“There’s only one thing that unites Britain, whether you’re a monarchist or republican, Tory or Labour... And that’s the crappy British weather.” From Applecart’s main stage Billy Bragg summarises the Jubilee weekend better than anyone. It may be June but the only thing London’s summer weather guarantees is its unpredictability.
Presumably Applecart Festival’s organisers are aware of this. They prophetically opted to house all the stages inside tents, allowing respite from the frankly miserable festival conditions. Pimms goes unsold and ice cream cones play travel Guess Who with Flakes while, in typically British fashion, tea sales spike. Even the Village Mentality games are suspended not long after the pantomime horse derby. But to call Applecart a washout is to miss the unique charm of this family festival.
It succeeds in producing London’s only aerial display of the day as 50 one-metre diameter balloons are released during Bragg's set, to the delight of children in bright green ear protectors and oldies in rapture at his classics set. The very dapper-looking Bragg claims the antidote to our weather is reggae music, and delves in to Bob Marley’s One Love with the lyrics changed to “Let’s drop the debt and feel alright”, causing the sing-a-long of the day. There’s no Jubilee-bashing from The Bard Of Barking, there doesn’t need to be.
Reggae music isn’t the only source of warmth. Piff The Magic Dragon in the cabaret tent breathes a spark of lightening and toasts a marshmallow with a flaming mouth pipe. This might be overselling it. Piff isn’t a fire breather; he’s a short grumpy man in a dragon suit doing card tricks, which, by very definition, is brilliant. Assisted by Mr Piffles, a Chihuahua also in a dragon suit, Piff makes tiny fluffy bunnies appear and does the simplest card trick for five-year-olds, before playing Mr Piffles like bagpipes. Wonderful, what more do you want from a day out?
It’s this non-music side that sells Applecart. Age-inappropriate comedy sets from Shappi Khorsandi and Rich Hall are marred only by the spacious blanket contingent sitting down, causing the cagouled majority to loiter at the tent’s edge under the relentless dripping. A truly inspiring aspect was The House Of Fairy Tales where kids could go through an entire film production process in 40 minutes, including script, make-up, costumes, rehearsal and filming, as though in your own Never Never Land.
Music-wise, in all honesty, Applecarts’s a bit limp. Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat do lazy Sunday humility and later on the same stage Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves Of Destiny sound like a hipster Bluebells (you know, the Young At Heart song), but they fail to distract from checking Twitter to see how miserable a time everyone along the Thames is having in the open air.
Even Gaz Coombes, on the 50-minutes-behind main stage, falls into listen-to-my-new-album-even-though-you-won’t-know-the-songs territory after misguidedly playing his single Hot Fruit second. His album Here Come The Bombs is a phenomenal debut, but the plodding tracks aren’t strong enough to prevent heckles of “play Caught By The Fuzz”.
Our One To Watch, Lianne La Havas, looks amazing on stage with white puffed shoulders and a vibrant smile. She’s clearly humbled by the huge crowd as she takes a photo from the stage, yet with every performance she morphs into a superstar. The vocals during Forget are raw and thunderous, and she’s utterly compelling as she owns the crowd for an epic finale of Is Your Love Big Enough.
Being a family-oriented festival the finally settled 40-year-old demographic is handsomely catered for, with Adam Ant and a Kevin Rowland DJ set being big draws. But the day is owned by the credibility shunning, and fellow early 80s hitmakers, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, who literally make the rain disappear. The Coconut trio are inappropriately dressed for the weather in skimpy leopard print, much to the attention of the dads in the crowd, and Kid Creole resembles The Joker in a purple suit and pimp hat. They only play three songs, but Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy is stretched out to about 15 minutes of hypnotic salsa fun causing spontaneous conga lines to weave through the crowd, and children to go dappy to the bongos.
Applecart is only two years old. It hasn’t developed yet, and it’s unclear what it’s going to become. The music line-up isn’t good enough for a standalone music festival nor is the comedy and cabaret thrust to the forefront. It appeals to all tastes while focussing on none. Essentially it feels like a Crouch End street party for young families on a large scale, with nostalgia mixing with the hip n happening. Perseverance is a very British trait, but Applecart might be too much of an underdog to survive.
All photography copyright Andy Thornley with kind permission.