Thursday, September 10, 2009


[The original post was taken down without notice by Blogger. No explanation given. If anything posted infringed any copyright why not email me or leave a comment? Rather than infringing my copyright?]

Second day of the festival started in that time-honoured fashion: trying to light a camping stove with a sore head. Without mishap though, Mr P and I were soon enjoying Saturday morning coffee with Friday's newspaper and then planning our day ahead. It all started promptly in the Green Man Pub with Cardiff based Laura Elizabeth Bryon aka Le B.

This was quietly strummed and sung folksy songs, including a Karen Dalton and a Galaxie 500 cover, that felt as though they should be played in darkened late-night rooms but sounded perfectly at home in the open air and sunshine. And as it turned out a great start to a day packed with some excellent music. From here we caught most of Cate Le Bon's set on the Far Out Stage.

Cate sang and played keyboards backed by a four piece band. This was smart Welsh pop that reminded me of the mellower side of Gorky's. Cate played a song (maybe two?) solo on guitar and this (or these) were beautifully haunting. Must listen more to her.

Then to the Main Stage for Stornoway. Now the festival programme blurb made these sound intriguingly unmissable: "a living, breathing Mark Twain novel. Think Guillemots, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, and early Belle and Sebastian, with soaring folk melodies and nifty arrangements". And they were good - very festival-friendly folky-rock (or was it rocky-folk?) - but not quite what I was expecting from that description.

Mr P however was very taken by them: "Fuel Up" their tale of adolescence, growing up and cars even brought a tear to his eye. And they definitely won the crowd over not just with their music but with their 'living the dream' story of how two years ago they were paying punters at Green Man wishing that one day they would be playing here. Their debut album is out at end of September.

Feeling on a roll now I headed back to the Far Out Stage to catch the last 15 minutes of Richard James. There is a great press quotation about his music that goes "Former Gorkys man re-imagines the Velvet Underground if the ratio of Welshmen to New Yorkers were reversed". And this was certainly true of the first two songs he played with his band - very VU third album. The third one was a bit more animated - very "Loaded"? - and then the fourth just took my breath away. From these hushed intimate songs he then moved to a sonic assault freak-out, with angry distorted guitars, heavily distorted vocals with yelps, shouts and screams. Astonishing stuff. I really must check out his music.

More dashing - back to the Main Stage where much-fancied The Leisure Society were already playing. This seven piece led by Nick Hemming were again very festival-friendly - a gentle, orchestral-pop that oozed warmth (or was this the afternoon beer kicking in?). Their set included a cover of Gary Numan's "Cars" - who'd have thought it needed strings?

Then back to Far Out Stage where The Strange Boys from Austin, Texas were already on. Their mastery of pared-back 60s garage rock complete with sneery slacker vocals belied their tender age. This was great stuff and had several people heading for the Rough Trade tent afterwards to pick up their "And Girls Club" album.

Mr P had temporarily abandoned the music to see a stand-up mathematician (there's something for everyone at Green Man) but I hot-footed it to the front of the Main Stage for The Phantom Band.
This was a great set - the songs from "Checkmate Savage" just keep growing in stature for me. In the crowd later I saw one of the band and shouted drunkenly at him "album of the year!" - I hope he appreciated the sentiment if not the delivery.

The Set list: Throwing Bones / Burial Sounds / Crocodile / Folk Song Oblivion / Island / The Howling / Left Hand Wave

I then caught the end of Blue Roses in the Green Man Pub. Literally. Fought my way into the packed garden to hear the last song and take a few photos.

Meeting up with Mr P we rejected The Aliens for Peter Broderick which turned out to be an excellent result. Peter played gentle classically-inclined melodies on keyboard, guitar and violin but then looped them over each other to create a more intense sound. Highly inventive and totally captivating with a great sense of performance.

He introduced one song as a guitar piece written by his father who used to play it to him at bedtime when he was a child. He finished to applause but the whole piece including his spoken word introduction looped and was played back at us with more guitar. He then let it loop twice more each time playing violin over it. Breathtaking. And at one point too he played bowed saw - a simple thing maybe but I love that sound.

It was time for a pause after this constant ping-ponging between stages. So a lie down on the grassy hill by the Main Stage with eyes shut was in order. Noah & The Whale were playing in the distance and I was quite impressed that they appeared to play only new, unfamiliar and maudlin material, avoiding the hit single completely.

Rest over, veggie enchilada consumed, it was then Grizzly Bear on the Main Stage. I'm still coming to terms with their latest album "Vecktamist" and their shifting accessible-but-experimental music. And it was the same with this set - I just couldn't work out from one song to another what I made of it all. Crowd at the front enjoyed it though.

I then caught the last four songs of the Vetiver set on the Far Out Stage (much more country-rock than I remember) and then an interminably long sound check by Bon Iver. We only planned to watch a few songs anyway but those three songs were full of the things I hate about larger festivals: the Main Stage was the busiest I had seen all weekend and so we were the furthest from the stage we'd been; and any sense of intimacy or appreciation of the music was destroyed by two dozen people around us singing along at the top of their voices to "Skinny Love". It all felt a bit Reading Festival. But much better things were available, namely Andrew Bird on the Far Out Stage.

It's only this year with latest album "Noble Beast" that the music of Andrew Bird was clicked for me. But live was another thing all together, a total revelation. I was expecting a genteel, besuited man playing genteel, softly-spoken music. Now he was besuited but he was also a livewire - whether playing guitar or violin he never kept still (hence no photos, they are all blurred). And then there was the whistling. On the record is one thing (multiple takes allowed surely) but to whistle note-perfect live and with such strength was astonishing. So rather than mellow, we got energetic - a great finale for the Far Out stage day.

And so one last live act for the night: Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele in the Green Man Pub. As it turned out it was Dent, his ukulele and a three piece backing band. I was expecting kitschy and entertaining, but I was not expecting it be one of the highlights of the festival. Close harmonies, an infectious backbeat (from the coolest drummer on the planet) and a scissor-kicking ukulele player with killer tunes to boot. Who could ask for more? The Good Feeling Sound indeed...

I watched a few minutes of Jarvis Cocker finishing his set on the Main Stage (nice mirrorball) but then headed for the Far Out Stage After Dark for Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve psychedelic DJ set. Suffice to say whisky–fuelled dancing to "Stepping Stone", "You’re Gonna Miss Me" and "Bubble Burst" ensued.And then to finally, finally finish the night I head to the shower block. And this, dear reader, is my top festival tip to you. Take a shower at 3am - there is no queue, no guilt at taking as long as you want and the water is piping hot and delivered at full pressure. Day Three coming soon [actually here].

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