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Caught by the River Thames: Day Two

09 August 2016, 15:15 | Written by Ed Nash

In its inaugural year, The Caught by the River festival is a very welcome addition to London’s festival calendar.

Today (7th August) on day two of its weekend residency at Fulham Palace, amidst poetry recitals, pop quizzes and an interview with a celebrated naturalist, it was a band from Wales who’ve been together for over twenty years that stole the show.

Making your way to the site, turning into a winding road in Bishops Park, even though you’re in the middle of London, it’s almost like stepping into Alice’s rabbit hole. Arriving at Fulham Palace the first thing that strikes you is that the site itself is relatively intimate compared to other festivals, yet it makes the statement of intent clear: Caught by the River isn’t trying to be like other festivals. I started the day in the chapel, rechristened ‘The Poetry Chapel’ for the weekend and watched the ‘Faber New poets’. All of them include a poem about music, the funniest of which was about being a member of Warpaint.

Then there’s the Waterfront Stage, where you can listen to “Mountain People” by tonight’s headliners Super Furry Animals being recited as a poem or take a quiz about music and nature, the Great Hall where you can listen to talks on music culture and the beautiful Walled Garden, where you can either sit in the shade or be taken on a bee finding tour.

With the grounds bathed in sunshine, the site, surrounded by trees, overlooked by the opulent Fulham Palace, is a lovely place to be. It’s equally set up for families as it is for gig goers, with deck chairs and tables aplenty. And instead of stalls charging exorbitant prices for cheap lager and crusty burgers, the culinary focus is on craft beer and street food.

The first live music of the day comes from the Llareggub Brass Band who continue the Super Furry Animals theme and play songs from Mwng. Chris Packham’s interview with Lauren Laverne draws a huge crowd and he talks candidly about growing up with Asperger’s. It’s genuinely touching to hear him speak about the lack of awareness of the condition in the 70s, describing his teachers as not caring and parents not having access to information to identify it. The key thing you take away from the conversation is that he’s not there to promote his book, but a cause close to his heart; he begins and ends the interview with an appeal against grouse shooting.

The first pop set of the day comes from the wonderful Gwenno. It’s the second time I’ve seen her play this week and on both occasions she’s a delight. Flanked by Kliph Scurlock on drums, bravely sporting a onesie and Rhys Edwards, who produced last year’s Y Dydd Olaf she opens with “Patriarchaeth” (“Patriarchy”). Its political music sang defiantly in Welsh but framed in a musical narrative that’s compellingly universal. She introduces “Calon Peiriant” as “Media manipulation and exposing war crimes” but the music is anything but earnest and instead is a mixture of education, political articulation and wonder.

Gwenno closes with the beautiful “Amser” and despite a few technical gremlins with her keyboard the songs’ blissful sadness sounds just lovely. Today is her last show in London for a while and she plays it triumphantly.

It’s also Temples last (and first) London show of the year and they don’t ignite. They start with “Colours to Life” which is suitably psychedelic, riff heavy festival rock. The set includes new songs, including the overtly Kinks inspired “Roman Godlike Man”. Whilst their songs are expertly executed they drift into each other and towards the end of the set singer James Bagshaw says how weird it is to be playing again, admitting they’re a bit ring-rusty. They finish with “Shelter Song” and whilst its Byrds-like riff chimes, it, and the set, sounds too in love with its influences to transcend them.

Super Furry Animals may not have a new album on the horizon but they’re very much up and running again. They arrive with the dance music of “Slow Life” wearing their customary white boiler suits and Gruff Rhys’s sonorous voice, which gets better with age, glides all over the park. As the song moves back to a dance section he dons his surreal Red Power Ranger helmet, holding up placards sporting the words “Applause” and “Apeshit.” The placards appear with increasingly hilarity as the evening progresses.

As they move straight into the joyous funk and boogie of “(Drawing) Rings Around the World” they sound like the perfect festival band - dedicated unfollowers of fashion who don’t sound like anyone else. “Hello Sunshine” shows that for all of their adventures in sound, at heart they’re simply wonderful songwriters. Midway through the song the ever deadpan Rhys jokes “It’s a bit problematic playing this at night, it’s unlikely we’ll get intense sunshine, but anyway…”

In a career spanning set “Pan Ddaw'r Wawr”, from their Welsh language album Mwng, with the lovely overlay of accordion sounds from keyboardist Cian Ciaran a highlight, it's a song from a political album by a political band who aren’t sloganeering or hectoring, rather masters of a much more effective sublety. Super Furry Animals aren’t tied to any notions of genre; they mix psych-rock, house music, soul, funk and country effortlessly. They’ve never been part of a scene; instead they excel at simply being themselves.

On the beautiful “Juxtapozed With U”, the groove of the chorus recalls Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me”, with bassist Guto Pryce and drummer Dafydd Ieuan’s playing deft funk this small part of Fulham is full of joy, it rightly ends with Rhys holding up a placard bearing the words “Prolonged Applause”. Before “Receptacle for the Respectable” Rhys deadpans that they’d asked Paul McCartney to reprise his contribution to the recording of the song and offered to pay his train fare, before having the crowd in stitches with ‘unfortunately he can’t be here tonight.’ He takes on McCartney’s part instead, chewing celery loudly into the microphone.

The plucked acoustic guitar that announces the closing, “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck” signals the day’s first singalong. It reaches levels of controlled intensity and power that I’ve only seen Savages hit live this year. In the film about Creation Records Upside Down, Alan McGee joked that when he signed them he thought he was getting the new Blur, but in fact had “an insane band of anarchists from Wales” on his hands. They leave the stage with an electronic sample on loop and return in their Yeti outfits and the final placards of the evening read “Resist Phoney Encores”, “Thank You” and finally “The End.”

Caught by the River will be back again next year and as with all festivals it’ll evolve and get better. Having one of the best rock and roll bands of the last quarter of a century to close proceedings was a great start to their story.

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