Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Leeds Festival (Sunday) Review

Leeds Festival
Bramham Park
Sunday 28th August 2011

I last attended Leeds Festival in 2005 and since then I feel I have broadened my horizons in regards to what I expect from the festival experience. As such, it felt strange to be returning after such a long time, much like returning to your primary school and seeing the tiny chairs and tables, the climbing frames that once seemed so towering. I used to buzz off this?

Which I don’t mean to sound condescending in anyway. In opposition to my simile, Leeds Fest is the festival that towers over all others, seeing as many as 65,000 people over its 3 days (or so they say). Sophistication, nuance, subtlety; look elsewhere. This is about a sense of event.

But due to my previous experiences, which form a collage in my mind of burning burger vans, refugee style camping, toilets erupting and overflowing and lots of ‘lads’ getting pissed with their backs to the bands, I felt some apprehension. But excitement too, like that first day at school.

And I was pleased to see things had improved. Organisation for start was greatly improved. I mean, ok, you don’t go to the festival to admire the signing on the M62, but the contempt with which punters once seemed to be held was all but gone and I felt welcomed to the site, thus improving my anticipation. The only annoyance was that our camera was deemed ‘too professional’ by the stewards and wasn’t allowed in. Frustrating to then spend a lot of the time stood behind people with iPhones raised as we watched the bands.

The site was in decent shape despite the downpours over the previous days. It was busy in there, but manageable. I quickly became aware of being much older than most of the people around me. I have to admit, the main reason I was here was for Pulp, but with a sense of curiosity, we explored.

The number of stages is impressive, the NME tent is fucking huge, bigger than most festival main stages. The comedy tent was new to Leeds Fest for me, amusingly called the ‘Alternative Tent’. The compere did his job well and got people sat down and squashed in and I felt a million miles from the bussle outside. I never thought a comedy tent would work at Leeds, due to inevitable drunks and hecklers. But it did and offered the alternative it claimed to be. Jimmy McGhie opened up with a mixed set, veering from what I feared would be a whole set of crude overacting and for the sake of it swearing to a section on being too English and reserved. Parts worked, and I began to understand him more when he revealed his need to hide behind voices (hence the sways in his comedy). His approach wasn’t revolutionary but was hard to dislike, winning the mostly young crowd over. And I was pleased his deconstruction of the vacuous culture of ‘T4’ was so rapturously received. There’s hope for the young yet.

Mark Watson followed in his breathless, relentless style that simulates a man unable to think something without saying it out loud. Again, he is a nice guy expressing things we all kind of think and know, but taking them one step further. Hang on, isn’t that ALL comedy? Yeah, but Watson shares a mad warmth that comes across well in the tent, though I would say the set was slightly too long. That would perhaps be down to the fact he was reusing some material from a few years before when I saw him in Wakefield. It’s not to his detriment; it actually made it clear that what appear to random interjections and stream of consciousness are all pre-scripted and it made me appreciate his method of storytelling more for it.

There wasn’t much on the bill that took my fancy. The Kills disappointed on the NME stage. Funnily enough, I’d not seen them since they played at Magna for Pulp’s ‘Last Ever Gig’. The large stage didn’t suit them. The beats were too quiet and the dirty guitar riffs became repetitive far too soon. It was a shame because Alison Mosshart looked fantastic and when she joined in on guitar, a greater dynamism was found. We left early to catch the end of Madness on the main stage who were a wonder, filling that perfect mid afternoon ‘feel good’ slot. I was impressed to see them play an array of either Ska classics or new stuff (I couldn’t tell which) including ‘Out Of Space’ that The Prodigy sampled – sorry, don’t know who did that originally. Then they dropped a run of classic singles, House of Fun, Baggy Trousers, It Must Be Love etc and the already jolly main stage crowd came to life. They were dancing all the way to the back. Festivals are about great moments like that.

Elsewhere, we tried to see as many unknown bands as possible. This was severely restricted by the fact that there were no programmes or timetables available anywhere on site. This really pissed me off. I didn’t know what time ANYTHING was on. Why were there no provisions made for the Sunday only day crowd? So, I saw a fair few bands but I’ve no idea who they were. And as these were generally up and coming bands it annoys me even more that I can’t tell you who they are.

The BBC Introducing stage seemed to be a success and it’s a great asset to the whole Leeds Fest setup. The only band I can name that I saw was Spector who initially impressed with their swagger and big tight sound. But over the set they turned slowly into The Killers, which was awful. If they can reign it in, they might be able to head off on the tangent we all wished Brandon Flowers and co had taken after Hot Fuss, instead of the self aggrandising shitbags they turned into.

The variation of the bands, though nameless was great. I saw a reggae band play a Nirvana set (I saw Lithium, Polly, Sliver & Dive) some kind of Post Hardcore, Folk Pop… aw you know the genres. With the aid of a programme or a general direction, I could have had a ball. You guys know I’m a sucker for organisation, and that was piss poor Leeds Fest.

Nevermind. The evening drew in and I gratefully avoided The Strokes completely. Pulp arrived and played a similar set to the one at Hyde Park earlier in the summer, with the additions of Razzamatazz and Pencil Skirt. It was a different experience from towards the back of the crowd, but Jarvis was, once again, on fine form. All his Vouge-esqe moves, his seeming inability to not make love to every square inch of the stage. It was triumphant, absolutely. And being the second time I’d seen them, it gave me chance to appreciate the rest of the band too, especially Russell’s much missed wandering violin adding an air of sinister malevolence, as if to prove it wasn’t just a populist showcase or a dip in nostalgia.

Jarvis acknowledged the cold evening and they tried their best to keep everyone moving, but the appearance of Bar Italia towards the end was a slowy too far as my feet sank into the mud, my toes frozen rigid. Naturally they finished with Common People. Much greater than the last time I saw them play it at Leeds Fest when they were clearly sick of it. Whatever issues they had back then are gone now. You could feel them savour every moment.

So in a bizarre conclusion to my earlier references to the past, to childhood, to school, I end Leeds Festival - where I have felt very much an adult to my fellow festival goers - bopping around to band I adored through my mid to late teens. It wasn’t til the next day that I ‘got’ what had happened. As a reviewer and general analytical person I often focus too much on the details (how much were the pints? What was the person to square inch of space ratio? How much fun am I having expressed as a percentage?) whereas festivals aren’t about that. Leeds Fest wasn’t the best festival of the year FOR ME. But for some of the kids here it will have been life changing. Leeds was the first festival I went to in 2001 and here I am, still going to festivals. It’s for the young people who don’t give a shit about ANYTHING except having a good time and seeing some bands. Just because my expectations mature and grow doesn’t mean Leeds Fest should.

I kind of accept it for what it is now and if it gets these kids into the whole experience, I’m glad it exists. Being that it is marketed at youngsters, I feel there could be more measures to make it safe – but suddenly the over the top security measures I find so intrusive MAKE SENSE. It’s to do just that.

I still wouldn’t camp there. And it is still massively overpriced (Bus back to Leeds £4.50, Pint £4.20, day ticket £90). The line up this year was varied, but didn’t contain much that interested me. Unlike those kids, I’m harder to please and far too cynical. But, it’s a good thing. Leeds fest is a good thing again.

Dean Freeman

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