sun 21/07/2024

Nova Festival | reviews, news & interviews

Nova Festival

Nova Festival

The West Sussex event showed good spirit but faced meteorological meltdown

Singin' in the rain

I have to be honest - I didn’t go to very much of Nova. Suffice to say I’d put my name down to review it and then fate threw a house move into the mix in the same week. Nevertheless, relatively undaunted, I planned to head down to the Pulborough site in West Sussex, only 20 miles from where I live, taking my two daughters along. Then I lost my driving license. And then it started raining and didn’t stop.

While I’ve no truck whatsoever with the British media’s obsession with festivals being a misery of mud, dragging children to them in bad weather can be very unrewarding (especially, I reckoned, if returning to a bare house of packing boxes). The point of festivals is to have a blast and catch music/art/culture but hardcore parenting in sleet means you achieve none of these and the whole thing turns into an ordeal. Thus I decided to head down to Nova only for the Saturday with the one daughter (nine) who felt ready to face the elements.

nova1With no car, we trained it over then took a shuttle bus (£5/£2.50 child) to the site. In principle it should have been a lovely little festival, a sort of mini-Latitude with less broadsheet worthiness and more dancing. The location, Bignor Estate, is a country park that mixes woodland with grassland, speckled here and there for the occasion with artworks by Gem Finer, Giles Kent and a crazy golf course that included input from Jake Chapman, David Shrigley and others [pictured above]. In practice, all was a sea of brown. Never mind, the spirit of the far-from-capacity crowd was buzzy and gregarious although friends I met said that a backer had pulled out at the last minute and a number of bands were missing from the line-up. Certainly a couple of acts I went to have a look at were not present [for the record, Nova don't deny or confirm a backer pulling out but state that Norman Jay’s Good Times bus couldn’t make it on site, The Dø’s lead singer couldn’t find her passport and The Phenomenal Handclap Band had a “logistical nightmare" that prevented them attending].

nova2The first thing I did see, however, was in the Zen Area. Amid trees, massage tents and a large group of human rabbits being chased by an Alice (to advertise the evening’s Cinema Tent showing of Jan Švankmajer’s film Alice), there was a group of completely naked men and women painted either blue or fluorescent orange. Most had giant black bubbles instead of hair. Some sort of art thing but just what I hope to see at a festival so a good start.

Every time I went and had a look at the main Valley Stage, there were DJs rather than bands but I ran into the crew from Brighton’s Tru Thoughts Records, an ever-affable bunch whose label has bloomed over the years into a classy home for must-have eclecticism. Their girl Kinny was playing the following afternoon, but they were already to be seen everywhere dancing, grinning and possibly misbehaving.

nova3Thus time was spent drinking cider with a life-size moving polar bear at the Greenpeace Tent, drinking more cider under a large oak tree where the rain couldn’t get us and the grass remained green, and drinking further cider in a friend’s mini-marquee tent when the skies opened and it really started to bucket down. Great fun but hardly the stuff of arts reviews. Eventually, after quickly boiled pasta'n'pesto had been consumed – although there was plenty of non-shite-burger food available on site - we all trouped to see Abandonman, an astounding Irish duo consisting of MC Rob Broderick and musician James Hancox. Best described as improvisational hip hop comedy, they kick off their show with Broderick creating a fantastic rap on the spot based on items from the audience’s pockets. The speed with which Broderick’s mind created rhyming jokes from audience suggestions defied belief and was superbly funny too. If I had not enjoyed the rest of the festival, which I did, my trip to Nova would have been worth it for this extraordinary act.

The main stage then had a band who were pootling away to an ambivalent crowd that gradually grew more animated as they progressed. This may have been Jessie Ware who sings for SBTRKT but I wasn’t paying much attention, it was kind of mellow and so-so and I was mostly having a chat, something I’m not inclined towards when the band is mesmeric.

nova4Soon, as darkness descended, we headed for the Nova Arms, a pub garden-like enclave where the ground was solid concrete but the rain no less fierce. With sodden cagoules around us and Adam Ant dirt-splats newly painted under our eyes, we danced to various of the Clash DJ Allstars on the decks, playing ska, punk and, eventually, bless them, electronic crunchiness. Rain flecked with flashes of stage-lighting hammered down, cocktails poured down, and people swore at the weather but still wobbled and jigged in their army ponchos, upbeat expressions intact (my nine-year-old included, excepting the cocktails). The weather stinks, of course, but not as much as sitting in front of your TV doing nothing, thus I left the festival for my too early train with a good impression bubbling in my cidery mind. Nova’s organisers appear to have their hearts in the right place but had been screwed by the worst summer since 2007 - or is it worse? Either way, they deserve another chance next year.

Watch a little snippet of Abandonman from 2011



Completely naked men and women painted either blue or fluorescent orange... just what I hope to see at a festival


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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