I don't do festivals. I've gotten this far without going to one, and I guess it's a bit late to start now. But, this was only up the road in Manchester, and it was free, so I decided to give it a go. And so, at an age when I should know better, I made my festival debut. Maaann…
I arrived early, just in time to catch Movement play a vibrant, well-received set on the Metro stage. Singer Karl's vocals are improving all the time, as are the band in general, with drummer Mike having what I thought was a particularly good gig. I don't know what the titles are, but the opening number does the trick and they have two great shouty songs where Karl really goes for it. Admittedly, it was too early in the day to make a huge impression here, but the most pleasing aspect was that there were a lot more people watching at the end than at the beginning of the set. I've got a sneaky feeling that they'll be much higher up on the bill should they play next year's event.
Movement, shaggy hair and all.
I then noticed that the audience was changing somewhat. "Hey-up, we've got a scally band on next," I thought, and so there was. The Young Offenders Institute to be precise. Led by a singer who looked like he'd just come from such an institution, stopping only to buy an England footie top on the way. They were much better than I would have expected, even if I did feel rather middle-class amongst what I believe are now called 'chavs'. Part Happy Mondays, part Oasis, and part Goldie Lookin' Chain, the YOI have a confident frontman. They also have what they would probably call a top opening number wherein they proudly proclaimed "We are the young offenders." And why would you doubt them? They couldn't look more like burglars if they wore stripy tops and masks, and indeed one song was dedicated to "all our friends in the pen who couldn't be here for legal reasons". But, though they need a few other tunes as good as Young Offenders, I wouldn't be surprised if they go onto a bit of success now that former Factory boss Tony Wilson has signed them to his new F2 label. I don't suppose I'd be buying too many of YOI's records myself, but there's no doubt they have a certain energy that also brought to mind The Clash, and were well worth seeing. I just wouldn't want to live next door to them.
The Young Offenders, and their even younger fans.
After a spot of joyful, exuberant dancing from a couple of Brazilian dancers to the sound of approximately a dozen percussionists, I made my way to see one of the day's main draws, Nine Black Alps, on the main stage. They were midway through the impressive Cosmopolitan by the time I caught them, which means that I'd heard their best number before they've even warmed up. Admittedly, there's the odd other decent song like Shot Down and Not Everyone (which sounds even more like Nirvana than their others!), but ultimately their music washes over me without leaving any huge impression. The audience loved them, but come on, Kurt's been dead for years now. Get over it. Or buy a boxset or summat…
Nine Black Alps, and apparently the mountains were burning!
Disappointingly, Fear of Music do not have African drummers or a skinny singer with a nervous tic as their Talking Heads album title name might suggest. Instead, and improbably, they consist of four kids aged 15 and 16 years old. On that basis, it's hard to criticise. They are unrealistically good for their age and have apparently played Glastonbury already. However, I suspect they wouldn't want to be judged on how old they are, so it seems only fair that to say that the drums sounded like someone clattering an old tub. Also, their stop-start Muse-like music wasn't really my cup of tea despite the odd Jeff Buckley-like moment from the cute, baby faced lead singer who's only just said goodbye to puberty. A bright future would seem to beckon, though there's always the possibility that they might suffer the fate of so many child stars and be forgotten before the facial hair makes an appearance.
Vinni Reilly of The Durutti Column.
The Durutti Column were much better though. Although I wouldn't class myself as a fan by any means, there's something about Vinni Reilly that I find fascinating. It's not just because he played that mental punkoid guitar on the Nosebleeds classic punk 45 Ain't Bin To No Music School, or because he provided the sombre backdrop to Morrissey's Viva Hate album. No, it's because Vinni is that rare thing, a unique guitar player who sounds like no-one else. Augmented by a sturdy bass player, long time drummer Bruce Mitchell (who looked like he could be Charlie Watts' dad), and various backing tapes, The Durutti Column gave us several lengthy pieces that built very nicely indeed. Best of all was the closing number with its almost tribal beat and lots of guitar wankery (albeit guitar wankery of the highest order). Then Vinni either had enough or realised they'd played too long, because all of a sudden, he stopped, picked up his bag and drink, and with the briefest of farewells, just wandered off. The bassist then down-tooled and joined Charlie's dad on drums, who was getting more and more into it and really seemed to enjoy this belated adulation. I'm not a drum solo man myself, and though the more pedantic of you may want to point out that strictly speaking it was more of a drum duo than a solo, I have to say it was riveting stuff.
Charles Watt's dad, aka, Bruce Mitchell of The Durutti Column.
Which is more than I can say for Raw T, the young rap act that Tony Wilson has basically proclaimed as the future of modern music. Why, I can only wonder. There was much better rapping on the urban stage than this. I'd go as far as saying that their final number was an awful rambling mess. Obviously, I'm not their target audience and I'd happily admit that I'm too old for them if Wilson was to admit that his bigging up of this mediocre outfit was just the act of a bloke in his 50's desperate to appear in touch with 'da kids'. Stick to what you know, Tone and you might sign the right acts. After all, no-one would have remembered you if you'd have signed And Also the Trees rather than Joy Division.
Next up was Stephen Fretwell, and one number was enough for me. Yes, the sound of Dadrock truly is alive and well, and I'm hard pressed to think of a time when this insulting label has been more relevant. If, as I've heard suggested, this is the type of music suited to festivals then I'd rather stop at home and watch the News. I'd had enough. So, after wandering around for one last time, I made my way to the exit, via the main stage, to hear the same awful sound continuing.
However, what I saw next was most bizarre, because a quick peep at the stage revealed that Fretwell had metamorphosised into a bearded man with a silly woolly hat. It was then that I realised the sad truth. It was Badly Drawn Boy. In other words, the same life-sapping sound, just less pleasing on the eye. It's fair to say I ran to the safety of the exits. OK, it meant missing Bez and his new Domino Bones outfit (though I was more interested in seeing if he could still do his freaky dancing than hearing what his band sounded like). But, to be honest, I'd just had enough by then. I'd been right all along. This festival malarkey just isn't me. I've been to outdoor gigs before, and I remain unconvinced that rock music was ever meant to be at one with nature.
So, despite the heroics of Movement and the Durutti Column, it's back to the great – and the not so great – indoors for me.