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Summer Sundae - Friday 11th August 2006

I was already buzzing by the time I reached the Musician Acoustic Stage, so I probably needed a bit of calming, and what better way to achieve this than by listening to the beautiful dulcet tones of Sarah Marshall and Butterflypolite? The band were a little unfortunate initially to be competing with bands soundchecking on the Main Stage and music from 6music’s little hut in the corner. After a brief false start, the band graced us with their delicate understated melodies that had shades of a slightly more cheerful All About Eve cooking supper for The Carpenters while Tori Amos pops round for a cup of tea. A very pleasant, comfortable way to open proceedings.

Aah, this is the life. No hurry for anything at the moment, so I’m staying put in the Musician Tent for the Andy Griffiths Band. Lie back, tap your toes and generally chill out to the friendly, formulaic folk music on offer. There was one song in particular – one that is apparently about one of Andy’s heroes, George Mallory – which was easily his best one, and you can really tell that Griff believes what he is saying.

David Wyatt was up next, but seeing as I reviewed his (very enjoyable) set last year, I didn’t hang around here because it clashed with the Rising Stage’s curtain raiser, Formication, a pair of Utah Saints look-alikes who churn out agreeable ambient techno stuff…if there IS such a thing. Then it was back to the Musician Stage again for Storm Thieves, a kind of “prog folk” ensemble who come across as like a Cornish Jethro Tull, as well as occasionally sounding like Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Alas, I must apologise to Shana Morrison, who was the only artist whose set I missed on Friday, on account of my search for Pedro Cortina, our other reviewer on the day, who it turns out had been asleep all morning. Ah…there he is! From hereon in then, those artists that clash can all be covered, but I won’t tell you who reviewed what. Hell, I’m just going to take credit for it all!

Back over in the Rising Stage, Now came across like an electronic version of Linoleum and housing in their ranks an enthusiastic frontwoman who moved like Chrissie Hynde and crooned her Cure like lyrics with bucketfuls of attitude. At the same time in the Indoor Stage, Merla were cutting the ceremonial ribbon with their uptempo feelgood Country tinged material. The French based band showcased some KT Tunstall type backing and their vocalist sounded rather like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder at times.

It’s now a quarter to five and current album chart topper James Morrison is due on the Main Stage to really get the party in the swing. Morrison, for those of you who didn’t know, is rather like a slightly cooler, less annoying and more talented version of James Blunt. He certainly has the voice to win over the audience with his Rod Stewart like compositions. The whole thing effectively sounded like Damien Rice singing outside his living room. Perhaps it was an oversight to stick him on first, given his recent success, but why not open with a bang?

Clashing with each other were Zil on the indoor stage and The Buoys in the Rising Tent. The lead singer of the former band seemed a little too over-excitable for what his band were playing, if I’m being quite frank. There seemed to be something of a lack of depth in their songs which is quite probably brought about by the absence of a bass player. To me they sounded like a weaker version of Porno For Pyros, lapsing into being the equivalent of Duran Duran playing a mundane round of golf with Tenpole Tudor and Heaven 17.

The Buoys on the other hand made some impressive ambient noises. Oddly, it sounds as though the decks are on fire at times and even stranger is the fact that this is surprisingly soothing. At this point in the festival, you begin to realise that a lot of the great, innovative music at the moment is being made by folk in their thirties and over – there’s hope for me yet!

Liam Frost and the Showdown Family were next up on the Main Stage, and this is another “pleasant” artist. I’m feeling that we really need someone to shake things up a bit here. Don’t get me wrong – these guys are extremely good at what they do – a hybrid of Martin Stephenson and the Daintees, Badly Drawn Boy and Clayhill – but they’re hardly setting my world alight. Having said that, their new singles is a TOP tune.

Well, whaddya know? No sooner does the clock strike 6 than we encounter far and away the best artist of the day to date in the Musician Acoustic Stage. Except this band is anything BUT acoustic. Step up Leamington’s Great Blind Degree who perform infectious tunes that would turn Hot Hot Heat green with envy, and convey a vibrant, youthful energy that is rather like a harder edged Libertines. This was a much needed shot in the arm and trust me, this band is going places.

At the same time, Stendec were playing in The Rising Stage. The only notes I appear to have made were “Fuck that’s boring”. Enough said. Music that you could only possibly enjoy if you were in a flotation tank.

A better proposition here was Baxter Dury (Rough Trade link), son of the late great Ian (editor; c'mon, legendary no less!), who swaggered on stage with the confidence of a Premiership footballer who’d just scored a goal. Or scared a goat, as my partner in crime here today thought I’d written in my notebook. Vocally, Baxter is not unlike Jake from Alabama 3, and his musically adept, relatively dark pop songs come over remarkably well, almost in Sisters of Mercy territory, marking him down as one of Friday’s highlights.

A million miles away from his work with The Longpigs, Richard Hawley graced the Main Stage next. Mixing fantasial dreamlike sequences with modernised versions of fifties doo-wop is just one of the many tricks the man has up his sleeve. Whatever else you choose to say about Hawley, one thing is set in stone – his music is ultimately extremely romantic.

For one reason or another – mainly my stomach if I’m brutally honest – I missed the majority of Seth Lakeman’s set, but my “ears and eyes” informed me that this was like the acoustic bit of Led Zeppelin IV, and was like a “laid back Pogues” in between.

I did manage to catch A Hawk and a Hacksaw in the Rising Stage though. Despite their intriguing moniker – and I admit, I may be getting a little cynical (or even senile) in my old age – but this appeared to just be an attempt to make as much noise as possible with a violin and an accordion. Perhaps I should book myself in next year to play my well crafted set of me scraping my boots down a blackboard. Anyway I’m sure a tune will arrive sooner or later but alas, I think it’s time to move on to another tent.

To give Kingsize their dues in the Musician Acoustic tent, they undoubtedly got the crowd going, but to me they were just a poor man’s Bad Manners, which I’ll be honest, I was pleased about, as it gave me a chance to finish stuffing my face…

The Delays were probably the surprise package of the day, as I expected this band to be quite dull live, but they were extremely entertaining and musically very well versed. This is a band who are a billion times better live than they are on record – I wonder if that’s down to the production? Still, maybe I’ll dig the album out and give it another whirl.
The irony in the light sunny pop The Delays play is that there appears to be a set of very ominous dark clouds hanging over us that may well be a warning for an impending thunderstorm…

Back to the Rising tent, and Sofalofa make the sort of chilled out atmospheric music that makes you feel like you’ve returned momentarily to your mother’s womb. It’s a nice tingly feeling and there is an omnipresent feelgood factor to be taken from this “voyage into the unknown”. I feel totally relaxed now. Cheers guys.

DJ Format is up next on the Indoor Stage, and that appeared to be purely a mix of cracking old 60s psychedelia overdubbed with some thumping bass drums. At least that what I heard for the short while I was watching. Nice.

Back in the Musician Tent there was the absorbing proposition of Phill Jupitus fronting the legendary Blockheads. Somehow it works, as the rather large DJ/comedian carries the whole thing off rather well, belting through first “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” then “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” and a host of other favourites to boot. The Blockheads themselves, of course, showcase their obvious virtuoso musicianship to great effect.

Moseying on back to the Jim Beam Rising Stage, you could almost hear Plaid’s tunes being used in either a major science fiction blockbuster or a World In Action type current affairs programme. Utilising Massive Attack style soundscapes and structuring, Plaid perform a captivating set of restrained Space Age hallucinations. And if you know what that means, please send your answers to the editor on the back of a postcard. It’s getting late and we’ve all had a few beers y’know…

The latter band were due to be headlining in this tent, but had kindly swapped places as Psapp’s keyboard player had been stuck in Verona! Anyway, they sounded like a frazzled Swing Out Sister, as though they’d all just shot up with heroin before a band practise. But in a good way…if that’s possible…

Elbow, the evening’s headliners, were powerful and moody as you’d expect from a set of accomplished musicians. Nothing more or less than you’d want or anticipate.

Between the start and end of the Mancunian band’s gloomy but uplifting set, we decided to catch Michael Franti and Spearhead, who were heading the bill on the Indoor Stage. Now, despite my intense disapproval of any artist telling me and the rest of the audience to “make some noise” (this is second only to “Hello <insert city>”), Michael redeemed himself pretty quickly with his politically intense, socially aware poetry, cunningly disguised as feelgood rock, pop and reggae tunes. Having said all that, he’s just yelled “Make some noise” TWICE MORE, and now I want someone to slam that tambourine over his head. Hrrmph.

And in conclusion;

All in all then, a damn good start to the festival. One little aside though – someone ought to pull whoever chose the “between bands” music up and give them an almighty hoof up the backside. I mean – Maroon 5, Coldplay and James Blunt?!! Come on! We’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves here! Luckily the quality of the artists on show today has more than compensated for any little niggles I have. I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s going to get even better tomorrow…

BAND OF THE DAY – GREAT BLIND DEGREE




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