Row, row, row your boat, Devendra!
It’s probably the hottest day of the year so far. A cool breeze is blowing and the sun is blazing away – what better day to be messing about on the river with the world’s premier psych-folk artiste?
We arranged to meet at 1pm at the quayside at Caversham Bridge for a press launch of Banhart’s new album and, despite taking in a ridiculous tour of Reading on our way round, the pleasure boat still didn’t leave without us.
When we arrived Devendra and his band were jamming away, tuning up and messing around on a selection of classical and steel-string guitars, seedpod percussion and melodica (in fact, the same Hohner model as we have back home – very exciting…).
There’s free drink on board, which for the more hungover passengers is a cruel irony. For the more restrained among us it’s a chance to enjoy cans of ready mixed Pimms along with Devendra, who even tells us it’s “Pimms o’clock” – you heard the imminent advertising deal here first.
As we pull out of the moorings and putter along past the festival site, Banhart and his band launch into a short set of tracks from new album ‘Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon’.
Devendra himself is dressed in a very nautical manner, a sailor’s hat perched on his head above his twisty beard and earrings, now taking on a distinctly piratical bent.
The new songs all have a strong Latin feel, perhaps due to the stripped-down arrangements – Banhart later assures us set highlight ‘Seahorse’ (sample lyric: “I want to be a little seahorse”) sounds very different in its electric album incarnation.
We all have to strain our ears to hear the delicate tunes, which is fine until we reach the rushing dam at Goring, at which point Devendra launches into the lively, samba-licious ‘The Other Woman’.
The highlight for one of our party comes when Devendra and his band (including Joanna Newsom’s brother Pete) sing happy birthday to the lucky lady as the cake is dished out.
It's a very special afternoon of chilled out folk, drinks and sunshine - what could be better?
For more on Banhart’s new album have a look at John Mulvey’s in depth analysis.
The wizard of Topanga Canyon played:
‘So Long Old Bean’
‘The Other Woman’
Words: Tom Pinnock
Pics: May Starey