Monday, 28 July 2008

Ben and Jerry's Sundae Festival @ London Clapham Common

Main Stage @ Ben And Jerrys Sundae

The Ben and Jerry’s Sundae Festival on Clapham Common, London may at first glance sound like my idea of festival hell. It is as heavily branded as you can possibly get. From the moment you walk through the gates and a man on stilts shouts “Lovely gorgeous free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream here,” you know that the motive for this festival is not just about the music. This is an exercise in advertising and marketing, that hopes to turn you into a satisfied Ben and Jerry’s customer, ready to make safe decisions on auto pilot about how you consume your ice cream in the future. Yes, these days even ice cream consumption is a lifestyle choice.

Luckily, and some may say arrogantly, I am happy to accept Ben and Jerry’s attempts to persuade me that the personal experiences they offer today for just £8.75 a ticket will affect my ice cream purchasing in the future. But I can assure you they won’t. Yes, my perceptions of the company may be altered by the raft of fair trade and charity stalls that occupy the site; but boo hiss, just by changing my perception of a companies ideology will not change my consumer habits. Yes, the quality of the product may be good, with a wide range of flavours that are available to eat in copious amounts today for free. But just because of this, please don’t expect my purchasing thoughts to change. Yes, the scorching weather and emphasis on fun exemplified by an area dedicated to Mystic Moo, the future predicting, yoga demonstrating cow will make me feel happy and potentially associate Ben and Jerry’s with good times. But still I will not be adding their ice cream to my shopping list. The reason ? Because quite simply, I don’t need ice cream in my life. At best I probably buy 3 tubs of the stuff a year. And no matter how nice it is, how ethical it is and how much zany fun it may be, I am afraid I’m a fairly useless candidate for ice cream marketing men. Just say no kids. Remember, as Neil Boorman wrote “There is but one message underlying all brands; materialism.”

So for my £8.75 ticket I will say thank you very much to Ben and Jerry. Yes, Jerry himself is here today, and gets a huge cheer when he arrives on stage to introduce a band. Then I will act in an ugly, disgusting and unhealthily nauseous way by stuffing free ice cream into my face until I’m almost sick, even though I don’t need or particularly want it, shovelling down the free pancakes, stuffing the free Frusli bars in my bag to take home afterwards ( I fill a whole bag ) and enjoy some top notch live bands. Corporate branded festivals may not be my idea of heaven, but I’ll enjoy the ride whilst it lasts. And so after failing at the free Coconut Shy, whizzing down the free helter skelter, having had my photo taken with a giant fluffy chicken, stroking a sheep in the animal zoo, watching toe wrestling and laughing at banana jousting its time for the real reason I am here. Live music.

Unfortunately it seems that a fair proportion of the crowd are less bothered about the music. At times the event resembles a massive picnic orgy, with vast numbers of the crowd sitting on their £10 a piece, cow hide pattern picnic blankets supplied by those lovely folks at Ben and Jerry’s. Yes, remember that message that underlies all brands folks; regardless of emotions and ethics they present to you, they want your money.

So, the music. Fight Like Apes are a late addition to the bill. Having incessantly listened to Lend Me Your Face in the last couple of weeks, and having blogged them just a few days ago, they are an exciting proposition to behold. MayKay is a strong and forceful front woman, a goth in silver hot pants, her hair whipping violently as she pulverises her keyboard before wrestling to the ground with fellow keyboardist, the bearded Pockets. It is often Pockets that is the real star of the band, head butting MayKay and walking to the front of the stage, straight armed and just staring at the audience like an escapee from a mental hospital.

Fight Like Apes

Slow Club are a more gentle proposition. Admitting to being very nervous, the gentle acoustic alt. country folk sound that this brother and sister duo produce sounds just right for a sunny Sunday afternoon, lounging on a picnic blanket in a park.

Next up on Clapham Common, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. 22 year old Sam Duckworth has ditched the laptop and brought in a full band, which one may think would lead to a loss of originality and charm that his early solo sets brought. However his activist folk rock works well and the additional musicians bring an extra dimension to his sound, his set featuring a large number of songs from his first album. Duckworth jokes with the crowd about how good it is to get out and play again, after spending several days grouting. Phew, the rock and roll lifestyle, hey ? Here is Sam and the boys as shot by Breaking More Waves.

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly as shot by Breaking More Waves

Just a few days ago The Lemonheads played Truck Festival and by all accounts were arrogant and appalling. Luckily today a different, happier blissed out Evan Dando takes to the stage and reminds everyone why he became a sex symbol for the slacker generation back in 1992. The band play every track from It’s A Shame About Ray in the order that they are on the album except for the cover version of Mrs Robinson, and the die heard Lemonheads fans in the audience physically swoon. Those too young to remember the band first time around look on in puzzlement.

Which leaves headliners Ash to wrap up events. With just one new song on show, this is hit heavy. Girl From Mars, A Life Less Ordinary, Burn Baby Burn and Oh Yeah are thunderous rock pop played straight and all the better for the lack of rabble rousing.

So thank you Ben and Jerry. Thank you for being close to your cows through your caring dairy sustainable diary programme that makes happy cows and happy farmers. Thank you for being the first ice cream company to buy fair trade certified ingredients. Thank you for using free range eggs in your ice cream mix. Thank you for being a company that cares about global warming. And as Abba once said, thank you for the music.

I’ll probably be back next year if the tickets are cheap and the music is good.

But I’m still not buying into your techniques of persuasion.


emmdee said...

so what was your favourite flavour?

Robin said...

I liked Mango Berry Swirl sorbet best, especially on a hot summers day. The chocolate flavours were just too sickly for the weather.

I pressume you mean flavour in a old fashioned sense not as in hip hop gansta flava stylee, as in what was your favourite band....