GENT FESTIVAL, BELGIUM July 23 2004

Call me Machiavellian if you like but it really was just a pleasant coincidence that the WAWS annual family holiday in France should coincide with a possible detour to Gent for the date of this gig. Mrs Editor was persuaded to agree, with surprisingly little coercion - with 'mussels' as a middle name she likes Belgium. 'Lady' Rachel was simply outvoted and tied securely to the roof rack.

We had no idea what to expect - the largest 'crowd' of Belgians we have ever seen assembled in one place has consistently been four (ie the Starvin' Marvin band) and rumour had it that even that number comfortably outstripped Anderlecht's average home crowd. So it was with growing suspicion that something extraordinary was afoot that the nearest campsite with available space turned out to be about 10 miles away

To cut a long story short, Gent Festival turned out to be awesome in scale. Vast stages catering for every conceivable music scene and era were set up in every square over a wide area and a programme for morning, noon, night and dawn for a week had been pulled together, 95% absolutely free. There is no equivalent in the UK - no way does the costly art and fart of Edinburgh come close. We wandered intoxicated through the streets.

Kevin was playing in the main Sint Jacobsplein arena, sandwiched between heavy metal acts and came on just as dusk was falling. As ever, old and new friends appeared from the surrounding bars and picked up the threads from when we last met. It doesn't get much better or more special than friendships like this - no artifice, no explanations needed.

A familiar and predictable set list followed which I think you can probably guess. Sound was superb with the only concern a failure of Alain's amp which clearly upset him for a couple of songs till roadies did that 'scurrying-about-with-a-piece-of-wire' act that seemed to sort it. As ever, Lady Rachel was a mesmeric, reverberating feast. The square was packed as far as the eye could see ( maybe 2000 people?) and not one moved. Belgians seem to pay their music a lot of respect and we were struck by the absolute absence of gratuitous chattering during the set. I have written to Hades on several occasions naming people for whom a place needs reserving that boasts utter silence and paralysis of the vocal chords as well as the usual flames. I am assured that space awaits next to Sir Alex Ferguson and Alan Ball.

Kevin's voice was good and, from our perspective, not showing any signs that all might not be well. However, the word from the band afterwards was one of disappointment that such a showcase, home-town gig should have been marred by equipment failure after specific rehearsals to make sure everything would be superb. But our view from the crowd would have to differ - this gig still made a considerable mark.

Add the Gent Festival to your list of things to see before you die and push it close to the top of your list. One word of advice would be not to assume you can hail a passing taxi to get home and if anyone can ever let me know what happens to Belgian taxis after dark I would dearly like to know. We did manage to climb aboard a special festival bus that completed a circular tour of most of northern Europe before dropping us off just as the grey light of dawn was breaking. Unmissable!

MW