at 6pm with Mare, followed by a selection of acoustic orientated performances including Tim Holehouse, Paul & Wendy Warning, The Speech Painter, Radio KWG and Project Adorno and climaxing with Wob, who took us up to midnight. Lovely weather, lovely people, cake, and good cheer. If you’ve not been you should try it. I believe the fire pit played host to the usual suspects, but I had an early night myself and in its new distant location I was not able to differentiate between the various nocturnal dronings that underscored my attempts to listen in on teenage conversations in the pitch dark of the adjacent trampoline.
Saturday brought a shock. The Tally Ho! Editorial team had been replaced by a bunch of ‘young people’, and the Saturday issue presented a new all-colour format, with more pictures than words, a wordsearch, some snazzy soundbytes and a lot of irritating ‘youth’ outreach that fooled no one. Where’s Tally Ho!? One disappointed punter after another asked as they scanned the hideous tract, now renamed ‘Ashizzle!’
Saturday morning saw the first of the choir rehearsals in the marquee, with two pieces under way for the Blyth set on the Sunday morning. One was ‘Katherine’s Will’, an old favourite just crying out to be offered to children to sing, while the other, Valeria Victrix, included the word ‘tumescence’, for no other reason than that its author secretly hoped that those children no longer on the trampoline after midnight would ask their parents what it meant.
Fortunately there was still the music to cling to, and the Saturday morning session opened in an increasingly stifling marquee (odd that it can let in so much water, yet remains impervious to the passage of air) with Jammie Sammy, Teq, whose codpiece may or may not have later served as an impromptu water bowl for a parched dog in the heatwave, Too Many Dragons, and Short Drag Roger, whose folky acapella crooning set the scene for the cricket match to end all cricket matches that was about to unfold. By this time the Blyth PA system, stalwart of so many Ashes weekends, had been replaced by a collection of monolithic black boxes brought down from the Second City by Spud, who was lending it for the weekend. This collection of fab cabs, supplemened by powered monitors courtesy or Robin, was also accompanied by Conor, who operated it with skill and diligence for the rest of the weekend and for whom the Lord be both praised and thanked.
But oh the cricket! If your idea of a textbook English summer is the languid passage of breathless time in a green field with the crack of willow upon leather as a distant accompaniment to your day dreams, then you were in the wrong field. This year the umpire had wisely ruled that we should limit the length of each inning to 45 minutes, so there was a chance of actually getting the match finished. Besides it was too hot to play longer. Blyth won the toss and opted to bat first and notched up an impressive something for something that ultimately set the bar too high for the Cracktown Irregulars. In a match that went right down to the line, with time left for one over they needed nine to win, Blyth proved triumphant, justice was done after their scoundrelly efforts last year, and it was with searing pride that Mr Porter accepted the trophy from the locum Lady Mayoress. At this point it should be noted Cracktown took The Ashes home last year and lost them but luckily the fire pit regulars had managed to fill up a new one in record time, even to the inclusion of a manky replacement piece of old cheese.
Individual performances were stellar, but notable among the galaxy of athletic prodigies were Jonny Wah Wah of On Trial UK, who played in his socks, and Californian niece Morgan, who baffled the sceptical limeys with an innings of rare skill and intelligence, during which she hit the ball on several occasions, made far more runs than either team captain, and finished the game with a lexicon of cricketing jargon that will no doubt confound her fellows back at the sorority house. Mr Boatless did manage to score a half century, but even that didn’t save Cracktown’s fortunes.
Then it was back to the marquee for the evening session, although even at 6pm it was still sweltering beneath the canvas. On Trial UK opened – with their cricketing singer still in his socks – followed by The Lovely Brothers, who were not dressed for the heat, The Metatrons, who are so innately cool that climate is not an issue, Dog of Man, who didn’t seem to notice, and The Alcohol Licks, who were awesome. This was followed by the first Blyth Power set of the weekend, which saw everyone off to their respective beds, trampolines, and fire pits sated and spent.
To widespread relief Sunday brought The Tally Ho! back in its usual format, the ‘yoof’ element having been fired and the old team reinstated. It also brought the second choir rehearsal, ably assisted again by Yvette, and a ukulele workshop that was very well patronised, and that we hope will become a regular feature.
The morning Blyth Matinee saw a number of innovations. Firstly the choir, who sang along to the choruses of ‘Katherines Will’ beautifully. Mr Porter had made a number of lollipop masks of the six wives of Henry VIII for the occasion and one of Henry himself, although having asked Hugo to ‘make me a mask of Henry’, found to his befuddlement that the boy had produced one of ‘Henry the Green Engine’ rather than ‘Henry the Eighth’. The second choir piece was an attempt to recreate the authentic sound and mood of a primary school orchestra, something achieved to good effect with a battery of recorders and Peter’s trumpet, as well as sundry plucking, parping and strumming from various instruments. It was beautiful. Thanks to everyone who took part – we’ll have to work hard to top this next year.
The other interesting note was the guesting on guitar of Mr Hugo Hatcher, who played on ‘Guns of Castle Cary’, exhibiting the kind of appropriate discipline and commitment that Mr Porter delights in, and which Hugo is going to have to work hard to overcome if he is ever wants to join the ranks of ex band members…
Temperatures in the marquee were now uncomfortable as the sun blazed down on its rotting fabric, which was a shame as a number of revellers left for cooler climes, missing Those Ghasly Cavities, who put in a brilliant performance of the kind of early punk music that more than one grisly elder commented upon. Those of us who remember the movement as it was before it became self-conscious were heard to compare them to early Wire, or some of the more tuneful bits of ATV. They seem to have managed to get themselves booked for Rebellion on the strength of this set so it seems there are others who agree. Good show chaps!
The next few performers opted to play Al Fresco, on a convenient tree stump adjacent to the marquee, so we were treated to Dr Bongo, Michael Parker, ably challenged by Yoni Valerian, Paul Eccentric and Rachel Pantechnicon in the open air. Mick Tyas and Nick Thompson did likewise, although took the pursuit of cooler climes further and played in a nearby leafy grotto, to the comfort and approval of the many.
We moved back indoors for The Commie Faggots, as the air was now cooler and the midge speckled gloaming only slightly cooler now than the marquee. For the record, I love the Commie Faggots. All of them and everything they do is/are fabulous, and I am especially grateful for the sentiments with which they introduced their ironic rendition of ‘All You Need is Love’. That was the Ashes in a nutshell so thanks again for that!
Pog were up next, with Messrs Porter and Bailey guesting as rhythm section and Mr Josh Carlisle playing guitar on ‘Kings and Queens’, and were followed by Verbal Warning who did their thing to considerable rowdy enthusiasm from the faithful.
The Antipoet brought things to a head, and were as splendid as ever, ending their set accompanied on two songs by Joseph and Jerry Hellfire. Then it was time for what was to become the most astonishing spectacle of the entire weekend.
After their first song, Cracktown decided to lead the crowd back outside to the tree stump, where they then delivered what can only be described as the most ridiculous black mass ever, or so it appeared. With burning torches illuminating their ghastly creeching litsos, and a crowd of baying drunks egging them on, it really did not only take the biscuit, but did beastly things to it such as Fox probably hasn’t done since public school. Possibly the high spot of any Ashes ever was when the introduction of their last song turned out to be a cover of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. This act of pure genius could never, you might suppose, be topped, but they encored with ‘Hit Me Baby One Last Time’, and the incongruity carried the day. Chalk up a victory to the Fox – although it was to be his only one as you will see…
There had been a little bit of rivalry going on between Silver Fox and Mr Porter. The latter, realising that he will never be able to best Fox publicly with words, had been resorting to childish actions throughout the Saturday’s musical performances. Initially gurning through the hole in the back of the tent while Fox was introducing bands, this escalated to mooning while The Lovely Brothers were waiting to go on, and by the time the afternoon’s poets were bestriding the tree stump he had laid another plan.
As the Fox was introducing Mr Paul Eccentric, some may have seen the lantern jawed Porter, conspicuous you might have thought in his yellow vest, climb into the cab of the van, which was parked just behind where the shambling compere was waxing lyrical. Having nothing better to do with his time this weekend, Mr Porter had prepared a series of flash cards, which he proceeded to display one by one behind his adversary, calling into question not only Mr Fox’s integrity and morality, but also attributing a number of unsavoury personal habits to him, including ‘eating his own poo’…
Sadly this went largely unremarked so it was down to Sunday morning’s rendition of ‘Just a Minute’ for the scalp to be taken. Thanks to Emma for her timekeeping, to Mike and Sarah Parker for their participation, and to our stand in chairperson, the Rachel and Sinclair Hood Lecturer in Aegean Pre History, whose calm authority and judicial eye kept matters in order with an impartiality that only erred slightly in favour of the Fox. In spite of this Porter won in a tie-break with Sarah, swept to victory by the cunning expedient of ‘not having been up all night drinking but having gone to bed early’, lulled to sleep as ever by the faint murmurings of the teenage trysters on the trampoline.
Millstone Grit, Aye-Vee and Ashes newcomers Spam carried the music up to 3pm, whereupon we took a break for the fete, which this year proved as diverse and as splendid as ever. Hugo’s shunting challenge sideshow proved popular, and we skimmed a few rubes with that one. The Fete kicked off with a Morris Dance and ended with the now traditional Dog Show, in which Mr Ben Bailey acquitted himself splendidly as a judge. Thanks to acting Lady Mayoress Emma for running the show as ably as ever.
Matters progressed into the final countdown, with Will Gosling, Boy in the Cupboard, Jerry Hellfire and Lying Scotsman, followed by the fabulous Skiffle Bastards, in which various Ashes regulars combined to honour the memory of Hotrod Hector with a session of gleefully shambling skiffle.
So then it was just time for Mr Porter’s favourite night of the year, when a handful of his friends pretend they give a stuff for Blyth Power’s thirty five year history and indulge him to the extent of listening to a bunch of his old songs rehashed. This year it was a collection of singles, B-sides and also rans that appeared on a vinyl compilation entitled ‘Pont Au Dessus de la Brue’. High spot for me was ‘Tale of Cock and Bull’, which I hadn’t played for decades.
And that was it. Another Ashes over, and another venue passing into Ashes history. It’s a shame, as the Hunters has been great, and we fit into it just right. Trouble is there is no sign of the marquee getting fixed, and even a casual look by a passing Health & Safety official is likely to see it condemned. Just like at The Plough, which we also loved, we can’t afford to have the rug pulled at short notice, neither can we expect the weather to remain as glorious every year as it was this time round so it’s onwards and upwards. The search for a new venue is ongoing and we’ll let you know as soon as we find a new home.
And then we’ll see you there!
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