My tenth Zappanale, and the first since 2002 without Poppa John. But I was glad to come: dancing madly and singing loudly, the skinny girl made it clear that she didn’t come here for the beer (hi Princess!). Have to say that this year’s headliner, Mister Eddie Jobson, was the best final act I’ve ever seen. Ever. I didn’t expect him to play so many Zappa tunes, I must say: Läther (which he was too coy to introduce by its original title, though he did relay the cute band’s in-joke behind the new name), a funky City Of Tiny Lites (re-united with Ray White after 33 years), Inca Roads, Muffin Men (during which he played a sample from Philly 76 so Frank could teach us the words), Purple Lagoon outro...add to that Caesar’s Palace Blues, In The Dead Of Night, Crimson’s Red and Zero 2 (Marco Minnemann’s drum solo cum magic show), and we had ourselves a show and a half. Afterwards I spoke to Eddie about the wondrous Marco, and he said, “Yeah, he’s coming along nicely”! Alex Machacek did a fine job replicating Allan Holdsworth’s licks (even during Läther) and Marc Bonilla slotted into a Wetton/Lake-like role superbly. Before the festival, I’d arranged to sit down and chat with Essra Mohawk at some point, and that finally happened during the finale which we spent rapping in a caravan backstage with Bob “not some blabbering Canadian smiley-face with a pipe in his mouth” Dobbs. I knew Sunday was gonna be the best day musically, and I wasn’t wrong.
Gary Lucas played the breakfast show – just him, his guitars and a trailer-load of effects. Starting with some improvised messing around the riff of King Kong, he went on to play She’s A Rainbow, some of his solo material, and a couple of tributes: Sure Nuff ‘N’ Yes I Do (as on Waxed Oop) for Don, and Grace (which he co-wrote) for Jeff Buckley. This was a very fine way to start the last day, and when he played much the same set a few hours later on the truck stage, I was there once more to inspect it at slightly closer quarters. Stonking.
Now I’ve known Evil Dick for some time, but I’ve never actually seen him in action with his Banned Members. And know now what I missed when I went home after ICE-Z with my head spinning: I should’ve stayed for their disco set, which would have been the perfect antidote. They certainly seemed to impress the audience here with their mainly two-horn led set of originals. They also played a bonkers Circle, in homage to the recently deceased Wild Man Fischer, plus the song that Frank claimed he didn’t write for Geronimo Black, Fallin’ In Love Is A Stupid Habit. But their own wonderfully juvenile titled ditties did the trick and won us over...which, typically, seemed to miff Ben Watson, who has been lobbying the Arfs for years to have them play here. Dr Evil had time to pick up a prize he’d earned from Ben & Bob’s three days of quizzes, but had to leave before the rest of us were forced to read from Finnegans Wake (personally, I’d much rather have sung something from the fillum – like How Are Things in Glocca Morra? Hi ho). The Plastic People Of The Universe had a young rhythm section, but still seemed stuck in the 60s - not helped by covers of Take Your Clothes Off... and Trouble Every Day (with Mantis on guitar). But they nearly stopped me in my tracks when I saw their Gamma lookalike, Vratislav Brabenec, on sax. Next on the main stage was Chris Oppermann, backed by Project Object and Robert Martin (on sax and keyboards) and the scrummy Liz Cary (on violin – she is known by some as Gypsy Rose from Blackmore’s Night, and I got to ask her ‘What is Ritchie really like?’ - nuts about football, she said). Playing a set littered with Zappa (with André Cholmondeley playing the part of the devil during Titties & Beer), it was all leading up to Oppy’s epic, The Porpentine. Enjoyable stuff. Young, gifted and weiß, worthy of further investigation this lad.
Another chap I’ve known for a while is Hans Annéllsson and, like so many other online buddies, it’s this festival that finally brings us face-to-face. And here was Hans with his band, The Vegetarians, playing a ‘deadly medley’ that included many tunes rarely (if ever) performed here: Bow Tie Daddy, Frogs With Dirty Little Lips, Baby, Take Your Teeth Out, For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers), Charva...add to that a few of their own songs, a couple of prog rock classics (Prince Rupert Awakes and Afterglow), Harry Irene and Norwegian Jim - all played in the Veggies lovely lilting way – and you had people talking, really smiling. Can you dig it? Jono El Grande, and their silly white suits, signalled time for a walkabout - didn’t even give ‘em a chance.
Having acquired their Too Big To Fail album, I was expecting an unplugged set from Fido Plays Zappa. But no. Electric, but not eclectic: ‘crowd pleasers’ played with zip and vigour; had they taken a leaf out of Hans’ book, they might’ve been nudging Project Object for best act so far this weekend. Caught Robert Martin singing a top rendition of Whipping Post with Hot Fur on the truck stage before Colosseum’s set. It seemed they brought a lot more fans in for Saturday night, and what a joy to see Chris Farlowe, Clem Clempson and Dave Greenslade here. Afterwards, founding member/drummer Jon Hiseman said, “This was probably Colosseum’s last ever gig. Barbara [Thompson] has Parkinson’s Disease and it is now too hard for here to play and I cannot come on tour and leave her alone at home. But we went out with a great gig, at the top of our game - I have no complains.” Here, here!
And so to Friday. We arrived with the possibility that the festival may have to be cancelled: recent events in Ottawa, Indiana and Belgium meant a delay while the weather decided what it was gonna do. Better safe than sorry, and (happily for us) it meant we only missed opener Terence Hansen - who was pretty fab by all accounts, but there ya go. Fortunately, things quickly got better and it was game on. The first act we saw was Essra Mohawk, who entered stage-right to a brief Uncle Meat introduction courtesy of former Grandmothers’ Sandro Oliva and Mauro Andreoni. She commenced with the apt Above The Storm from her Essie Mae Hawk Meets the Killer Groove Band CD. Although she’s had a lengthy career in music, most of the first-day festival audience was unfamiliar with her material and her lengthy set was probably better suited to a small club. But the Garrick section (comprising her Archgodliness Of Purpleful Magic and Frank’s Call Any Vegetable/Invocation And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin), Sandro’s tone-perfect solo during Stuff Up The Cracks and the omnipresent Lucas’ guest spot (The Devil’s Got To Move Along and the Captain’s Party Of Special Things To Do) were certainly highlights. Mosae Festival faves The Yellow Snow Crystals were relegated to the truck stage ‘cause of the inclement weather, but entertained again with their minimalist reworkings of the maestro’s oeuvre. And so to the first day’s real highlight: were it not for Zappanale, Project Object would probably never play outside of the States, and it means I’ve now seen them three times. And they’ve yet to disappoint. Featuring the mighty vox of the Othello Brothers, Ike Willis and Ray White, they kicked off with Filthy Habits, aided and abetted by Chris Opperman on trumpet, the afore-mentioned Liz Carey on fiddle, and Co De Kloet on kindly intros. Their set was a blast: though Ray was inaudible during Can’t Afford No Shoes, we had Robert on harp for In France, a fine bit of tinkling from Eric Svalgard on Twenty Small Cigars, some crazy Colaiuta shit from Ryan Berg on the Keep It Greasey out chorus, and Mr Lucas pimping Willie The Pimp. Until Eddie played, this was the toppermost of the poppermost.
At some point during Eddie’s set, the ashes of our dearly departed Gamma were scattered in a field adjacent to the Galopprennbahn by his son, Frankie, the Gamma women (viz, his partner Tami and first wife - and Frankie’s mother – Elaine), and the Watson tribe. He would’ve liked that.
No train or plane fubars this year, just the usual fun and madness. Yessir, had me a real good time - sure hope to see you there in 2012.