Bernie Fabre Talks Convenanza

Art & Culture

At some point on the second night of this year’s Convenanza festival (a far better name than the previous Andrew Weatherall Festival moniker, even if the first one did, at least, save having to tell people what it was all about), I find myself chatting to some of the assorted Weatherall associates who were also on the bill. We were talking about the amazing cover version of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir Weatherall had played. I’d assumed it was some record that a) you’d never be able to find and b) even if you did, it’d cost you the price of an apartment at some new Shoreditch development. Neither it seems. It was, Sean Johnston, one half of A Love From Outer Space and a permanent Hardway brother, reliably informed me, from a free covermount CD that came with Mojo magazine. You know, the kind that hangs around for a while, sticking to important letters and bills because of the bogey glue that’s left on the shrink-wrap, before you finally bin it. It’s testament to the esteem that the likes of Johnston, Tim Fairplay and Scott Fraser – who all starred in various guises on the first night of the festival – hold Weatherall in that they’re all impressed by his devotion to the cause and discovery of this as they would be of some find in an obscure record shop. Any sane person would have binned it with nary a backward glance. Weatherall listened to it. And found a song that was one of the highlights of the event. 

Well, you say highlights, but there really were so many. 

I’ve gone on record – on The Ransom Note, naturally – about festivals and it’s no secret that I loathe them. Convenanza, is, however, a different beast altogether. It’s a Festival that’s not like a festival – for starters there’s no camping, so you get to stay in a hotel (unless you’re some kind of Nuts In May outdoors, naturalist odd-bod, in which case, I’d wager, you probably wouldn’t want to hike to Carcassonne, France, for two evenings’ worth of outsider music). 

And then there’s the venue – it’s in a castle, for fuck’s sake. As Baris K, who opened both nights, plays his hashish-heavy Turkalearic sound as the sun sets, with the ramparts above him, the glorious near full moon rising, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the surroundings. 

How did they manage to land such a venue? “We needed to convince them it would attract lots of people to Carcassonne,” says organiser Bernie Fabre, speaking from Carcassonne a few days after the event about why the authorities would allow such a prestigious venue to be used for what is effectively an event with its roots in, among other things, punk rock and acid house. “Also people in charge of the castle wanted to do something different and I pitched the project at the right time. Also the guv'nor has this cultural image: he does art, poetry, he's linked with Faber and Faber… Maybe this helped?

The timings of the event work a treat too. Rather than being force-fed music non-stop over a 48-hour period, it’s taken at a more leisurely pace. Each evening begins at somewhere between 6 and 7pm, with Baris K getting you into the swing. 

Each night follows with, as darkness falls, Weatherall himself, performing one of his Music’s Not For Everyone Sets, taking in all manner of weird and wonderful music from all over the shop. It’s here his appetite for music really gets an airing, hearing tracks discovered through his similarly titled radio shows, such as Mbongwana Star, played out is a joy. And you can tell he enjoys it just as much. 

The Friday night edges into more outre rock, with former Spacemen 3-er Sterling Roswell and his band, including a conga player with the best beard this writer has seen for some time, looking like a Gandalf-like Mickey Finn louchely tapping the skips. And then it’s on to one of the weekend’s undoubted highlights – a Crimes Of The Future label showcase with Scott Fraser and Tim FairPlay highlighting some of the label’s output and, more importantly, paying tribute to soundtrack maestro John Carpenter. Just when you thought that the phrase Carpenteresque was done and dusted – expired through overuse on press releases, reviews and record store website descriptions – the duo pay just the right amount of deference to the director’s scores, at the same time as updating it for the kind of audience they’ve got there. Better still, this is no po-faced fanboy outing for the soundtrack and synthesiser trainspotters – it’s topped off with a breakbeat-driven take on the Halloween theme. It’s the same for the closing A Love From Outer Space session – you might have thought the sound had been overcooked by repeated website references to all those key words (see the ALFOS fridge magnets for more) and some of the dafter comments on Facebook groups (or so I’m told) – but Messrs Johnston and Weatherall reinvigorate it. 

After the requisite stroll around the walled city on Saturday (“right, that’s enough of that, let’s have a beer”) and a slightly surreal disco karaoke in the town square, it’s back to the castle for round two. More Baris K, more live excursions (Vox Low, your new best band, who managed to walk the fine line between psych, drone and the discotheque), more Weatherall weirdness and, to round it off, Weatherall and Fairplay in their Asphodells guise. By this stage, it was all a bit taxing; things being passed around, that extra drink pushing you over the edge, the queues for the eco-friendly sawdust toilet… a little sit down was in order. 

The next day’s plane was no easier than previous year’s (listening to Weatherall fanboys drone on when you’re hungover is not as much fun as you think it might be… now I know some people steer clear of me at times), but there was always that castle. 

Well, obviously I am delighted with the event,” says Bernie Fabre speaking a few days after the event. “We got more people than last year. Some of them came from far away to be with us. And the feedback on social network site is just amazing! But my greatest satisfaction is the dedication of Andrew and the artists year after year. They really enjoy Convenanza.

Surely, I suggest to Fabre, there must be moments when he thinks “how did this happen?”? “Yes I pinch myself, and I'm grateful to the ALFOS crowd for taking a chance on us when we started the weekender in 2013.

It’s not just those hardy London types making their way out there now. some 1,300 people through the door each night, with people travelling from as far afield as Japan, Australia and South Africa. 

Even if you’ve never been a fan of that whole “clued up, friendly clubbers” kind of description (it makes me shudder to think of it), there’s a distinctly friendly feeling. So much so, that even myself and my travelling companion (definitely just guys, mates, as he over-shared at the hotel), found ourself, you know, talking to strangers and all that.   

Meanwhile, next year is now in the planning stage already, I can exclusively reveal. (I don’t actually know that’s an exclusive by the way. I just love using that phrase.) For, as Fabre reveals: “Actually Andrew and I have started working on next year's edition. This year we've introduced a warm-up party in town, on Thursday night, which went down well. But we don't want to change the format because people enjoy it as it is… Above all, we want to retain that special atmosphere.

See you down the front in 2016.