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The Rhythm Is Still Gonna Get Me

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Before we start, I should explain that I’ve always loved music festivals. This is nothing new, but as I am approaching 50, I am perhaps enjoying them more than ever. This year, I helped behind the scenes rather than on stage at Rhythms of the World in Hitchin and it gave me a whole new perspective.

Of course, in the UK, even summer music festivals mean encountering rain. Lots of it. Usually in a field where the ground rapidly turns to mud. My experience of live music is generally as a performer rather than a member of the audience, which holds some benefits.

An Access All Areas pass means there’s always somewhere to dry off and get a cup of tea, it also usually means hanging out with like-minded people and listening to bands from the side of the stage, where the sound might not be perfect but the vibe is awesome. Unfortunately, being part of the organising team often brings responsibility for the elements that make a festival fun, or even things like putting the signs back up on the ladies’ toilets.

Working on a festival requires the ability to self-manage and motivate. Stuff needs doing. Do it. If you don’t know how, then ask someone. Spending the day before festival lugging signs around the site and trying to avoid patches of mud is par for the course.

People sleep in cars and charge laptops in the production office. They make daily sorties to Starbucks to stock up on caffeine and wifi. They go to briefings on safety, licensing, ticketing, passes, and remember somewhere along the line that there are some great bands that have to get on and off stage. When they finally arrive. And when they’ve made it past the security, mud and fans, all conspiring to ensure that not a note gets played or sung.

Rhythms of the World is unusual in that for ten quid (a bit less than $16 US) you can see bands with international reputations alongside those with a local fan base that for the rest of the year doesn’t extend much beyond their friends and family.

Highlights of Rhythms of the World this year included The Damned, one of the most exciting British punk bands from the 1980s and still as good on stage today, reggae star Little Roy and awesome UK rapper Speech Debelle. Rapping is fairly new to the leafy suburbs of Hitchin and some of the crowd were decidedly bemused, but she was well received, partly because her band was amazing.

The thing about a festival like Rhythms of the World is that – with 140 bands on seven stages over two days – if you don’t like a particular artist, you can be sure that there’s another one on soon or on a different stage that you will love. I was introduced to the delights of Polish punk from RUTA, who have to be seen to be believed, with their combination of folk and punk. There were also some delightful singer/songwriters who took to the stage single-handed to woo their audiences on the more intimate stages. I particularly enjoyed Lee Clayden, who’s great on the ear and just as good to sit and stare at for 40 minutes.

Who even knew that Blair Dunlop, the only actor to play a young Johnny Depp in a movie (Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), could sing like he does. At only 20, he stole not one, but two stages and had to spend several hours signing CDs for his newly-adoring fans.

Rhythms of the World takes in Bollywood and Irish dancing and a taste of Brazilian carnival in the shape of drumming troupe Toque Tambor. The music for the weekend seems to come from every corner of the world and then back again to local bands who just want the chance to play in front of thousands, come rain or shine.

A summer of festivals across the UK gives loads of scope for new introductions – I have a feeling that next year is going to be just as busy as this has been, even without the Olympics. And it’s a Glastonbury year, which promises great things. Probably including mud.