Monday, 28 May 2012

Crooked Ways Festival Review

Crooked Ways 2012
Pontefract Park
Sat 26th May

Let’s put on a festival” I imagine they said. “Where?” somebody might have asked… “Pontefract Park?”, somebody else may have ventured. “Why not?”, “It might rain”, “So let’s have it in May!” must have been the thinking. And so, maybe, that is how Crooked Ways 2012 came to be; a good idea as long as the sun shines.

The next consideration would have been the bands, the obvious thing in curating a festival is to choose bands that will draw a crowd as well as showcasing exciting, new talent. Three stages covered these bases, with the Crooked Ways Presents stage, The Institution and the Main Stage all offering an impressive number of acts, totalling 30 throughout the day.

Yet is it that simple? Well, no, it isn’t. For a start, I think the organisers will today be counting the cost of a couple of lessons learnt; mainly, the ticketing policy. A couple of issues arose here, at £30 each it felt a bit steep and I can hear the “30 bands, 30 quid= bargain” argument but for me it just doesn’t wash because you never see all of them. Another point to bear in mind here is that thirty quid is thirty quid and the crowd bore witness to the fact that people weren’t ready to spend that much on a day in the park, which is a shame but also it isn’t too difficult to work out. So, round one, value for money, null points I’m afraid.

 However, read on because it gets better, especially for those Razorlight fans who enjoyed a fairly intimate gig with their heroes…

Round 2, the acts: a fairly eclectic line-up was accommodated in three tents which were suitably distant to avoid overlapping sound, something which is a constant irritation for both the bands and their fans at the smaller community festivals that spring up every summer. The tents themselves were fairly small though, with the ‘Crooked Ways Presents’ tent offering the audience no more floor space than a large double garage. The name was a little confusing because I expected it to be a ‘new music’ type of tent, yet it was opened by Road To Horizon who have an EP out on iTunes shortly and a touring slot with Funeral For A Friend in the bag, it also featured Piskie Sits later, who need no introduction, having been active for years!

Both of these bands know how to entertain and, speaking to Road To Horizon after their set, I found that they were happy to open the day because it was just the kind of day they would love to be at themselves if they were in the crowd. In between these two I also enjoyed a solid performance by Route 19, who were more punk rock than they looked; they seemed to enjoy themselves and the tent was full to bursting throughout their set.

‘The Institution’ was a better proposition in terms of size and was full for most of the day, with a reasonable overspill in the afternoon. The Glass Caves brought the day to life in there, as they fired layer upon layer of solid, stylish indie pop at a receptive audience. I particularly enjoyed Club Smith in there who bombarded the crowd with guitar led pop and chant-along choruses; they took the honour of being the first band of the day to achieve some synchronised foot tapping / head nodding. Dancing came later…

On the main stage, Wakefield’s All We Know opened the day with an energetic set; although it was possible to play ‘spot the drummer’ due to the piles of other people’s gear obscuring him from view, they were never intimidated and gave a good account of themselves. Sheffield’s Feral Brood seemed to enjoy the attention and filled the stage well with their dual vocalists and some witty banter in between songs, but it was only when Wakefield’s Skint & Demoralised took to the stage that we saw the first real dancing of the afternoon. Their confident, sure footed show grabbed the crowd’s attention and gave us a tantalising glimpse of what Crooked Ways could have been. What happened next sealed it for me.

Hyde & Beast managed about 45 seconds of their first song twice, they were plagued by technical difficulties which were received with good humour by the band and crowd. At first. By the time their third attempt at completing a number fell flat, their lead singer’s patience was already being tested. They regrouped, tried again and managed just 30 seconds before leaving the stage to friendly, consolatory applause.

Alarm bells were ringing now, was this it? Had the gremlins won, was the day lost? By now, the arena was fuller than it had been mid-afternoon, but nowhere near its capacity; which is a good thing because I doubt that the toilets and well overpriced food facilities would have coped. The show needed a hero, and two were lining up in the wings, the first one, King Charles graced the stage dressed like a surfing aristocrat in brown shoes, mustard board shorts and white dinner jacket and left it a hero having also had to restart a song. They worked the crowd and lifted proceedings, they also wandered the arena meeting fans after their set. One of the triumphs of Crooked Ways was the laid back vibe and interaction between artists and paying public.

Then, it was time for worship. Reverend and the Makers took to the stage and instantly the crowd were drawn like moths to a flame. Their enthusiasm and determination to deliver was impressive. As the sun started to set and the acres of milk bottle white flesh throbbed Tizer red, their set lifted the crowd at just the right time, a chill wind stirred the park and the early evening became a time for contemplation of what might have been. What if it had rained, what if it had been cheaper, what if the crowd had been less positive?

Curating a festival is a balancing act, the artists were happy enough to be there, perhaps with one exception; the crowd were happy to be there, they created a lovely atmosphere that suggests this is a task worth repeating, but there were more laminates than ticket holders for long periods of time and the infrastructure needs tightening up- some punters  were put off by the high on the day cover charge; under 14s were welcome, but for what price; the loos were clean but were they sufficient for the intended capacity?

At tea time, the thought occurred to me that some people might only be turning out for the headliners, I felt this was missing the point. While I can see how £30 for Reverend & The Makers followed by Razorlight could still make financial sense to some gig-goers, if that was the case, which it wasn’t in the final reckoning, then they were missing the point. Crooked Ways 2012 was supposed to be Pontefract’s big day out in the sun; the sun turned out, but where was Pontefract? This is the crux of the issue; put a show on, get the acts, but make sure that people know about it and care enough to turn out.

In the end, a small but happy crowd got to see Razorlight perform a decent set through a not perfect rig at the end of a pretty perfect summer’s day in Yorkshire.

If you were there, well done you. If they put it on next year, take a friend for God’s sake!

Matthew Rhodie

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