(Your Splendour In The Grass reviewer, between sets)
Oh hi Splendour In The Grass, fancy seeing you again.
The festival that not even an association with the evil empire of Live Nation can kill (yet) returns in a matter of weeks. And praise be the holy trinity of music gods – Tay Tay, JPY & Angus Young – for it looks like it will be a dry, or dryish, one. For those still scarred by last year’s Waterworld-meets-Black Adder Goes Forth hellscape this is beyond a relief.
(For some thoughts on last year's mess, read Mudbloods And Fury.)
But you know don’t you that 2022 isn’t the last time we can expect heavens opening and ground sinking in Byron Bay for that one weekend in July. It certainly wasn’t the first. Wind Back Wednesday can attest to that, having dug into the sodden, sticky, slightly smelly kitbag to recover this despatch from the Front in 2015.
Strap on the gumboots, kiss your loved ones goodbye and ready yourselves for the assault.
SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS
Byron Bay, July 24-26, 2015
WE HAD HOIKED OUR PACKS on our backs joyfully, egging each other on for this great adventure. We’ll be home by Christmas, Mother. We’ll give them what for and show them what Australians can do when called on for the great battles of life.
Even trudging through the mud that lay wide and dark and anything but inviting didn’t trouble us. Tkay Maidza was putting on a thrilling set of rapid rap and sparkling beats, Jenny Lewis was defying the muck in white pants suit and darkly comic sass, and the clouds hung low but spoke of nothing. This was a doddle, a lark.
How naïve we were. We few, we battalion of some 30,000, of whom 17,000 were frontline troops camping on site and giving their all, or at least their hygiene and sense of personal space, for the cause.
When the rains came on the first night as Peking Duk made some dance without thought and Ryan Adams made some sob quietly without shame, when Mark Ronson’s main-stage closing set was accompanied by the sound of hard north coast drops hitting soft city bodies, reality set in. As did early signs of trench foot.
The battlefield the next day, even as the sun appeared, was uncompromising. Some of us had gone out and not returned, lost in the sinkholes and wastelands. The Somme, in the region of the Mix Up Stage, took the young and the foolhardy and made men and women of them, or finished them. There was no victory here, just survival, though survival was victory enough.
(A lone sentry mans his post.)
Some would emerge later during Meg Mac’s set of low intensity pop, their eyes glazed. Some would be hollowed out, making strange shapes and mouthing words of space and life and our tiny part in the vastness during the powered psychedelia of Pond.
Not all supplies had made it. Band-of-the-moment, Years And Years, waited years and years for their equipment, which never came. Their set was limited, though not without enthusiasm, as this was virtually hand-to-hand fighting now in the absence of technology.
Azealia Banks struggled on without (we presume) the bulk of her clothing having arrived, her cracking beats, dancing and narrow voice a surprising – for disaster had been predicted – success.
The Big Push, the storming of the enemy lines came in the final hours as Florence + The Machine threw everything at us. The slopes of the amphitheatre slid inexorably down, as did anyone trying to move through it, but Flo ploughed through and pushed the line inches forward. Surely this would turn the war.
Weary and battered bodies endured more shelling of rain on the third day, the mush now murderous: black, smelling of rot and things best not shared with those back home, sucking shoes, legs and shorter bodies down, down.
Bluesman CW Stoneking laughed in the face of it in his white-on-white outfit, Megan Washington did likewise with kohl-rimmed eyes. Emboldened by them we went over the top one more time, bayonets fixed and taking as our rallying cry the Clash-inspired punkish pop of Jamie T.
Then the artillery cleared a path for us. The heaviness without anger of Royal Blood was exhilarating and ended with a touch of Black Sabbath that raised spirits no end. Tame Impala’s strafing with distorting shapes and mind-bending diversions took out the enemy’s resolve to resist as they became one with the music (like, deep man).
And even as some of the younger one deserted their posts after Tame Impala, leaving a smaller and older force for Blur, we were across the lines, bouncing almost as much as Damon Albarn who sprayed everyone with water (thank god no mustard gas was detected; that was just the noxious odour of the mud) and took us to the armistice.
We had survived. We had at times thrived. We were going home.
Now only the parades awaited us. Though we must never forget those who fell in the line of duty, whose bodies will emerge from the fields in weeks ahead. We shall remember them.
(We honour the fallen of SiTG)