Review: Caught By The River Thames Festival
Nestling on the banks of the River Thames sat a weekend festival making its London debut. Caught By The River Thames comes, naturally, from the Caught by the River folk who, for the best part of a decade have been working towards, in their words, “stepping out of daily routines to re-engage with nature.”
Having put on a number of live events in the past, their latest outing took over Bishop’s Park in Fulham for two days and delivered a pleasing spread of music, art, poetry and film, with conservation playing a big part in the general feel of the occasion.
The first thing to mention about Caught By The River Thames is that the setting was absolutely beautiful. Stepping through the entrance, it felt like walking into a local village fete. To the left, the historic Fulham Palace was open to wander around, while at the back of the site was a walled garden, with huge sunflowers, greenhouses and lawns, upon which punters kicked off their shoes and lounged in the afternoon sun. There was also a Poetry Chapel, which is exactly what it sounds like, and rooms within the palace screening films and hosting talks. In the middle of the site was the main stage, which was circled by vendors serving delicious food from across the world and craft beers.
After Saturday had seen Kate Tempest, Low and Beth Orton amongst the attractions, Sunday afternoon got going with a fascinating talk between Chris Packham and Lauren Lavern. Packham is an engaging character. A passionate, awkward, funny chap, he was expertly guided through the hour-long conversation by the ever-friendly and likeable Laverne.
They touched on a range of topics based around the content of his new book. It was interesting to hear him speak candidly about everything from mental health to punk via badger poo, and everyone in attendance now knows how to survive a baboon attack. The passion with which Packham spoke about wildlife – particularly endangered animals – was truly inspiring and ensured that the large crowd remained listening intently to him in the sweltering sun, rather than venturing elsewhere to seek shade.
After some ludicrously delicious gelato and a stroll through the palace, it was time to check out Gwenno. The Welsh singer, formerly of The Pipettes, is now a solo artist of some acclaim following her debut album, Y Dydd Olaf. On the record, which is named after a 1970’s dystopian novel, she sings in Welsh and Cornish. Indeed, she did so here too but, while the language and its meaning may have been lost on the majority of the crowd, the sunny sci-fi vibes were not, as her electro sounds provided a chilled out soundtrack to an afternoon on the lawn. She set the scene well for the headline act.
Before the night’s main attraction though, Temples did a fine job of keeping the sun-kissed audience entertained, with a collection of psych-rock tunes which were upbeat and catchy in a Tame Impala kind of way.
The diversity of the entertainment on offer was illustrated by the fact that, just as Temples were about to take the stage, there were two interesting alternatives. Roy Wilkinson hosted a Music, Nature & Water Quiz on the Waterfront Stage, where rounds included the naming of bird sounds, while in the Palace Picturehouse, Dark Satanic Malls was a truly superb, brooding short film which journeyed deep into the Essex estuary.
As the set set behind the palace and day turned apologetically into night, it was almost time for Super Furry Animals. “Almost” is the correct word, as there seemed to be an interminable wait between Temples and the final act of the day.
The scheduling left over an hour’s gap between the two bands with little else in the way of entertainment. There had been some cancellations from the bill this year which caused such gaps. Had the weather been less climate, this might have been a drag, but an hour laying on the grass in the walled garden watching bees dance through lavender was hardly a hardship and certainly more pleasant than your usual festival experience.
The Welsh wizards arrived just in time to ensure that this delightful festival ended with a bang. The five-piece belted out a greatest hits set with all the trimmings, including the famous Power Rangers helmet, the instructional placards (“applause” “louder” etc), the costumes and a dazzling light show. These fun embellishments added to a genuinely magnificent collection of songs which spanned the sparkling career of a band who do things entirely their own way. Opening with Slow Life, they carried on through Rings Around The World and delved back to their early work for Hometown Unicorn and The International Language of Screaming.
Hello Sunshine was an appropriate soundtrack for the festival and Juxtaposed With You proved itself to be even more necessary and meaningful now than ever before. If we need a 21st Century anthem, then one with a gentle, swaying chorus of “You’ve got to tolerate all of those people that you hate,” is surely it.
These two songs showed just what this group does. They bring people together with their positive vibes and singalong music. And of course they can bang out an indie-pop banger. Golden Retriever and insane new single, Bing Bong, are examples of this. As the night reached its denouement, Mountain People started the familiar SFA path towards a wonky techno climax and The Man Don’t Give a Fuck got weary legs bouncing up and down and tired voices yelling along for one final hurrah.
After the Welshmen had reappeared wearing yeti suits to end the song and the festival, the crowd filtered happily into the London night in the knowledge they had witnessed genuine, barmy genius.
All-in-all then, a quite lovely first outing for Caught By The River Thames. Hopefully this is an event which will continue to garner support, as it deserves to be a staple in the festival calendar
Keep up to date with Caught By The River on their website.
Words and pictures by Bobby Townsend.