So here are some highlights from this weekend’s Greenbelt festival.
Top festival moments
Josh Osho singing his heart out with songs from his debut album, L.I.F.E to a valiant and damp crowd. The soulful, spiritual singer braved it during an apocalyptic-style downpour to give a passionate, energetic performance to some very excited teenage girls (and me).
Pádraig ó Tuama
The lyrical Pádraig ó Tuama reading poetry from his first collection Readings from the Book of Exile. With his soft, Irish voice he almost sang the work. The expertise of these poems which explore themes of faith, identity and sexuality lie in their simplicity; the language is clipped and succinct, the meaning flows through to his unsettling closing lines. After Mourning Prayer, a poem describing the aftermath of an abortion, there was an uncomfortable silence, an absence of applause, such was the poignancy of the final lines ‘hear my prayer/my reasons/my heart-dreaming’.
Giles Fraser on war
Giles Fraser on the military ethical complex. Avoiding the potentially obvious question of whether it is right to have an army and go to war; Fraser instead looked at what we can learn from the military, particularly with the restraint they often exercise and the sacrifices they make. With his charismatic style, he touched on issues of forgiveness and revenge as well as understanding more of who we are and how we operate. I didn’t agree with everything he said but I did come away examining my own heart and motives, particularly in relation to conflict.
A perfect night out for the indecisive. If I didn’t like what the DJ was playing, I could just tune into the other station on my headphones. An awesome 15-minute dance with the sound coming straight to my ears, blocking out any annoying loud people talking in front of me or singing along completely out of tune. Pure unadulterated music and free dancing.
Nitin Sawhney with an unbelievable band of musicians from around the world. Unassuming and friendly, Sawhney sat to one side of the stage, moving effortlessly from soul to to tabla to flamenco, fusing musical styles, genres and rhythms. A rich, dreamy sound which took Greenbelters across the globe and back again during this tight, flawless set.
The Cell Project
The Cell Project created and presented by Rideout. A performance installation in which audience members go into a replica prison cell and talk to two actors who have previously been imprisoned. A unique opportunity to see what life is really like inside for the 86,000 held in cells across England and Wales. Excellently conceived and eye- opening; I felt claustrophobic and panicky, then unbelievably sad and angry; all in the space of the 10-minute experience.
The Jesus Arms
Late night cider in a pub bearing the Lord’s name. There were crowds aplenty soaking it up in the canvas drinking den, discussing ideas and theology well into the wee hours. The perfect place to bump into long lost friends from camps you went on as a teenager, that bloke who goes to your church but you never talk to, the odd celeb (well Simon Mayo) and all those great friends you came with.
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any low moments….
Raindrops the size of small kittens and puppy dogs falling at the speed of light from the sky.
Subsequent mud bath as a result of said rain. Swimming at Greenbelt could take off, if our climate continues in this tumultuous and unpredictable fashion. All credit goes to a huge team of Greenbelt volunteers who stayed up most of the night rescuing refugee campers from their flooded tents and giving up wellies from their own feet for those without.
The Playhouse was an awkward performance venue. Particularly challenging was watching the disturbing Dream Pill by Clean Break; a play about child trafficking, while listening to dance music thump against the sides of the tent. The performers were too far away and the sound overspill louder than their voices. An indoor venue would be better for theatre pieces. (Full review of Dream Pill coming soon).
Queues continue to cause angst among campers. Is there another solution to all this standing around and waiting, only to be turned away just as you make it to the door?
Top five things I missed to which everyone responded by saying ‘I can’t believe you missed that’
1) Tom Wright – gutted to miss the top theologian’s insights into how we usher in this kingdom for everyone. I’m ordering the talk online right now.
2) Bellowhead. Quirky folk band wrapping up the festival, bound to have got everyone clog dancing in the Greenbelt bog. It was muddy. I was tired. Ok we left early. I know, there are no excuses.
3) Rend Collective Experiment – arguably I could claim I did experience this. It was just from the comfort of my (dry) tent. An uplifting, refreshing way to start the first full day. Not one person I spoke to regretted hauling themselves out of their sleeping bags first thing to encounter the Creator through the organic tones of this unconventional worship group.
4) Rev Richard Coles – the face of the voice of Radio Four’s Saturday Live. Those who went enjoyed hearing about the presenter’s personal faith and journey.
5) Frank Skinner – the power may have cut out half-way through but it didn’t stop any laughs in the packed-out Big Top.
Mud-entrenched; justice-invoking, globally-minded, soulfully-rooted, brain-frying tip of the iceberg. A kickstart to saving paradise.
Photo by Jonathan Watkins@Greenbelt
Were you there? What did I miss? Tell me your top festival moments.