On the 1st of September less than 150 elite guests, friends and family were transported from a private reception at London’s Beach Blanket Babylon to Krug Island (Osea Island) for a champagne-fuelled evening of music curated by ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones, and food cooked by chef and ‘enfant terrible’ Michael O’Hare.
Krug Island was as elegantly debauched a ‘festival’ as one might expect. It sought to bring together Mick Jones’s hand-picked music with various vintages of champagne from Krug’s portfolio to produce a complementary experience, inspired by Oxford neurological research by Charles Spence and Janice Qian Wang that suggests the mind may alter the taste of champagne when imbibed at the same time as listening to music.
The musical entertainment was provided by McGee protege Willow Robinson, child of the Sex Pistol’s Hollie Cook, Paul Weller and Mick Jones approved band Sugarmen, breakout artists Rationale and headliners Mystery Jets.
It was pure serendipity that I should end up on “Krug Island” partying with punk rock royalty. I had read about the exclusive festival on the front page of the Spear’s wealth management magazine’s website “Champagne Island hosts exclusive festival with acts selected by Mick Jones” it said. It was too good to be true. If diamond’s are a girl’s best friend then surely champagne and rock and roll must come a close second and third.
“Who’s covering Krug Island?” I piped up hopefully at the offices where I have been interning, knowing that if anyone from the magazine was being sent, it definitely wasn’t going to be the lowly intern. One young fellow’s eyes met with mine ‘we’ve been hosted by Krug in the past...’ he said defensively before trailing off. I slump back to my desk and spent the rest of the day pondering how I could get an invite to the festival. As I am a quite strong-willed individual, I initially believed I could make it happen. But several emails and Google searches later, I was stumped. Unless I blew the remainder of my dwindling savings on tickets, there was no way I was getting on that island. Fast-forward two days later, and I’m sitting outside the Camden Head in, well, Camden. Clutching but not drinking the most disgusting real ale in the world, (I did beg the bartender to take it back, ‘please can I swap it for something else? It’s terrible! That was my last fiver! I’m an intern - I’m skipping meals and hopping tube stiles!’ I pleaded, but no joy.)
My friend Miki Beavis, a talented violinist who plays with musicians such as Pete Doherty, Billy Bones and my boyfriend Robert James Selby, arrives with her friend Cai Trefor. Conversation leads to Festival No 6 which Cai and I were both scheduled to attend for our respective publications. He speaks regrettably about not getting to go to Krug Island, my eyes light up in agreement, I too was sore about missing out on what looked like such a magical one-off event. ‘I could have gone, but I've got some commitment…’ he says ‘Hey, maybe you should go instead. That way at least somebody will be going!' Pure serendipity.
Four days later, it’s September the 1st and I’m arriving with my boyfriend to Beach Blanket Babylon in Shoreditch. I’m dressed in what I think is symbolically appropriate attire: a black sequined top to represent rock and roll, gold shimmery skirt to represent champagne and Vivienne Westwood gold shoes with a big plastic red hearts to celebrate love, punk and materialism?
Recieved in style the Krug team kindly relieve me of my suitcase, and fasten a pretty satin ‘Krug Island’ festival wristband to my wrist before ushering me upstairs to the reception where waiters were handing out the first taster of champagne, Krug’s Grand Cuvée and delicious goat’s cheese and crab canapes by Beach Blanket Babylon. The Grand Cuvée was served in voluminous glasses, rather than typical champagne flutes, in order to receive the optimum taste of the champagne. It was a delicate drink that I let luxuriously languor in my mouth. The other guests also slowly and thoughtfully taste the champagne, conversing in lowered voices as a feeling of restrained excitement hangs in the air.
The figureheads of Krug stand out, boldly circling the room with open smiles, engaging all in conversation. Just as I feel settled with my second glass of champagne, they begin their respective speeches. First to speak is Joe Rorke the UK brand manager, a typically British gent beaming in a dashing blue suit. He seems very keen to communicate just how excited he is for this special evening that so much planning has gone into. He speaks of the partnership he has made with Mick Jones who is curating the music, and how the event was very much an experiment for them, the first of its kind.
Joe then introduces the 6th generation Krug family representative Olivier Krug. Olivier is an interesting character with an unashamedly full French accent, he speaks proudly of his family’s history and his great-great-grandfather’s vision and legacy. An innovator, Joseph Krug dreamed of doing something different, what others said couldn’t be done. To, through careful blending, produce a generous champagne that gave its best every year, whatever the climate. A champagne of outstanding quality that suffered no hierarchy. Olivier explains that with the KRUG ID app, one may enhance their experience by learning the provenance of the particular champagne they are drinking. Lastly he describes how people all over the world are delighted to tell him about their ‘first Krug’, ‘So Mick, I want to show you something. The first ever LP I bought, [holding up the Clash’s ‘Combat Rock’] I was fifteen years old!’
Next to speak is Maggie Henrique, the CEO of Krug champagne. She is a charmingly eccentric woman whose speech is a chariot ride of passion. ‘It’s about connection, it’s about feeling, it’s about getting together, it’s about never forgetting!’ she gushes, gesticulating with Latin American energy. She challenges us to listen to the music within the champagne to achieve a new experience, ‘While the music is going on, take a moment to taste again, and you will find that it does not taste the same. This is all about experiences...’
With that we toast to the evening and make our way down to board the coach. Never one to miss out on the details, Krug generously provided a luxurious ‘Krug Island’ branded eye-mask and pillow to make the journey as comfortable as possible, as well as including the evening’s program for perusal.
Just off the coast of Essex, Osea Island (the original name of our destination) is a private island owned by British music producer Nigel Frieda (younger brother of the famous hairdresser John Frieda), who launched the Sugarbabes and has also produced The Rolling Stones. The island, which costs around £20,000 per night to rent, can only be accessed twice a day by car at low tide. Due to the subtleties of the situation, as we approach the causeway our coach halts, giving way for the iconic Krug Rolls Royce to make its dramatically slow progression along the delicate causeway that leads to the island. The whole coach oohs and aahs, and Maggie Henrique whips off her eyemask and stands from her seat to take snap after snap of the Roller’s progression.
Once the wait is over, our coach full of eager guests, makes its way down the causeway with mounting excitement. As we advance I watch the island looming ominously in the distance, promising bacchanalian delights. And past the point of no return, the tide - I note - nature’s drawbridge, rises up behind us preventing any escape from the evening’s pleasures in store.
Getting off the coach we are accommodated in various curious cottages on the island. The experience is beyond whimsical... A rusty gate that doesn’t quite open, the uneven pebbly path, I unlock the door to my home for the night and pop the key under the mat. The interior of our cottage is lavish and traditional. A large open hearth, red leather sofa, fur blankets and musty books. In the bathroom a clawfoot bath, and finally a wooden four poster in the bedroom. I open the french doors from the eat-in kitchen and am surprised to see, what I assume is a stuffed Pheasant staring straight at me atop the garden table. I’m startled, when it suddenly moves, cocking its head at me before bounding off. Then I remember the hat I am wearing is adorned with several feathers from a pheasant I personally skinned and plucked. Sorry dear friend!
Around 7pm someone from Krug knocks on the door and calls, ‘the entertainment will start in a few minutes, if you can follow the path to the Captain’s House...’, so we make our way down the sparkly lit forest path that suddenly opens up onto a breathtakingly beautiful and glittering seafront setting. Bathed in sunlight with a perfect breeze stirring the long dry grass. I take in deep breaths of fresh air, and small sips of Krug Clos du Mesnil, appreciating the sublime majesty of nature, and the subtle taste of the glowing golden liquid that swirled around my tongue. ‘I don’t want the sun to go down’ I say to my partner, with the glimmer of a tear in my eye.
Sea-facing, Willow Robinson stands alone on the back porch of the Captain’s house. The folk/rock musician and Alan McGee protégé is the first act to play to an audience of rock royalty that includes former Clash videographer Don Letts, Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, actress Jamie Winston, Mick Jones’s daughter Lauren Estelle Jones and stepdaughter Grace Egan, pop-singer Whinnie Williams, and even Jude Law and Sadie Frost’s son Rafferty Law. Robinson’s musical soliloquy of soulful vocals and resonating electric guitar perfectly accompanies the champagne sunset, asking nothing from the audience.
After his performance I share with him my daunting impressions of the eerily mystical Osea Island in the distance. Confirming my suspicions of the island’s history, he confides in me that he is apparently staying in a room where someone had hung themselves. ‘But I grew up in a haunted house, so..’ he shrugs. Coincidence played a significant role in Robinson’s career he explains, his mother a close friend of Alan McGee’s wife, Robinson managed to be at the right place at the right time for McGee to propose management. When I query how he got involved with Krug Island, he laughs and tells me as if it should be obvious, ‘through Mick Jones’s daughter! She wanted me!’
Hollie Cook, is next to perform at the Captain’s house kicking up the pace with her self-styled ‘tropical pop’ reggae beats. By now enough champagne has flowed to allow the resplendently dressed rockers free movement, and so we dance on the grass. Closing my eyes as I dance, with a sweet sip of champagne upon my lips, I followed Maggie Henrique’s instructions and let the music lead me. As if drawn to my experience, she pops up beside me. ‘I can taste the music in the champagne, it’s making me dance differently’ I tell her. ‘Aha!’ she says victoriously, eyes wide with purpose, ‘so you get it!’ The crowd loves Cook and begs her to continue after her planned set finishes, she doesn’t disappoint.
Afterward I ask Cook how she got involved in Krug and a pattern of family connections seems to emerge, ‘I suppose because Mick Jones is curating the music,’ she says ‘I’m really good friends with his daughters so they asked me to play. I don’t usually play parties for delicious champagne companies on remote islands on the East of England!’
The way we are led from location to location is very civilised, as if we are moving from one work to another at an art exhibition. We arrive to a much larger outdoor stage at the Manor House to watch the Sugarmen performance. The up and coming Liverpool band supported Blur, The Who and Paul Weller in concert last year and have already recorded with Mick Jones who is an outspoken fan of their work. The night now in full swing, Sugarmen blast out loud punk rock melodies to a receptive and racketing crowd sipping on the accompanying Krug 2002 (Vintage).
Finally it’s time for dinner and everyone is led to the Bomb Factory where we are seated in a large dining hall with a stage set up in the middle. It is now time to see what Michelin starred chef Michael O'Hare, who is known for being a bit of a rule breaker, has come up with for the unique night. Guest socialise over many more glasses of Krug Grand Cuvée before being surprised by the arrival of O’Hare’s highly unconventional looking inky-black cod loin starter. Served upon individually unique canvases decorated with splashes of black ink, scattered prawns, and handwritten poetry. The food is visually and palatably delicious. My favourite bit was the finer than fine cut crispy black potato.
Michael O’Hare’s highly anticipated main act arrives in the form of impossibly tender slow cooked ox cheek, topped with hot red foie gras foam. It is served on a similarly artistic canvas, this time with black and red splashes of colour on the canvas which doubled as a plate. Although Morrissey may not have approved of such an audacious display, if ever there was a moment for such a daring dish, it was this.
Mid-dinner we are treated to a soul searchingly theatrical performance from Rationale. It is truly one of the highlights of the night, which Krug UK brand manager Joe Rorke describes as ‘sublime’, making the hairs the back of his neck stand on end.
Although it was repeatedly stated that Mick Jones would not be giving interviews, I still manage a quick catch-up with him and his old friend Don Letts during dessert which is a chocolate lavender and honey mousse potato pudding. The legend Mick Jones exudes elegance in an impeccable grey suit - a far cry from his punk days. I ask him how he got involved with Krug as he picks at the desserts and feeds me chunks of metallic chocolate, ‘I’ve known them for a little while, so we decided to invite our friends down here for this lovely evening.’ he responds. ‘It’s nice isn’t it?’ he says gesturing to the umpteenth glass of champagne I hold in my hand. By now, I’m not sure which particular Krug I am drinking and am wishing I had both the bottle and the Krug ID app to hand. I clink glasses with him anyway and tell him it's delicious.‘Who’d have thought of serving it all up on a canvas,’ he says pointing at Michael O’Hare, ‘that’s what it’s all about, being creative and getting everyone involved in the meal.’ When I ask O’Hare what inspired him to serve dinner on canvases, he obstreperously replies in the style he is known for, ‘They were cheaper than plates.’
Finally Mick Jones gets up on stage to personally introduce Mystery Jets, the final act of the night. The band return the compliment, expressing what an honour it is to be working with Jones. Mystery Jets then launch into a full-throttle climactic set of material from their new album and old favourites like Telomere. Mick returns to the stage to triumphantly announce his project, ‘A moment like this’ he says ‘should be marked by creativing a piece of art that has come out of the island.’ Jones explains that every artist that performed on the island has been in the studio at various points throughout the day working on a collaborative track inspired by the island itself. The track entitled ‘The Sea’ is written and produced by Mick Jones featuring every performer on the island as well as sounds of the island recorded by Mick Jones. The audience is treated to a first listen of the recording so far, which featuring sounds from the island that Jones recorded himself, brings the nights entertainment to a memorable close.
Returning to the cottage to change my shoes before the after-party. My boyfriend calls to me from the garden where I had seen the pheasant earlier. It was dark but I could see he was crouched low on the ground so I get on my knees to join him. Letting the champagne take over, the words ‘Will you marry me!’ spill out from my lips. At exactly the same moment he solemnly utters the words, ‘I want you to be my wife.’ Laughing at yet another magical coincidence, I suddenly bowled over in shock when from out of the darkness he produces a sparkling diamond engagement ring. We celebrated at the after-party at a disco and outdoor fire pit, with many glasses of Krug Rose, which will be the champagne at our wedding party without a doubt.
Many many thanks to Krug for their seamless hospitality, generosity and kindness. The team at Krug really know how to put on a party. I can only imagine the amount of work, attention to detail and military precision that must have gone into creating such an effortlessly delicious evening. But of course, Krug are the masters of celebration.