Saturday, 30 July 2011

Why Ben & Jerry know what they're doing

Last Sunday I went to Ben & Jerry’s Sundae Festival on Clapham Common with a couple of friends and the family. A lovely day from start to finish, what made it so beautiful as well as the weather, the free ice cream and the music was the atmosphere and goodwill endemic all day.

My ticket cost £17. Cheap for a music festival, I probably would have paid it alone for Maxïmo Park and Gary Numan, who I’ve either become or have always been a fan of. That’s without taking into account the free ice cream. I had 7 scoops (2 fewer than my sister), which alone would have cost more than £17 in shops. It wasn’t just that I got to eat so much or try out 4 new flavours but it was the way it was given out. Liberally, with a smile on the distributors’ faces and no checking that you weren’t having insane amounts.

It wasn’t just the ice cream that was free. The helter skelter and coconut shy - which I did with my brother - you’d usually spend a fiver on. The carousel and hoopla likewise. It was this sensation of everything being free and no-one trying to get money off you that I loved. Even the programmes were handed out for free. At Hop Farm (which, if you read my blog post on it, you’ll know I still loved) you had to pay £6 after you’d already paid £70 for a ticket. Here, you were given them for free with a £17 ticket. Great for kids too, in addition to the free sideshows numerous activities were laid on – biscuit decorating, a group just playing air guitar and inviting kids to join them ‘on stage’ and a Ben & Jerry’s Farm among others.

I didn’t see many of the early artists as was getting hold of all the ice cream I could, though I hear Sound of Rum were particularly good (this was from my dad who’s become infatuated with them, bear in mind). I just saw glimpses of them and Stephen Fretwell before the whole of Numan and Maxïmo Park. I consider myself a Numanoid (part of his army of loyal fans) and he didn’t disappoint. Not as much keyboards as I’d have liked, and the balance meant you didn’t hear as much of his voice as you hear on The Pleasure Principle, but brilliant to see him. Watching him perform ‘Metal’, ‘I Die: You Die’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric’ was almost worth the money alone. He looked to be enjoying it as much as if not more than the spectators near the front to see him, and it was quite something seeing someone you idolise while he’s still going strong.

Headlining were Maxïmo Park, who I made myself get into knowing I’d be seeing them – and indeed probably wouldn’t have listened to if I didn’t know they were playing Ben & Jerry’s; but I’m pleased I did. Lyrically, they’re not The Smiths, and there isn’t a huge difference between their three albums aside from the third one being inferior to the other two. But they’re good at what they do and put on a good show. Energetic frontman Paul Smith got the crowd going, and it was nice (after Numan, as good as he was) to hear tracks sounding almost exactly as they do on the album. I really enjoyed them.

Metaphorically and literally, the festival left a good taste in your mouth and I’m sure will pay off for them. The next time I’m buying ice cream in a supermarket Ben & Jerry’s will be the first I look for. Not just because I now know I like all the flavours - having tried ones I'd never normally risk buying - but because I know I’m supporting a good cause (as far as companies go): a brand with as good ethics as any and 100% committed to Fairtrade, which everything that could have been at the festival was, by the way. I’m sure any money they lost by providing so much free ice cream that they could have made lots charging for will be soon made up. I'll be back next year.

Note: If you like music reviews, check out the excellent Brotherspork - a music blog some friends created

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