Howard Marks and Kevin Bridges at Rockness 2010, the world's 'most beautiful' festival
Tim Clark14 June 2010
Such Small Portions jumped on an overnight sleeper train to a weekend at the Rockness Festival in Inverness – and found Howard Marks, Kevin Bridges and Blondie waiting.
I have just become the unwitting doorman to one poor girl’s chemically induced trip. Sarah, a blonde who was probably lovely if we had met under more normal circumstances, was scrabbling around on all fours looking for her shoes inside our tent, having mistaken it for her own - and she wasn’t leaving. “Honestly, she’s not with us,” we plead to the paramedics tailing her – and it’s true; we’d never seen her before.
God knows where she’d come from, but she could have done with some advice from Howard Marks, one of the world’s biggest proponents of illegal substance use and former drug smuggler who was performing at the Rockness Festival weekender, Inverness’s most famous export besides Nessie.
Outside the Howard’s End comedy tent – named after the man himself – Marks, smoking nothing stronger than a cigarette, gave us five minutes to talk festivals, some Eastern/Western philosophy behind his 1984 song Three Men in a Boat and, of course, illegal substances.
Anyone who has listened to the veteran poet will know that he is not one to mix his words. “Different states of consciousness are a good thing... Everybody should have the right to kill themselves,” he says, chuckling.
He’s telling us about why full legalisation of drugs is so important. His set, a humorous monologue into the dark heart of his much storied life, is full of such pontificating. So is there any drug that shouldn’t be legalised, we wonder? “None that I’ve done,” he says, “and I’ve done pretty much every drug there is.”
So there you have it.
Beside Marks, I could be excused for being a little apprehensive at the idea of heading to Rockness. Apart from the fact that it was the opening weekend of the World Cup, Inverness is also at the other side of the UK, and the festival’s name alone induces thoughts of two days spent limiting the injuries caused by a horde of hardcore Metal fans.
However Rockness is actually a much more sedate affair than the name suggests. Maybe it was Marks’ influence, maybe it is the frankly stunning setting of Loch Ness behind the main stage, but the festival had a friendly but vivacious vibe which would make it included as one of the friendlier of the summer festivals south of the Scottish border.
Despite the distance Rockness is easier to get to than expected. Departing Euston on the Caledonian Express after a quick pint post-work, before long you find yourself waking up to the snow-capped peaks (yes, there’s still snow even as we come up to the summer solstice) of the Cairn Gorms National Park with a cup of tea. We've never arrived at a festival feeling like a 19th century explorer before but could get used to it.
Though comedy only made up a small part of the weekend’s line-up, Howard’s End did provide some comedy highlights, with Rob Heeney and Tiernan Douieb swapping MC duties on the Saturday and Sunday, Heeney - who at 39 was experiencing his first festival - quickly worked out the average festival-goers psyche and dropped his normal set to simply shout abuse at anyone in the crowd who caught his eye.
While it isn't pretty it worked, they lapped up the insults with glee and were even happier to have their ears blasted by Marty McClean – who could be Canada’s angriest comedian.
After a brief sketch explaining why it is ridiculous to expect anyone to use ‘reasonable’ force when confronted with a burglar McClean decided to bait the audience by insulting one of Scotland's most famous new comedians, Kevin Bridges. “Fucking Kevin Bridges,” he shouts, risking the mirth of every Scot present. “Oh, so I make one fucking reference to your golden boy and you’re fucking mad. Kevin’s a comic; he can take a joke. Fuck off, I’ve already arranged that him and me are going to drink and do drugs all fucking night tonight.”
There is no doubt that Bridges is Scottish comedy's new hot property. Managing to sell out Glasgow’s SECC Arena just over a week before his Rockness gig his set in the Clash tent was so busy people twenty yards outside leapfrogged each other to get a view of the 23-year-old, who, having started on the stand-up circuit at 17, is probably comedy’s youngest veteran.
Surprisingly, and despite performances on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and BBC Radio 5 Live’s Fighting Talk, Bridges isn’t a household name outside of Scotland. But with his quick-witted Glaswegian charm it is almost certain that we will be hearing more of him in coming years.
Other memorable Rockness moments included the ABE (Anyone But England) brigade delighted by the drivel England produced in the one-all World Cup draw with the USA, and an excellent set from comedy rap troupe Abandoman.
Abandoman, aka MC Rob Broderick and guitarist/singer James Hancox, or "Ireland’s seventh-most popular Hip-Hop act," - treated an up-for-it early afternoon audience to a highly amusing, high octane set. Tracks included interactive freestyle What’s in Your Pocket – which sees Broderick freestyling about the Tampons, iPhones and passports offered up by the audience – and an ode to a gardener called Dave – a man’s whose dream is a bore a hole through the core of the Earth to Australia. “You weren’t great at geography, were you,” Broderick quipped.
The last thing we were to witness from our first venture to Rockness was standing at the top of hill that opens up a stunning panoramic view of the Loch, where we caught Blondie rocking a crowd soaked by multiple downpours but euphoric on Eighties mega-stardom. Sadly, London called and we were dragged away from a chorus of Heart of Glass, latterly missing Vampire Weekend and The Strokes.
Rockness is not the biggest festival out there, nor does it boast the highest profile comic line-up, but Rockness 2010 the eclectic mix of pro-drug ranting and veteran musical gems culminated in a great weekend. One to check out next year, (Howard) mark our words.
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