Monday, 30 June 2014

Surfer Joe Summer Festival – Surfer Joe Diner Terrazza Mascagni, Livorno, Italy – June 20th – 22nd

Before I start: one thing did seem to be missing from Surfer Joe this year; Unsteady Freddie. He's had a few health problems and had to cancel at the last minute. You were missed Freddie, keep well and be in Livorno in 2015!

Thursday 19th
The HangNine party (Clive Surfin’ Lung, Jules Deadman and myself) depart Brighton (after a hearty breakfast as the excellent Lange Lees) and head to Gatwick for out flight to Pisa. The weather is good and the forecast for Livorno has been getting better by the day and now seems set fair for a weekend of great surf music and, we hope, even greater company.
The flight and the journey from Pisa to Livorno are uneventful and we make our way to a favourite bar on the Piazza della Repubblica for a well-earned cold Moretti, before walking the last mile or so to the excellent Parking Hotel Giardino, where we are greeted like old friends. After a chance to freshen up, we head out to the Surfer Joe Diner, where we track down Lorenzo, Lucca, Tonio (and his very impressive new beard) and Tommi, who is busy rigging the stage. This will basically be home for the next few days and boy it feels good to be back in the Livornese sunshine.
After a short stroll to a local Pizzeria for a meal, it’s off to the improbably named (and improbable) Nelson Pub, where we watch as the England football team, fresh from their promising performance against Italy, revert to headless-chicken type and capitulate to Luis Suarez and his Uruguayan compatriots. Still, all is not lost, since Costa Rica will lose to Italy tomorrow and England will raise their game and thrash the plucky Central Americans and qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup in Brazil. 
Thus reassured, we move back to the Diner and catch We Love Surf in the Tiki Garden. They may love surf, but they surely don’t play it, but we have a nice time and get to meet up with Da-Ron and Adam from The Waterboarders, who were due to play at the festival on Sunday, but have had to pull out due to unforeseen drummer-related issues. In the circumstances they seem remarkably chipper! We also catch Martin, Andi and Michael, who constitute this weekend’s version of the Razorblades (and who have all stayed with us in Brighton in the past, so it’s lovely to see them again: such well-mannered boys!).

Friday 20th
We spend much of the afternoon lounging in the sun-soaked Tiki Garden, listening to Paul Johnson and Friends rehearse upstairs in the Ungawa Tiki Bar, drinking the odd beer and catching up with more people, including the North Sea Surf Radio crowd: Niels from the Phantom Four, Ralf Kilauea and JohnPaul Balak. The station will make history on Saturday and Sunday, broadcasting live from the festival for the very first time and I’m supposed to be part of it. Fortunately for me, Niels seems to understand that this is also my summer holiday, so he won’t be expecting me to spend all of the next two days behind a microphone, but it’s certainly fantastic to be a part of all of this.
We also meet up with Letty and Justin from Hastings’ finest, The Sine Waves, as the British contingent at Surfer Joe continues to grow.
Later we join Da-Ron and Adam in a nearby bar to watch Italy crush Costa Rica. Unfortunately for us (and the watching Italians), Costa Rica haven’t read the script and run out deserved winners, so England are out and we can now properly concentrate on the surf music.
Back at the Diner, the festival proper gets under way. Monokini, from Germany, start proceedings in lively style on the main stage, but once El Ray appear in the Tiki Garden, we know that this is going to be a special weekend. My word they are tremendous. El Firetone is as crazed as ever (although Martin informs me that during the daytime he is perfectly normal) and they rock the joint good and proper. The only slight disappointment is that the new CD has not turned up so we can’t grab a coipy, but I’ll certainly be playing it on HangNine FM, once we’re properly back on air.
Even El Ray, though, don’t prepare the audience for the splendour that is The Phantom Four. This is my fourth time seeing the world’s tallest surf band and, while the other three occasions were great, this time is awesome and plenty of tracks from the new album, Mandira, will also be featuring on my show in coming weeks. Amazingly, Niels, who seems to get barely any sleep all weekend, walsk straight from behind his drum kit on the main stage to the DJ booth in the Tiki Garden and is still wowing the assembled punters with cool surf tunes when we drag ourselves back to the hotel for some sleep.

Saturday 21st
More Brits join the party in the shape of our good friends Keith and Claire, from Brighton and we’re also introduced to Martin, of the Q-Trons from Colchester. Later we’re also very happy to meet up with Andrea Manges and the lovely Linda, who have to drive to La Spezia at the end of the evening and will be back again on Sunday (and have to drive even further after Slacktone finish on Sunday night, which shows real commitment to the cause) and there’s also time to catch up with Dusty Watson, who we last saw in Brighton in May, when the Sonics were in town. Such a great drummer; such a lovely man.
If I seem to be reporting more on the social aspects of the festival, by the way, it is because this, for me, is what really makes Surfer Joe so special: the chance to hang out with lovely people, in a glorious setting, while listening to some great music at the same time. It would be good if it was only the music, but it wouldn’t be quite so special.
I do a couple of stints on North Sea Surf Radio during the afternoon and early evening and also take in some of the Symposium on the Fender Stratocaster (I now know more than I am ever likely to need to about the number of screws on a Strat scratchplate and how that varies according to year!) and Paul Johnson’s (the actual Paul Johnson!) fascinating part of the Surf Guitar Seminar, before heading off to eat and return just in time to catch the last part of Threesome’s thrilling set in the Tiki Garden. It’s been commented on before that surf music appears to attract a lot of female bass players, but threesome buck that trend, with a female drummer (and what a powerhouse Jovana is). I’m already looking forward to seeing Threesome again and I promise to catch the whole set next time.
The Bradipos IV are next up, on the main stage and I enjoy them as much as I have at three previous Surfer Joe appearances, although, it’s a shame there aren’t a few more people watching them. The space in front of the main stage on the Terrazza Mascagni is pretty huge and it’s only quite late at night that it really fills up. I gather that El Ray specifically asked to play on the smaller, more intimate, Tiki Garden stage and I can fully appreciate why they would do that.
Paul Johnson and Friends are next up in the Tiki Garden and provide me with my single most thrilling moment of the weekend, when they play the gorgeous Tally Ho! The Pyronauts hit the main stage next and really rock the crowd, before The Razorblades tear up the joint with an amazingly powerful punk-fuelled set back in the Tiki Garden. I know I’m biased, since I count the Razorblades as friends, but I never tire of watching them and I swear they are the only band of the weekend who have people, amongst them Letty Sine Wave, dancing on the stage (although, to be fair, security wouldn’t allow this on the main stage).
During The Razorblades set, Martin describes Fifty Foot Combo as the best band in the world and their garage-with-some-surf-thrown-in set back on the main stage is certainly impressive and I look forward to seeing them again at the North Sea Surf Festival in Amsterdam in September, although by now I’m so tired it’s hard to take it all in. I really must develop more stamina and, maybe, start the partying a little later in the day.
In the Ungawa Tiki Bar the party continues until daylight, with an apparently very impressive set by The Surfites (actually members of Les Arondes and Les Agamemnonz, in the absence of the studio-bound actual Surfites) and a vocal set from the Bradipos IV, but I’m afraid that I’m back at the hotel and miss out. 

Sunday 22nd
Research proves that the sun is traditionally over the yardarm at 11:00 am (the time that the first rum ration of the day was served in the British navy) and that we have been denying ourselves valuable drinking time by starting later than this, so I resist the temptation of the Precision Bass Symposiumin favour of more socialising in the sunshine over a beer or two. I do, though, see much of the Surf Drumming Seminar, including the hilarious moment when Dusty demonstrates some nuance of drumming by putting Paul Pyronaut across his lap, pulling down his shorts and beating out a tattoo on his backside.
We then gather a large party of Sine Waves, Q-Trons, Razorblades, Manges and friends and head back to the restaurant for my favourite non-musical part of the entire weekend. There really is nothing like spending time with lovely people on a warm evening over a nice meal and a few glasses of wine and the chance to repeat this will, I hope, draw me back to next year’s Surfer Joe.
We return to the Diner and spend some time at the Guitar Rumble, admiring the most amazing collection of Fenders you could possibly imagine. I even spend ten minutes or so playing a lovely 1962 Fender VI (not as nice as my 1961 Bass VI, mind you!) and Keith plays a Precision previously owned by Jerry Lee Lewis’s bass player. I don’t think Keith will ever wash his hand again.
All the eating and gearlust means that we largely miss performances by Watang and Tony Dynamite and the Shooting Beavers, but we do see Bang Mustang, who, despite some frustrating technical problems, are mighty fine indeed.
And so, the ninth (and my sixth) Surfer Joe Festival is almost at an end, but there’s still time for Slacktone on the main stage. Wow! Third time of seeing them in Livorno for me, the first in 2003, and the set has barely changed in that time… and yet… and yet they still have that something so very special. In fact they maybe have even more of it than previously. Of course, Dusty, Dave Wronski and Sam Bolle are fabulous musicians, but it’s more than that and Slacktone is more than the sum of its parts. Fabulous is all I can say.

Monday 23rd
So, that’s it for another year. We have a few hours to kill in Livorno and a last chance for a bite to eat and a quick drink, before heading back to Pisa for the flight to Gatwick followed by a curry in our favourite Brighton curry house (that’s Shahi, if you’re interested) and a weary trudge up the hill and home for bed. Still, the North Sea Surf Festival is in only about three months and the tenth Surfer Joe is now less than a year away! I can hardly wait.
Saturday 28th
What is this? Surfer Joe Part 2? It's the Big Itch Surf All-Dayer at the Green Door Store in Brighton and, unlike last year, all the bands are actually surf bands! And both The Sine Waves and The Q-Trons are playing, as are The Space Agency, although for some barely-understandable reason, their set is moved from 10:00pm to 7:30pm, so we miss them. Never mind, they're playing in Lewes next weekend and both The Sine Waves and Q-Trons are fab. Ok, the Green Door Store is very far from being the Surfer Joe Diner and the weather's not quite so nice, but it's lovely to have the chance to meet up with people again so soon after such a great weekend and there might be another chance when Los Fantasticos celebrate our tenth anniversary on July 11th. And just to cap it all, Clive wins over £200 thanks to his uncanny ability to correctly predict TWO scores at the World Cup!


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