Discovering Wide Lying Smiles…

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Being an ‘events blogger’, I imagined at the end of Folkstock Festival and its post-event buzz that I would log off and submit my Folkstock Festival Musical Notes to the cyber pages of internet history. An archive of reviews and ramblings, pretty pictures and ever less impressive video qualities (Youtube videos of tomorrow are going to project life-sized, holographic images of bands directly into my bedroom so that I can go to a gig without so much as moving my hand to wipe the drool from my ever fresh-air depraved mouth, right?) that would serve as a good point of reference for all involved to see how far they’ve all come – artists, Folkstock brand and all.

But as my blog’s lain dormant, the Folkstock community has remained very much alive and kicking in the heart of …well, Hertfordshire (too much?) and as I’ve tagged along for the ride; dropping in and out of the local music scene at various stages of its bubbling progression – much the same as I did over the festival period itself – my blogging fingers have itched to dance over a laptop keyboard to the catchy melodies that have surfaced over the last few months; attempting to articulate with words alone the talent that I’ve seen growing.

However, it can be daunting to try and capture the passion and inspiration that flows out of guitars, vocal harmonies and lyrical genius on the pages of a website; and quite frankly, I didn’t really have a clue whether I was doing it right the first time around!

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But the Krakatoa moment in my music blogging ‘career’ came last weekend, Saturday 8th March, as Nick and The Sun Machine’s debut album Wide Lying Smiles burst onto the scene. From my seat in the dark corner of the  Alban Arena stalls, subtly trying to peer around the couple next to me that were caught up in a mood far too physical to have been ignited by the electric opening chords of ‘Acid Rain Clouds’ (however exciting the immediate burst of music may be!), the energy and flawless musical chemistry that came from the stage for the entirety of Nick and The Sun Machine’s set moved me. So much so, that I knew I was going to have to write about the experience.

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In fact, the beauty of the new L.P is that that in itself it delivers an experience – stepping away from the atmosphere of a live gig, the smooth quality of the sounds in the album recording easily allow you to drift into a relaxed state of listening; an eclectic mix of rock, pop, and folk, each track manages to flow seamlessly into one another, yet still deliver melodic surprises.

I picked up my copy of the album on my way into the St Albans Arena gig, instantly intrigued by the artwork. Created by St Albans local (and Bass player Joe White’s brother) George White; the cover shows an eye-catching pattern of psychedelic colours overlaying an image of a 16th century Memento Mori pendant: a symbolic reminder of mortality; that we are just flesh and bone.

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Wide Lying Smiles album artwork

It was hard to gauge from the curious but modish album cover what kind of sound, or even genre, the music of the album would reveal itself to be. I’d already bought a copy of the acoustic teaser release; Quiet Lying Smiles from a gig at Trestle Arts Base (where Nick and The Sun Machine are playing again on 29th March) some weeks ago, but the tracks definitely sound somewhat different to the clear-cut, high quality sound of the rock/folk/pop influences at play in Wide Lying Smiles.

Quiet Lying Smiles

Quiet Lying Smiles E.P

So from my chair in the familiar dark surrounds of the Alban Arena, I waited anxiously for the notes of the new album to prove themselves. I already had the CD in my bag; now it was up to Nick and The Sun Machine to convince me that I actually needed to listen to it after tonight.

Having recorded the debut album from April to June of last year, I’m sure the four-piece band – Nick Stephenson (Vocals), Simon Hadwin (Drums), Joe White (Bass) and Michael Scott (Guitar/Keyboard) – were feeling a mix of excitement and pressure as they began to play; marking the official launch of the album in front of a home crowd – but if they did, it didn’t show.

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Resonating through the auditorium, the up tempo ‘Acid Rain Clouds’ was the perfect introduction to the evening. Unfolding to allow each member of the band to present their talents, and lead singer Nick Stephenson the chance to flawlessly showcase the smooth tones to his voice, I wasn’t surprised to learn afterwards that this is Nick’s favourite recording on the album. Other than reminding him of a happy time creatively (which shows in the way he performs it) Nick explains “the arrangement by the rest of the band takes it somewhere I would not have envisaged initially… that’s why we are a ‘band’ as opposed to a singer with backing musicians”.

‘Ask Me For My Name’ and ‘Baby A’ were among the crowd-pleasing tracks that followed, but the pinnacle of the evening for me came with the change in pace and atmosphere that ‘White Chalk’ brought with it. The haunting acapella harmonies that make up the first few bars of the song were spine-tingling as they echoed out through the venue, making the performance seem all the more intimate than before. Given how distinct this song is, I was pleased to find it’s the opening track of the L.P.

The real gem in Nick and The Sun Machine’s song writing crown however, (can you put crowns on sun machines? Do song writers even get given crowns – or do they just shack up with Drew Barrymore and sleep under pianos like that average yet pleasant Hugh Grant film? … I diverge…) was the brand new and (as yet) unrecorded song; ‘One Thing’. With an edgier rock feel and an undeniably strong rhythm, this seemed to the song most people were discussing in the foyer afterwards

Concluding with ‘Fast Learner’, Nick & The Sun Machine ended the set to rapturous applause, and the kind of support that makes me so fond of St Albans – though I have no doubt they would have (and will) provoke the same reaction elsewhere.

Nick sun machineI thought about Nick Stephenson’s words that many of the album’s songs were penned in a creatively rich period ignited by listening to the album ‘Let England Shake’ by PJ Harvey:

“… I heard that and thought it was one of the most powerful records I’d heard in years, and it just set me off writing most of these songs – it influenced not ‘how’ we sound but more the thing that drove the writing” he’d explained;

and I found myself listening harder for the signs that Blur, Jane’s Addiction, Wild Beasts, The Beatles and Beach Boys were also all creative influences for this album, as I listened to it for the second time on my journey home.

Oh yeah, and something about Toploader.

wide lying smiles cover ‘Wide Lying Smiles’ is now out. More info can be found at http://www.nickandthesunmachine.co.uk

It’s awards season and Folkstock has joined the party!

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The Festival may be over, but it feels like things are just beginning…

As you probably know, the Folkstock Arts Foundation community interest company was set up in February of this year, and we are delighted to have won a place in the finals for two Hertfordshire Business Awards: for Hertfordshire Business in Community Award and Business Person of the Year (for our Festival Director Helen Meissner). Herts_Business_finalist
The next stage for the 5 finalists in each category, is to be visited by the judges and the announcements are made at the Knebworth Barns ceremony on 28th November.  Other Herts based finalists include Harriet Kelsall Jewellery from Weston, who is a highly feted entrepreneur who co incidentally has been a great supporter and sponsor of Folkstock Arts Foundation musicians!

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A week later, on December 2nd, the UK festival awards announce their winners in London’s prestigious Round House, which until the end of October also incorporates a public vote. We are thrilled to be included in the nominations for 5 awards, including Best New, Best Small, Best Grassroots, Best Toilets and Best Family festival! Other Herts based festivals are also nominated for various awards, or can be voted for by the public if you go to the Festival Awards website and all of these listed had Folkstock artists performing or indeed whole stages managed and curated by the foundation for acoustic musicians – they are Standon Calling, Wilkestock, Balstock and Folk by the Oak.

You can vote until the 1st November if you feel so inclined, for any festival you have enjoyed.  If they are not nominated, you can suggest them for ‘Best of the Rest’. To vote click here.

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Message from the Festival Director:

“We are thrilled that the awards nominations have given us another chance to promote the foundation which will increase the profile of the musicians who are associated us. Many Herts based musicians were included in the 16 who have been on our mentoring, marketing and masterclass programme this year and they have performed at a number of events put on by the foundation this year. However, we are not sitting on our laurels, in fact, regardless of the outcome that getting this far in these lovely awards has afforded us, we are in a very exciting developmental time.

Following on from Folkstock Festival just over a month ago, we are broadening the existing support for acoustic musicians to provide more opportunities for
them to make a living from music.
Introducing Folkstock Represents and Folkstock Records”.

10 things I loved about you, Folkstock:

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This time last week Folkstock Festival had drawn to a close. This week, I think my blog is drawing to a close too. Aside from our wonderful videos, which will be posted up shortly (I’ll notify all my readers via my Folkstock twitter feed when they are completed and uploaded), I’d like to sign off with my 10 favourite things about Folkstock Festival. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my ramblings and perhaps there’ll be a Folkstock Festival next year, that I’ll see you all at?!

1. The “game for a laugh” mentality.

This blog, although often carrying a serious message, is meant to be a bit of fun. I was invited along to blog from a young person’s perspective – and that’s the tone and style I’ve tried to keep. My blogging team were set the same task. Sound editor and interviewer Mikey D interviewed many of the artists, and came up with some unusual lines of questioning. I love that everyone was game for a laugh! (That bizzare conversation at the Morris dancing performance… that was us. sorry).

NOTE: You’ll also find the full results of Mikey’s ink blot tests on this sound bite too!

2. The tone.

I loved that Folkstock Festival didn’t take itself too seriously. I was a  little worried that it could become commercial – but it stayed true to its independent festival ethos the whole way through. image

3. The banter.

I love it when artists are able to connect with their audience. And better still, when they are down to earth enough to be able to laugh at themselves, and invite us (as an audience) to laugh along with them. Lucy Ward got this spot on! She laughed  at herself, we laughed at her, she poked fun at us (mostly for not singing along loud enough), we played along (mostly by shouting her songs back at her). It worked.

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 4. The dress sense.

Thanks to Espiritu, there was colourful hair galore at Folkstock Festival! And in fact, some people had got the memo and arrived with their own various funky hair colours ;). I loved that people just felt relaxed and comfortable all day! Most of all Nick (the Nick and The Sun Machine variety) who kitted himself out at The Grand Vintage Fair stall before going on stage!

Photo by Steve Beeston Photography

Photo by Steve Beeston Photography

5. The sing-alongs.

There was plenty of this going on last Saturday (21st September). I must admit, one of my favourite sing-alongs was at the Turn Up The Sun stage – an enclosed space (like a circus tent) perfect for this kind of activity – and was with the band Ryewolf: they were just fun, and played the kind of traditional folk music that has you tapping your feet and clapping along.

Ryewolf

Ryewolf

6. The freebies.

Some festivals give away wristbands and glow sticks. Folkstock gave away hair styles, updos, hair chalks, braids, head messages, foot massages, etc. Thanks to Espiritu Spa and Salon!

Espiritu salon and spa

Espiritu salon and spa

7. The quirky extras.

There were so many good stalls at Folkstock Festival. I loved the CD stall (Talking Elephant), but my favourite quirk of the day was being able to enjoy a cuppa from a china tea cup and not a styrofoam cup! Thank you Time 4 Tea!

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8. The food.

Pizza stand with a stone-fire oven. Crepe stall. I don’t think I need to even say anymore.

9. The family element.

Anyone who thinks kids wouldn’t enjoy a folk festival, or would end up getting bored – should have come to Folkstock.

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10. The Memorable moments.

This pretty much includes the whole festival. Beginning to end. From arriving in the morning with no clue what to do (sorry to mention it Helen, but you missed me off of the production mailing list… :) ) – luckily the cars either side of us in the car park included Lauren Deakin-davies (Helen’s daughter) on one side – who verified who I was, and a kind stranger on the other side, who by chance had printed off a spare production car parking pass, and gave it to us! (thank you so much, whoever you were!) to snapping my tent pole clean in half when putting my tent up in the evening (luckily, ever the problem-solver, I remembered I had some children’s plasters in my bag [I'm a hands-on Auntie] which I used to hold it together). It was the kind of fun, crazy, random, exciting day I’d hoped it would be!

Poor tent post

Poor tent post

A couple more testimonials, from those taking part at Folkstock…

 “It’s been a good day; the audience are really chilled out which is cool. I’m happy to be involved and its been a good for a first year. I’ve done a lot of festivals this summer, and this one has got good set up – the sound doesn’t bleed between stages.” – Luke Jackson

“Folkstock’s on my front doorstep; I live just across the field, so I thought I’d come along!” - Anna Wendean

“It’s a great little stage (the Alt Stage) with its own audience. I really enjoyed it.”Roxanne de Bastion

“We’ve been doing well – lots of people are buying things and one of the artists (Nick Stephenson) even bought one of our flags to wear on his stage! A European Union one of all things! He’s playing at 2.30 on the Alt Stage. I’m going to watch.”The Grand Vintage Fair, St Albans

“It was really good; I really enjoyed it and it was a good stage to play on. I’m glad I bought the flag and hat from the stall (Grand Vintage Fair) too: they sent people our way!”- Nick Stephenson

“It’s been busy and we’ve just been grabbing passers-by and pulling them in – they’re loving it! I just can’t wait for the salon to open now!” -Epsiritu staff

Some of the people I chatted to

Some of the people I chatted to.

One final review, from Altitude Arithmetic

Altitude Arithmetic Reviews: ‘Folkstock’ (21st September 2013) 

Words: Priya Garg

Altitude Arithmetic was invited to the inaugural year of family-friendly trad-mod folk/roots fusion acoustic music festival, brainchild of Helen Meissner and home for a day to more than 70 artists from local to more nationally known performers and debut to veteran professionals at ‘Folkstock’.

Four dedicated stages were erected in the rugged leafy green fields of Aldenham Countrypark, just south of the pink streamer-covered visitor walkway and completed with everything from singing/ukelele workshops to various arts & crafts stalls, a selection of ciders, ales and the occasional wandering face-painted, stick-banging Morris Dancer….

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

My lasting message from Folkstock Festival…

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I’ve made no secret of the fact that Folkstock is all about providing a platform of opportunity. Of course the Folkstock Foundation, which the festival was born out of, was established to support new and emerging acoustic, folk and roots musicians and help to bridge the gap between artists and the harsh business and marketing world – which is the ethos of the entire event – and I’ve written before about the fact that the festival was used to launch local business: Espiritu, but there’s an underlying current that runs a bit deeper than that, in my view.

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As you may well know, Folkstock Festival is being used as a case study for social and community research by Dr Linda Wilks, and I’d like to put my two-pence worth in (that’s what a blog is for, surely?).

Whether realising the extent of this or not, Folkstock has allowed me as an individual to explore some of the links between professionalism; breaking into a career path, and the way that a combination of student media and local events can help one to realise their potential.

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Earlier in the year Festival Director Helen Meissner approached me, as the then Editor of Hertfordshire Students’ Union magazine; BlueMoon, to write an article about Folkstock Foundation, the festival, and its lead-up events. I was able to include the piece in my ‘Talent Issue‘, which I’d hoped would provide exposure to the many positive things that the students at the University of Hertfordshire are doing; the research taking place, the awards won, and also advice from graduate peers and a spotlight on ways and places to showcase said talents (cue the article about Folkstock). I’d also hoped that my team of writers, photographers and designers responsible for creating our magazine would gain some recognition too.

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The article featured in BlueMoon

It was a ploy that worked well. After sending out a copy to Helen (as I did with all the interviewees and contributors external to the university) she researched me and found I’d blogged for the St Albans Film Festival for its debut year. All of a sudden I was agreeing to become the official blogger of Folkstock Festival (bringing a student’s eye view to the proceedings) and my associate editor; Kealie Mardell (an up and coming music journo) was given opportunity to interview the festival team and artists for the UniVerse Newspaper.

Better still, unbeknownst to me, the model of one of our featured photos was being signed up to perform at her first festival.

Natalie Denise, as featured in BlueMoon Magazine

Natalie Denise, as featured in BlueMoon Magazine

I have to give credit to photographer Saahil Dossani of S.H Photographic for his stunning photo of singer/songwriter Natalie Denise (which incidentally won a Student Recognition Award for Student Media’s Best Photo). This captured Helen’s eye and with a bit more research, she had brought Natalie on-board (I can’t stress enough how appreciated it is when professionals take the time to follow up on individuals!).

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Natalie did a great job on the Folkstock Presents… Stage on Saturday. You’d have never known that this was her first festival performance; her sweet voice and moving lyrics of her song dedicated to her nan (Little Hand) – which she is using to fundraise for the Alzheimers Society – had the audience captivated. I hope this leads to good things for her. Find out more about her charity single here.

Never one to miss a trick, you may have read already that I took a small team with me to help with coverage of last Saturday’s festival. There was two reasons for this: the first hope was that between the three of us, we would be able to get some form of coverage of as many artists as possible; whether it be photography, video, audio interview, a tweet, or simply notes on my page – and secondly, because I knew it would give an opportunity for my fellow UH students to put their skills into practice in a real, live event environment.

Eric Sawyer, our videographer for the day, is an enthusiast for all things media, and is set to take on the role of head of Hertfordshire Students’ Union television outlet this academic year. He has filmed many of the acts at the festival and is currently completing post production work and editing footage ready uploading on this blog. All of which will be making its way to our video page.

 

Audio editor and interviewer Michael D’Souza was the Assistant Station Manager for Crush Radio last year. I invited him along after listening to his repertoire of interviews on SoundCloud and remembering that he was looking to explore radio further and make industry contacts. There came a brilliant moment when I was covering the Main stage when BBC Cambridgeshire’s Sue Marchant, who was host for that stage, commented before Pauline Alexander & Edwin Gallagher’s set that radio’s don’t do enough to support these kinds of events.

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Ever the one to challenge things, I raced to my blogging team and suggested Mikey D carry out an impromptu interview with BBC’s Sue Marchant addressing that issue. Listen to the result of that conversation below:

So all in all, students and community do go hand-in-hand – and when a local organisation and event gives us the opportunity to step-up, I think we media-folk can produce great results in promoting local talent, and in turn can help promote our own talents. I think we all gained something from the festival on Saturday; whether it be exposure for the artists or exposure as journalists, bloggers and media producers.

Exposure and opportunity: that to me is the lasting impact of Folkstock Festival.

Stay tuned for my last few summary posts coming up over the weekend and lots of videos too!

We Are Not The Same – but we have similarities…

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Even with an All Access press pass – and being the official blogger of Folkstock Festival, the blogging team still had to queue up this Saturday at Folkstock to speak to eighteen year-old Luke Jackson (behind all the other press in attendence) which really is credit to his popularity! (I said in my post on Livelikeavip.com that perhaps next year we may be seeing artists such as Luke being regulars on the celebrity gossip blog).

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But Luke was still super friendly and obliging when we set Mikey D the task of carrying out a ‘memorable interview’ – and he was the only other person at the time (until a later interview with Lucy Ward) who saw the same images in the ink test as me! Funny, that the two acts whose lyrics I felt I connected most with (Luke’s Last Train and Lucy’s For The Dead Men) answered in the same way! – They must have a similar mind to me (poor people)!

Anyone get the feeling that Mikey D‘s ‘thorough research’ came from the previous post about Luke? Here’s the ink blot tests that Mikey and Luke are discussing in the interview.

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1372811_10200609948992353_1983452303_nMuch of this week, whilst sitting in little area that I like to call Folkstock Blog HQ, I have been kept motivated by the sounds of Luke Jackson, and his debut album More Than Boys.

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This is the second time in the last few weeks that I’ve bought an album that I can’t stop listening to (the first being Broken Boat‘s album Peace and Quiet), but Luke’s lyrics and his powerful voice are truly moving.

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I knew this already though, since listening to him at the Folkstock Foundation’s Marketing Matters event all those weeks ago – where his song: Last Train genuinely gave me goosebumps. Perhaps it’s because I’m a former ‘Army WAG'; but the song grips me.

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I’ve been desperate to get a copy of his album ever since, so I was more than pleased when he announced at the end of an awesome set on the Main Stage at Saturday’s Folkstock Festival (I think its fair to say that Luke got the loudest reaction from the crowd all day) that he’d brought some copies of the CD along to sell! And I do love CDs that still include quality photos and lyric listings!

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Anyway, have a listen to Mikey D’s interviewI’d love to know what you’re thoughts on the X Factor discussion are (to be a hypocrite, or to not be a hypocrite – comment box below please)!

Lucy Ward Sings …and Speaks

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“Ey up!” – that is the greeting you will find on all of Lucy Ward’s blog posts on her website: lucywardsings.com.

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I knew before Folkstock Festival began that I had my eye on Lucy Ward as a serious up and coming artist – and one we’re going to be seeing a lot more of in the future. Not only have I been seeing her pretty blue hair staring back from my press page since I started this blog in June (you’ll see her picture in the Observer is the first press cutting I uploaded) but in the lead up to our festival last weekend, Lucy made the awesome achievement of reaching number 28 in the Independent Music Charts – a feat I made sure to mention in my recent guest blog post for LiveLikeaVIP.com (If you missed it, you can see it here)…

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When it came to the evening proceedings of Folkstock, I definitely had a mark next to her name on my programme – I wasn’t going to be missing the Derbyshire beauty. I wasn’t sure what it would mean for her set – and to us as an audience – when it was announced a few minutes before she was due on stage that she would be moving from the Main Stage to the Alt Stage; but I’m glad she did. I’m not entirely  sure of the reasoning behind the move, but I thought the Alt Stage had had a good vibe all day, and felt like it was its only little gig in the space it was given (its own little pocket of Folkstock) – so to have Lucy headline this stage was a fitting end to the energy we had seen here all day. And boy, did Lucy have energy!

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I could tell from the reaction of the crowd that many of the audience members were fans and followers of Lucy – I don’t think there was a single song where people weren’t singing along unprompted! (Even the song about talking dirty  in Hawaiian was happily sung along to!). It was a great set to finish our Folkstock blogging work on (we decided to treat ourselves when we headed to the Main Stage, by keeping headliners Kris Drever and Eamonn Coyne as a work-free end to the day!), but not before letting Mikey D loose with some questions. Feel free to tweet Mikey with some REAL facts about Derby!

An Explanation

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After 3 months of going it alone this on this blog, on the day of Folkstock I was joined by two extra pairs of hands to help with all the coverage of events. Whilst I will be writing the content of the blog posts post-event – and the photos and a few (of the less impressive) videos will still come from me, you may notice I start saying “we” a lot more, and there may be some strange faces appearing on the blog… Don’t fear! Here’s who I’m talking about (and what they lack in beauty, they make up for in sheer talent… and braun? No, scratch that).

FROM LEFT:Me (aka McFly) taking on the role of: bossy. Eric Sawyer (aka Captain Green Beard) taking on the role of: filming. Mikey D (aka The Smurf) taking on the role of: sound editing, interviewing and psycho-analysing (disclaimer: Mikey is not a trained psychologist).

Thank you to the guys and girls at Espiritu for decorating us!