Regular readers of this blog (if indeed such creatures exist) may have noticed that when it comes to reviewing bands my comments tend to be fairly positive (I’ve always worked on the principle that if I haven’t got something nice to say, I won’t say anything at all). Well no more. For one week only, I’m going to tell it like it is. Ladies and gentleman, please be upstanding for my V Festival Review (people of a nervous disposition should look away now).
V Festival, Chelmsford, 2009 – not so much a festival, more a bloody great gathering of chavs in a field. As I walked around it was designer clobber and tracksuits as far as the eye could see – I’d estimate that less than 5% of the people there sported band t-shirts and while this might seem like an odd point to raise, I think it’s an important one, as it highlights the fact that there’s a helluva lot of V festival goers who couldn’t give a toss about the music. To be fair, that probably wasn’t a bad state of mind to be in at this years V, as the quality of the line up, which has been on the slide for a while now, finally decided to throw itself off the edge of the good musical taste cliff. This is a festival where it was possible to sample the delights of Taylor Swift, The Script, Pixie Lott, Tynchy Stryder, Lily Allen, The Saturdays, Katy Perry, James Morrisson, Alesha Dixon, Natalie Imbruglia, and flavour of the month comedy bra bint, Lady Ga Ga (I could go on, but I’m fast losing the will to live). A festival where Calvin Harris play above the Happy Mondays. A festival where Will Young is still allowed near a microphone...Will Young…I kid you not.
So as an avid rock fan, what the hell was I doing there in the first place? Good question. Well it wasn’t always like this. I’ve been to 12 out of the 14 V’s and I’ve had some good times over the years, catching bands like Foo Fighters, QOTSA, the Chilli Peppers, Teenage Fanclub, the Manics, Muse, Ash, Primal Scream, Kasabian, The Hives, The Strokes, KoL, BRMC, Cooper Temple Clause, Nine Black Alps, Radiohead, and many more, thus I was willing to accept the fact that the line up was diverse as there was always just enough rock to see me through. Every year I’d take advantage of the early bird deal and get my tickets on pre-sale, trusting that when the line up was announced months later it would be adequate (I never expected greatness – adequate was fine), but this year something went horribly wrong. How wrong? Wrongness on the scale of Mr Sodding Hudson. For the first time ever, there were mutterings from our camp about selling our tickets, but there was still the odd golden nugget buried amongst all the shite, so in the end we figured we’d make the best of it and view it as a final hurrah – one last blow out in a Chelmsford field before heading onto brighter pastures in 2010 (Sonisphere, Reading – I’m talking to you).
And while I’m on the subject of fields, a couple more things before I get on to the music. Hats off to the three Essex girls camping behind me, who managed to take levels of idiocy to a new level. On Friday afternoon, one of them wandered over and asked to borrow our mallet as they were having trouble putting up their tent. Having duly obliged, I then sat there and listened to them moan that mallet number two wasn’t much better than mallet number one in their delightful accents for a few minutes, so in the end I went to give them a hand, only to find that they weren’t trying to hammer steel tent pegs into rock hard ground, they were trying to hammer the ends of fibreglass tent poles through the concrete like surface. Having somehow managed to stifle the worst of my laughter, I asked them if they had any tent pegs, to which they replied, and I quote: “What? These metal things?” They’d only put the tent up once before, in their back garden, where the soil was soft, which meant that the ends of all of the fibreglass poles were now rammed full of dried soil, thereby making it impossible to attach them to the tent. It took me about half an hour to clear them out with my house keys, and another 15 minutes to successfully erect the outer skin (I left them to do the inner, as by that point I was becoming worried that stupidity might be catching). And the final kicker? Their younger brother and his mate had spent an hour trying to put the tent up earlier before giving up and wandering off, only to return at almost the exact moment we’d finished. If the children really are our future, then God help us all.
And campsite story number two (I’ll keep this one brief as I can hear people snoring at the back) – a lad came over to inform us that someone had broken into his tent during Friday night and emptied his wallet to the tune of a couple of hundred quid. Now this sort of thing goes on at all the festivals, as anywhere there’s a large group of people there’s bound to be some thieving scum, but V is the only one where I personally meet people that have been robbed there every year – in fact it’s the only one where I was fucking robbed, pickpocketed in the arena, which means I now walk around with my wallet on a chain. Anyway, on to the music – here’s what I thought of the bands.
We planned to kick off the first day in the company of Starsailor – not my favourite act by any means, but they’ve got a few good tunes and the lead singer’s got a decent voice, but this didn’t happen as the queues to get into the arena were still ridiculous an hour and a half after the gates had officially opened. Good start. Once we were in, we ignored the first of the drink tokens outlets where the massive queues dwarfed the ones outside (drink tokens – what the fuck? This is the only festival I go to that doesn’t operate a cash bar and it’s a total shambles – I can only assume that either they don’t trust their bar staff or its some evil way to get more cash out of the punters – I wonder how many of those tokens go unused ever year?) and headed around the far side of the site to the main stage where both the token outlets and the bars themselves were deserted (this happens every year – you can draw your own conclusions about what this says about the punters). But the acquisition of tokens and subsequent beer came at an additional cost above the financial one, as it meant we were in the vicinity of the world’s biggest selling artist of the past two years, Taylor Swift. Yes, you heard right, some blond bint called Taylor Swift is officially the world’s biggest selling artist of the past two years, thereby proving that there’s a massive market for watered down, commercialised, country tinged pap from the Good Ole US of A. Having decided that puncturing our own ear drums with a plastic fork was a bit of an extreme measure this early in the Fest, we moved ‘Swift’ly on (see what I did there?) to catch a band called Raygun on the Virgin Mobile Stage, mainly because they had the attractive feature of not being Taylor Swift.
Well Raygun were a real surprise, in so much as they somehow managed to quickly make us long for some good ole American country tinged pap. In the ten minutes of their set that we subjected ourselves to, the lead guitarist knocked out an awesome guitar solo (did I say awesome? I meant fucking dire. I always get those two words mixed up) as he approached the lead singer, who proceeded to be overcome by the lightweight fret attack to collapse to the floor, hands held overhead to ward off the six-stringed attack. Now if you’re James Brown, Godfather of Soul, feigning being overcome by exhaustion on stage you can get away with such theatrics, but if you’re the lead singer in a band called Raygun, you’re just embarrassing yourself.
Next up – yay – Aussie rockers Jet, who finally gave us something to smile about. These guys offer retro sounding rock ‘n’ roll with a fair bit of Antipodean swagger, and every time I’ve seen them they’ve delivered. Knocking out a mixture of classic tracks from their first two albums plus a smattering of impressive sounding new ones, they put on a quality show and went down a storm, suggesting that while rock music might be on its last legs as far as the V organisers are concerned, not all their punters agree.
And after Jet came the realisation that there was nothing remotely worth watching until The Specials arrived at 6 o’clock, which was almost two hours later. With time to kill on a bright sunny day, we did what any good Brit would do and set up camp by the bar, where copious amounts of alcohol would be necessary if we were going to put up with the mockney warblings of Lily Allen on the main stage. Actually, that’s a little harsh, as little Lil does have the odd half decent tune (well one actually – The Fear), but by the end of her set I felt like I’d been locked in a room with a whiney teenager for an hour.
Thankfully, within five minutes of The Specials starting memories of the tabloid bothering chart moppet quickly faded. I have to admit that I missed out on The Specials first time around back in the early eighties thanks to a combination of my tender years and lack of musical taste, but having caught them on the TV coverage of Glasto, I was eager to make up for lost time. They played a greatest hits set, featuring all the old classics – Rat Race, Too Much Too Young, Rudy, etc, and Ghost Town to close – which had just the right balance of amped up tracks and dubbed out cuts to blend perfectly with the early evening nicely picked vibe that we had cultivated.
After The Specials, it was straight over to the Virgin Mobile tent for Leeds very own rock ravers The Sunshine Underground. I’m a big fan of this band, who make rock music with a danceable beat – I challenge anyone to watch them and keep still – and it was great to catch them in a tent where the lights were down, the volume was up, and the band were on top form. Tracks like Borders, Put You In Your Place, and the mighty Commercial Breakdown all culled from their debut album Raise The Alarm were up there with my songs of the weekend. These guys are well worth checking out if you get the chance, and special mention goes to vocalist Craig Wellington who can certainly belt out a tune.
Next up was a five-minute foray to go and see what all the fuss about Pendulum is about, and suffice to say, I still don’t get it. Aren’t they just a poor man’s Prodigy? Then on to the final band of the day, The Killers, who held the headlining slot on the main stage. Now I like The Killers, although I think their first three albums (including the B-sides and rarities compilation) are all better then the current offering, which is a little too lightweight for my taste, and I thought they put on a really good show. The set list was well conceived, and as the crowd were familiar with most of the songs it was one big sing along from start to finish. So after a slow start to the day, we managed to finish on something of a high, and with the awesome Biffy Clyro to look forward to on the Sunday, plus what would no doubt be a quality set from the ever-reliable Gallagher brothers, we retired for the evening in relatively good spirits.
When the sun rose the following day, hangovers were in surprisingly short supply, so after rustling up a full English on the camping stove and washing it down with a nice warm Fosters, we set out for the arena with a spring in our step and a can in our hand (only to drink en route of course – the chances of smuggling booze into the arena if you were that way inclined were about as high as smuggling a Sherman tank through an airport metal detector). The first big decision of the day was Ocean Colour Scene or The Lightning Seeds, and on the basis that we’d seen OCS before (and the fact that they were very late starting their slot – we had no idea why at the time) we opted for Ian Broudie’s mob. Initial signs were not good when they started with a semi acoustic version of one of their hits (can’t remember which one now, can’t be bothered to look it up online) and proceeded to treat the audience to a number of new songs, all of which were so lightweight they literally floated off into the ether before I could decide how dull they were. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but if you’re yesterday’s news as a band (and let’s face it, they’re hardly up and comers any more), and you’ve been given an afternoon festival slot, surely it makes sense to remind everyone why you were invited in the first place by knocking out a greatest hits set? We left halfway through before comas set in, and hightailed it back to the main stage to catch the last couple of OCS songs, which while admittedly were meat and potatoes dad rock, they were quite tasty meat and potatoes dad rock never the less.
So once again the day was off to an inauspicious start, and we still had an hour and a half to wait before Biffy Clyro came on (which was again spent by the bar – this Festival was doing wonders for my liver). Now Biffy are a magnificent rock band – loud, melodic, and ambitious, they put on one of my all-time favourite gigs at the (far superior) Reading Fest a couple of years back, and they were one of the main reasons why I had kept hold of my V ticket this year. They were awesome as ever, with tracks like Mountains, the epic Living Is A Problem, Machines, and new single That Golden Rule, in fact the whole set was a fucking treat, although it’s fair to say that some of the crowd were confused by the sudden appearance of an electric guitar.
After the highpoint that was the Biff, next up were James, a band with a great back catalogue and a certified fruitcake for a lead singer. The last time I saw them (at V a couple of years back – that’s a point, have I mentioned that the line up has become very predictable in recent times, pretty soon acts like Goldie Lookin Chain (2005, 2008, 2009) and Paulo Nutini (2006, 2007, 2009) won’t bother going home from one year to the next) they were pretty woeful, mainly because they seemed to have forgotten the fact that they’d penned a load of top ten songs and decided to treat us to a load of self indulgent toss instead. By now, the news had well and truly broken that Oasis had fucked off back to their mansions, and fair credit to James lead singer Tim Booth, who came on and announced that to help make up for this fact James would now play their most popular songs. All in all, it was a pretty good set, and a nice way to pass an our or so on a sunny afternoon, and kudos to Booth for still dancing like a man with a clutch of angry ferrets down his trousers even at his advanced age.
After James came a bit of Elbow, who started off impressively but didn’t manage to hold our attention for all that long (admittedly, by now we had the attention spans of a class of five year olds and mental faculties to match thanks to an afternoon’s boozing in the sun), then it was off to see The Enemy on the second stage, who were pretty good, although I can’t help wondering if their time in the spotlight may prove to be rather more short lived than they hope.
At this point, we’d planned to catch Oasis headline the main stage, but they’d pulled out because Liam had the sniffles/had a hangover/couldn’t be arsed (delete as appropriate). Now I know losing your lead singer would be a bit of a blow for most bands, but Noel has stepped in on a number of occasions in the past to take on vocal duties, and I was pretty disappointed (completely fucked off in fact) that he chose not to do so this time. Compare this to Pearl Jam’s reaction when their support band couldn’t play just a few days earlier in Toronto – they came out and played a covers and rarities set, effectively supporting themselves. Even a shortened Oasis set would have been better than nothing, but instead we had to come to terms with the fact that Snow Patrol had been elevated to headliner status (what is the world coming to?). We caught the first half hour or so (again, sitting by the bar – there’s a bit of a trend emerging here) to confirm that they were dull, middle of the road indie – harmless enough, but not exactly awe inspiring, so we bade them farewell and headed over to the Virgin Mobile Tent to catch our last band of the weekend – British Sea Power.
I’d seen the tale end of a British Sea Power set once before at Reading, attracted into the tent by the fact that half the crowd were waving branches in the air (the band decorate the stage with bits of trees for some reason) and I thought that they were pretty good, but it turned out I was wrong – they’re not pretty good, they’re very good. Great songs, great sound, a bit quirky, and a wonderful way to draw proceedings to a close. Hats off to them, and next time I swear I’ll bring some foliage.
So that it for V as far as I’m concerned (barring a complete turnaround in their booking policy allied to a sudden chav-flu epidemic), there’s plenty of other festivals to chose from, both in the UK and abroad, and many of them even have actual musicians on stage as opposed to manufactured pop pap. In the final reckoning, I figure I saw 8 bands this weekend that I enjoyed, and that’s just not enough given the cost of tickets, spending money, and the aforementioned superior festivals elsewhere. So long V, thanks for the memories, don’t call us, we’ll call you, and will the last chav on site please turn out the lights before leaving.
What’s Steve been listening go this week?
Anything with a fucking guitar in it. Played loud. Very fucking loud.