Desertfest – London 6-8 April 2012

 (Or ‘An Old Person Survives Three Days In The Desert)

Day One:

Despite being hardly adverse to the odd monumental riff and Spirit Caravan style fuzzed out bliss I kind of lost touch with that end of the rock and metal scene so what is ostensibly a stoner festival isn’t my natural stamping ground but the prospect of Orchid, Church Of Misery and Orange Goblin were the initial hook to reel me in. So having been organized by my flat mates for the weekend we roll up for registration.

Feeling a little under dressed in the facial hair department I sit in the Black Heart as one flat mate goes through the seemingly unfussy registration. Then it’s the serious business of taking a pint to figure out where to open the Desertfest account.

Three venues, three days, more beards and plaid shirts than you should be able to squeeze into one corner ofLondon; I am cast upon stoner ground, three days in the desert ahead and all of it new ground for me.

Decision made and it’s the Purple Turtle for Swedes Pomanera Sundown. Good choice. A Viking biker on the mike stand with a slick haired, western shirt sporting Tarantino bad guy to his left, a guitarist playing in jerks and spasms to his right and a drummer seemingly in his own little world of chasing imaginary hamsters across drum rolls with a truly disturbing glee, they are a great big riff an’ groove with touches of a happy Alice In Chains. Excellent voice and just a really serious rock out. Classy and a great fuzzed out start for a nicely sized crowd. That’s one CD for the stash then. Ok two.

Stubb up next don’t exactly float my boat (although I am in a minority there); they lose me in a cloud of psyche and paisley (and more Western shirts which is beginning to disturb me) so next I toddle over to the Black Heart for an acoustic set. This turns out to be extreme acoustic to the point of not just no amplification but no band either.

Seems like a cue for food (wimp I hear you say, sensible old guy says me).

I then take the momentous decision of the day to strike out on my own. Everyone else appears to be heading Underworld way for the serious rocking end of the night with Ancestors, Rotor and the legendary Karma To Burn (who by all accounts played an absolute fucking blinder – lots of post gig buzz about that). Being an awkward squad member and not wanting to miss Orchid I plant myself back at the Purple Turtle for the duration.

So I get Greenleaf next. Despite having more than a decade of history, Greenleaf were a band I genuinely knew nothing about so was really pleased to just be greeted by five guys just rocking like bastards. Yeah I now gather they are a long standing supergroup of sorts but it didn’t show. They were just hitting all the sweet spots all the way through. The chunky guitarist looked at times as though he was wrestling with a bear to bring out those riffs and leads and the vocalist was a total star with a great voice and charisma to spare. Oh yeah and he’s the singer from Truck Fighters too.

The world then leaves to go and catch Rotor which kind of laid bare the musical split in the crowds taste as the Turtle is more at the door of sludge and doom now. Well, as I was told, it is Desertfest and not Doomfest.

Well they missed one peach as first up are Welsh guys Sigiriya. With ex-Acrimony and Iron Monkey guys in their line up you know that this is probably going to be built on thick tar and you’re not disappointed. The ground trembles, the guitarist looks as though he’s torturing small furry animals (no, not his magnificent beard) and with a beer swilling front guy sporting a Macabre t-shirt they drag out some truly fun and idiosyncratic sludgy ‘space rock kind of thing’ according to them. Check them out for grooves a mile deep, some great songs like Whisky Song and a mist of beer. All the heads nodding in time a sure sign of their infectious nature so that’s another CD then…

Lord Vicar arrive to more departures. The most obviously doom band here and a bit of a curious bill choice, they nevertheless hit out hard and declare they are here to ‘slay the Easter Bunny’. I do have a history with this band, all the way back to Rev Biz, but their albums have never quite got to me enough. They have a terrific front man in the angular form of Christos and when the riffs flow they show their class but somehow it gets lost in the leadwork and I’m left flat and thinking that was their last chance for me with them gone.

The Turtle fills up as the end of Karma To Burn’s set gives people not too blown away by them time to make the short trip to the Turtle for rising psyched out stoner doom heroes Orchid.  I was so looking forward to catching this lot and it seems this was looked forward to by the band too.

No One Makes A Sound blasts them into our world; clear as a bell, hooks sinking in straight away and the expressive vocals soaring over the crowd.

“It’s a dream to play London,” the hippy shirt sporting, tambourine shaking front man says. And judging by the grins on the faces of the rest of the band it’s a shared sentiment.

And despite some between song silences it’s a scintillating set. Eyes Behind The Wall, the awesome Capricorn, Eastern Woman. It’s a delight of doomed seventies stoner vibes.

“Hail Sabbath!” shouts one wag before adding to his mate, “Well Sabbath haven’t done it for years so someone might as well…”

Sabbath never had Orchid’s groove though. Or that voice in their Ozzy days. More a heavy Witchcraft with Led Zep moves in-between the heavy Sabbath riffs and oozing infectious style and charisma.

Great end to a real fun, friendly, laid back festival opening day. Around me lots of old friend s meet up despite being from different countries and continents lending it a real international flavor on and off stage.

A final couple of drinks and the short walk to bed and I’m feeling pretty darned at home.