Hastings Fat Tuesday (which is actually a five-day Mardi Gras) is a fantastic little festival.
Nowhere else in the UK has quite the same grass roots music dynamic at play.
At a recent music industry conference in the town, Jeff Thompson, founder of the UnConvention movement, underlined this when he told the audience, from his wide experience of the live music scene across the UK, that as far as he was concerned Hastings is ‘unique’ in the breadth and depth of music on offer every day of the week.
In fact the conference was a vehicle to allow the area (Hastings and surrounding Rother) to declare itself a Music City – a place where music is seen as being at the heart of the community and a key part of the economy.
But what of Fat Tuesday as a festival?
Well, as festivals go it isn’t huge. Hastings doesn’t have massive venues…it thrives on small and intimate spaces. And as Mardi Gras is locked into the end of February the scope for outdoor frolics is limited.
But, those limitations aside, Fat Tuesday packs an enormous punch for an event that is 98% free entry.
The format is one that doesn’t leave you completely breathless from running a marathon – it’s more about short (and sometimes frantic) sprints.
It’s also about quality music.
It has to be. Scientists (well, academics) have proved (sort of) that Hastings is the most musically literate town in the UK.
This year’s programme looked roughly like this:
Friday: Warm-up headline show from featured artist, Marie White.
Saturday: 200 unplugged acoustic sets at 16 venues by 40 roving bands and solo performers, plus a range of fringe venue gigs for the faint hearted.
Sunday: An umbrella parade (New Orleans style), ‘Preservation Sunday’ (a celebration of great music and good food), Thee Sunday Sonics (A one-day feast of avant garde electronic music in the Trinity Triangle), and Off Axis – a live showcase in four venues of some of the best unsigned bands from across the country, all on the brink of greatness. The bands were curated by The Stinger magazine, Off Axis, ACM and The Joe Strummer Foundation.
Monday: A chance to catch your breath with a relaxed evening hosted by King Size Slim
Tuesday: Fat Tuesday (‘Mardi Gras’ in French)…the main event: a night of fancy dress, fabulous feathers, beads, masks and music. Twelve venues hosted ‘The Fat Tuesday Tour’ where 24 bands played 20 minute sets in venues across the Old Town. This year UK Britpop stars Dodgy headlined, and played some amazing sets in tiny spaces.
(Photo set here: FACEBOOK GALLERY)
Whenever there is a multi-venue format there are two options.
Pick your favourite space, find a comfortable spot by the bar, and wait for the music to come to you – or chase the talent and sprint from venue to venue in the hope things are running on time and you’ll be able to get in.
We chose the second approach – and, hats off to the organisers, artists and stage crew, the potentially chaotic programme ran pretty much bang on schedule.
As for being able to get into venues, it was a close run thing at times, but with so many gigs packed into such a small area the worst that would have happened would have been we’d have had to skip next door.
And so to the really important bit – the music.
We saw and heard some tremendous acts – way too many, in fact, to mention them all. But in a few short sentences each here’s maybe the best of what we were able to check out (in no particular order):
Dorey the Wise
Glorious guitar hooks reminiscent of an upbeat Wedding Present, Dorey the Wise lift the spirits and deliver intelligent lyrics in the best tradition of indie songwriting.
Jazzy and dripping in soulful sentiments, Harry Osborne has crafted a band that skilfully insinuates itself into your subconscious with earworm after earworm.
Rapidly breaking out of the covers circuit, Kayleigh Ann has the sort of songwriting style and singing voice that has the potential to put her up there amongst the greats. Dreamy and powerful in equal measures, she’s a tour de force in style and substance.
Marie White is young, serious and seriously talented. With a vocal style that rivals (or indeed surpasses) that of so many singers who have become household names there’s no reason why – with the right songs and the usual dollop of good luck – she shouldn’t join the pantheon of greats.
Oh boy, this is the real deal. The banjo/whistle/accordion combo is tried and tested – but Matilda’s Scoundrels put fresh energy into a genre that for many people stagnated at the end of the 90s. It’s a whole lot of punk and it’s steeped in the traditions of shanty-folk. It’s music to drink to, music to dance to, and music to make you want to live again.
Radio-friendly but still ‘in-yer-face’ live, Kid Kapichi know how to whip a crowd into a frenzy with songs that can sit neatly in the daytime BBC6Music playlist. A powerhouse of guitar riffs meet quirky but intelligent lyrics in a head-on collision of elemental forces.
Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs
Fun, fun, fun, and fun Hobo Jones takes no prisoners so don’t take you maiden aunt along expecting her to not be shocked by this potty-mouthed trio. Do expect to have a fantastic time in the presence of talented musicians with a sharp sense of humour and a neat dual line in originality and parody.
John Sterry’s Billionaire project is an enigmatic one. The current Gang of Four front man has been creating sonically sparse pop-noir for the last couple of years with critical acclaim but under most people’s radars. There’s an echo of 80s influences, but this is way more than a homage, it’s an enthralling and compelling journey into the lush realms of Sterry’s musical imagination.
The French duo of Barthélémy ‘Barth’ Corbelet and Delphinius ‘Del’ Vargas take their delightful studio material on the road with a live band – and tonight they are joined on stage by Dan from Skinny Lister. The Bosco Rogers sound is full of fun, but the sugary-sweet topping disguises darker motives below the surface.
The Wonk unit formula is simple, unreconstructed punk attitude served up with a couldn’t-care-less approach to style. It’s the sort of music that slaps you hard around the face and wakes you up to the fact that you have to try harder to live life to the full.
Let’s get this out of the way. Two beautiful girls leading a guitar-driven rock band could easily be passed over as a gimmick. But do yourself as favour and get over it. Nova Twins are here to save rock’n’roll from stagnation. This music is 100% legitimate, straight down the line, pure adrenaline packed…and stadium-ready.
Hastings Fat Tuesday 2018 should already be in your diary. If you just pop along for a day or decide to take advantage of off-season hotel rates and make a long weekend of it you won’t be disappointed.
Hastings’ venues, pubs, and restaurants are what people look for when the go to places like Brighton but increasingly struggle to find. Authentic, independent, and quirky, full of friendship, and well worth taking the time to explore.
And the quality of the bands and acts who play at Fat Tuesday reflects the type of gig you’ll find happening pretty much any night of this week in this most musical of UK towns.