Its back and its bolder and it’s still as crazy as ever. After a hiatus of some years (covid etc) the Unorthodox Paradox has returned, and this time it’s in Anglesey. After a few years at Fell Foot Wood in the Lake District and a couple of more Southerly stints it returns afresh with a new home in a secluded part of Anglesey, a short walk from the beach and sheltered in a vale, this time with two stages filled and brimming with weird and wonderful talent from all corners over 3 days. Run by Neil and Libby Spragg, erstwhile members of 7 Shades, Omnia Opera and current project Bending Shapes, they recently purchased a mobile stage to kick-start the revamped festival and set up shop again, and this time armed with solar panels to power the whole event, and in a conscious attempt to make everything as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible there was vegan food on site with compostable cutlery, the bar was stocked with cheap local produce utilising recyclable glasses, and everyone was provided with a litter bag so they could take their rubbish home with them.
And so to the music. Although there were two stages there were no clashes as they were organised to follow one another seamlessly. Kicking off proceedings we had Deliquescent Crystals, a.k.a Benjamin Ian Powell, who also played Sunday night in the small tent under his other guise Llyn Y Cwn. His job as a technician onboard scientific research vessels means he gets to travel to the arctic where he makes field recordings (and film) and combines them with overlapping loops of treated guitar, making long ambient waves of sound that wash over the valley making harmonious natural bonds with the landscape and the people in it. Over in the tent something remarkable began to unfold when Chloe Herrington began to drop small pebbles and found objects on to a microphonic surface, making little ripples and echoes of sound which she proceeded to loop, and sing and play gentle, but slightly disturbing melodies and snippets of poetry with soprano sax and melodica. The audience was rapt by her presence. It was like watching an artist at work. Fascinating.
Back over to the main stage Dactyl Terra were doing their stuff using a blend of tight heavy grooves and space rock synths underpinned by fluid and funky bass playing. A perfect blend of classic rock and modern electronics. Infectious and groovy. By contrast Craig Fortnam entranced everyone with his unique blend of incredibly accomplished classical folk, conjuring images of the ancient byways and chalk downs of his home in Southern England. Craig is perhaps more famous for being a founder member of the North Sea Radio Orchestra, and, after a brief sojourn as Arch Garrison, along with James Larcombe, has recently released two solo albums “Ark” in 2021 and “Instrumental Music 1” released only this month. The music nestles quietly and resonantly alongside Nick Drake and Bert Jansch. He was joined on one song by the gorgeous harmonies of his partner Chloe Herrington.
Bending Shapes is the latest vehicle for festival organisers Neil and Libby, who play chunks of trip hop grooves a la Massive Attack, alongside the agit-pop grit of Poison Girls. Ritualistic, dark and powerful grooves are pummelled and shaped by the dulcet alto tones of Libby, who stands solidly and intones into the night like an alternative Britannia, presenting songs from their debut album “Uncomfortable Songs About Life”. It’s hard to believe this was their first gig.
The rather cloudy but pleasant day had given way to a squally overcast and cold rainy night, and even the post-rock jazz-prog shades of My Octopus Mind failed to warm my cockles. Maybe next time. So to bed.
Saturday started all bright and breezy, and as the acts weren’t due to start until later that gave us all a bit of time to explore the island and some of what it has to offer. It is an ancient and unique place and a perfect environment for a festival such as this. The first band to kick off was Haq 123, and kick they most certainly did. When I saw a man stroll on wearing yellow crocs and shorts flanked by two snotty little emo kids I really wasn’t so sure, but when they blasted into a set reminiscent of Deerhoof and Napalm Death I was hooked, and with witty lyrics like ‘the black death is back and it’s getting into your biscuits’ (“Rats”), to tales of finding a dead human finger while out walking, all delivered in the most understated way by young Millie, while her brother Zac kicks seven shades of shit out of his drums and Dad (ex Evil Blizzard member) blasts away on his heavily distorted bass. It’s no surprise to learn that they hail from Birmingham, the spiritual home of metal. While I wandered off to set up for my stint performing with The Owl Oscillation, Emily Jones was doing her thing in the tent, even finishing off with a Guided By Voices cover, and Paul Morricone was crooning his heart out in a natty shirt to a rapt audience. I’m so sorry to have missed those two but, having seen them both previously I would heartily recommend them.
I did however mange to catch ExP. Now when I describe him as a white rapper from Yorkshire who has audience participation banners prepared I am aware that this description does not do him justice at all. For a start the guy on the decks (sorry didn’t catch his name) was doing it all live, and the songs were witty as fuck and very real. Take for example the song “Trivia” which is basically a list of facts, many of them I didn’t know before like ‘for every human there’s 1.6 million ants’. Who says hip hop isn’t educational?. Elsewhere he presents other cuts from his album “Fully Fledged Fraud” in a direct and lucid way, goading the audience to sing along, which we all do with gusto, especially on the hilarious “Mr ‘Ow Much”, possibly the most Yorkshire song I’ve ever heard!
Over in the tent we are presented with Lachlan Werner and the voices of evil. An act which really has to be experienced live and very much in the flesh. It is a schizophrenic ventriloquism show featuring a witch (called Brew) and a choirboy who is possessed by a demon who is then seduced. The tent area was packed and I couldn’t see an awful lot but boy could he perform. Such energy. Over at the main stage Yama Warashi was doing her best to warm up an ever darkening sky, and despite her best efforts, with some lovely keyboard led songs, the rain started to fall, gently at first, but as the sun set behind the hill, it was becoming more persistent. Not to worry, the crowd was happily thronging for the entrance of The Lovely Eggs and no-one was going to miss this. They presented a magnificently rollicking set of crowd pleasing nonsense delivered in style. Even the rain was dancing off the roof splashing the front rows who carried on regardless, gleefully leaping along with the psych-glam stomping, while Holly praised the crowd as ‘our kind of people’.
Initial weather reports for Sunday weren’t good, but, for everyone who braved the night, it turned out to be a lovely sunny day, and everyone there was looking forward to the ever wonderful and eccentric Paddy Steer. He is a phenomenon and I’m not even sure he understands the effect his home made modular synthesisers and decrepit old drums has on a crowd, who instantly form themselves into one big wobbly shaking mass with, Neil Spragg leading them along with his dance moves, screaming for him to continue the madness long after his allotted time. As the sun started to set on the final day Modern Nature quietly picked up their instruments and stroked out such sublime music, sending out waves of beautiful sound, sometimes so achingly silent that we could hear each other breathing, and the rustle of birds as they settled down in the trees behind, and ending with the building climax of appropriately named “Build”, Chris Duffin providing sax lines ranging from Captain Beefheart to Van Morrisson over Samuel Hollis’s fluid double bass, Jack Cooper’s whispering and yearning voice, and Jim Wallis laying down Velvet Underground/Talk Talk/ inspired grooves to give voice to descriptions of the nature that lay all around us. It was a very special moment indeed and will forever lay in the hearts of those sturdy few who witnessed it.
It has to be mentioned that at the same time this small grass roots festival was taking place, further South at the same time we had the huge corporate mass of Glastonbury, which began many years ago in much the same way but somehow lost a little something over time. What was once just a bunch of hippies and freaks getting together in the country to enjoy some music and mysticism has turned into a PR crusade of backslapping luvvies all slurping smugness off each other while desperately embracing what they perceive to be the next big thing, whilst patronising “legends”…or something. Anyway I can watch highlights on the telly when I get home. All credit should go to Neil and Libby Spragg, without whom this would never have happened, and here’s to many more.
Words by Andrew Wood
Pictures by Ali Blair
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