Thursday, August 31, 2006

Party, fire and theft*


Tonight very nearly didn't happen, but fuck me I'm glad it did.

Having stupidly failed to buy a ticket in advance, I find myself confronted with the dreaded words "SOLD OUT" on the Point's website. Fortunately, above is another sentence suggesting that there will be a limited number of tickets available on the door. I arrive at the venue at 7.15pm, later than planned, my attendance an as-yet unrealised possibility.

I needn't have worried. I'm one of the first in the queue, and there are quite a few tickets left. As it turns out, the ticketed are forced to queue up with the ticketless, the doors not opening until after 8pm (having been scheduled for 7.30pm) because some local opportunist thief has pilfered Broken Social Scene's tourbus, making off with an assortment of mobile phones and laptops, and there are ramifications to deal with. Welcome to Cardiff, eh?

While we're queueing, a slipper-wearing local turns up to gripe about noise, and is given comically short shrift by the security staff. "He's over here every fucking time", mutters the doorman.

Eventually we're inside, and a tremendous venue the Point is too: a small converted church down at the Bay barely a stone's throw from the larger Coal Exchange, with a sizeable and very accommodating stage and a reasonably priced bar.

I'm still marvelling at the quality and atmosphere of the venue when support band Los Campesinos! take to the stage. All seven of them. The Cardiff-based students have been the subject of much MP3 blog excitement recently on both sides of the pond, and it was Simon of Sweeping The Nation who first pointed me in their direction. A good thing, too, because they're bloody great - think a more excitable and shambolic Shins, with added elements of Pavement, Sonic Youth and power-pop plus a twist of tweeness.

In that respect, the opening five minutes of their set is misleading to anyone who hasn't heard them before. A decent start, to be fair, but they shouldn't feel they have to go for an Arcade Fire / My Latest Novel style epic simply because one of their number is a violinist. Their real charm lies in what follows, a set incorporating all four songs currently available to hear for free on their MySpace site.

'Death To Los Campesinos!' comes early, frontman Gareth having difficulty believing the response they're getting. "Since we went major league", he says, tongue-in-cheek, "we've had to start tuning guitars between songs. Which means you have to listen to me talk shit". He confesses that they've not practiced much in preparation for tonight's show, and when they did they soon got bored (appropriate enough for a band whose music skips and flits along giddily like it’s got ADHD) - but then in their case tautness and rigour would dull much of their appeal.

'It Started With A Mixx' (a song about creating and using mixtapes as instruments of seduction - you can't get much more indie than that) and 'Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks' conclude the set, but the inevitable highlight is the preceding song, which poked the internet beehive into a buzzing frenzy in the first place. After a deceptive introduction, 'You Me Dancing!' bursts into life, inducing a mass of jigging bodies and grinning faces. It namechecks Cardiff indie club night Twisted By Design, at which Los Campesinos! are due to play on 16th September. I might just be there.

So, to the Toronto indie supergroup that is Broken Social Scene. I’ll readily admit I’m here more in hope than expectation. Of their three albums to date, I only own one (You Forgot It In People), and am still no more than mildly impressed by it. In fact, having only bought it on the strength of countless rabidly enthusiastic reviews and much positive word of mouth, it still ranks as a major disappointment – and certainly, for me, pales by comparison alongside Funeral by The Arcade Fire, the next Canadian band to garner a comparable amount of critical acclaim. But I’m here on word of mouth again, having been told they’re a different proposition in the live environment.

And, from the moment they begin, it’s clear they are. Hard to describe exactly why, but this is in a different league altogether. There’s suddenly a force, a power, a spark, a life to songs which have previously failed to rouse me to much more than cursory appreciation.

But just who are we watching tonight? Broken Social Scene have comprised of more than twenty members since their inception, including Leslie Feist, Metric’s Emily Haines, Ohad Benchetrit of Do Make Say Think, and Amy Millan and Evan Cranley of Stars – none of whom are present tonight. Instead we have:

Kevin Drew – founder member, formerly of KC Accidental (now the title of a Broken Social Scene song)

Brendan Canning – bass-playing founder member and Steve West lookalike, formerly of By Divine Right

Charles Spearin – moustachioed guitarist / trumpet player with jazzy avant-space-post-rock outfit Do Make Say Think and co-collaborator with Drew in KC Accidental

Andrew Whiteman – beret-wearing Julian Barrett lookalike and guitarist with Apostle Of Hustle

Justin Peroff – drummer and actor

Julie Penner – violinist with FemBots and The Hylozoists

Jason Tait – of The Weakerthans, FemBots and The Hylozoists

Lisa Lobsinger – remarkably-coiffed vocalist with Reverie Sound Revue

… and a chap called Alan making occasional contributions on trumpet (apparently they had a full horn section for Reading and Leeds, so we’re a bit unfortunate to have missed out on witnessing an even fuller stage).

What is most remarkable is that despite their being formed from fragments of other Toronto contemporaries (a fact reflected in the band name), they manage to cohere in perfect harmony. What we’re witnessing is evidently a whole host of incredibly talented musicians at work. But there’s none of the virtuosity and self-indulgence that that might imply, and there’s no room for chinstroking amongst the crowd – this is a party!

It’s great to see the likes of Spearin cutting loose (during ‘I’m Still Your Fag’ he wanders among the audience playing the trumpet), while Whiteman is a pleasure to watch throughout, throwing shapes and pulling moves like a teenage boy living out his rock band fantasies in the bedroom mirror.

But for the most part it’s Drew who’s the focus of attention. Fuelled by continual gulps of red wine, his onstage banter is relaxed and often hilarious. On being robbed: “Someone’s smoking crack on us tonight, ladies and gentlemen”. On it being Spearin’s first visit to Cardiff: “He was telling me that he played Newport with Do Make Say Think, and when they came out of the venue there were lots of little men beating each other up. And enjoying it”. On The Rolling Stones (who are busy playing the Arena): “This one’s for Keith Richards. I’d like him to live forever. Not the others, though. I don’t give a shit about them. Well, maybe Charlie Watts”.

By the end of a two hour set which leaves us and them exhausted (returning for one of the encores Peroff says into the mic “You won’t break…”), Drew is desperate for a joint, and his inability to remember how to play a solo song indicates that the wine has taken its toll. One final hurrah and then we’re out into the night, the clock having ticked past midnight.

Without a doubt the best £12 I’ve spent for some time.

But will I go back to You Forgot It In People? Well, I have, and it doesn’t sound much better than it did BG (Before Gig). Perhaps best just to put it back on the shelf and dwell on the memory of the lives the songs took on in concert.

* OK, OK, so there was no fire – but it was bloody hot in there…

Monday, August 21, 2006

young knives LP review

The wait for the debut album by The Young Knives has been long, and worth every minute. After a several years old mini-LP, a collection of demos and a cracking run of singles, they finally unveiled their Voices of Animals and Men LP today, and not at all surprisingly it is a tremendous collection of pristinely recorded, ultra-energetic and mostly familiar punk-pop songs.

At first glance the Young Knives template looks either calculated or nostalgic; their appearance - what the Mighty Boosh's Howard Moon might call 'forest casual, for the leafy gent' - their sense of humour and their fondness for angular, arty riffs all summoning up references to literal and metaphorical forebears, whether XTC, Adam and the Ants or just the Futureheads. But it doesn't take long to figure that the perfect packaging of the record - the cover depicts the Whittlesey Straw Bear - is the last thing but paper over the cracks. Conceptually, stylistically, lyrically and musically the Young Knives are a complete, and pretty flawless, package.

It all starts with 'Part Timer' and staccato bursts of guitar and a pulsing bassline. It's immediately tighter and fiercer than anything I was expecting, the lyrics painting a picture of a bored Henry trying to write a song and failing in a bout of indecision. Yet the sense of frustration and ennui he feels in songwriting is a metaphor for much of the focus of the album. You get it when Henry, after a delightful, unexpected and teasing pause in the music, which is in itself a shockingly confident step a minute and a half into a debut album, sings - or rather spits - "Back down, it's the best you can hope for. Back down again". The album thrives off the fury of not achieving, yet Andy Gill, who produced the record, teases twelve stunning, fierce vocal takes out of Henry, who has a really beautiful, loaded voice.

'The Decision' is sung by House, however, and his performance - vocally and musically - is not to be underestimated on this splendid album either. His tracks are lovely and his now familiar couplet "I'm the Prince of Wales, I'm the Prince of Wales / And if all else fails, I am the Prince of Wales" probably remains the most instantly memorable thing about the Knives thus far. There are a good many of us fervently hoping that 'The Decision', with it's charming 'ba ba' refrain and sweet chorus ("the horses in the New Forest are running in their Sunday best") will be the band's first genuine HIT single when it's released at the end of September.

That hit should, of course, have been the next song, 'Weekends and Bleakdays' - key lyric: "what I feel, it's not important" - and you wonder if the band would not have been better rush-releasing it - with it's "hot summer, hot hot summer" chorus - when the country was still spread eagled on the grass in the midst of a now-distant heatwave. No matter. Quickly following the splendid harmonising of House's 'In The Pink' and the rather weaker 'Mystic Energy' is another lost would-be hit, the super, frenetic 'Here Comes The Rumour Mill', telling of "Tall tales, cliques and whispers" and secret kisses.

And it's now, with the end of side one in sight, when a debut album often begins to drop off, that it becomes apparent just what a tremendous record this is.

'Tailors' is the first hint of how special the Knives are. An absolutely irrestistable little folk song sung in a disconcerting falsetto and driven by the rhythmic snapping of a pair of scissors, Henry begins with the lines

Tailors are the best
See them running with their brollies.
Workmen of the week".

It's strange,
slight and throwaway, but hints at a real variety and vision beyond the punky pop of the singles; in fact, far from being a 'post-punk' band there is much subtlety on this record which recalls Robert Wyatt as much as it does Howard Deveto. The Knives build on this flexibility from hereon in.

Yet the second half actually opens with the silliest song here, 'Half Timer', which sees the band with work on their mind once again as they noodle around a half-formed idea in the studio. "A salary!" they cry. "You need a salary if you want to get through". "For money and emergencies", one suggests. "Bloodsuckers!" shouts House. What else? "New carpets", perhaps? "I had a job once", House reminisces, "It was awful". Quite.

On to 'Dialling Darling' then, once the near-hit 'She's Attracted To' has been negotiated, and once I've shouted myself hoarse with Henry's "You were screaming at your mum / I was punching your dad" sign off. And 'Dialling Darling' is really magnificent, three minutes of delicate, twin vocalled punk with thrilling "whoo-oo-ooo-ooo" backing vocals. The change of direction for the chorus is masterful, I'll tell you that much.

And then 'Another Hollow Line' and it's much changed from its early incarnation and initially disappointing 'til you learn to wear the new approach, where the delicacies of Henry's acoustic guitar are replaced with crisp, melodious riffs. The vocal is typically gorgeous, though, Henry musing on a shallow girl and the hopelessness of love;

A lonely smile in the clouds
And the smell of foreign bodies
He waits for you to ask him out
Three hours sitting in the lobby".

The guitar break in the middle would melt my spine if such a thing were possible. And the lyrics evolve from bittersweet to hilarious - witness the following:

One day you’re sitting very still
And repeating a faburden
The next you’re wearing Faberge - oh dear -
On your way to Covent garden"...

'Coastguard' - stop me if I'm getting repetitive - is tremendous too; fierce in every respect - violent and brittle, driving, furious at loss. "At the table", Henry screams, "is an empty place". It's even fiercer when he repeats it. And then House takes over, intoning:

She couldn’t swim she couldn’t see
The current pushing out to sea,
Down estuaries and tributaries.
On benthic rocks.
She’s wrecked on Benthic rocks."

After twelve songs of this, The Young Knives (who, incidentally, didn't even bother using a whole host of songs - 'Current of the River', 'Kramer Vs Kramer', 'Kitchener', 'Elaine' - which would stand out like pearls on any of the albums of their contemporaries) unleash the best two songs in their catalogue. The first up, 'Loughborough Suicide', is perhaps the best encapsulation of the Young Knives ethic, a (lyrically) ferocious, pent up, beaten-down hymn of small town angst which brings to mind The Jam at their most caustic. The music itself - particularly the kinetic, angry riff which explodes half way through as a kind of counterpoint to Henry's desperate admission: "I'll never go down fighting" - is superb and yet dominated, despite the beauty of the tune, by the words. As Henry repeats his despairing refrain House rants:

"Well it is cold, cold, cold
And I think I’m going to die in here.
Considering Loughborough suicide
Which I’m definitely going to do this year.
And if you take a look outside
Then the answers to your questions seem quite clear...
That you may as well leave,
Because there’s nothing else to do around here."

Somewhat purged, the album closes with 'Tremblings of Trails', which finds Henry battling on but worn down. Musically, it's by far the most interesting thing here, a metronomic, loopy, languid slice of melancholy good enough to recall Wire at their most tuneful without the comparison embarrasing them. Having boarded a bus "to anywhere", Henry finds that there is no comfort in being absent either: "
We come undone in foreign parts / Our home is heavy in our hearts".

And yet the fury is there too, as the searing but momentary lapses into violence attest. Having sounded resigned throughout, the moments where the frustration breaks through are thrilling. "We've got the same decrepit stars!", he screams. "
My plan has failed! / Tremblings of trails! / Yearning comforts of the dales!"

It's ironic that the ceaselessly good-natured public persona of this band, and their endearingly daft videos, runs the risk of painting them unjustly as a novelty band. But bands only really suffer from that caricature if there's nothing but the laughs to back them up. Anyone who spends three quarters of an hour with Voices of Animals and Men will attest that riotous good fun and existential angst are handed out in roughly equal, and equally satisfying measures. Even more ironically, given the furiously excitable reaction in evidence above, the band have been playing most of these songs to half-empty venues for the last few years. Recent b-sides and live tracks seem to suggest that there is a folkier, more lyrical side to the band to come. And the hype is building. If they can produce another album of this quality in a couple of years then, frankly, the mind boggles.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sundae best

With the fields and cows of Worthy Farm getting a break from the regular June festivities this year, what better way to get my fill of the cheerily diverse and uncommercial Glastonbury vibe than by going to Summer Sundae, the festival put on in association with BBC 6 Music that’s been labelled its grandson by Steve Lamacq?

What follows is a very personal account of the weekend, recollected as usual from jottings on grubby scraps of paper – the jottings themselves having generally been made significantly under the influence. In other words, you’re better off going elsewhere for a clear-minded and accurate review (Sweeping The Nation, for instance), but if it’s impressionistic ramblings you’re after you’ve come to the right place…

Friday 11th August

After a supermarket shop which sees me attract attention by buying nothing but two boxes of wine, a box of cider, some crisps, two packets of custard creams and a bag of pork scratchings, Birmingham disappears in the rear view mirror.

We park the car immediately outside the site, where it can stay all weekend long for little more than £10. There is no queue for those of us collecting tickets, nor is there one to exchange tickets for wristbands. Beaming staff direct us to our campsite, where there is plenty of space for us all to set up camp together. For someone accustomed to hour-long treks from car to Pennard Hill, this could just be the least hasslesome festival ever. Summer Sundae 1 Glastonbury 0.

Fed on tasty but suspiciously undercooked sausage and bacon hoagies, we relax at the tents with cider in hand. Looking around, it seems bizarre to see three tall blocks towering over the small enclosed festival area – but we are right in the heart of the city, after all. Festival-goers of all ages wander past and pitch tents around us. Everything seems very placid – there’s no madness. We’ve not been approached with drugs once yet.

Excuse me”, says a young chap clad in a Libertines-style military jacket, “this might be a cheeky question but I’ve heard someone round here is selling pills…” He’s almost as polite as the steward showing people to spaces in which they can camp. What is normally an undignified free-for-all is here an orderly process.

JAMES MORRISON (Outdoor Stage) kicks off this year’s festival in earnest, at the end of the week in which his debut album (the now ironically titled Undiscovered) hit the #1 spot. That fact would have been enough for other festivals’ organisers to bump him up the bill, but I’m not complaining. I give him as wide a berth as possible, but unfortunately the size of the site means his mewlings are clearly audible from the campsite too. Alison labels him a Powter, but I prefer to call him a Blunt.

Morrison gone, it’s time to venture into the arena (or the “amphitheatre”, if you will). Any plans of paying close attention to the new (the latest?) Badly Drawn Boy LIAM FROST AND THE SLOWDOWN FAMILY (Outdoor Stage) are soon jettisoned in favour of hooking up with Kenny and Simon, amongst others. Well, that and marvelling at the sheer range of delicious beers and ciders and even cocktails on offer in the real ale tent. A real ale festival – at a music festival! What with keeping Morrison in a lowly spot and this, I’m already willing to nominate the organisers for sainthood.

RICHARD HAWLEY’s expansive pop (Outdoor Stage) is enjoyed from the steps outside the Victoria Bar. “I’m so vibing my tits off, they’ve fallen off”, he informs us. He may be drunk.

A visit inside to catch this year’s token folk nominee for the Mercury Music Prize, SETH LAKEMAN (Indoor Stage), proves to be an educational experience when one of my companions wonders out loud what the difference is between a violin and a fiddle and someone next to us answers that there isn’t one and that the latter is simply the Irish name. So, an educational experience, but not a particularly entertaining one. I get the feeling that this is considered remarkable only because it’s young men playing old men’s music (as if to emphasise his youthfulness and distance himself from Fair Isle sweater wearing bearded folkies, the double bassist / banjo player has a key chain…). Is Lakeman to folk what Jamie Cullum is to jazz? I half suspect so. That said, I’m intrigued enough by the unusual percussion to stay until the end, as does Miriam, though for rather different reasons: “He’s boring but he’s got good arms”…

The weather hasn’t been particularly clement but the grey clouds wait until the appearance of THE DELAYS (Outdoor Stage) to deposit their load upon our heads. Perhaps it’s a passing comment from the gods on a band that has more than a malodorous whiff of Britpop about them, but it’s not heavy and doesn’t last long. ‘Nearer Than Heaven’ is the closest they come to distracting me from devouring my tray of delicious veggie pakora and tempting me out from under the protective wing of the stall’s awning.

A bloke playing some records never makes for much of a spectacle, so thankfully DJ FORMAT (Indoor Stage) not only has visuals but, more importantly, gets a crowd swelled by the drizzle outside dancing with an expertly blended mix of funk and soul. I don’t recognise any of the songs, but then that hardly comes as a surprise and it doesn’t take long before I too am shifting awkwardly from one foot to another, almost as much Maypole’s Wellow Gold slopping on the floor as has slipped down my throat.

This is the first time ELBOW (Outdoor Stage) have ever headlined a festival – apparently they’ve been waiting for the right offer to come along – and Guy Garvey is clearly relishing the experience. His introduction to the title track of third album Leaders Of The Free World goes something like this: “There are some terrible things going on in the world, and the people doing them know they’re doing them. And I’m not talking about Cud reforming…” The song itself, and particularly the chorus about “little boys throwing stones”, brings a wry smile to my face, knowing from Jenni that Garvey was just such a little boy playing soldiers where they both grew up in Bury. Unfortunately the song is typical of Elbow’s material in general, in that it’s worthy but dull and just doesn’t match up to Garvey’s engaging between-song wit. That said, one song featuring just Garvey and keyboardist Craig Potter has me momentarily spellbound and, after the induced chants of “Lasting peace in the Middle East!”, old favourite ‘Newborn’ rounds off the encore and the evening in suitably rousing fashion.

One significant advantage of there being an indoor venue is the access to regularly cleaned proper plumbed-in toilets rather than Portaloos, mud-smeared shit-splattered devils’ Tardises that they are. It also makes for more of a communal experience, and allows for the possibility of lighthearted banter. “Why’s there a queue?” asks one voice with a very familiar accent. “Is this Leicester? This wouldn’t happen in Newcastle”. Another bloke delivers a running commentary when his phone rings: “I’m urinating. Well, I’m about to urinate. I’m commencing urination”.

The bands may finish around 11pm, but the Victoria Bar stays open for another hour of drinking. Rather more civilised than sitting on a bin bag round a campfire gulping down Scrumpy.

Saturday 12th August

What ungodly hour is this? Why haven’t other people got hangovers?

A bacon and egg roll and a coffee returns me to something like normality.


Claire has somehow got her bottle of water wedged fast in a bright pink welly, but continues to drink out of it. Meanwhile Miriam, suffering from a severe case of alcohol-induced memory loss, ponders quite how she managed to obtain a staff wristband the previous night, and where she’d ventured with it: “I feel a bit like I’ve been abducted by aliens, tampered with and then returned to earth”.

Alison and I play a few hands of poker, that troubling first large glass of wine in hand. Andy really is irrepressible. Unable to stop singing the ‘I Like Monkeys’ song from Howard Read’s Little Howard children’s show that morning, he’s now placing a banana skin on the path between the tents and then crouching behind a bin to see if anyone will slip over. I think they call it “high on life”.

Into the arena. Most of the group disappear off into the mysterious Polly’s Garden (some kind of strange multi-sensory experience, I gather later – I’m too interested in chatting to Kenny and ploughing on with the wine), but not before Polly has positively ID’d Jim as the bloke who was drunkenly rambling on at her the previous evening. Summer Sundae is a small world.

Our paths have never quite crossed before, much to my annoyance, but now, finally, a chance to catch HOWLING BELLS (Indoor Stage) live – and they don’t disappoint. “They look great”, says the compere (oh yes – cowboy hats and scuffed boots for the boys, a short floaty dress and black tights for Juanita Stein), “they sound even better” (damn right), “their debut is being hailed as the album of the year” (I’d find it hard to disagree)… ‘Blessed Night’ is the opener, and between that and a fiery ‘Low Happening’ we get all bar four tracks from the aforementioned record. Occasionally there’s that sense of mystery demystified, of seeing how a delicately flavoured and lip-smackingly delicious meal has been rustled up in the kitchen, but there remains something obscure and enigmatic about them, the dark space of De Montford Hall ideally suited to their exquisite gothic blues. Stein’s voice, it gives me great pleasure to report, is as arresting in the flesh as it is on record, and she and her guitarist brother Joel are magnetic presences on stage. The real highpoint of the set – and, for me, of any set I’ve seen so far this year – is ‘A Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts’, when I get goosebumps on the goosebumps on my arms. Sublime.

The gauntlet’s been well and truly thrown down, and TUUNG (Outdoor Stage) certainly aren’t able to pick it up. What I catch of their (warning: journo’s self-constructed pigeonholing term to follow) folktronica is pleasant enough, but a load of bearded blokes performing slow quiet songs whilst sat down is unlikely to get anyone to their feet. The percussionist merits a mention, though, for the sheer array of bizarre instruments at his disposal, including what looks like a small sheaf of wheat…

Fish and chips to die for from The Sea Cow stall, for a fiver. Seriously, the fish is the best I’ve tasted anywhere for years. Never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad the Thai spiced fishcakes had run out.

After the lull of Tuung, THE YOUNG KNIVES (Outdoor Stage) are mercifully on hand to inject a bit of much-needed life and energy into the afternoon. One glimpse of the local heroes (well, almost – they’re from Ashby-de-la-Zouch originally) and Alison’s smitten – particularly with bassist The House of Lords, who’s looking somewhat streamlined, presumably as a result of this year’s punishing touring schedule. There’s more than enough from their forthcoming debut proper Voices Of Animals And Men to suggest that it’s going to be an essential purchase – the singles in particular (‘Decision’, ‘Here Comes The Rumour Mill’ and closing duo ‘She’s Attracted To’ and ‘Weekends And Bleak Days (Hot Summer)’) are marvellous, as is ‘Loughborough Suicide’ (HoL: “I had a letter from the Loughborough Echo this week saying ‘You can’t call a song that’. But have you been there?”). That said, none of the B-sides aired – ‘Elaine’, ‘Guess The Baby’s Weight’, ‘Current Of The River’ – signal a drop in quality. Having seen them back in March, this time around I’m even more struck by the Futureheads parallels – but, with the Mackems apparently having lost their sense of humour for second LP News And Tributes, there’s more than enough room for The Young Knives to thrive. And thrive they certainly deserve to.

I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen that the cover of her most recent album, the Mercury nominated Ballad Of The Broken Seas, is the best I’ve seen this year, so I feel I really ought to go and see ISOBEL CAMPBELL (Indoor Stage). The fact that many of those lured in by the knowledge of her past in Belle & Sebastian soon wander off speaks volumes about the nature (but not the quality) of the material. It’s light years away from her former band, darkly ethereal stuff that instantly beguiles me. Back to the album cover, which depicts Campbell arranging her hair in a hotel room mirror in the foreground, while in the background an out-of-focus Mark Lanegan reclines vaguely threateningly on a bed, his shoes on. As Simon puts it, that tells you all you need to know about what the album sounds like. The problem is that Lanegan isn’t here today, and that means we don’t get to marvel at the former Screaming Trees vocalist’s inimitable rumble (truly one of the finest voices in rock) intertwining with Campbell’s elfin coo. His stand-in gamely tries his best, and has wisely opted to dress in black to play Lanegan’s night to Campbell’s day, but I come away not enthusing about a spellbinding set but imagining how the songs would sound with Lanegan’s input – and drooling at the prospect. The album’s on its way in the post.

Rumours circle that Leicester fans, fresh from victory over Ipswich at the Walkers Stadium, are set to try and storm the site. Well, makes a change from the usual “Have you heard, [enter C list celeb here] has died?” The Leicester score is announced on stage by Whiskas of FORWARD RUSSIA! (Outdoor Stage), whose frontman Tom then sticks his neck on the line by declaring that “football is shit”. Forward Russia! (the name has an upside-down exclamation mark at the start too, but I can’t find the symbol to insert it – the awkward bastards) are a band I’ve not heard before but really should like: matching T-shirts, bundles of energy, numbers instead of song titles, a sound that draws equally upon Bloc Party and At The Drive-In. But somehow it isn’t quite working for me – perhaps it’s that they’re by far the rowdiest and noisiest band on the bill, and Isobel Campbell wasn’t exactly the ideal preparation. Worth further investigation, though, to be sure. Steve Lamacq certainly thinks so, scampering around for a better viewing position.

Howling Bells guitarist Joel Stein, pacing around by the Rising Tent looking a little edgy and lost, has the misfortune to make fleeting eye contact with yours truly, who takes the opportunity to gush about their performance. Stein is eager to find out when Vashti Bunyan and Calexico are playing, and it’s only in the course of trying to ascertain times from the schedule tags around my neck (handmade and laminated by Alison) that I realise quite how drunk I am. Best cut my losses, I think, shaking his hand again and allowing him to wander off in the direction of the indoor stage.

Jenni, who has insisted on referring to Forward Russia! as Go Russia!, is now approaching comatose levels of drunkenness. When the arrival on stage of NOUVELLE VAGUE (Outdoor Stage) is announced, she mutters “Fuck off you vague people” while lying on her back and then promptly passes out. Loungecore / bossa nova covers of punk and new wave (hence the name) classics? OK, so Nouvelle Vague (and yes, Andy, it’s pronounced “Vag” because it’s French) are a novelty band, but you can’t argue with their versions of ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – and especially not with their splendidly jaunty take on The Dead Kennedys’ ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’. Could have done without the dull slump into performance art in the middle of the set, though.

On the way back from another trip to the real ale tent, Henry and The House of Lords from The Young Knives are spotted with their parents. Mindful of having embarrassed myself earlier with Joel Stein, I opt for a quick “Really enjoyed your set” before moving on. Good job Alison didn’t see them – The House of Lords could have found himself with a proposal of marriage, which I doubt was what he’d bargained for when they signed up to play the festival.

As dusk gradually falls we’re transported from inner city Leicester to the desert plains of Arizona, courtesy of CALEXICO (Outdoor Stage). Like Wilco, they take “classic” rock down new more experimental avenues, their sound infused with rather than simply influenced by folk, gypsy and Mexican music. Affable vocalist / guitarist Joey Burns, whose floppy black fringe makes him look like Paul Smith of Maximo Park, clearly enjoys seeing that what they do can have mass appeal to an audience consisting mostly of the uninitiated - despite having played with Giant Sand and Iron & Wine and being beloved by the likes of Stephen Malkmus, they’re not just a bands’ band. Burns also knows how to raise a cheer, dedicating a cover of Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ to the late Arthur Lee and John Peel. ‘The Crystal Frontier’ is a rollicking finale, even without the full mariachi band they sometimes employ.

Another trip to the real ale tent, where there’s very little left. On my way out, a bloke stops me to impart an urgent message: “Clapping’s out! Howling’s in” I’m allowed to go on my way once I’ve promised to spread the word.

Every festival needs a nadir to throw everything else into relief, and this is it. THE VOOM BLOOMS (Rising Tent) hail from Loughborough and are evidently the sort of NME-believing pricks who think The Libertines were the greatest band ever to live. The vocalist / guitarist, a Johnny Borrell / Carl Barat lookalike, strips off his shirt while everyone else goes through the moves. No inspiration, no originality, no wit, no talent, no songs. They are fucking rubbish.

The Voom Blooms are as bad as the concept of Chas ‘n’ Dave meets funk rock sounds – but against all the odds THE BLOCKHEADS (Indoor Stage) really make it work. Having packed out the Musicians’ / Acoustic Tent the previous evening, they’re now filling in for the absent X-Press 2 in a headlining slot and doing so with aplomb. 6 Music DJ Phill Jupitus joins them on vocals, and for a bunch of ropey-looking old pub rockers they certainly have the songs to get us jigging around like loons. ‘Sex ‘N’ Drugs ‘N’ Rock ‘N’ Roll’ is second, followed soon after by ‘Billericay Dickie’, and the set’s wrapped up by ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ and ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful Part Three’. After The Voom Blooms, cheerfulness has been duly restored.

It’s pissing it down outside, so more pints in the bar seem like the sensible course of action. Jim tells us that he’s been walking into the real ale tent with his empty cocktail jug and before he’s even got to the bar they’ve poured him a fresh jug of “the usual”. Truly this is a marvellous festival.

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.