Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Vintage at Southbank...another impression of the day.



I spent most of the weekend before last at Vintage at Southbank. Now I need to get one thing clear, I had a ball. This was because I was involved in the Chap Olympiad. This was with a group of the most committed yet most un-up themselves retro types you can find. The event even in truncated form is entertaining and the ‘great British public’ turned out to be great sports and the sun shone on us. In return for rolling up and making fools of ourselves for several hours and being photographed into oblivion we had free passes and some free refreshments. So for me it was basically a week with people I like and respect, helping others have fun. Win win really although quite exhausting, time had to be taken out of the day job the following Monday to recover.

The festival itself was an odd beast. The bulk of the vintage shopping available was outside as was the High Street which seems to be one of the distinctive features of this particular event. And both were free, as was the Chap Olympiad although sadly the organisational side of things was a bit of a mess, we were not signposted and helpers at the Hall didn’t know who we were despite the fact that the Olympiad was all over the printed publicity. I could not help feeling that the complaints of those who paid £60.00 per day for access to the Festival were understandable. Inside the Festival Hall the music/performance side of things appeared to be DJ top heavy and there were fewer live acts than I might have expected, especially as entry to the main Revues incurred extra charges on top of the entry cost. There was also no effective air conditioning so it was very, very hot. I have heard however that the Festival organisers might not be responsible as the Hall has been having problems with this in recent weeks. Sadly dancing in the Let it Rock and Black Cotton Club areas was near impossible as a result which was a shame. 

Sitting on the grass day 2

I am also, and this is me personally, ambivalent about crafting and painting workshop type events. I find them a bit ‘middle class person at a boutique festival’. I don’t want to trim a hat or make a skirt when I am skittling around with my chums drinking beer and looking for music. That’s not to say that fashion shouldn’t take a centre stage and in fact this is where I think the Hemingway’s are really on to something. I think more fashion, maybe millinery and make up demonstrations; talks and lectures would have been great. I felt these would be more effective than having girls queue up for ages to have a makeover. Perhaps rows of mirrors and hairspray and Kirby grips could be provided for them to play with. I would have liked far more fashion shows; in fact a day of them would have kept me happy. Although I am biased I really wish that last year’s Chap fashion show had been repeated as I was sad to miss it at Goodwood and I feel that self-styling is at the heart of British fashion. Featuring some of the major repro brands and perhaps a ‘sub-cults’ of Britain show would have been entertaining as would more menswear.

Unsurprisingly I loved the British Airways fashion show which I really enjoyed and which the organisers did a good job of sourcing. I liked the Style Lounge on the upper floor balcony which was some kind of discofied thing, not my cup of tea but the music suited the space and it looked like the people up there were really enjoying it. It was startling to see so many people dressed up and often dressed well, especially those who probably don’t do so regularly: all those young girls ditching asymmetrical bagginess in favour of a pretty dress and a flower in the hair was a refreshing sight.  I didn’t make it into the Warehouse Hacienda style basement as I just didn’t fancy that on a hot summer day in a hot building and being an 80’s girl I felt no need to revisit. Dancing the hokey pokey with hordes of jivers later in the day was however hilarious and the John Miller Orchestra who were headlining kept us happily there until late on Sunday night. As a local girl I also bitterly regret missing the opportunity to dance the Lambeth Walk around the Festival Hall!  The atmosphere, especially when the place thinned out in the evening reminded you of what an involved friendly and interesting crowd of people the Hemingway’s were (partially) catering for.

Bethan, myself and Fleur squaring up to Mr Wax..

Perhaps the festival was really intended to be a mass market taster for the general public tapping into the current craze for all things vintage rather than an event for the aficionado. Most big successful festivals do not start this way, they cater for a core group, and when they start doing that really well they naturally expand, and naturally make money.

It was an ambitious and no doubt costly event to put on, a first in that venue and held at time when we are watching our purse strings. Many festivals catering to the retro crowd are big but they are also very good value, having said that if a festival is good it is a crowd that will spend large amounts of money. I know people need to make money but the truism is these things work best when they are born out of enthusiasm, for music, era and the community attached to it and sometimes I got the feeling there was not enough love there. Actually that’s not entirely fair there were obviously lots of people involved who were very committed to its success. Certainly although we were there as Chap Olympiad peeps, we worked hard (particularly Bethan) to make this a good spectacle for anyone who turned up to watch/participate. Similarly I saw lots of people I know happily explaining their clothing to visitors, smiling at tourists and having their photographs taken with children; this is not a cliquey elitist bunch of people.

I would have liked to have said hello to Mr Hemingway himself but I didn’t see him (although I get the feeling he is probably growing sick of seeing us). It must appear that people are possessive and critical of an ‘outsider’ barging into ‘their’ scene but I don’t feel that is really the case. When things go wrong it is easy to be smug when my attitude is that I want to see people do well. I have also always respected people who do things rather than sitting around talking about them.

Chap olympiad peeps day 1

The organisers should get some grass roots people from the various scenes together to see what did work and what might work better rather than relying on people supposedly higher up the food chain. I do think there is a market for a festival inspired by the past which includes cultural, style and fashion elements in addition to those already out there. Disorganisation, rude minions and the odd useless PR person can be set against the most cheerful jive and lindy instructors in town, Viv the Spiv exhorting observers to get dancing and those house fans going nuts on the balcony.
Pictures nicked from Ed, Manthe amongst others...
Were you there, what did you think?

6 comments:

Lady Midge said...

I agree with you. I feel that it really wasn't intended for vintage enthusiasts. It seemed to me that the people playing fancy dress were having an alright time, but I was left disappointed. Also, I think the choice of venue was deeply flawed and not just because it was unbearably hot in the music rooms, there definitely was a lack of atmosphere as well.

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