Sunday 24 July 2011

Splendour, Wollaton Park, Nottingham

It’s been a while since I went to a music festival on Wollaton Park and this is the first time I’ve paid. Those freebies were the Heineken festivals of the late eighties and early nineties, halcyon days. Later the historic hall looked down up on the City in the Park and Distortion festivals and now we have Splendour. An odd and slightly off putting name for a music festival if you ask me.

The whole thing is organised by Nottingham City Council and ran by DHP Concerts, the music mafia of Nottingham, owners of Rock City, The Rescue Rooms, The Bodega, Stealth etc etc. They own Nottingham. This one day festival is now in its fourth year, although it did originally run over two days in 2008 and it’s the first edition to sell out.

Today Wollaton Park is awash with sunshine and it is interesting to sit on the grass, listen to the music and study the various ingenious methods people have used to smuggle alcohol in, which with prices at £3.75 a pint and with no half measures available, there’s plenty of incentive to do.

The winners of the ‘Future Sound of Nottingham’ competition, The Money, get to open the main stage. They then walk away with another award, that for best trousers courtesy of both their singer and their guitarist, especially their guitarist.

After which we wander over to the Jägermeister Stage where Royal Gala are belting out what can probably be described as world music. Not my thing, so we head up to the courtyard stage wondering if they really did name themselves after a type of apple.

We are briefly delayed en route by Nottingham City Council trying to sell us a Flexible Fitness membership. It's good to see them giving it some publicity for once, but we’re already members so we get out of that particular hard sell easily. Up in the court yard we miss Jake Bugg. Who seems to have finished very early.

So we head back down the hill and into the real ale tent, which is very impressive with a large selection of beers, sadly at the aforementioned £3.75 a pint and with what appears to be only one barrel of each, which clearly with a reported 20,000 here today isn’t going to last long. I make a mental note to pop back soonish.

With a pint in hand we settle in for Sam Duckworth on the main stage. He is the man behind Get Cape Wear Cape Fly and I really enjoy his acoustic set, although you can’t help thinking he would have been a better fit on the Jägermeister, while perhaps the world music of those apple folk might have gone down better over here.

There are some impressive T shirts out today. Modern ones - Foos, Blink 182 etc. Old ones - Ramones, Husker Du, Bauhaus. There’s one that might be an ‘Echo Park’ era Feeder one, damn late 90’s poverty, probably the reason I never got one. I’d hate to put the blame for that on the girl I’d not long met and who is beside me today. Wouldn't dare.

Out of all of them, the award for best t-shirt goes to a chap wearing one from the 1979 Leigh Rock Festival, although it's brand new, so he probably just bought it off ebay. I'll tell you more about Leigh another day.

Again I try hard to like Nottingham’s Swimming but still find them a bit dull. Swimming unlike Sam D are not very communicative with the crowd, perhaps they’re just a bit knackered after having just finished a UK tour with Killing Joke, I imagine the after show parties were pretty intense. They also try a lot of new material out on us, which isn’t really what festivals are about.

We preselect our evening meal while they’re on, from the same curry stall that fed us at Summer Sundae last year.

The two key stages are alternating half hour slots but there does seem to be some overlap and we appear to be ‘The Last To Know’, ha ha, that Del Amitri are up on main or rather Justin Currie, who is now solo. He’s best described as looking weathered but no matter, we dally for a while and listen to his mix of new solo material and Del Amitri hits.

Then we wonder off to see Romance, who are one of many bands today with an un-googleable name, so it’s a fight to find anything out about them. Romance... The Money... you try it, as for The Virgin Mary, don’t get me started.

There is a band called Romance from Seattle but these folk aren’t from Seattle. Although they still can’t pronounce Nottingham, despite this being their second visit here in three months - they were at Dot to Dot, so they must be from down south, deepest Cockneyshire. Their songs have catchy names like ‘Burn Like Fire’ and the ‘River Runs Red’. A lot of them also sound like covers but don't appear to be. One sounds a dead ringer for the Manic’s ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ but isn't. Another sounds stunningly like something by the Cult but again isn’t. That’s probably not so surprising when you find out they opened on the Cult’s last tour.

Romance also win an award and that is for most over used cliché in the form of a bass player. Yep, female, black stockings, denim shorts, a dark bob topped off with a pout and the obligatory deep red lipstick. We’ll call her Samantha, for that is her name. All she needs to do is one of those backwards hair flicks.

Yep, there we go. So so clichéd but so good to see it back, if it’s ever been away. It has to be said that lead singer Jamie does a pretty mean hair flick himself.

Did I get a close up of the bass player you ask. Of course.

They clear the field but I really like them. More please.

Or has everyone headed over to Cast. We have a decision to make. Cast or a comedian called Monkhouse, who isn’t any relation to the late great Bob, I don’t think but then I don’t know my comedy. Clearly though he'll still have a lot to live up to. Cast win.

Cast don't seem to have aged at all or changed even and John Power along with the rest of the original line up pull a big crowd to the main stage. They have a few new ones to play us as well as plenty from the last 15 years. The trio of ‘Walkaway’, ‘Alright’ and ‘Free Me’ finish a pretty good set.

Time for another pint, or not. All the beer has gone by 4pm! Shocking. I'm guessing but I think this must be the first time they’ve tried a real ale tent. Seriously up the beer order next year guys.

The ungoogleable Virgin Mary prove to be more bloody than virginal, time for that curry I think. After which we wander back up to the courtyard and see a comedian called Wes Zahruk, who doesn’t have any jokes just comedic behaviour or should that be just downright weird behaviour. He can do things with vacuum cleaners and sink plungers that I really don’t want to tell you about.

Then I'm hastened quickly past Cecile Grey, who is dull but cute.

Which is something that could also be said of Eliza Doolittle. I concentrate on the cute part via the big screen while my partner joins a bladder testing toilet queue. Seriously up the portaloo order next year guys. By the time my partner reemerges I’ve gone off even the cute idea, we skip the rest of Eliza.

Instead West Bridgford's Dog Is Dead, who seem to get an invite to play here every year. This is their third appearance in four years and they’ve now got a record deal to brag about. They also pull a huge and vocal crowd. Fair play to them but they sound like Friendly Fires to me. Time for a sit down and to discuss tactics for the finale.

After alternating bands all day the organisers have decided to pitch Blondie head to head with the Bluetones. We’re heard more than a few grumbles about this, as couples seem split over who to see. We too want to see both. We decide to get an early spot for Blondie, watch fifteen minutes or so before moving over to the Bluetones and hence bag a good spot for Feeder, which is the main reason we’re here before legging it whilst the Scissor Sisters are on.

As ‘Union City Blue’ drifts across the field towards us we realise Blondie have scuppered this plan by coming on a full fifteen minutes early, which is so un-rock n roll. Somehow we squeeze in down the front to the side of the stage and watch Debbie Harry pirouette to ‘Atomic’ in some strange blue tutu outfit.

In the end they do us a favour by starting early, by the time new track ‘Mother’ rings out we’ve seen enough and now we can see all of the Bluetones set. Which is doubly fortunate because they proved to be the best act of the night.

Hounslow’s finest have announced that they are to split and have scheduled a final tour for the autumn. I have never seen them live, despite loving their early stuff, ‘Expecting to Fly’ was one of the best albums of 1996. It’s really remiss of me, so at least I put one wrong to right tonight.

They are excellent from the opening ‘Bluetonic’ to the closing ‘If...’ via ‘Slight Return’ of course, many people’s favourite and Mark Morris’s personal favourite ‘Never Going Nowhere’. I’m with Mark. Also excellent is the heavily requested (by the folks next to me anyway) ‘Carnt Be Trusted’ (from ‘Expecting to Fly’), and then there’s ‘Marblehead Johnson’ and many others. Great stuff.

Morris in particular is very humble and appreciative of our attendance. As they say, they realise we have a choice between which ‘has beens’ to see and they don’t come any bigger in the ‘has been’ stakes that the legendary Blondie. The 'tones' even parody Debbie Harry and co with a bit of excellent improvisation by their drummer and guitarist as they make a stab at the intro to ‘Heart of Glass’.

If anything the word ‘Splendour’ fits this band better than any other tonight. Terrific stuff. This will be their last visit to Nottingham but some of those farewell dates in other cities are looking very attractive.

So to Feeder, who have no trouble at all in pulling a big crowd but then the Scissors Sisters aren’t due on yet but I can’t imagine there being much crossover fan wise. I thought perhaps tonight Feeder would concentrate on the hits and quite looked forward to that but no they still blend old and new together and do so quite nicely, playing five tracks off the now year old Renegades album.

It’s a manic gig, the crowd are lively or just pissed up and we have to move out of the mosh a bit whilst still maintaining our near front row view. Despite the crowd being up for it, they don’t quite take the hint when Grant tries a teasing intro to ‘Buck Rogers’. If they don’t want it mate, don’t play it, play ‘My Perfect Day’ instead I dream.

Highlights... I don’t know. It’s always good to hear ‘White Lines’, they don’t always play that. Of the classics, some suit the open air better than others. ‘Come Back Around’ for instance comes across rather tamely where as ‘Just The Way I'm Feeling’ is a perfect fit.

I guess somebody had to dedicate something to Amy Winehouse tonight and its Feeder who do it but dedicating ‘High’ could be taken one of two ways. He could be being a little tongue in cheek but then again the song was chosen by Jon Lee’s (former Feeder drummer) parents to be played at his funeral, so perhaps not.

‘High’ actually should be the perfect festival tune but it’s sadly not quite well known enough to get a mega sing-along going. The traditional closing ‘Just A Day’ though, goes down well everywhere.

They’re good, as ever, but too brief. Despite headlining the Jägermeister stage they only get an hour and no encore, while the Scissor Sisters gyrate in their... whatever they were wearing... jumps suits and bin bags? for another hour and a quarter. I was hoping to give Jake Shears and co a miss but Feeder finish too early. Even so a quick glance at the big screen is enough. Off home.

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