It never rains at the Surfer Joe Summer Festival. I attended the first edition at Marina di Massa in 2003 and this year is my eighth and the eleventh in total. In all of those eight visits, the only rain I have ever witnessed fell as a light shower on the Monday morning after the festival had ended. On the Thursday of the 2016 festival, however, it rained.
After breakfast at our hotel we take a stroll along the sea front to the open air swimming pool. The sky is largely blue, but there are clouds and I quip that, if it should rain, the swimming pool will be the best place to be. After all, you can't get much wetter than totally wet. Mmm... The pool is fed by the sea and the shock of the cold salt water is exhilarating when I climb in, but having swum one fifty metre length, I warm up. We swim some more, but at the end of length number nine the lifeguard comes over and asks if we are Italian. "No, English." "Ah, ok. It is raining, so you have to get out. If it stops, you can come back in." Clearly the swimming pool is NOT the best place to be if it should rain. We clamber out and go to get our stuff, while the lifeguard packs up his parasol and heads inside.
Having returned to our hotel for a quick shower, we meet up with Clive again at the Diner. The sun is shining, the sky blue, almost cloudless. "Can we eat outside?" "No, you have to eat inside, the weather is too unpredictable." We grab some beers and head outside to sit in the shade. In time, the festivalistas start arriving. There's the Hastings crew. There's Ralf Kilauea. There's an American band (in time, I guess, I will know which American band). There's some of The Shar-Keys, although no sign of their drummer, Enzo, who we meet here every year, but who will be visiting family before meeting up with his bandmates later in the day. As the crowd grows and the sun continues to shine, it apparently becomes an acceptable risk for food to be served outside. We eat.
Later we adjourn to an adjacent bar to watch the Battle of Britain. A stunning Gareth Bale free kick gives Wales the lead at half-time and it finally dawns on Roy Hodgson that the Sterling/Kane/Lalana axis isn't working. Sterling and Kane are withdrawn and replaced Vardy and Sturridge. Not long after this, Jamie Vardy does what Jamie Vardy does and it is one apiece. Two get honest a draw seems a fair result, but Daniel Sturridge has other ideas and his twinkle toes dance through a weary Welsh defence to snatch an injury time winner. It strikes me that the Italian commentary adds hitherto unexpected sophistication and allure to common-or-garden British names. Rarely have Rooon-ay, Led-leeee, Varrrrdy and Small-inger sounded so sexy.
We head outside. Oh look, it's Bang! Mustang. With both drummers and the rather disappointing news that, due to an unexpected shortage of drum kits in Tuscany, they will not, as planned, be able to use them both at the same time during their set on Sunday. Instead, Boris will leave the band (for good) in mid-set and his replacement, Lucas (?), will take over.
Back at the hotel, we have a frustrating time attempting to watch Northern Ireland's match against Ukraine. Only some matches are shown on terrestrial television, the majority, including this one, going to Sky. We attempt to purchase access to the game, but no, the hotel no longer offers this service. It seems they have grown tired of Rupert Murdoch's attempts to extort yet more money from them and, frankly, who can blame them? We settle for following the game via the BBC website, but the wi-fi has fallen over and we only regain coverage of Northern Ireland's historic 2-0 victory in the tense closing minutes. Jules is elated.
We eat, once again, at the chicken restaurant and expect the opening band of the festival, M74, to be onstage when we arrive at the Diner. It is 9:45 and they were due on At 9:30. The stage is deserted. In the meantime, we meet up with Enzo, who seems filled with nerves about The Shar-Keys' appearance tomorrow night. We're sure everything will be fine, though. We also catch up with Clarry and Anya, from Streatham, which is always a pleasure. At 10:25, M74 finally take to the stage and, my word, they're worth the wait. This three piece from Livorno, featuring former members of The Ups and The Wadadli riders, have a stripped back, sparse sound. I am reminded of Link Wray. Clive mentions The Cramps. Lean and, at times, savage, they get the 2016 festival off to a great start.
Next up are The Aloha Sluts, with their range of grunged up covers, interspersed with a few originals. They are appreciated by the crowd, but a few drops of rain are falling. At first this seems like nothing, but then the few drops become quite a few drops. I glance round to see Tommi covering the mixing desk with a protective tarpaulin. Quite a few drops become really quite a lot of drops and we head inside. The band seem happy enough to keep banging away, but sanity prevails and they are ushered off-stage to safety.
In the teeth of a howling gale and pouring rain, the crew heroically secure the stage, while several of the tented stalls take one hell of a battering and one topples over almost completely. Meanwhile, the stage in the tiki bar is quickly prepared and we are ushered upstairs, where The Aloha Sluts resume where they left off, although, quite bafflingly, they elect to play a good part of their set for a second time.
It's late. I'm tired. I quite fancy sloping off back to the hotel for some sleep. But wait. It's Los Oxidados, from Mexico, come to rescue the night and fill the tiki bar with joy. They are fabulous and the storm outside is forgotten for now. They are joined at one point by Sven, from Bang! Mustang, almost unrecognisable behind his bandito mask. Just a hint though; wearing your glasses over your mask gives the game away, Sven. We can tell it's you really. On they go, on and on, the audience dancing wildly, the other Bang! Mustangs circulating joyously (and, in Patrick's case at least, drunkenly) amongst us, delighted at their amigos' wonderful show.
Several encores later, they are done and we head into the night.
Like I say, it never rains at the Surfer Joe Summer Festival.