Damon AlbarnA very special performance by one of the world's leading contemporary musicians was given to a small festival crowd in near-freezing conditions in a muddy field outside Marlborough at the weekend.
OneFest – billed as the UK's first music festival of the year, and the successor to last year's community pub-related HoneyFest – was headlined by Damon Albarn, the maestro behind Britpop champions Blur, cartoon band Gorillaz and more leftfield works like 2007's Oriental pop-opera Monkey, Journey to the West.
Before arriving at the festival site, at Rockley on the Marlborough Downs, Albarn was seen in Marlborough shopping for thermal clothing – and with good reason: by the time he took to the stage at 8.30pm the temperature had dipped to a positively chilly five degrees.
Albarn was at OneFest to play songs from his new concept opera, Dr Dee, based on the rise and fall of the Elizabethan mathematician, scientist, alchemist, occultist and inspiration for Marlowe's Faustus, which premiered at last year's Manchester International Festival.
Populist it wasn't, and anyone up for a warming jump-around to jaunty numbers from the singer's back catalogue was in for a shock.
Albarn brought with him a gaggle of seven classical musicians playing 16th century instruments, including the recorder and the lute, instruments from West Arica, including the kora, and three vocalists, including some wonderfully haunting falsetto from Christopher Robson.
Name-checking nearby Silbury Hill in the sublime Apple Carts
, the star himself delivered vocals, guitar and keyboards from behind a harmonium. The first half of the set was performed without introduction or explanation, before he broke into his trademark grin to gently mock the crowd: “Is everyone getting a little cold? Well, you did turn up in a field in April.”
He then insisted on playing the lively Watching the Fire That Waltzed Away – the only upbeat song in the set – twice “because it will help us get warm again” and warning the crowd that “that's as much excitement as you'll get – it kind of goes back in on itself now.”
The performance was a teaser for the release of the album, which comes out in May, followed by the London premiere with the English National Opera this summer, and was probably the only time an outdoor festival crowd will get to hear the set.
It was a demonstration of how seriously Albarn took the performance that he had brought along his parents and his daughter, whom he welcomed from the stage.
As the set finished – with Albarn playing an old 78 vinyl record on a vintage portable turntable – he thanked the audience and the organisers of the festival, and later took to Twitter to say “OneFest was a brilliant experience, a lovely festival and there for all the right reasons, I'll be back."
If he does return, he'll be in good company. Michele Stodart, who performed at HoneyFest last year as one quarter of harmonic pop rock band the Magic Numbers, was back again as a solo artist to perform a reflective folksy set.
And folk rock band Dry the River were back too. Canny Marlborough music lovers will have caught their intimate live set at Azuza back in March, courtesy of record shop Sound Knowledge
And when the five piece played at Honeystreet last year they performed as relative newcomers, having only just released their first single.
This year they took second place on the main stage, having just returned from a 9,000 mile slog across America to promote their debut album, Shallow Bed.
“We did it in an RV,” vocalist Peter Liddle told the crowd. “We did all the tourist stuff – Niagara Falls, giant redwoods...”
“... but to be honest it doesn't get better than this,” interrupted bassist Scott Miller, who had chosen to maintain his rock god image by wearing a sleeveless vest. “I thought it might make us all feel warmer,” he joked.
Dry the River played a blinding set worthy of a headline slot; an eclectic mix of folk and heavy rock. The penultimate song, Bible Belt, was – said one Marlborough festival-goer – worth the entry fee alone, while their final song, Lion's Den – also the last track on the album – swelled from a pastoral ballad to an ear-splitting wall of sound which left the crowd baying for more, and looking forward to OneFest 2013.
How do we tackle speeding traffic and Marlborough villages cut in half by busy roads? This was the question for which over 80 local people wanted an answer at yesterday's seminar (Tuesday, March 13), Traffic Planning for Rural Villages at Kennet Valley Hall, Lockeridge.
Ben Hamilton-Baillie, renowned traffic consultant, looked at how parish councils might reduce speed, handle parking problems and better manage their traffic.
Anyone expecting suggestions of more road signage, more road markings and lots of unfriendly warnings to motorists were in for a surprise; quite the opposite.
Ben showed how removing the usual highway furniture and markings could not only enhance the appearance of a village, create more tourism and improve the viability of pubs but also see a reduction in speed and a more considerate motorist.
With the aid of some revealing real-life pictures and inventive use of Photoshop enhancements, Ben gave rise to excited murmurings by demonstrating how appealing to the subconscious mind could be a more powerful behaviour changer than marking a road with the word 'SLOW'.
He showed how one village had counteracted their large and obvious 30mph sign and command to 'slow' with the continuation of the central white line and a chevron bend warning. “You are telling motorists to drive slowly,” he said, “but then helping them to speed as quickly as possible through the village.”
The key in villages and towns was to give signals that drivers were entering a community, rather than the continuation of the highway. Standard highway signage and markings encourage drivers to feel the village road is their territory. Take this away, create a village space, and ownership is given back to the community and drivers become well behaved guests rather than unthinking road users.
Removing standardised signs forces drivers to think. This makes them drive more slowly and more carefully. Controversially he suggested that: “The only way to make a place safe is to make it dangerous.” In other words, to make it safer for pedestrians, you have to put more hazards in the way of drivers to make them engage their brains and consider the world around them.
Ben was also keen to highlight important features of the community: a paved area outside a pub, a road design that drew the eye to a village pond, a courtesy crossing outside a church. Traffic would still drive over these places but with more respect and awareness of their surroundings. Motorists are funnelled into the pub car park rather than past it, and admire the church rather than it being a building on the side of the road.
Pie in the sky? Ben had plenty of examples both locally and in Europe where this had worked a treat.
West Meon in Hampshire on a busy commuter route had seen traffic speeds fall by three to four miles an hour by removing white lines, changing the design of the road and highlighting village features.
Seven Dials in Convent Garden London, a busy junction of seven roads, saw the transformation of driver behaviour by the replacement of a traditional roundabout with a sundial pillar complete with seating. The junction has became a place where people sit and socialise, successfully encouraging motorists to drive slowly and more considerately.
Amazingly, the reduced speed and relaxed driving also meant traffic flowed more smoothly.
Ben cautioned that villages needed to take responsibility for their own 'design speed'. Increasingly, he said, county council highways will have neither the resources or the knowledge to effectively manage traffic through villages.
And the parish councillors present, unanimously agreed. There was broad and enthusiastic agreement to work with Ben to reclaim our villages back from the roads. Henry Oliver, director of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, also voiced his support.