To Newhaven last Saturday, an uphill climb to the fort for the music/culture event Fort Process. Having to work in London that morning, I didn't arrive until the middle of the afternoon (it kicked off at 12:00). On the way from the station to the fort I was latterly engaged in conversation with a middle-aged man who looked like he might be a performer and asked him who he was. He didn't say, but told me that he was playing with the headline act Peter Brotzmann - I later discovered he was Steve Noble, a legend of the free improv scene - oops - it's an area of music I've occasionally dipped my toe into over the years, but I'm no expert.
The main reason I went was because two of my friends English Heretic and Haunted Shoreline were giving talks in the 'School Room' (both of which I missed because of aforesaid late arrival). I was intrigued by the location and the few acts that I'd heard of and it was reasonably local to Hastings. Walking around, I was hugely impressed by the venue. In the 1960s and 1970s Newhaven was our regular family holiday destination and we stayed on a caravan site close to the fort - in those days it was dilapidated, dangerous and strictly off limits, surrounded with barbed wire and deep ditches, but to a teenage boy it had a massive mysterious appeal - it was not that long since the end of WW2 and perhaps my interest in underground sites and tunnels was already festering. Before entering I wandered up the road to the caravan site, only to discover that it's been completely built over, as are the fields opposite where we used to watch horses graze.
I had no idea of the size of the fort and was shocked when I gained access - it's very large (and deep) and I'm not sure I managed to see all the parts of it over the course of the afternoon and evening. I'm sure I'll regret not making more of an effort to see everything that was going on (and there was a lot), but performances were taking place all over the site, some in tunnels and subterranean spaces, others in bunkers looking out over the sea, or in former barrack rooms or storerooms. A large nissan hut in the considerable open space in the centre of the fort was home to many of the more 'well-known' performers and was where Peter Brotzmann chose to play at the end of proceedings. An inflatable stage had been erected in the central space, but there was lots of room to wander round, and tables and chairs to sit at. The good weather really benefitted the event - you could stand or lie on the ramparts and watch the sun set, look dreamily out to sea, while a cacophonous noise was taking place behind you or wander in and out of other events in the central area.
I really liked the fact that there was no heavy security whatsoever - ie. thuggish men searching bags for bottles of water and sandwiches to be wastefully confiscated, or telling you where you could and couldn't go - you could wander around wherever you wanted - some events took place in a really deep cellar down a massive steep staircase - quite a hippyish vibe actually. Some of the musical installations were a highlight for me: the glass harmonica; motorized plastic strips flailing against a wall sounding like a fountain etc. The audience was surprisingly young - the Brighton contingent? - many of the usual suspects with huge Hoxton beards and tattoos.
From the small amount of music I heard the band I enjoyed most was Ex-Easter Island Head, who were probably the most conventionally 'rock' of all the musicians there - an invigorating propulsive mix of Steve Reich and Glenn Branca, with obvious memories of Sonic Youth concerts in the 1980s - they hit electric guitars on tables with mallets and have a powerful drummer - go see. A real contrast with the Artaud Beats who seemed too studiedly precious and anti-rock for my tastes - sad, as they featured a number of ex-members of Henry Cow. Other highlights were John Butcher who summoned up unbelievable sounds from a saxophone and Peter Brotzmann and Steve Noble (a formidable drummer) - I have to say that Brotzman sounded exactly as I expected him to, but even so it was impressive to witness - it started on a climax and built up from there, as they say. It was also lovely to meet up with Haunted Shoreline again. A really great event.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact