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Summer Sundae Festival, De Montfort Hall, Leicester, August 14th-16th 2010, Part 2

August 24, 2010

After a gigantic breakfast, we took it easy in the morning, avoiding the drizzle and grey of Leicester city centre, so we got to the festival at lunchtime, downed a few beers and I headed to the inside stage to see The Woodentops. The band, formed in 1983, was at the fun end of the C86 indie scene, playing what lead-man Rolo McGinty calls ‘indie thrash’ or ‘hypnobeat’. Their music was typified by upbeat and frenetic strumming and drumming. I saw them lots of times in their native Croydon in the mid-80s, frequently at the Underground Club, a dingy indie dive that hosted some fine evenings, notably by other local heroes Loop, my favourite noise merchants of that era. As a penniless postgrad living on the grim Mitcham-Tooting borders, I couldn’t afford to go into London very often, so Croydon it was. And there’s nothing wrong with Croydon, despite its unfashionable image.

The Woodentops bounded onstage (Rolo’s clearly still a high-tempo, bouncy sort of chap) and played their new single, Third Floor Rooftop High, their first single for 22 years. Now that does make me feel old, but they kept up the youthful pace with oldies like Here Me James and Why Why Why, the latter featuring a groovy semi-rap and a beat that presaged the coming acid dance explosion of the late 80s. Next was slower number – and minor hit at the time – Good Thing, with its almost calypso lilt. The band hit their groove very well and most of the middle-aged audience was at least tapping its toes or nodding its heads if not actually dancing like banshees. The set’s climax was the great Move Me, another big dance number with Rolo yelling ‘addicted to the rhythm…’ and it’s the rhythm that’s the most recognisable element in their sound. Having not seen the band for years, I’d forgotten just how upbeat and irresistible they are. Very entertaining.

I was planning on spending practically the whole day at the indoor stage and next on was a complete change of pace –singer-songwriter Laura Veirs from Oregon strumming her gentle, woodsy, folk-tinged songs. Most of the set was from her recent July Flame album – Sun Is King, Carol Kaye (featuring some nice picking), Wide-Eyed, Legless, I Can See Your Tracks and the title track:
July flame,
Fiery kite,
Will o’ the wisp,
Lead me through the night.
July flame,
Sweet summer peach,
High up in the branch,
Just out of reach.

One other track, Wandering Kind (from 2007’s Saltbreakers) was stronger and electric, with a 70s Fleetwood Mac-ish groove to it. Laura mentioned having her three-month-old baby on the road with her, which is pretty impressive and she seemed remarkably calm and happy about the whole experience… I enjoyed her set and my mood brightened further on hearing that Aston Villa had beaten West Ham 3-0 in the opening game of the new football season.

The whole family are fans of Tunng, and we all enjoyed their set of festival-friendly songs and sing-alongs. Don’t Look Down Or Back was a powerful opener, followed by a whole bunch of other recent songs – It Breaks, The Roadside (during which singer Becky sounded uncannily like Donna Summer), With Whiskey, By Dusk They Were In The City and Hustle, with its noticeable Motown influence. We did also get oldie Tale From Black and they rounded off the entertainment with crowd favourite Bullets.

We’ve been watching Tunng since they started out and they’ve become consistently better performers, particularly in the vocal department, even though the sound has changed since the departure of Sam Genders to become less folky and more rocky. Indeed, front-man Mike Lindsay revelled in his ‘rock god’ moment during By Dusk They Were In The City with his crazily funny heavy metal-style solo while wearing OTT spangly 70s shades. They’ve kept one element of their music that I’ve always liked – the spooky and creepy lyrics that suggest disorientation, unease and violence. It doesn’t always sit with their more upbeat sound of late, but it does give them an edge. Here’s how The Roadside starts:
Where are you going to? Can I go with you?
No, you have to stand guard,
Stand where I can see you,
It’s getting so, so cold,
What are you going to do?
You should stop worrying,
When they waded naked into the water.

Next act on the big indoor stage was Caribou, Dan Snaith’s electro-dance outfit. On record, he plays everything, clever fellow that he is (he also has a maths PhD), but live he uses a band. They prove to be very tight, even physically, with the fine drummer sat stage front, right next to Dan on keyboards, computer and other percussion. Add in bass and guitar and it’s a beguiling mix of the digital and the analogue. I like Caribou’s stuff, even though it’s fair to say I don’t dance to it, but I was surprised that almost no-one else was dancing. Astral and I sat in the balcony for this set, which was our excuse…

Then it was back downstairs to see The Fall. I’ve only seen them a couple of times in the last fifteen years or so and I’d forgotten how the inimitable Mark E Smith wanders around the stage, fiddling with band members’ equipment. That must be extremely annoying, though if you’ve signed up to play with The Fall, you’ve pretty much given up the right to have any say in anything that goes on… Mark E was neatly dressed and lunged at his microphone, launching into a set comprising mainly songs from the recent Your Future Our Clutter album, though we did get White Lightning from 1990ish and their rip-roaring version of The Sonics’ Strychnine from 1965. Not much about The Fall changes, which is good. Astral pointed out how plesasantly droney they sound and I’d forgotten (as with The Woodentops) just how danceable they are – the 40-something-year-old blokes in the mosh pit were jumping up and down enthusiastically and seemed not to be bothered about the lyrics over which Mark spends so much time and effort. Not that the songs’ lyrics make obvious sense. Here’s an excerpt from Cowboy George:
I had two brown bottles
And a white note as I entered,
Five years of confinement,
This is the story that unfolded,
As it went on into the sea of
Unseen footage and
Unseen facts,
Unseen refinement,
Unseen extension,
Chicory Tip in a shopping centre
With a soundtrack again.

Marvelllous! It had been quite a nostalgic day, but it was by no means one set in aspic. All the older bands were very entertaining, as was the late-night film Astral and I decided to watch in the film tent – the Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. The music, of course, was fab, and it was a great performance from Andy Serkis as Dury, but the story concentrated too much on Dury’s son Baxter (that’s him with Ian on the front cover of New Boots And Panties). I suppose that’s understandable given Baxter’s active involvement in the production, but we really want to see as much of his infuriatingly charismatic father as possible. The film was very telling when focusing on Ian’s relationships with the women in his life, but there’s something about those anarchic band-on-the-road scenes that borders on stereotypical farce, in the manner of Bad News Tour and Spinal Tap. It would be interesting to see a film fiction that captures more than the ‘drama’ and humour – how about the tension, boredom, creation and despair? But that can wait till another time.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Wanda permalink
    August 24, 2010 10:18 pm

    Well done Guy, a really evocative review. I’m glad you enjoyed Laura Veirs. I love her music. Fiona and I went to see her last Sunday inBrighton and thought she was wonderful.
    I trust the Rustfest plans are progressing well.
    All the best to you and Annie
    Wanda xxx

  2. Wanda permalink
    August 24, 2010 10:20 pm

    PS Some of the best gigs I ever saw were in Croydon – Traffic, Canned heat, Family, King Crimson, The Nice, Mary Chapin Carpenter, John Mayall………

  3. August 25, 2010 9:01 am

    glad you enjoyed the show!

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