Saturday morning saw us heading to the arena for food – Sarah was craving Cornelius Cobb like crazy. I, however, discovered the wonderful taste and value of the noodle bar and, well fed up, we headed over to Uncut. The first band of the day was Wildbirds And Peacedrums, a percussion and vocals duo with an incredibly frantic and powerful drummer backing up an equally powerful, but occasionally painfully off-key and screechy female singer.
Wildbirds and Peacedrums
Although to the casual listener (and I would class myself as a very casual listener when it comes to this sort of music), things occasionally sounded repetitive and generally a bit of a mess, there were some genuinely astounding moments, like the rapid-fire bounce of the steel drum sections, seeing the instrument used more aggressively than I have ever heard before, and when singer Mariam left her mic behind to clamber to the edge of the stage and scream in to the audience. With a raw sound that bordered on tribal, they were quite the curiosity. White Belt Yellow Tag are also a curiosity, not for their music (which is good, but actually pretty standard), but for their impressive live track record, which is remarkably accomplished for a band together for such a short time. I guess it helps to have the ex-yourcodenameis:milo tag, but WBYT are doing their best to make their own name for themselves.
White Belt Yellow Tag
Imagine if Coldplay had carried on being an interesting band and, instead of becoming a painful U2 imitator had hopped on the trend of adding synths to every song whether the song needs it or not, or whether the synths can be heard properly or not. Top this off with a dirty, raw guitar sound and you’ve got something worth your time. The best bits are a track that utilises a jarring loop of recorded orchestral strings, and the generally overwhelming energy and cheer of their drummer. I stick around for Marnie Stern as I want to see the band on after her, and I have no idea what to expect as she sets up. It turns out she’s quite the guitar virtuoso, but fortunately without being too much of a wanky showoff.
Marnie Stern
Her style switches from a jangly math tapping to classic metal shredding to a sludgy stoner feel throughout her set, often within the same song. It’s like the girl band version of The Mars Volta. Her vocals often, curiously, take the form of bizarre spoken word pieces or chants, but unfortunately her voice is far from as good as her playing. Some pretentious guitar playing kids behind me are less than impressed, though, whining after her set was done about how her tapping ‘lacked definition’ or something stupid like that. Kids can be idiots. St. Vincent was one of those big name internet crazes that completely passed me by a couple of years ago, so I am determined to catch her live set. Fortunately, sticking around through Marnie has allowed me to get to the front so I get to see her wail on her Firebird up close as she twists it in to all sorts of shapes and sounds, thanks to a heavy use of the tremolo arm (please, I don’t know guitars that well, so if it’s not a Firebird then don’t rip me apart too badly).
St. Vincent
Using double mics for different effects, Annie Clark’s vocals echo around the Uncut tent in a twisted, creepy fashion that matched her playing perfectly. Backed by bass and drums, keyboard loops, sax, violin, clarinets, Clark’s guitar and vocals drive the songs for the most part, but the extra instruments occasionally swell up a little too much and drown her out. You can either see this as typical of the sound problems that are known to plague the Uncut stage, or you can see it as an interesting dynamic between Clark and her backing band: she is small, but makes a hell of a lot of noise, and battles with the other players throughout. After her set, I pause to scribble down some notes in my notebook, and when I look up I realise that I am the tallest person for about 4 feet – I am surrounded by young girls. Initially I am confused, but remember that Mika is the slot after next. I spot Ian and Sarah standing a bit further back, head over to them, and we leave to get some lunch. Outside the tent, we meet Leighton, a friend from Uni. He has painted his friend’s face. We admire it, then head to get Sarah some mash because oh boy, did she want some mash.
As we sit and eat, the theme tune to Fame starts blasting out from speakers in trees. Confused and intrigued, we head over to some sort of commotion and find a flashmob performing a dance routine to the classic, yet awful, song. There’s plenty of cartwheeling and jumping, but Sarah is unimpressed and just makes a mashed potato monster.
We return to a shady patch and listen to the melodic rock of Broken Records. I wish I was seeing them, because they sound great, but eventually get over it and head back to Uncut, where Mika’s last couple of songs are in full swing.
Mika
Say what you like about his godawfully high voice and irritating singles that you thought you’d escaped a couple of years ago; he puts on an incredible show. Especially given that this is supposed to be an acoustic set (following the tradition of having a not-so-famous-anymore band play one around this time on Saturday, which was taken care of by The Coral last year), there is a ridiculous amount of musicians on stage – an orchestra plays as he dances on his piano and sends paper aeroplanes and balloons flying in to the crowd. He’s got showmanship down, and it’s just perfect when he drops the F-bomb at the end of his set to a crowd that’s mostly made up of young children. The tent empties like a shot as kids flood out to do whatever it is that kids do at festivals, so we sneak our way to the front for Emmy the Great. Despite the fact that she has plenty of friends in the form of local musicians in Northampton, my home town, I have not seen her until now when, annoyingly, she has expanded to a full band lineup (gaaaah!). I can look past it, though, for Emmy, who is endlessly adorable.
Emmy the Great
Even through setlist issues, multiple guitar problems (‘piece of shit!’ she yells, as she discards her third guitar), and the fact that many of her songs are thoroughly depressing, she remains cheerful and friendly towards the crowd. It is one of the sweetest sets we see all weekend and, although I would have rather seen her on her own (and probably a year plus ago), I am glad to have finally caught a glimpse of the Great one. She didn’t play The Hypnotist’s Son, though, which completely sucks because it’s one of my all-time favourite songs. Oh well. After Emmy is finished, we head over to Obelisk to catch the end of Patrick Wolf. Stalking around the stage in some kind of grey catsuit thing and high heels before disappearing behind the stage and changing in to a ridiculous angel costume, Wolf has not got any less pointlessly extravagant in his new image(although he still got out-flamboyanted by of Montreal, in my eyes).
Patrick Wolf
What always strikes me is that he was once a well respected musician, particularly a violinist, but in his last four or five songs, he doesn’t touch a violin at all, and barely stays at a guitar or piano for long, instead prancing around the stage as a lead singer, with his little more than average voice. Hard Times, a song off his new album The Bachelor is a standout for all the wrong reasons, with its cries of ‘Revolution!’ and it’s message about, well, hard times, that makes Enter Shikari’s Common Dreads look like a fully formed political manifesto. All that said, however, what I saw of Patrick Wolf was enjoyably over the top, but I still don’t quite see what all the fuss is about. On returning to the campsite, I am faced with a massive dilemma: I cannot decide whether to see Maps or Camera Obscura. As a Northampton local, I have seen Maps plenty of times, but I don’t know Camera Obscura’s material that well and would only class myself as a casual fan. Having mostly seen bands that I am not familiar with all festival, I decide I want something I know, and head off to the Sunrise stage for the first time to see Maps (a debatably foolish move, as reports from Camera Obscura were in the ‘awesome’ category). On the way there, I saw this. Make of it what you will.
With the upcoming second album, Turning The Mind out in September, Maps have stripped down from their previous five piece band to a two man lineup which both reflects and contributes to the new material: gone is the swirling shoegazey electronica of We Can Create and replacing it is a more IDM and 90s techno influenced sound.
Maps
The lack of the big spacey guitars means that not much old material can be played; only two songs from We Can Create are performed: It Will Find You and Back and Forth (which, to be honest, I always felt were among the weakest on the album), but revamped to fit in with the dancier new style. The duo play a great set with clever yet danceable beats aplenty whilst their friend from back home, Adam, pelts them with packets of Quavers for some unknown reason.
Whilst I am going to miss the old Maps sound that originally captured my attention, I look forward to seeing where James Chapman goes next, as I’m sure it will be worth hearing. We head back to Uncut and arrive just as Newton Faulkner is beginning his set. To be perfectly honest, I have never really enjoyed his album: he’s not that great a songwriter, and there’s much better acoustic folk stuff out there. Live, however, he was absolutely fantastic.
Newton Faulkner
Newton’s guitar skills are dauntingly impressive and it’s amazing to watch him pick and tap his way through his songs, often tapping on the body of his guitar for percussion. He also has too much easygoing charm for his own good, explaining what loops he has recorded before each song, inspiring us to sing along with stories of ‘Motherkissing Barbarians’ and harnessing the ‘awesome power of the cassette!’ as he pops in a tape and plays along. Unable to resist showing us little bits and pieces, telling us stories and messing around on his guitar, Newton Faulkner is a man amongst men when he’s up on stage, a brilliant performer and one of the highlights of the festival. It is easy to see why people love him, and how he can keep a crowd so enthralled. If you see him live and still don’t like him, you are probably lying to yourself. Fortunately, enough people leave so that we can get to the front for Spiritualized. This is potentially a mistake, as they are BIG and they are LOUD and there are LOTS OF FLASHING LIGHTS, and in the longer space rock freakouts, it is all a bit physically and mentally punishing. We persevere, however, and are treated/subjected to something wonderful/terrifying.
Spiritualized
Jason Pierce is supported by a second guitarist, keyboard player, bassist, drummer, two female backing singers and surrounded by pedals as he powers through the lengthy set of massive songs without a single word to the audience. The band remain relatively faceless, with all but the two guitarists shrouded in smoke, bright lights and mystery. The pounding, building rhythms and chanting vocals combine with the flashing lights to turn Spiritualized in to cult leaders who are here to take us away, so we too can be floating in space.
Spiritualized
Exhausted, we head back to the campsite for a couple of drinks before squeezing back in to the poetry tent. Thanks to people, once again, refusing to stand up for the most popular acts to perform on that particular stage all festival, many are rudely left standing out in the cold, but luckily we are able to squeeze in and find a spot for Jessica Delfino.
Jessica Delfino
With a guitar, ukulele, autoharp and rape whistle, she plays quite a few songs that involve vaginas in some way and talks cheerfully about being denounced by the Catholic church. For someone trying so hard to be offensive, she is surprisingly sweet, but in the end, all we want to see is Jeffrey Lewis.
Jeffrey Lewis
Lewis was originally billed to give a lecture on Watchmen, the comic book on which he wrote his college thesis, but arrived late due to Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard tour related breakdowns and so his solo set was the only dose of Jeffrey we got that day. With a battered guitar and a plinth covered in lyric sheets, he plays mostly new songs that have never been played before and ‘may never be played again’. He tells stories and, for someone with so many rambling songs about death, he still manages to be loveable. His low budget comic book movie, A Low Budget Detective Flick, also finally has a nonsensical and existential ending, which gives me the closure that began when I saw him back in Autumn last year. We crave more, but his set must end, though not without informing us that he will be playing a full band show tomorrow, to replace Lightspeed Champion, who was sadly ill and could not play his set of Cat Stevens covers. I later head back to the Music and Film tent for God’s Jukebox, hosted by Mark Lamarr. Last year, it was one of the festival’s highlights, with Buzzcocks and Eli “Paperboy” Reed and the True Loves giving me something to dance away to until three in the morning. This year was, sadly, not a patch on last year, but still provided some entertainment: Prince Fatty was heading up something called the Prince Fatty Revue, which mostly saw the classic Reggae star introducing other classic Reggae stars to sing with his backing band. A fair few people in the crowd had a good time skanking away, but for the most part, people seemed disinterested.
Prince Fatty Revue
The ‘headliner’ was, for some reason, Chas & Dave.
Chas & Dave
Chas arrived on colossally late, without Dave, and I lasted two incredibly catchy rockney hits whilst surrounded by middle aged cockney blokes before I decided I was too tired to wait around for the possibility of Snooker Loopy and went to bed. Again, more pictures from the whole festival can be found on my Flickr page.