[sic] Magazine

Cath Aubergine Does Festivals.

It has been estimated – by which I obviously mean ‘I made this up just now’ – that Britain now has over 217.3 summer festivals, each offering the opportunity to part with vastly varying sums of money in order to drink cider from eco-plastic cups in the vague vicinity of bands, one of which will be Dananananaykroyd. From the veteran big-hitter Glastonbury at the end of June all the way to mid-September’s highly regarded newcomers Bestival and End Of The Road, it is actually possible to spend every single weekend of the summer trying to avoid the annoying schmindie bastards. In fact you’ll find a good few bands, some more deserving than others, popping up at multiple festivals in any given year. So how on earth do you choose where to go?

Well, there are those people who go to Glastonbury every single year, except the quadrennial year off when they go to Tuscany. (Recently some of these people have started going to Latitude instead, which has less mud and more children). In fact most of the big established festivals have fans who go every year (my personal choice being Primavera – it’s guaranteed completely free from both mud and children, and the music’s outstanding, but as it’s in Barcelona I’m not sure it counts). Other than that? Well, the weather’s always going to be fairly unpredictable: this year we got drenched down near the south coast and enjoyed warm sunshine up near Inverness. You can just pick a couple you like the look of – unfortunate for friends of ours who chose Gloucestershire’s 2000 Trees, a damp squib whose line-up (aside from headliners British Sea Power) was so mediocre that we not only sort of half watched Dananananaykroyd but found them almost diverting. And then the beer ran out mid-afternoon. Our descent into White Russians and insanity-cider was not pretty.

Alternatively, you can simply look which festivals your favourite bands are playing, and go to them. And this, my friends, is the way to do it. You set off into the unknown, having already forgotten who’s on the bill besides your main draw (and Dananananaykroyd). Music aside, you might find yourself enjoying locally-made pies and cider and gazing upon stunning gardens where peacocks wander freely in the evening sunshine – or you might end up on a soggy playing-field just outside Milton Keynes where ticket sales have barely scraped three figures; the only refreshments are van chips, instant coffee and Sambuca, and even the bands you’ve come to see have no idea what they’re doing there. These were my experiences of two consecutive weekends in September 2007, and effectively represent the extremes of the Small British Festival. Two years and a great many weekends in various fields later it’s time for a couple more forays into uncharted territory: the season’s drawing to a close as the sunset creeps further down the billing, and I am off to…. Bingley.


Yes, Bingley. As in Bradford And. Somewhat overshadowed by its southeasterly big brother it’s really not the sort of place you’d visit without a reason. “Everyone’s going to Bingley!?” exclaims the perplexed member of staff in the information booth on Leeds station when we ask him which platform we need. They bloody are, as well; the tiny local train is rammed and we hear “I’ve never been to Bingley before…” from various directions. Off the train we join a thick procession as it’s easier than getting a map out; turns out the park is literally over the road, anyway. The sunshine forecast by the BBC certainly isn’t evident although at least the rain’s holding off – mostly – and the mud from the previous day’s downpour is only shoe deep. We’re here, really, to watch headliners Doves on the grounds that they’ll be doing a full set and the £15 day ticket’s cheaper than their own recent gigs; the rest of the bill being a mixed bag to say the least. The lower end of the bill mostly comprises the sort of random unsigned stuff you always get at such things, although what we assume must be some band the organisers found in the pub actually turns out to be major label artists Detroit Social Club. I’d always thought the stereotype of coke-frazzled A&R men was a bit of a myth these days, but I hope whoever signed this shower was on drugs at the time, as there’s no other excuse I can think of. And why the hell are they covering 90s chart dreg ‘Unbelievable’ by EMF? Oh, they’re not. It just sounds like it. The Dykeenies also pass me by completely, although this is more to do with the fact that even by mid-afternoon there’s a good fifteen minute queue for the somewhat under-numbered Portaloos; there’s already a ‘trench of stench’ forming behind the row as blokes can’t be bothered waiting (the general consensus amongst the girls around me being the usual mixture of jealousy and relief that there aren’t twice as many people waiting) and I frankly dread to think what either’s going to be like later.

The Sunshine Underground are always good live, and with a massive following in and around their Leeds base are actually playing to an appreciative crowd. And as far as the upbeat punk-funk-spiky-indie-disco sound of the mid-00s goes, this lot do it better than most – quite why they never made that full leap to the mainstream is a bit of a mystery, although the cynic could cite their fiercely independent spirit and refusal to decamp to London. Somewhat appropriately the sun does actually poke through the clouds for a bit during their set, and we’re in good spirits… briefly. Until we try and get to the bar. It seems the toilets are not the only area in which this festival is seriously under catered – I’m twenty minutes queuing this time and get back to the bar queue to find my companion has moved about four metres. During this period I have had plenty of time to contemplate the enduring popularity of the next act on the bill, Ocean Colour Scene. A band whose riffs had barnacles on when they first unleashed them in the 90s, they seem to tap into a sort of universal nostalgia for a time we don’t even remember – even I have to concede ‘The Circle’ and ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ are decent tunes by those standards, but don’t tell my cool mates. And reviving them now just seems like nostalgia squared for the crowd and effectively a cash machine for the ageing Midlanders. Maybe they saw the Oasis implosion coming and spotted a beery-thirtysomething-lads-reliving-being-20 shaped hole in the market. Eventually both they and the beer queue become unbearably tedious and we bugger off to a nearby pub for a bit.

We return to the sounds of The Zutons, a band I’ve struggled to see the point of until now – they’re a bloody great festival band. Lively and crowd-pleasing and dishing out tunes everyone can have a bit of a dance and a sing along to it’s finally started to feel like a festival as opposed to a local radio roadshow, and gets the whole crowd warmed up nicely for the headliners.


After a few years in the post-third-album wilderness, 2009 has seen a stunning return to form for Doves. Not just in the sense that ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ was a better album than most old fans had dared to hope for; live they’ve barely missed a beat on the four occasions I’ve seen them previously this year and this fifth is no exception. The opening ‘Jetstream’ just sound massive, and as the sun starts to set and the spotlights kick in these three very ordinary looking Mancunians start to resemble the stadium band they always should have been. ‘Pounding’ could wake the dead tonight; ‘Kingdom of Rust’ bristles like Morricone producing Johnny Cash, whilst a storming ‘Black And White Town’ reminds us that even ‘Some Cities’ had its moments after all. And then: well, the last couple of years in Manchester and beyond it’s been Elbow this and Elbow that but now Doves are back, and they were always the better band. Case in point: Most bands have a great rocket-powered thing they can call on to end a particularly enjoyable gig. Doves have three. And tonight we get them all. First the thunderous ‘Cedar Room’, a space-indie classic that makes most of the Verve’s output look a bit weak. Then ‘There Goes The Fear’, their all-conquering anthem with that ridiculously wonderful percussion ending, and all the misery of endless queues and enduring bands you wouldn’t throw a life raft to normally just melts away. They go off again. It’s twenty past nine. The curfew is half past. We can feel a ‘Space Face’ coming on and we’re right – the greatest stadium indie rave crossover anthem ever means we leave smiling.

In the pub near the station I find myself discussing the woeful lack of facilities with the bloke stood next to me at the bar, and he explains that in previous years the event’s been more about chart pop, ‘Westlife and stuff’, whose natural audience probably don’t have the beer (and associated lavatorial) requirements of today’s crowd; ‘it’s great they put some real bands on this year’, he says. In that context, for the local crowd, I can see his point – but there’s still no need for Ocean Colour Scene in 2009. It’s Bingley though, it was never exactly going to be cutting edge. That said, a few hours and trains later I’m in… Redbridge.

Yep. Another town more generally found on the submissive end of a coupling (in this case football team Dagenham And) it’s kind of near… Romford. Which, it has to be said, does not immediately bring to mind the cutting edge of anything apart from maybe overly-modified hatchbacks with unnecessarily large bass bins. It does, however, have a decent bit of woodland – Hainault Forest – and it’s not that far from London. Hence Offset Festival, with a line-up so achingly hip it probably gets its hair cut in Hoxton. Not being professional enough to have a press pass we’re here courtesy of one of the bands, which necessitates the ever-entertaining experience that is the Negotiation With Guardian Of The Guestlist. This generally involves standing for anything up to an hour in extreme weather conditions – one year I nearly died of heatstroke on a sun-blazed Isle Of Wight; another time we were left contemplating ending our days welded to a tree in rural Poland as a violent thunderstorm moved ever closer to the tree under which we were sheltering from torrential rain. It’s usually at the point where you’re considering bribing anyone in a hi-vis jacket (note, do not attempt this at rave-type festivals) when your name miraculously appears on the list it’s been on all along. Today is not like that – they can’t find my name and they seem spectacularly unconcerned by this (which is perhaps as well, as my phone’s been playing up and I’m not even sure I still have the text message which could have been from anyone anyway). I’m in.

The remit for Offset is an interesting one: deliberate juxtaposition of current and breakthrough acts with influential elder statesmen, and a bill hand-picked by people who actually know what they’re talking about. And not just indie, either; the Hardcore Stage, for instance, has had favourable previews in the punk zines, whilst the veteran acts list stays well clear of nostalgia-circuit staples in favour of The Slits, Damo Suzuki and A Certain Ratio. Now I’ve found myself thinking about A Certain Ratio quite a bit of late, largely prompted by the Mercury nomination for Friendly Fires, a young band whose sound rather wonderfully (and possibly unwittingly) recalls the tropical-punk-funk oddballs as opposed to the more regularly plundered end of the Factory oeuvre. Seems they’re not the only ones. I arrive to find glorious sunshine, a lovely chilled atmosphere – and The Detachments on the main stage playing something that sounds exactly like ‘Shack Up’.

The other stages are all in little tents arranged in a circle, which at least means you never have to try and remember where the one you want to visit next is as you can just carry on walking round until you find it. She Keeps Bees are playing in one of them; a garage’y couple-duo reminiscent of The Kills before they went completely shit, they’re from Brooklyn which is enough to guarantee a full house. Meanwhile in the Hardcore tent, one of Kong is wearing hotpants. Excellent – Manchester’s wrongest band just got a bit wronger. Anyone who’s experienced their rubber-masked, brutal ear-melting crunchcore may find this hard to believe. Slightly more abrasive than a sandpaper facial and pulverisingly loud, they really, really are not a half two on a sunny afternoon band. My mate leaves looking mildly violated after half a song. He’s not the only one. Mission accomplished then.

SCUM are a big draw on the main stage, having collected a respectable quantity of (tonight’s headliners) The Horrors’ fans whilst supporting them earlier this year. And yes, they are another young band with 80s stylings, but they do do it really well. Magazine-ish keyboards sweep across early New Order electro-post-punk beats, and they have a real star in the making in the form of singer Tom, erm, Scum. I don’t think this is his real name. All cheekbones and floppy side parting and long coat and high-waisted trousers he over-emotes absolutely every line in a way that should be really annoying, stepping up onto the stagefront as smoke billows around him – but by a combination of charm and great tunes just about manages to pull it off. Next up are Die Die Die, for whom I seem to have written in the notes I’m still vaguely keeping at this point, “yeah, Placebo, whatever”. Time for a wander then. I settle on what’s generally my default setting for festival downtime – hanging around the back of the new bands tent in case there’s anything happening I should know about. Unfortunately there’s just some unremarkable bunch fronted by a shouty girl with a bowl cut who may or may not be Death Cigarettes but I can’t really be bothered moving to find out. As soon as they disappear, however, the tent starts filling – Bo Ningen have already been recommended to me by a couple of people, and the noise emerging is that of a colossal pile of full-on freakout psychedelia. Delivered, as we discover when we finally squeeze in, by a collection of young Japanese hippies in floral pyjamas, including a wild animal of a drummer. Again, not exactly sunny afternoon music, but Damo Suzuki would be proud.


Does anyone actually care that Ipso Facto (billed next on in the Clash Magazine tent) have split up? Nope? Moving swiftly on then. Maps, next, and for those of you who’ve missed the re-emergence of the insanely talented James Chapman this summer, the live Maps is no longer a band but an all-electronic duo in which the sleepy-eyed genius of Northampton is accompanied by a Danish ravehead on squelchy techno noises and backing vocals. Sharing a rig of keyboards, drum machines, samplers, electronic drum pads and boxes of wires that looks like the flight deck of a small spaceship they rework tracks from ‘We Can Create’ such as a much darker ‘It Will Find You’, alongside new products of the psychedelic dreampop rave going on inside Chapman’s head. The sound is not unexpectedly a little harder and clubbier than previously, but the tunes are every bit as beautiful. The album’s released on 28th September and OK, I’ll admit, I have had an advance copy for about a month now and the stuff they’ve been playing live – brilliant as it is – doesn’t even touch the three best tracks on it. Yes, it really is that fucking good.


In front of the main stage there’s a lively crowd of hip young things dancing, whilst behind them a smattering of faces old enough to be their parents. As indeed there is on the stage itself, where A Certain Ratio are happily showing all and sundry how many decades ahead of their time they were. (About two and a half. And yeah, maybe ‘happily’ isn’t really the word I was looking for in relation to the perennially dour-looking Jeremy Kerr). There are just so many good things about this set: indie-funk blueprint classics like ‘Do the Du’ and (of course) ‘Shack Up’; the fact that the keyboard/percussion player is wearing a T-shirt that says ‘WANKER’; the genuinely great atmosphere in the crowd – and the middle-aged grey-haired and outwardly quite sensible looking bloke stood next to us who has – brilliantly – brought his own comedy wooden percussion item and is banging away at it with some enthusiasm. I’m watching it in the company of a handful of (legendary New-Order-And-Anyone-Associated-With-Them hardcore fan crew notorious for taking props to gigs) Vikings; one of your lot then? Nope, they say, they don’t know him. Even better. An independent festival nutter.

Stranger son...

Back in the new bands tent I’m delighted as I am astonished to see a small but enthusiastic crowd going mad for another Manchester band. In the four years since Stranger Son of WB And The Robot Crab Exodus Part Two first emerged from the rubble of various imploding local acts they’ve operated a revolving door of membership Mark E Smith would be proud of, (thankfully) dropped the extraneous words from their name, and mutated into a tight, pulsating history of Mancunian music 1979 to present day. Joy Division, The Fall, Magazine, even a bit of Happy Mondays blend together into a glorious electro-punk beast – and whilst Gareth seems to have ditched his former trademark out-of-tune sax and threats-of-physical-violence stage manner in favour of good old-fashioned bitterness and a pair of maracas, recent(ish) recruit Dom’s keyboards have really filled out the sound and Stranger Son Of WB now sound like a band who could go somewhere. I consider quitting while I’m ahead.

Skilfully avoiding Dananananaykroyd in favour of the bar, we head back to the Clash Tent for Wild Beasts because my mate likes them and I’m intrigued to know if I’ll like them today or not. From being uncertain the first time I saw them (that relentless falsetto can be a bit much if you’re tired, as I was) to really enjoying them supporting British Sea Power a couple of years ago (down the front buzzing with expectation for one of your favourite bands can make you enjoy all sorts, as illustrated by the Zutons yesterday – the bloody Zutons? What was I thinking? Urgh!) to labelling them as landfill after a crap showing at a crap festival sometime earlier this summer, I can never make my mind up. That was the festival where the beer ran out, though. They’re good tonight, anyway; they remind me of an indiefied (or sedated) Forward Russia, and I’m utterly convinced one of the songs contained the word ‘vasectomy’ which, let’s face it, you don’t hear much in pop music do you? Sadly my companions are unable to verify this.

One last wander back round to the main stage, then, where The Horrors are meant to be on at half nine but by five to ten there’s no sign of them. And considering Faris Badwan and co were standing next to us in this very spot during SCUM’s set it’s not like they were late getting here is it? The last of the people I’m here with is leaving; OK, it’s cold, I’m in a forest four miles from Romford (wherever the hell that is) with no idea how I’m getting back to the Travelodge I’ve not actually checked in to yet, and should probably go with him but… 10pm. Drum checks. The phrase ‘for fuck’s sake’ springs to mind. It’s about quarter past when they finally get underway and it’s… underwhelming. The Horrors? Underwhelming? There’s no doubt ‘Primary Colours’ is about a million times better than ‘Strange House’ and yet… This band used to be so intense live. No songs to speak of but the first couple of times I saw them, 06 and early 07, they were nothing short of incendiary. Now they’ve got songs, but something’s lost. Faris seems to be modelling his stagecraft on Ian McCulloch these days and I preferred him when he was the mutant hybrid of Ian Curtis and Tom (Forward Russia) Woodhead on speed. Or maybe it’s the setting that doesn’t suit – they’ve got big enough to headline festivals but don’t really know quite how to play it yet on a big stage in front of as many ‘observers’ as fans. Or maybe for those of us not high on the buzz of waiting for a band you love (and indeed coming down from the triple high of Maps, ACR and SSOWB) they just kept us waiting too long in the dampening cold. I don’t know. The keyboard sounds are glorious, the drums wonderfully Chameleons-esque, but there’s a lot less of the feedback and distortion that drenched their live sound even three months ago, and its absence rather shines a light on the fact that for all his charisma, Faris is not actually much of a singer. My mind is already drifting towards the taxi queue, and after another couple of songs I let my feet follow.


Romford Travelodge is one of the better examples I’ve stayed in this summer, although not as posh as the one in Tunbridge Wells, obviously. Camping? Don’t make me laugh. Because that’s the other thing you have to factor into your festival plans if, like me, you’re more about the music than the other stuff. Is there a chain hotel with a cheap room deal within a tenner’s taxi range? I know, people tell me sleeping four nights in a trench at Glastonbury or sticking up a gazebo and Waitrose portable barbecue in Latitude’s Middle Class Camping field (I just made that up, by the way, but it could be true) is all part of the experience, and yes I do own a tent but it’s for emergency use only. Pull off my shoes still coated in Bingley mud, stick the phone onto charge (you can’t do that in a field, can you?) and slip into bed contemplating the two further extremes of the Small British Festival I have experienced this weekend. I didn’t mention the food, bar or toilet queues at Offset did I? That’s because there weren’t any. Cider was local and organic (you don’t want a hangover when you’ve half way across the country to travel the next morning); freshly made curries, chillis and burgers abounded, and there were possibly more Portaloos than people. Yes, the music comes first, but you can’t really enjoy it as much if you’re waiting half an hour for a weak lager and checking out the bushes for possible emergency call-of-nature cover. I’ll say one thing for Bingley though. At least we didn’t have to suffer Dananananaykroyd.

Festival Links:

Bingley Festival


Band Links:

Detroit Social Club

Go find….

Ocean Colour Scene

The Zutons



She keeps bees



Die Die Die



A certain ratio

Stranger Son

Wild Beasts

The Horrors