If you were looking to have a new and eclectic festival, who better to curate it than a respected and influential independent record shop, ( hello, Drift Records!) and where better to house it than a hippy intellectual enclave in the south west (yes, that is you, Totnes!) .
It’s near the sea, so the three lovely record shop organisers called it Sea Change – motto, I Can Sea change. I knew it was to be a special weekend when we woke in the bijou campsite in the dairy fields of Dartington estate to find a table laden with free tea, coffee, milk and flasks of hot water. Then Bob the Community Bus arrived to take us the short trip to town.
The five diverse venues were mostly close together in the High Street, where every other shop is a cool café or organic eatery. The opening ceremony was led by Ways with Weirds, two poets who really are undertakers. It had a death and rebirth theme, in the little used Civic Hall where Blondie and 90s raves once shook the tiles from the ceiling – now reborn with a line-up so diverse that even I could not appreciate all of it... full of new discoveries whose records Drift liked and had connections with.
A full-on Membranes rock show was preceded by lead singer and writer John Robb being interviewed about his love of science by John Duran of the Quietus, who later curated a stage in the S Devon Arts Centre featuring his mates like Teeth of the Sea and Bo Ningen...you get the picture. Incidentally, Teeth were so powerful my friend ran out screaming during the first number, joining several other deafened partners on a big leather sofa outside next to a ping pong table.
One of the finest venues for both architecture and acoustics was the 13th C St Marys Church (no bands til 4pm on Sat because of a wedding, when the large festival Bar Open sign was discreetly replaced).
Highlights here were 20 year old Holly Macve from Yorkshire who walked up from the train station with her guitars and sang just like Loretta Lynn, Alasdair Roberts in a trio with Stevie Jones from Sound of Yell and Alex Neilson of Trembling Bells, and James Yorkston with Jon Thorne from Lamb and the stunning voice and sarangi playing of Suhail Yusuf Khan from New Delhi, as heard on their hypnotic and emotional album Everything Sacred.
James then went on to tell anecdotes from his life and two books as part of a spoken word bill in the Birdwood House art gallery.. and then played acoustic solo at a perfect venue, the tiny but welcoming New Lion Brewery.
New Lion had brewed some special beers just for the festival, including British Sea Power IPA (100 numbered bottles – I drank no. 22!), named for the headliners and big name draw who packed out the final session at the Civic Hall. Totnes has two other breweries, including brew pub the Barrelhouse who hosted great dance music with Bizarre Rituals and guests such as Neil Landstrum of Planet Mu and the wonderful Throws, made up of the founders of folkpsych favs Tuung. The two singers played opposite, staring into each other’s eyes.
Perhaps the best new discovery of the weekend was Ultimate Painting, one of several acts referencing the 60s, in this case the Beach Boys and the Byrds. Shame I missed them solo on New Lion’s intimate staircase. Other highlights were BC Camplight roaring out his soulful songs in a big black hat and coat with a bottle of red wine in one hand and a keyboard in the other, and 30Lbs of Bone playing his sad slow laments to a seated Civic Hall. Then it was rocking out with Brighton’s version of the Beautiful South, Pure Conjecture, featuring new Heavenly artist Rose Elinor Dougall.