Saturday’s musical adventures started at the early hour of 2pm with Howling Bells in De Montford Hall. My prior knowledge of HB has been through some tracks off various blogs. I quite enjoyed their dark brooding rock which had a certain swagger and was perfect for the darker-than-usual interior of the Hall. The highlights came at the beginning of the set with a song that sounded like a sexier Throwing Muses, and the final track which may have been the cracking single Low Happening. In between, it meandered a little for me. But a qualified thumbs up.
Download: Howling Bells – Low Happening
This slot presented the first unfortunate clash of the weekend. The much touted Joan as Police Woman was playing on the Rising Stage. At one point I ducked out of Howling Bells to see the tent rammed out the doors. Luckily Mrs Growl was inside with plenty space on the right of the tent (that problem again) and reported that she was good. She was particularly taken by her voice and the quality of the songs. Shame I didn’t make it in then. Oh well, some other time.
Download: Joan as Police Woman – Eternal Flame
The next gig I got to was Isobel Campbell in the Hall. I’m very fond of the Ballad of the Broken Seas, but it was always going to be hard to recreate it without the gravely tones of Mark Lanegan. Subbing for Mark was Glasgow music legend Eugene Kelly (of Captain America/Eugenius and Vaselines fame), and although his voice is decent enough, it just isn’t Lanegan. Isobel had vocal problems of her own. Either her breathy vocals are just on the ‘too light’ side or the sound was a bit ropey. Maybe both. However, the songs still sounded good. And she seemed to be enjoying herself and she flounced around the stage.
Download: Isobel Campbell – Ramblin’ Man
It’s interesting to see the shifting demographics as different bands play on the same stage. ¡Forward Russia!’s demographic is definitely on the younger side of the festival crowd. Well below 20. The kids went crazy for the band with the awkward Spanish-style exclamation marks, as they charged through their set of scuzzy, shouty electro-rock. And it transpired that it wasn't just the kids – Steve Lamaq (of Radio 1 and BBC 6 Music) was among the crowd surfers. I’ve since listened to their album, and if you have a tenner to spend on them, it’s certainly better to catch them live. There’s a compelling urgency and energy about their performance that’s not there on record. Frontman Rob Canning spent the set getting tangled up in his mike cable and on the closing number jumping off stage and trying to get into the crowd. He returned to leave the stage with blood streaming from his burst nose. Rock ‘n’ Roll – eh?
Download: Forward Russia! – Nine
I caught the end of Vashti Bunyan’s set in the Hall. She seemed a shy, even reluctant performer, but her quiet folky songs are wistful and lovely and washed over me without really sticking. However, Mrs Growl and I felt compelled enough to stay to the end. However, she could have done without the annoying kids making a lot of unnecessary noise down the front. Although she’s shy, I’m sure she’s enjoying her recent rediscovery and rise to prominence on the alt-folk scene. Her tour schedule for this year testifies to that.
Download: Vashti Bunyan – Diamond Day
Calexico are always a great live band, but like Richard Hawley, their festival set was never going to match up to their blisteringly good gig at the 100 Club earlier this year. However, their classic dusty country meets mariachi, and even their new straighter rock direction on latest album Garden Ruin seemed to go down well with the festival crowd. And they played Crystal Frontier, which they didn’t do in London, which was a nice bonus.
Download: Calexico – Crystal Frontier
At the end of Calexico I wondered if I should bother going to see The Proclaimers. I’ve never really been into them, and (as a Scot) even considered them to be a bit of a national embarrassment. I also had no idea of how big they are outside Scotland (where in the 80s they were pretty massive). The queue to get into the Hall proved that they have some international appeal at least. I knew 500 Miles was probably their best known song, but I was totally unprepared for the frenzy that ensued when they played it – certainly the biggest mass leaping around of the festival and easily it’s most surreal moment. But I shouldn’t have doubted them so much. The four songs I caught were brilliant. Gone are the days of the skinny speccy boys in Hibs shirts. Now we have chunky blokes playing big chunky tunes with an evident passion. Even better than the comedy hysteria of 500 Miles was their gorgeous, countrified version of Sunshine on Leith, which was one of my (unexpected) highlights of the whole festival.
Download: The Proclaimers – Sunshine on Leith
After that we couldn’t really muster enough enthusiasm to see any of the headline acts. X-Press 2 who I was very keen to check out had to call off because Ashley Beadle was sick. They were replaced by the Blockheads, who instead of the late Ian Dury, were being fronted by comedian/DJ Phil Jupitus. So instead we sat in the real ale and cocktail tent for a bit. Towards the end of Gomez’s set some of us wandered over for a look. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s been a while since I’ve been interested in them to be honest – about 1998 when I saw them playing their debut album in the West London club formerly known as The Subterrania. But as well as the songs from that album (which are still the clear audience favourites) the never stuff sounds alright too. Not good enough for me to go out and buy but good enough for a rainy Saturday evening.
Download: Gomez – Whippin’ Piccadily
Mrs Growl fared less well in the Hall going to see the Blockheads. She returned to our spot watching Gomez to declare it a bit of an embarrassment. I shouldn’t have doubted her. When I went in to the Hall for the loo (always a better bet than the portaloos outside) I couldn’t resist a peek inside. Sure enough. Although the Blockheads are clearly brilliant musicians, the whole thing was really just celebrity karaoke.
Then the rain came down. And kept going all night. We didn’t even get to stay up past 12, as we were ejected from the campsite café when it closed, and trudged our way back to our tents.
I've uploaded more picks to the ol' Flickr page.
Check here for my review of Friday.