Around The World with Convenanza
It’s in its seventh year and regular Convenanza correspondent Tim Murray has noted an even more international flavour. So rather than a “then he played this, then he played that” review, he goes on a trip across the globe with Convenanza and its founder Andrew Weatherall, as we present Around The World With Convenanza…
The seventh year of Convenanza, the sixth at Carcassonne and the city, the castle and its stories past still provide the perfect setting for an increasingly eclectic and esoteric festival. Selected as ever by the estimable Mr Weatherall, with fixer extraordinaire Bernie Fabre making things happen, each year has seen it add a new literary bent to its line-up. It’s still the best setting for any festival ever (even if you’ve not been to every festival ever, just safe to assume that there can’t be a better venue than this). Still elicits the perfect kind of reaction as people enter the castle (“It’s in a castle!”), but as each year passes, and as instagram grows, the lines of people taking selfies across the drawbridge grows.
As ever, sometime resident of Slough and its assorted environs, Andrew Weatherall is at the fulcrum of the event, alongside his French festival sidekick Bernie Fabre. He opens the proceedings, he’s overseeing everything, standing at the back of the stage, stroking his beard, eyeing the bands and other acts now drawn from an increasingly wide global set-up. Remember the old Balearic Network so beloved of the early 90s? The one that was picked up by the music press after Boy’s Own, linking London to Nottingham, Leeds to Manchester and beyond? Imagine that, but worldwide. Slightly balder, a touch older and none-the-wiser. That’s the Worldwide Weatherall Web.
Well, Fantastic Twins, aka Julienne Dessagne, is from France and now resident in Berlin. But everyone lives in Berlin these days so, given her involvement in other territories; from her birthplace in France, to living in Berlin, releasing an EP under the name Lost In Germany, as well as her long-standing association with Glasgow’s Optimo, she’s as European as Convenanza is. I could make some long-drawn out post about dancing with fellow Europeans under the same sky, brought together by music, how it’s the antithesis of Brexit, but for fuck’s sake, if you were there, heck, even if you’re reading this, you should be able to see it from a mile away. Since 2012, when UKIP was on the rise and Cameron was scheming to keep the Tories in power by throwing a poorly-judged and criminally under-thought through referendum, on to its eventual result, Convenanza has argued the case against Brexit.
Meanwhile, back on stage, Fantastic Twins is giving it arguably the closest you’ll get to a more traditional Convenanza or Weatherall-related set all weekend, not that that’s a bad thing. Adding a touch of drama to the proceedings with treated vocals, it gets things off to a fine start. The only issue is the number of people who point out she’s not Twins, there’s only one of her. Mate, we’ve all noticed. And another key problem when writing about them is the grammar involved – Fantastic Twins were great, or Fantastic Twins was great?
Proper international band, Curses. Living in Berlin, originally from the other side of the Atlantic, even the fella’s name, Luca Venezia, inspires thoughts of further flung climes than a Hackney warehouse. Curses, the second live outing of the Friday night, meld the bleak 80s goth of Berlin, from a time when the wall was still standing and everyone wandered around in long raincoats humming Cure and New Order songs (this is, incidentally, exactly what this writer did on a visit to the city in 1984) with the more dance-based sensibilities of post-wall and post-Iron Curtain Berlin, a city that is some kind of party central for those from all over the place. This blend is perfect for seasoned Weatherall watchers, particularly those who think The Cure’s later balearic vibes still weren’t as good to dance to as the early stuff. It’s the sound of both pre and post-acid house and what your humble correspondent would call Gothic Catacombs Disco (after a suburban night in a pub in the 80s that was trying to ape the Batcave). Curses were among the most familiar to the hordes present, thanks to their essential Convenanza EP on Weatherall-approved Hoga Nord, as well as a weighty catalogue of no-one-understands-me-I-can-be-miserable-and-still-want-to-dance tracks. Oh, and throw in Venezia’s rockabilly-style outfit and rock star swagger – Weatherall namechecked him and Gene Vincent in the same sentence, such was his white face, black shirt, white socks, black shoes, black hair, white strat, bled white, died black stage presence. Although to be fair, it wasn’t just on the stage – we saw him strolling around in Carcassonne the next day and he still looked cool as fuck.
You can't get involved at Convenanza without going to Outer Space. Weatherall and Sean Johnston’s long-running club brand (yeah, I know, but I said this just because it’s a word that would be anathema to the Guv’nor) is essentially the main driver for the festival now, such is its clout as an institution. A Love From Outer Space has nurtured and cultivated outposts around the UK and beyond. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, the outer Scottish islands, Leeds, that Todmorden and Hebden Bridge axis… all pockets of devoted below 122bpm aficionados. And these people are out in force. This is their church. This is their religion. It’s a cracking night, Sean Johnston will later talk about how it was one of those where it intuitively clicked, where both he and Weatherall were perfectly aligned, working in unison, almost as if they were the left and right arms of a hive mind; the pair smiling, nodding knowingly at each other’s selections and seamless way they traded tracks. You know the apple with this one now.
So there’s A Love From Outer Space co-pilot Sean Johnston, or rather, seanjohnston, as he’s now known in certain quarters (pronounce it all in one go), sat at home, digging out records to play at the ALFOS part of the evening. He’s looking for something special, thinks he should pull something out of the bag. He’s done it before, last year’s rediscovery of one of the myriad Frankie Goes To Hollywood Welcome To The Pleasuredome mixes was one of the highlights for many, sending the cognoscenti rushing to Discogs and digital sites to dig out the Trevor Horn epic. This time he pulled out Japan’s Life In Tokyo and, as he said the next night, he’d added a certain, ahem, Cultural Vibe to give it a little bit more oomph and oompty and, hey presto, one of the moments of the evening…
Convenanza got all literary this year, with the addition of Faber Social-style talks between Weatherall (“looks like we got ourselves a reader…”) and, on the Friday, The Quietus’ Luke Turner, and on Saturday, author David Keenan, whose first novel, This Is Memorial Device, about a post-punk band in his native Airdrie, came with AW’s seal of approval. Sadly, the vagaries of RyanAir meant we missed the former, based around Turner’s highly recommended debut tome, Out Of The Woods, but were on hand for the verbal jousting between Weatherall and Keenan. The writer eased his way into the proceedings (and let people acclimatise to his thick accent – “I was with some Scottish people and even they struggled to understand him at first,” as one attendee later recalled) by reading from For The Good Times, his second novel, before Weatherall laid out 23 (important number that, for those magically inclined) cards with questions he’d penned (while stoned, as he admitted).
And the pair were off – taking in everything from the Beatles (Keenan trashing their “four ordinary blokes schtick, outlining why they were far from average) to Crowley, from Billie Eilish to Throbbing Gristle, taking in all points in between. It covered magic and MDMA (two of everyone’s favourite subjects) and managed to be both wildly funny and also inspirational. Keenan, on his writing style, on being guided by voices, like taking dictation, he noted, was genuinely engaging; witty, warm and totally enthusiastic. Passionate about stuff, about music, he reminiscences of growing up, with his mum talking about Lou Reed, with his dad taking him to his first gig (The Vaselines and, I think, The Pastels) and having a word with the bouncer to look after his lad, was thoroughly inspiring. Weatherall’s mom mots and anecdotal style, taking in Genesis P Orridge and Andrew Innes from Primal Scream and William Reid from the Jesus and Mary Chain discussing Eilish (“it’s a bit depressing,” Reid had said) provided the perfect foil.
Among the bons mots, and more, were meditations on why the Beatles being four ordinary books is a myth propagated by bands made up purely of, er, ordinary blokes (that was from Keenan), on the perils of ecstasy (a long treatise from Weatherall on how, after not having done MDMA-related substances for some quarter of a century, doing mind-bending love drugs now would make him a YouTube sensation waiting to happen, as he’d certainly be tops arf on a podium being filmed, with the further rejoinder that “I was into Throbbing Gristle then did ecstasy and ended up dancing to Chris Rea… let that be a lesson to all of you”). Weatherall’s recalling of a conversation between P Orridge and Adrian Sherwood made one wish one had been there.
The “put this in your review” mob were further enraged by Hailu Mergia, first live act on Saturday night. Like Ata Kak, the keyboardist and his band come complete with an amazing back story, involving Ethiopia and, latterly, a stint in Washington DC as a cabbie. Judging by the amount of people who were moaning about “jazzy shit”, few had heard the tale of how the keyboardist had been rediscovered by Awesome Tapes From Africa, how his self-recorded album was an outsider psychedelic classic, instead just concentrating on the sounds. Which they didn’t like. “I know music’s not for everyone,” noted one way expecting me to quote him in my review, “but this isn’t for me.” It veered from jazzy psych sounds, frantic keyboard solos and more, to elevator lift music. In the seven years of Convenanza, this writer can barely remember a band being so unanimously disliked. What's more, it was for being “too jazzy”. I’m not sure where Weatherall, sampling Miles Davis on one of his earliest remixes and later name checking Davis’ excellent Dark Magus, sits on the jazzy debate, but I’d wager that he doesn’t view it as a dirty word. Some of their songs were ace, some noodled a tad too much for my liking, but you can’t expect to go to a festival and like everything, can you?
As noted, Ata Kak has a genuinely intriguing backstory. After recording one album, self-financed, natch, he disappeared back into obscurity in the early 90s, before a cassette was discovered on a Ghanaian street market by Awesome Tapes From Arica head honcho Brian Shimkowitz. Recorded in Canada, of all places, as the self-taught Ghanaian Owusu travelled the globe, its infections brand of rap, boogie and house, with an almost chipmunk-like plus eight kind of feeling, had turned it into an unlikely success and revived a career long thought dead. And there was the lad Ata Kak, flanked by multi-instrumentalists and backing vocalists. Those that made the effort were rewarded by what turned out to be a genuinely life-affirming and uplifting experience. The fella was so pleased, so happy to be playing in front of an audience, that his enthusiasm and happiness spread from the stage to the audience. Completely bonkers, you don’t generally know what he’s on about, but truly this is music as universal language, as spreader of good feelings, happiness and delirium.
The home of Cabaret Nocturne. Hellish Imp was the last record of the official Convenanza. His set on Saturday night was a highlight of the weekend, the climax, the grand finale, the everything you wanted it to be. Doing that fine balancing act between house and techno, with added weirdness, squelch and more, it was Weatherall at his finest, knowing the audience, knowing the crowd, playing to the castle…
Maybe it was revenge for Brexit – perfectly understandable in which case; maybe it was less conspiracy theory and more just plain bad luck; maybe it was licensing; maybe it was pernicious forces and underground gases, but Friday night saw a few issues with queuing for le tokens (licensing regulation a la 1980s warehouse parties) and, on Saturday, the toilets. “Put this in your review,” about a million people said to me. Sure, but logistically, you’ve got to feel for the organisers and townsfolk. And despite the Internet claiming that A Love From Outer Space regulars are smiley happy people, a cut above the rest, we could still see you queue-jumping… As for the toilets, well, as you keep pointing out, and as I have in recent years, it’s in a medieval castle. You can’t just install toilets, there are conservation issues… Sure, there were gripes this year, but then again, the consensus was, one of the best ever. So a few lines here and there – not the lines that some of you were up to – is a small price to pay…
“Andrew’s doing a set at 6pm,” someone shouted out to this writer at some point in the middle of Sunday afternoon, ahead of the debriefing party, the weekend’s final event. Word travelled fast. Organiser Bernie Fabre posted a brief message announcing a special guest, with the addition of “Jah bless”. In many people’s by now addled heads, this could only mean one thing: Weatherall was doing a dub set. Your correspondent went round telling everyone that the Guv’nor was playing reggae for a couple of hours. “Definitely,” I replied. “Who told you?” some asked. “Actually, I might have made it up a little bit. But I think that’s what’s going to happen.” And, praise Jah, it was.
One of the highlights of the weekend for some, too slow and too much reggae for others. The thing about reggae is there is still so much to be discovered for the listener. This writer has been listening to Weatherall playing dub for 30 plus years and will never tire of it. When I first saw The Clash in 1981, there was reggae playing between the support act and the headliners. Heavy, heavy dub, with a bit of vocal thrown in here and there. I was but a whippersnapper, but I knew then, this was what I wanted to listen to. This is what I wanted to be part of. I had no idea of the records being played and, for well over 30 years, I’ve been searching for those elusive records. Not knowing what they were, or not being even able to remember, has been a minor hindrance, but it’s been a great journey to JA and back, constantly discovering new records, new sounds. Like the first line of gear, I’ve been chasing that first high, the first line, the best one. Always different, always the same – Weatherall’s been on that same journey, and, years later, he played two hours or so of dub from Jamaica and beyond. And I still didn’t recognise one record. And I’m off on a search again.
“Letting the days go by…”
Sunday night, Davie Miller, from Edinburgh, something of a veteran in these matters – part of Finitribe, his De Testimony, made pre-1988, became an acid house favourite, its Balearic meets industrial vibes working in Amnesia’s open air location as well as London’s dark and dingy basements – took the Sunday night debrief one step further with his post-Weatherall set.
As the evening wears on, it’s clear that we’re only heading in one direction. Things are getting messy, there’s an ever-growing beer puddle developing lake-like proportions over to one side, the jungle juice is out, people are dancing pretty much everywhere. And then David Byrne’s vocal rings out, Miller plays a Once In A Lifetime and the place erupts. We head off into the night and await tomorrow’s flight home, bumping into a miraculously still standing part of the London contingent. ‘We’re here for another couple of days,” Millwall says. These are hardy folk indeed…
And here’s a bonus of Boy’s Own style Uppers and Downers for the weekend…
Nice addition to the food range this year, catering for the oddbods and weirdos among us…
Don’t know if it was just people swerving the pints to avoid the toilet queues, but this was the drink of the festival…
That new cover of What’s A Girl To Do
As played early doors at one of Weatherall’s Music’s Not For Everyone openers. Essential new take.
“Just going for a hotel wee.” Sweet-talking security to beat the toilet queues.
We’re not sure if it’s the early evening invocation from AW, or the incense sticks, or the increasing move towards something a bit wobblier, but things are getting more psychedelic…
Peza’s set on the Soundcloud kept us going in the days after returning, soundtracking the penning of all this cobblers too…
Your actual Convenanza mates
People you see maybe once a year. But the best people. Shout out to the Bromley contingent…
The man who makes it all happen…
Oceans of lotions of potions
Our weekend catchphrase
The Convenanza Diet
One meal a day. Seems about right
“I once pretended to like Gary Numan to get off with a Numanoid, so I know all about shame.”
Weatherall’s comment of the weekend from the discussion with David Keenan…
French old bill
Shutting down the proceedings half an hour early on Sunday at the official afters/debrief. Annoying, sure, but at least give them a bit of credit for maintaining patience from Thursday through to about half an hour before the weekend ended before deciding to do something about it…
Queuing, next year
Mind you, you thought it was bad this year, wait until the stripey t-shirt British invasion begins next year and we’re all held up at passport control for hours on end…
Going at it too hard, too heavy, on your opening night. Shocking tales for the Friday arrivers. Vodka Light-fingered culprits sneaking behind the counter to grab some booze… You were spotted.
Toilet queue nutbag
Seriously. The mad woman shouting about the patriarchy and refusing to let me pass her because it was unfair they didn’t have to queue as much as women. Not sure what her protest served, apart from giving us a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder.
The sex pest
Tatty's Travel Agency
Not the ones to plan your holiday with, after our hero arrived a day late, missing his plane from London…
Rarer than an old Emissions Audio Output promo.