Thursday, 11 March 2010

556 THE 2002 ESSENTIAL FESTIVAL, Rock Day, Ashton Court, Bristol, Sunday 5 May 2002

Happy Birthday to Rachel! This was her birthday present from her ma and pa, and the "slight return" of an old festival she used to go to in Brighton. The move to Bristol promised "bigger and better", but little were we to know...

So, Rach and I picked up Rich and Ady at 10.30 and motored along to Bristol, looking in vain for the supposed "Park And Ride" at Tollgate, but deciding to drive to Ashton Gate instead. However, when we got there, we discovered this alleged "Park And Ride" was just a "Park", so we had to walk! So we set off, following the police cones on the streets, but with no crowds or even directions (!), we were walking blind! We eventually had to cut across a field of sheep before we found the right direction - straight up a hill! After walking for the best part of an hour, during which we passed folks who'd heard some stages were shut and bands cancelled, we got there to find the gates were still shut! So we got our breath back (esp. me and The Big Man!) and met some other friends. The doors opened at 1, and it then took over half an hour to get the very small crowd in, as the security was totally over-the-top, searching handbags and frisking everyone. My security bloke thought the pen in my back pocket was a blade, and insisted on searching inside my camera case! Fucking hell!

Once in, it got no better; the information booth had no information, and the programme sellers didn't know what was going on, until someone stuck a notice on the booth door saying stages 2 and 6 had been cancelled; some bands were accommodated elsewhere, but the rest - including, apparently, Seafood - were off! After all the other bullshit we'd put up with just to get up and in, I was livid and all set to go home, until we went round the tents, checking the running orders, and found Seafood were playing after all! A beer and a telling-off from Rachel later, I was back to my usual sunny self and ready for some rock.

Bands were already playing by now (they'd started at 1.15, to single-figure audiences; another example of this farcically organised festival!), so we checked out KIDS NEAR WATER in the sidewalk tent, who sounded good in a 90's Green Day punk kind of way, until they started the generic Nu-Metal screaming. We ran into Kevin from Seafood after the set; he complimented my "new" leather jacket (I'm rocking the Ramones look today, me!) and we chatted about this festival farce before we headed for more beer. Into the Sleaze Nation tent at 20 to 3 for THE BELLRAYS' one-song soundcheck which sounded good and sleazy, so we hung around for the set. Fronted by a black female vocalist with huge hair, they rocked out like Tina Turner fronting Iggy And The Stooges during their faster, more frenetic moments - very hard and sleazy - but were less impressive with their feet off the loud pedal. Eventually, their set got a little samey - but still listenable - so we retreated outside for noodles. SAHARA HOTNIGHTS were up next; they were Rich and Ady's big tips and they didn't disappoint. 4 Swedish girls in leather playing souped-up Ramones-esque punky power pop. They attracted a good crowd as well, as they were serious eye-candy, coming across like a Runaways for the new millennium. Rich had previously advised that a couple of the girls lived together in the Biblical sense, so we also had an entertaining game of "Spot The Lesbian" during their set.

More beer, then we stopped over at the Backlash tent, the big one in the corner, for JELLO BIAFRA's spoken word set. Ran into the Steve Tyler and Lou Barlow lookalikes from the Bellrays (as opposed to the Kevin Spacey and Tina Turner lookalikes!) for a quick chat before the former lead signer of US punk legends The Dead Kennedys joined us. His subject matter was very disturbing, centring around conspiracy theories between big business and the current US Bush administration, but his performance was uneasy and compelling, his Mickey Mouse on helium voice providing an eerie juxtaposition with the subject matter. We were compelled and stuck around until the end, thus missing the start of the MY VITRIOL set in the main "13" tent. "Welcome to the farcical festival," declared a clearly pissed-off Som; apparently the disorganisation extended to the backstage as well! My Vitriol chucked us a couple of haunting newies during their set, but the older ones "Always; Your Way" and the instrumental set closer won through. But I was saving myself, as SEAFOOD were up next...

3/4 of an hour to kill before da 'Food came on, so more beer, then Ady and I mosied over to the virtually deserted Backlash tent (Rach had decided to catch the opening numbers of Shed Seven's set), pitching up right at the front for da' Food's entrance at 7. Their set took a couple of numbers to really catch fire, but "Porchlight" got the mosh going (by this time Rach had crashed into my back) as the boys hurled themselves around with wild abandon. "Folk Song Crisis", surprisingly mid-set, was riotous and intense, and needed an acoustic number to clear the air, which David duly delivered. Once again brilliant, perfectly paced and passionately delivered, Seafood's set won Set Of The Day in a canter, climaxed by the metronomic and mesmerising "In This Light". I've said it before, but it's true; Seafood are the only UK band really worth a damn, and have been so for some years, and they rescued this festival. Full stop.

Chilled by the bar in the twilight, running into both David and Kevin from da 'Food, hearing stories of their sharing a dressing room with Jello Biafra (!), and nailing guest-list slots for their forthcoming Oxford gig. Then briefly checked out a couple of other bands; SOUNDTRACK TO OUR LIVES were weird pompous prog-rock Swedes apparently fronted by Odin in a Kaftan! Excuse me, but didn't we fight the punk wars to get rid of types like this? THE BETA BAND were more intriguing, dub-ly experimental ambient types, and played the nice one from the "High Fidelity" soundtrack, but Rich didn't like them so we didn't stick around.

Went our separate ways for the final set of the day; Rich and Rach went to see The Levellers, but Ady and I stayed in the big "13" tent for SUPERGRASS, who played a mixed set of newer, Stones-ish sounding R&B soundbites, and a whole load of their snappy, knockabout Britpop singles thrown into the mix for good measure. One of those bands which I'd accumulated records by, without actually being a huge fan of, I enjoyed their et, which was played with enthusiasm and optimism, with a hectic "Richard III" being the highlight for me. I actually nipped out mid-set to the loo, watching and hearing a bit of ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT on the way, especially "On A Rope" which actually sounded corking. But it was back to the 'Grass for their set climax.

Then we hooked up with Rich and Rach again, for the long tramp down the hill, during which I twisted my ankle! D'oh! So, overall, a real disorganised mess, but good company and some good rock - especially from Seafood, the stars of the show - rescued the day!

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