Apart from the tropical storm of 2014 the Lambeth Country Show seems to luck out weatherwise each year. This year was no exception. It was a scorcher and, for me, if you combine a free festival within walking distance of my house, sunshine, friends, and good music you're on to a winner.
Over the years I've particularly enjoyed sets by Culture, Horace Andy, and Osibisa and this year's Roots Day (always the Sunday) looked promising too. Although the music is the main draw it's not all there is. It really is a country show. There are animals there. Presumably to give inner city kids an idea of what the countryside is like. There's a sheep show, a harvest festival, a scarecrow competition, jousting, morris dancing, and more than one funfair. It's a pretty big do.
My mate Shep had never been before but I'd managed to persuade him this year with the promise of a walk to the festival. We met at Clapham Junction. I found him in a pub uncharacteristically sipping on a blackcurrant'n'soda.
We headed across Clapham Common where some ladies asked us if we knew where the festival was. It turned out they weren't heading to the same one as us but to an 80s event on the Lambeth side of the common. I should've worked it out from their dayglo get ups. The line up included Tony Hadley, Nik Kershaw, Then Jericho, and, more positively, ABC and The Beat. Living In A Box were on. I bet there was a crush at the bar when they played.
Shep and I carried on down Acre Lane, had a little nose around Brixton Village, and cut through to Herne Hill. We grabbed a pint in The Florence and then met up with Pam in Brockwell Park, the site of the festival.
There wasn't much on musically that we fancied Saturday so we had a gentle stroll around the park. We inspected the scarecrows. The Muhammad Ali one was impressive. Something about the eyes. The Mo Farah one just looked a bit racist and the Japanese one seemed potentially dubious. Christ the Riodeemer seemed pretty good but surely Cassiu Hay (sic) won?
We took in the sheep show. Hosted by a very enthusiastic and entertaining South African guy. He introduced various sheep to the stage. Told us a bit about their history. Told us which ones gave good wool and which ones tasted nice. Made a tired joke about the Welsh being sheep shaggers. The memory that will remain with me the longest is this extraordinary pair of ram's bollocks:-
It's normally a busy affair but with the sun out there were more attendees than normal. It was good to see lots of people out but the queues were getting silly. We soon worked out we could buy our drinks in The Florence and, as they were using plastic glasses, take them into the park. Which involved several walks past the lido. A favourite spot of mine that I've not managed to get along to this year.
We finally settled down in front of the stage with our beers and Mexican veggie sausage sandwiches in time for Incognito to start their set. They're probably nice people and all that but, man, they're boring. Bland being a word that was bandied about quite a bit. They've been going for nearly 40 years so clearly they have an audience but after a few songs I wasn't a member of that audience any longer.
We headed off into the Brixton night. Past the dub sound system that was selling Persil and the police riding around on horses. Another anachronistic quirk. The Brixton pubs were full to bursting. We stuck around for a few but kept our powder dry for Sunday.
There was no time for checking out ovine testicles or sports people rendered as crow scarers on Sunday. It was all about the music. Local lads Chainska Brassika kicked things off with a high octane blast of ska but things really got going for me with the tribute to Rico Rodriguez who died last year.
The Cuban born trombonist moved first to Kingston and then, in the early sixties, to the UK where he was a pioneer of ska. During the two tone era he played with The Specials and in recent years he'd played with Jools Holland on his slightly annoying television programme.
The two great moments of the set were Jerry Dammers stepping away from his keyboards to read a brief eulogy and when some kids from a local music group came on stage to play the song Africa. A really touching moment. I'll admit to a lump in the throat. It'd be no surprise at all if some of those kids are back on that stage in years to come.
Little Roy is another Jamaican artist who put his first records out over 40 years ago. The straight reggae stuff was sweet enough but his two Nirvana covers were the cherry on the cake. Heart Shaped Box and Lithium. On paper it sounds like a novelty but they both really worked with I Threes style backing vocals. I was grinning from ear to ear.
Closing the whole show, the whole weekend, was Johnny Clarke. I'd had his song None Shall Escape The Judgement as an earworm for a while so I was a trifle miffed that he played it when I went for a slash! The rest of the set was really good though. Some songs I recognised but whose titles I didn't know and Johnny dressed like a summer Santa. The sweet reggae sounds his present to us.
It all ended at 8. That feels like a pity at the time but the next day you hopefully feel the benefit. Pam and I went for a pizza in Herne Hill's Pizza Express and I headed back home. A little tipsy but also very happy and feeling that, in a year beset with bad news story after bad news story, I'm very lucky to be able to hear brilliant music for free within walking distance from my house and to be able to do that in the company of friends, both new and old. Roll on next year's show.