Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday 13th August

I feel distinctly strange. Outside it’s drizzling, and the tent is taking a real buffeting in the wind.

We venture offsite to meet friends for a fantastic fry up at Jones’s on Queens Road. Just the job.

It’s still drizzling intermittently as we pack up the tent and take our things to the car. It’s all over far too soon.

Except it’s not, of course. There’s another full day of band-watching in store. And what better way for it to kick off than with THE LONG BLONDES (Outdoor Stage)? The Sheffield quintet are an impeccably cool art school wet dream of a band hell-bent on teaching the indie kids to dance again, sounding like a Pulp for the post Franz Ferdinand set while also referencing Blondie and 60s girl groups. ‘Weekend Without Make Up’ – a serious contender for SWSL Single Of The Year – is brilliant mid-set, while its arch B-side ‘Fulwood Babylon’ open up and the singles ‘Giddy Stratospheres’ and ‘Separated By Motorways’ also feature. Snake-hipped frontwoman Kate Jackson, wearing extremely high heels and matching turquoise neckerchief and socks, is a cross between Karen O and Mick Jagger. Can you tell I’m in love? If you haven’t heard of them yet, don’t worry – you soon will, as soon as their Steve Mackay produced debut album hits the shelves.

How to describe M CRAFT (Indoor Stage)? Well, it’s not easy – but it’s certainly not your usual Blunt / Powter / Morrison singer-songwriter fare. Main man Martin Craft is backed by a conventional band consisting of guitar, bass and drums, but the four blokes are flanked on stage by two women who shimmy slowly along while contributing soft vocals and additional percussion. Musically Craft deals in folk-flavoured torch songs, set closer ‘Love Knows How To Fight’ being a very good example. An unexpected surprise, then, and his recent album Silver And Fire could be worth investing in.

After songs of subtlety come the big broad brush strokes of MORNING RUNNER (Outdoor Stage). From my vantage point on the steps by the Victoria Bar I’m not paying a great deal of attention, admittedly, but then that’s because their amateur dramatics aren’t exactly compelling – Coldplay with added welly, appropriately enough, given the accompanying downpour.

At last! Something the organisers have stuffed up: putting a twee Scottish indie band in a small tent on the day that Belle & Sebastian headline. Such is the clamour to see CAMERA OBSCURA (Rising Tent) that, like Simon, I’m queuing outside the tent for at least half the set before finally getting inside – only thanks to departing punters saying things like “They’re not worth the bother”. But I’m glad I do bother, and that they’ve managed to borrow their instruments from the neighbouring stall after their own were stranded in Copenhagen. A C86 band that’s been cryogenically frozen for twenty years, they’re fey and lightweight but not offensive with it, and, while I’m not as rabidly enthusiastic about them as Kenny and Alison are, I’ll be doing a Poirot and investigating further.

Late afternoon and a lot of wine down the hatch, and that can mean only one thing – time to accost some band members. Long Blondes drummer Screech and bassist Reenie are the poor unfortunates approached by a drunken Geordie blathering about how marvellous they were.

A bloke on a stool”. That’s Jim’s succinct comment on JOSE GONZALEZ (Outdoor Stage), who’s as dull as that implies, even with a cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ to close. Much less interesting, certainly, than harassing Camera Obscura guitarist Kenny McKeeve and bassist Gavin Dunbar into posing for photos. They’re quiet sensitive types who probably shit themselves about the prospect of leaving the house, so it’s hardly surprising that they both look positively terrified.

As far as rock star names go, Fyfe Dangerfield is a definite winner. Dangerfield’s band GUILLEMOTS (Outdoor Stage) have a Mercury nominated debut album under their belt (Through The Windowpane) and do a fine job of livening things up with something that could be justifiably labelled a real performance. Recent single ‘Made Up Love Song #43’ has grown stealthily on me and I’ve been expecting a set of slow, measured and sophisticated pop – but what we actually get is completely different, very heavy on the distorted guitar. Dangerfield himself is like Rowlf from ‘The Muppets’, a hairy blur of energy thrashing away at his keyboards while sat on a wooden chair.

STEPHEN FRETWELL (Outdoor Stage). As you would expect with a lone singer-songwriter who’s toured with Keane, general boredom with onstage goings-on (such as they are) returns.

This is more like it. Like The Voom Blooms the previous night, LARRIKIN LOVE (Rising Tent) are very definitely a post-Libertines band, but, unlike The Voom Blooms, they don’t exist solely to ape what has gone before. That vital added ingredient is imagination, and certainly they’re an unusual prospect, purveyors of indie-gone-gypsy and what often sounds like a very odd type of reggae. Of course, the advantage of simply toeing the line and following in the footsteps of others is that you know there’s going to be a fanbase (or, more cynically, a market) for your music – but with songs like ‘Edwould’ Larrikin Love won’t have too much trouble in winning hearts and minds, strange though they often are.

Disaster strikes! I’ve lost my pen! Thankfully a girl in the Victoria Bar kindly helps me out by giving me a replacement on the condition that I note down the following for verbatim reproduction on the blog: “Emily, you’re NOT a tragedy”. There you go, Emily – thanks. (I’ve just discovered what it was all about – the chorus of the Stephen Fretwell single ‘Emily’ is “Emily, just look at you / You’re a tragedy”.)

Regular readers of SWSL will be well aware of my antipathy for BELLE & SEBASTIAN (Outdoor Stage), so it will come as no surprise that before they take to the stage I imagine I’d rather be chewing on my own teeth like in that recurring nightmare than watching them. But, truth be told, the Glaswegians are actually less offensive / boring than some of the other acts to have played the festival. I’m not a convert or anything, though – Stuart Murdoch, tonight looking like a lost sailor, is still an irritating tit (Alison’s attentions are focused instead on Stevie Jackson, the House Of Lords seemingly a passing infatuation) and I remain immune to the cheerfully upbeat stuff like ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ that is met with sheer glee by others among my party and most of the assembled throng in general. Most entertaining is the sight of Jenni and Kirsten bouncing around inside a large wire and paper tube “liberated” from outside the Rising Tent. Shortly after the tube is relinquished for the benefit of two new occupants, it’s confiscated by security – probably the only thing they’ve had to do all weekend.

We leave for the car park with a high-spirited Kenny, who, encountering a namesake, is told: “Us Kennys just keep procreatin’!”.

The journey home, usually a time of mourning, is enlivened by an album of power ballads. Is ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ one of the finest songs ever written, or is it just the wine talking? Hmm.

So, in summary: a small but perfectly formed festival, friendly punters and staff, good music, good beer (and cocktails), delicious food, reasonable prices, and all the conveniences of a city centre near at hand. Will I be going again? Hell yeah.


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