Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Glastonbury 2010 - Part Two

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Welcome back to the Glastonbury review, which is starting to feel a little weighty. It was going to be two parts, but even I am not self-obsessed enough to subject you to 5000 words about what-I-did-on-my-holidays all at once. If you missed the first bit, it's here. Then read on...


There are no words to describe what it is like to wake up in a tent that is already being battered by unrelenting sunshine. If you take this feeling, stir in a pinch of hangover, sprinkle liberally with dry-mouth, add a huge lug of needing-a-piss and shake well, then you will end up somewhere close to how I felt on Saturday morning. One soon becomes uncomfortably aware that the sun is just as much an enemy as the rain at major festivals. My companion and I crawl from the tent, gasping and lolling, looking for all the world like something from a poor remake of Deliverance. A breeze passes across the site. There is a moment of relief before the blaze returns. Saturday has begun.

Saturday actually begins properly (after a rather tasty fruit salad) with another visit to the Two Door Cinema Club. This time they are playing The Other Stage, but their indie-pop is still as tight and catchy as it was on Thursday night in a tent not far from here. From this point, we take the short walk, pausing only for cider (it has been a full eight hours…), to the Pyramid Stage for what had promised to be a personal highlight: The Lightning Seeds. I happen to know that one of the chaps who runs this here website hates this band with a passion bordering on the insane. I, on the other hand, love them. Thinking back to my early days as an impressionable indie kid with no girlfriend (not directly related to liking The Lightning Seeds) and too much time on his hands (so to speak), they had everything. Crap hair, crap clothes, crap lyrics, but truly stupendous danceable tunes. Their appearance on this year’s bill made me whoop in public, as I would finally get to see them and appease my inner naïve self. Add to this the thrill of their playing Three Lions in the midst of England’s inevitable march to World Cup glory, and it was all shaping up nicely. It comes as a shock, therefore, when they’re not actually that great. They do play all their hits, but somehow the big bombastic sound is missing. At one point a trio of young ladies with violins is added to the ensemble, but even this cannot detract from the idea that the sound is a bit flat and doesn’t have enough power to render their pop gems in full magnificence. The lowest point is an ill-advised acoustic version of Marvellous, which proves to raise the apathy level amongst the small crowd. When Three Lions is eventually trotted out, it serves only as the backdrop to a sing-along. It could as easily be on tape. A shame for me and for my 14 year-old self. Tom Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again.

This disappointment laid aside, we toy briefly with the idea that watching Jackson Browne could be good. It is, however, far too hot to be outside for too long, and so we head for the cool shelter of the Acoustic tent to watch The Leisure Society. They put in a solid set of folky-goodness, which is unlikely to make me seek them out, but also unlikely to make me write anything bad about them in reviews. It happens in front of me. I snooze. We relocate to watch Wild Beasts. This is a band about whom I knew very little until about a week ago, when the album somehow found its way into my basket in a record shop. The lead singer wins the prize for worst dressed man of the weekend for his jacket, but this barely registers as the intriguing combination of deep, resonant voice and falsetto combine to produce a truly unique experience. It’s very easy to get transported elsewhere listening to this band, and the audience responds well with howls of respect at the end of each track. This band are already in the ascendency, and if this set is anything to go by, they’re not finished yet.

We cross the site, briefly avoiding a man dressed as a dog with fully functioning leg-cocking provided by a water pistol, and find ourselves at the West Holts stage. We find a spot as far away from the Brothers cider bar as possible and sit to watch counter-culture legend Devendra Banhart. He puts on a superb show, with the crowd rocking and swaying to every note. The backing band frames his vocals perfectly, and the general hippy ambiance is going strong, not least when he unexpectedly launches into a brilliant reworking of cheesy pop classic Tell It To My Heart. Sunshine and the eternally youthful sound of Mr Banhart. Perfect. From here we trot back over to the Acoustic stage for another of the weekend’s highlights, a performance from British folk legend (I do not use this word lightly) Al Stewart. For those of you who do not know Al Stewart’s music, I urge you to stop reading and go to your local music emporium and refuse to leave until they service you with a copy of Year of the Cat. There’s nothing more wonderful than Al Stewart’s silky voice on this record, singing songs infused with the childlike wonder we all secretly wish we still had. This is the second time I have watched Al, and I have never seen anyone more charming. Between songs Al waxes lyrical about the French civil war, the complex metaphors present in every song (he informs us that the next one is about lovers but that he has turned them into aeroplanes because it’s more interesting) and the reasons why he is so delighted to be back at Glastonbury. It is disarming and wonderful. When he finishes with the title track from the aforementioned album, he leaves the stage to cheering that does not die away until he returns for a well-deserved encore. You owe it to yourselves to find this man if you have not already.

As swift gear changes go, moving from Al Stewart to The xx is undoubtedly one of the swiftest of my festival career to date. This band are about as dark as you can get. Everything onstage is either black or, starkly, white. The band are sulky, they too are dressed in black. For a moment, a scene wonders through my head of a rehearsal where one of them has purchased a pink guitar. I will not bother writing this scene out for you. But I digress. The xx are pretty impressive, a synthesis of The Cure and Jean Michelle Jarre, and they move through their set with a languid ease. Islands produces an enormous cheer from this packed tent, and the moments keep coming as drum-machine-player (what is the proper name for one of those?) Jamie Smith hammers away as one possessed at the touch-sensitive pads in front of him. The set builds to what could well be a crescendo, but sadly is not.

It takes a few seconds to dawn that their closing number is a cover of Florence and the Machine’s ubiquitous You’ve Got The Love. This is not a wise choice of cover: the song’s selling point is its vocal range, and The xx are not a band built upon that. As the song continues, shrill warbling sounds from off-stage are rising in the mix. It becomes clear what is happening seconds before Florence (sans Machine) bounds onstage to help out. I am not a fan of Ms Welch particularly but, judging by the reaction from the crowd, I am in the minority. I have seen videos of Beatlemania, and this sound is the closest I have heard to it in real life. It is deafening. She trills her way through one final chorus with the band, there are hugs, and then silence as they leave the stage. Everyone is grinning and talking about what has just happened.

Myself and my companion are already hot-footing it to the nearest pie stall. Pies are great festival food: that’s another thing that I learnt this year. Then there’s a brief dalliance watching The Pet Shop Boys, who are awesome. It is my one regret that I did not hang around longer than Go West, New York City Boy and Always on my Mind. I will bite the bullet and see them next time they tour.

But our feet are now already carrying us towards Midlake on The Park Stage. Midlake are label mates of Fleet Foxes, which is instantly clear when you hear their albums or see them live. The set is brilliant for about three songs, but soon it becomes slightly repetitive. The set twinkles on occasion, but the stand-out moments are rare. We move on.

The night is spent raving in Arcadia. A giant metal spider as big as a building spits fire into the sky. Women dance on it, throwing various other flaming objects into the air. Later, we visit The Village Disco, a motley collection of young men who dress in brilliant costumes, have a disco on a trolley and play a rather disjointed array of music with entertaining quips in between. At one point even later, My Companion falls off a half-buried 4x4 and injures himself. Glow sticks are everywhere and the cider flows like… cider. We stagger home as the birds are singing. The tent is already heating up with the familiar funk and my last thought as I fall asleep is to dread the hangover.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Glastonbury 2010 - Part One

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Kierkegaard once very famously said that life could only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. The same is, broadly speaking, true of Glastonbury festival, with one important difference: it is impossible to actually understand it. It is similarly impossible to review the damn thing, since every single person on site will have had an utterly different experience. The only way to tackle this then is to go a bit Hunter S Thompson on y’all and tell you how it was for me.

This has been my seventh Glastonbury, and an initial look at the line-up did not instantly fill me with joy. It is of course well recognised that the line-up is significantly less than half the story with Glasto, and I should really have known better because the weekend is one of the best times I have ever had with my pants on. The loss of U2 was, for me, a bonus, as it gave me the chance to see a headliner this year, as I have little desire to see Muse or Stevie. But I get ahead of myself.


Myself and My Companion, a tall, languid man of no fixed abode and no fixed connection to reality, arrive just as Jermaine Defoe nods England in front against Slovenia. We waste no time in dropping all our gear and sitting down to watch England labour to a glorious 1-0 victory over a country ranked a titanic 17 places below them in the world rankings. Fortunately, picking a campsite is significantly less stressful than the preceding two hours: a friend is camped up in the caravan park, and so we high-tail it that way to find a whole new world. It may involve the sort of walk that normally needs sherpas, but camping up there is excellent: quiet, calm and handy for grabbing those too-few hours of sleep.

The rest of the evening is spent wandering and wondering around the site, looking at the weird and wonderful display of humanity that has assembled for the world’s greatest festival. A man on stilts dressed as a giraffe struts past, and the odd early festival casualty lies prostrate in the bushes. We find a place called The Front Room, where two men with a trumpet and a piano play covers of popular swing and early rock ‘n’ roll numbers to a small crowd sat on sofas. Part way through their set, a passing brass ensemble arrives and joins in the fun. This is the sort of thing that could only happen at Glastonbury.

We retreat to the comparative calm of the hill and overlook the site, surely one of the greatest views on earth. Then we down an unhealthy amount of cider, dance like morons and head to bed.


A brief detraction about cider: for the past few years at Glastonbury, the Brothers Bar has been setup next to the Jazzworld Stage (now re-christened the West Holts Stage). It acts like an idiot magnet, sometimes drawing a bigger crowd than some of the stages, and for the life of me I cannot understand why. Brothers cider tastes like piss, and there is a ridiculous array of novelty ciders on sale, including Toffee Apple Cider. It’s cider for children, people who want a cheap, high-alcohol content novelty. It’s the drinking equivalent of the Creme Egg: too sweet and essentially a once-a-year novelty. This year I frequent the Cider Bus by the main stage, which serves real cider. Yes, it costs a bit more, but you get what you pay for. On the last night, I also try the brilliantly named Soapdodger cider from Glastonbury Ales. This is real cider. To all of you at theBrothers Bar: fuck off back to nursery. Rant over.


Today begins with the predictable hangover, the predictable bacon sandwich and the less predictable blazing sunshine. I am not used to this. Not since 2003 can I remember it being this sunny. I glance at my wellies and mentally reassure myself that it was worth lugging them here, as it is bound to hammer down sooner or later. After lying around at our tent for a while (who knew you could make a decent cup of coffee in a caravan kitchen?!) we shift back onto the site and trawl blearily through the circus fields, watching people juggle, bend, balance and generally distort reality. We also watch some music played by people with instruments made of rubbish. It sounds rubbish.

Walking in the Greenfields is the usual experience: a heady mix of people making stuff out of wood and fabric, and a field full of people making insanely unsupported claims about the healing properties of crystals, divining and glasses of water. We stop to play draughts on a board made of wood and tiles, and My Companion beats me to win the coveted trophy (a stick with the words “I am the winner!” emblazoned on it in permanent marker by the girl at the stand) before we buy a plate of Moroccan food and stroll off.

The evening is an equally wonderful experience. We watch My Luminaries, who play to an increasingly large crowd at The Queen’s Head stage. They are good, solid indie rock: nothing that completely changes my world view, but a brilliant way to pass the time. The crowd swells throughout the set in anticipation of the upcoming performance from Two Door Cinema Club. By the time the band take to the stage, the tent could easily be filled twice over. The jangly indie pop described in my review of a few weeks ago is present here and this is a perfect setting, as festival-goers pogo with the wild abandon of the truly euphorically pissed. This band are arriving big time.

The evening is spent bouncing from party to party before getting what passes for an early night at Glastonbury (about 1am) in preparation for the following day of music, about which I am nearly too excited to sleep. The cider soon sorts that out.


Waking in a hot tent is up there in my top ten least favourite experiences. It is sweaty, it is smelly, it is disgusting. It makes you uncomfortably aware of the fact that you are at the mercy of the weather at Glastonbury, whether it is hot or wet. I already feel more disheveled than I have at the end of entire festivals in the past: the heat is debilitating and, although wet wipes are good, they’re not that good.

We make the executive decision to avoid Rolf Harris, as I am of the firm opinion that there is a finite amount of irony in the world, and it would be a shame to waste it. Instead we pop up to the Croissant Neuf, a stage entirely powered by the sun, and watch the brilliantly entertaining Biggles Wartime Band, who perform a set of West Country and Western music, interspersed with jokes that Carry On writers would be proud of. At one point they bring a giant papier maché sturgeon onto the stage for a guest slot. They then break the world record for most consecutive fish puns. This is a much better use of irony. Next up we drop into The Front Room again and find one of those magical moments that could only happen here: a semi-impromptu performance from Katie Maddocks and Raevennan Husbandes: two young ladies who play a set under their adopted moniker for the weekend: The Lovely Girls. without wishing this to sound patronising, it’s a well chosen name, as they do sound lovely. Sharing a guitar, the set comprises their own material and a few well chosen covers, including a magical acoustic rendering of the Sugababes About You Now. I had never realised what a great tune this was until this weekend. Check these two out, I promise it will be worth it.

A hasty breakfast of fruit later, we find ourselves at the Avalon stage to see Gabby Young and Other Animals. I first saw Gabby a few years back, supporting Al Stewart and she was excellent, so I’m full of anticipation. Unfortunately, it does not quite live up to this. Gabby has decided that a suitable use of her time is to paint herself up like a kabuki performer and the music seems to have lost a lot of the charm that initially attracted me to her. It’s still good, but I feel that comparisons to Bat for Lashes are going to come thick and fast if this is your chosen onstage persona. We leave and head for Willie Nelson. This is a man who needs no introduction. The word legend is used far too casually these days, and should be reclaimed for moments like this. As none of Willie’s songs are more than three minutes long, he seems to play about a million of them, and at one point I worry that the organisers will have no option but to cut him off mid-set; as he seems to move from one tune to another without hardly taking a breath. It is incredible stuff though, and Willie treats us to all his classics, including magical versions of Funny How Time Slips Away and Always on My Mind. This is a perfect afternoon set, pitched accurately at diehard fans and Radio 2 listeners clustered around at the Pyramid Stage awaiting the headliners.

Next up, French indie poppers Phoenix serve up a set on The Other Stage, which reminds me why indie is my first and truest love. Early evening sets in the sun at festivals ought to make you dance, even if your knowledge of the band’s material is patchy. Phoenix fulfill this brief perfectly. As does the evening’s next star: Snoop Dogg. Mr Dogg has had his troubles entering our fine nation in the past, but all this is clearly behind him now. He is masterful, the crowd are like crumbly hash in his hands. The set features enough of his classic hits to please the crowd, as well as some guests and some sage advice. We are left in no doubt about three things. Firstly, we know exactly what his name is. Secondly, we are more than aware that he enjoys the odd jazz cigarette. Thirdly, Noel Gallagher was wrong and arrogant to say that hip hop had no place at Glastonbury.

Next, our weary limbs carry us to the John Peel Stage for a performance by Mumford and Sons. These guys are a classic Peel Stage band: not that big when they were booked, they’ve since gone interstellar and the tent is packed. Who knew that Irish folk music could take over the world this way? Their set is immense, with the tunes so ingrained in the mind of every music fan in this land that half the time you can’t hear the band over the shouting of the audience. They bring out a couple of new tunes which suggest that their next album will be more of the same, and who could blame them? It’s a stupendous performance, brimming with confidence and tunes.

What follows Mumford is possibly one of the greatest moments of the weekend. We head to The Park for a Special Guest slot. Unless you have been living under a rock this weekend, you will remember that this guest was in fact Thom Yorke, from the little-known band Radiohead. Thom plays a few of his own tracks, including a fabulous rendering of Black Swan, to wild applause. Then he casually announces the arrival of Johnny Greenwood from that aforementioned little band. The place goes mental. At the 40th anniversary festival, it would be wrong if Radiohead weren’t represented, and they make their presence felt with pared down versions of Weird Fishes / Arpeggi, Pyramid SongIdioteque and a closing combination of Karma Police and, after the crowd nearly riots for one more, Street Spirit. These moments go down in history, and it is easy to see why. The crowd screams itself hoarse, retaining just enough vocal capacity to leave the stage singing the refrain from Karma Police.

If you had read only the reviews of Gorillaz from a popular broadsheet newspaper that I shall not name, you would be convinced we’d all left unsatisfied and depressed. You would be wrong. Their set is immense from start to finish. It’s groundbreaking to see that much talent assembled in one place, and each new guest star is greeted with rapturous cheering. The initial disappointment of thinking Snoop has replaced himself with a video (oh how we looked back on that moment two hours later...) is soon overwhelmed as Bobby Womack,Kano, Lou Reed, Shaun Rider, Little Dragon, De La Soul and more join Damon onstage to perform material from all three albums. Although the tracks from Demon Days are still by far and away the most accomplished, this set crams in classics from start to finish. The more mellow moments provide relief from the more frantic ones, and the visit from a Syrian instrumental troupe feels a tad cheesy, but is nevertheless just a short moment of inconsistency in a set that, although it perhaps lacks continuity, has a quality running though it that cannot be questioned. The main gripe about it from some seems to be that it wasn’t a “proper” Friday night headline slot. It was. It may have been slightly more for music geeks than casual fans of listening to a few tunes but, speaking as a music geek, this is no bad thing. Snoop Dogg returning in person at the end is the icing on a truly scrumptious cake. Congratulations Damon, you deserve your record as the first man to perform consecutive headline slots.

Part 2
and Part 3 are here...

Monday, 21 June 2010

David Karsten Daniels & Fight The Big Bull – I Mean to Live Here Still

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Released on 21st June, through Fat Cat Records

This is the sixth album to bear David Karsten Daniels’ name. And it’s a name that has become synonymous with lazy reviewing words like “underground” and “cult”. He has the air about him of a mysterious and enigmatic yet alluring singer songwriter, born straight from the same mould as Micah P Hinson. And this, of course, is no bad thing.

It would be very easy at this point to make a further lazy reviewing comment about this record sounding like Fleet Foxes as re-imagined by Mumford and Sons and then to go and have a beer. This would not, however, even begin to do justice to what is, at its core, an intriguing and multi-faceted record. It is no understatement to say that there is a bit of almost everything here: Cajun, Balkan, folk… if CSNY had decided to go inter-railing around Europe, it would have ended up sounding a bit like this.

Before getting to the serious discussion of individual tracks, it’s worth mentioning that Fight The Big Bull are a nine-piece ensemble from Virginia. From the sound of this record, they seem to play everything. A quick visit to the photos page on their website seems to add weight to this theory. The band are pictured playing almost every musical instrument known to man, and many of the photos are taken in the kind of club that we all wish we were cool enough to get into.

Listening to this record for the first time, there is one track that instantly leaps out and refuses to go by without mention: the utterly charming Through All the Fates. This song combines a superb rolling guitar track, with some glorious harmonising and some great brass accompaniment. It is by a long chalk, the most instantly hummable track here present.

Other honourable mentions should go to the eventually-bombastic Die and Be Buried. In a parallel universe, this track is the theme song of the 23rd Bond movie, in which James has decided to move to the country and keep some sheep. Starting with a brooding overture, the track seems to break down beyond repair, before crashing back in with a fabulous second act.

Elsewhere, The Funeral Bell is a great piece of folk music, and The Salmon Brook manages to recover from an interminably pointless drum intro to end with two and a half minutes of twinkling instrumental that manages to sound like… well… a salmon brook.

Throughout the ten tracks, this album has moments of brilliance and some generally lovely touches. Although occasionally it verges on getting a bit overly free-form and sometimes risks becoming “noodley”, it always stays on the right side of this very dangerous line, stepping across perhaps once on the eight-minute Each Summer Sound. This is a record that I am sure will find a place in the hearts of anyone who loved the aforementioned Fleet Foxes, but there’s a whole other layer here. The multiple instruments mix the talents of David’s backing band with his own talent for composition and the results are frequently awe-inspiring. Go forth and buy this record, one day you will find yourself with a music snob that you need to impress. And he (or she… probably he) will be impressed. I guarantee this to you.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Drums - The Drums

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Released 6th June on Moshi Moshi

I like to think of myself as a person who is completely immune to hype. I’m not. No one is. So, when The Angel Gabriel himself arrived at Gobshout Towers on a flaming chariot, bearing a copy of The Drums' debut long-player, it was only natural that my heart rate went up a little. And with good reason: The Drums have been tipped as this year’s hottest band by just about everyone from the BBC to the NME and every acronym in between. Respected contemporary music commentator Boy George said they were like The Smiths. And he should know.

The Drums are a four-piece from New York, and Wikipedia informs me that they formed from the smoking remnants of the superlatively named Goat Explosion. Their background is largely in making electronic music and, although the synthesisers have been largely cast aside for this new band, their influence is all over this record. The racing rhythm tracks on songs like recent single Forever and Ever, Amen sound as though they could have been created for a loop-obsessed Hot Chip tribute band. This impression is exacerbated by the fact that it very often sounds as though drummer Connor Hardwick is in fact a drum machine: so overly produced is the drum track. Ironic really, considering the band name.

There’s certainly a lot to love about this record, or at the very least there’s a lot on which to build a solid platonic relationship that occasionally goes a bit further after a couple of glasses of cheap wine. So many of the songs sound thoroughly jaunty, and there’s a summer swagger to proceedings that makes me think this record might just be the one that your friend who bothered to bring speakers for his iPod will play when you’re all in the park on a Saturday. This effect is nowhere stronger than on Skippin’ Town, a sparky pop number that manages to survive the indignity of having fairly naff lyrics. Other highlights of this record include the aforementioned Forever and Ever, Amen and the cheery-yet-dreary I’ll Never Drop My Sword.

A curious inclusion on the record that deserves a paragraph all to itself is the brooding Down by the Water. It almost seems a little out of place, as it plods and lumbers along with all the urgency of a lovesick cow. It also contains some fairly atrocious lyrics (“Everybody’s gotta love someone / But I just wanna love you dear”) and it seems to be strategically placed to provide a change of pace at the beginning of side two (for those of you who still think of records that way). A seemingly random inclusion, but one that shows a potential for some range nevertheless. More on that later. Special mention should also go to It Will All End in Tears, which sees the band plunder Peter Hook’s oeuvre and come up with perhaps the only Joy Division bassline that Joy Division didn’t write.

In all, this is a solid debut, but there are just a couple of things that spoil the party for me. The first is the mattress of reverb (I’m patenting that expression, hands off) that smothers the whole record. The effect is to make the band sound as though they’re playing at the other end of a particularly lengthy plastic drainpipe. There’s nothing “crisp” on this album, no bite or attack to be found anywhere, which is a shame really. Secondly, there’s the lyrics, which are frequently embarrassingly obvious and occasionally a bit trite. I feel that comparisons to The Smiths should be put straight to bed the minute that Jonathan Pierce croons “Would you like to go with me / Honey, take a run down to the beach”. Sorry Boy George, but I respectfully disagree. I’ll stick with “For there are brighter sides to life / And I should know because I’ve seen them / but not very often”.

But my main issue with this album can be summed up as follows: this is what it sounds like when electronic bands make guitar music. There’s not a great deal of variation; many of the tracks are indistinguishable from one another for the first few listens, and the vague familiarity of the singles is the only initial landmark on the journey from start to finish.

There’s certainly nothing desperately wrong with this record, it’s a solid debut, as I said. But somehow I’m left slightly unsatisfied by the whole experience. This is frustrating, as there could have been slightly more made of this. The uniformity of the record is a bit of a trial, and it ultimately ends up grating; but that’s not to say that at points, it’s not a worthy addition to the canon of 21st century summer soundtracks.