So here's a rare treat; an all day Festival; day 2 of “Field Day”! A chance combination of circumstances led me to this one; I’d booked tickets to see reformed 90’s rock/ shoegaze legends Ride at The Roundhouse at the end of May, having won a bet with Rachel about whether/ how quickly they’d sell out – they all went within ½ hour, well below my hour limit (Rachel having said they wouldn’t sell out at all), and Rachel’s forfeit was to buy me the ticket! However, Swindon Town FC, whom I’d been intermittently following this season for the first time in years along with an increasingly interested little boy (Logan), then scuppered things by getting to Wembley for the League One Play-Off Final – on the same evening! D’oh! A quick look into this Festival, where Ride had also been announced as headliners, revealed that it was a) not sold out, b) blessed with a very enticing undercard, c) seemingly accessible, albeit via a lengthy tube trip across London, and d) relatively cheap, only £15 or so more than the Ride Roundhouse tix (which I then managed to move on elsewhere at face value) had cost!
So after speaking very nicely to my dear lady wife, I secured tickets for this and the footy, recouped the cost thanks to a (modest) work bonus, then took Logan to Wembley on the clashing day, where Swindon duly went belly-up and lost 4-0! D’oh! Still, hopefully Field Day would make up for this… I was joined on the day by Rich May, who also took his son to Wembley but wanted to catch Ride, and we set off at 9.30 on a sunny Sunday morning, armed with sunscreen and water. Parked up at Osterley, under the Heathrow flight paths, then tubed it over to Victoria Park, hitting the venue about 12.30 after a short walk from Bethnal Green tube, but finding the arena not yet open! We mused about the actual purpose of all the variously fluorescent orange and green clad security bods, before they eventually let us in at 1 pm via a thorough search, which stopped just short of rubber gloves and cavities, I’m glad to say… We got our bearings in the long but compact 10,000 capacity arena, and headed over to the Big Tent (sponsored by the local Shacklewell Arms venue) for our early wake-up call. EX HEX were still soundchecking as we arrived into a deserted tent, but when they came back onstage for their performance at 1.25, the tent was respectably populated. The all-girl Washington DC trio kicked into their scuzzy garage rock set with a groovy “Don’t Wanna Lose”, following up with “Waterfall”, their best number, which for me sounded a bit understated. However, they warmed to their task and by “How You Got That Girl”, sung by bassist Betsy, they were their usual kinetic whirl of lurid red lippy, sunglasses, hot pants and rock poses. “We slept for one hour after our show last night – we’re in the crazy zone!” announced Bets, and they proceeded to invite us in! “So Hot So Cold” nicely appropriated a riff from The Knack’s classic “My Sharona”, and the final number saw a lengthy rock guitar workout, closing a fine opening set. A nice punctuation was provided as, following my request for the list, Betsy folded it up then executed a laser-like, “across the diamond” throw, which I caught. Spot on!
We headed out into the dusty, sun-drenched arena to check out the merch, but were waylaid by some tough sounding soaring pop from BEACH BABY in the small Verity Tent along the left side of the venue. Their vocalist recalled Justin from The Vaccines with his rabble-rousing howl, but after their early U2-like opener, their set moved into blander Boo Radleys/ Britpop territory, pastoral and pleasant but a tad forgettable. So into the main arena, where EAGULLS were kicking off their mainstage rumpus with a song based on that “Come As You Are”/ “Eighties” growling bass riff… I slathered up with sunscreen and checked them out (only being distracted by a passing Betsy Ex Hex, whose throwing arm I complimented) enjoying their spirit and attitude, but their resonant punky blast seemed promising but a little one-dimensional at this point. So I gave them 20 minutes then headed back to the Big Tent to check out ALLAH-LAS, who’d been recommended to me by Mr. Dean Ford. They were also pleasant but forgettable; jangly pop with both C86 and very 60’s Merseybeat overtones, with one number recalling the languor of “Mayflower”-era Weather Prophets, and others reminding me of the Searchers!
Their set done, we passed by the Verity tent again for a couple of numbers from LEOPOLD AND HIS FICTION, which were bluesy rockabilly struts, albeit not particularly well done, then wandered to the back of the arena to check out the merch – a pretty poor selection really (sorry, I’m too old and messy for white t-shirts these days…!), so the money stayed in the wallet! DIIV were kicking off their 3.30 mainstage set as I left Rich to meet up with his brother and returned; they sounded more coherent than before, in a slightly ethereal, Cure-like way, but I was back to the Big Tent!
Down the front as the guys from VIET CONG, who had apparently only just turned up to the festival site (“like, 3 minutes ago…!”) and were thus still soundchecking, the blond moptopped drummer wandering onstage, viewing the large assemblage and saying, “fuck, yeah!” to himself. After thanking the crowd for waiting, vocalist Matt Flegel referred to his band as, “sloppy Canadian fucks,” but their set was anything but; bursting into life with the breathless, Interpol/ Bloc Party-like opener “Silhouettes”, Matt’s vocals an even more low, menacing growl than on their challenging, confrontational current CD, they were taut, wiry and immediately conveying a sense of early 80’s Cold War claustrophobia, an uneasy feeling of impending doom which was both unsettling and yet, perversely, appealing. The off kilter slashing riff of “Bunker Buster” followed, moody, echoey and schizophrenic, then after a newie (“Unconscious”?), they tackled their sprawling CD closer “Death”, both absorbing and disturbing, building speed to a Husker Du-like crescendo, cutting the speed in favour of mighty slashing guitar riffery mid-song, then swooping breathlessly off in another direction throughout its’ 15 minute length. This climaxed a brutal, bruising and uncompromising set of thrilling guitar noise from a very promising new band. Good stuff!
Had a brief conversation with beefy bassist Marty whilst packing his gear up onstage (during the set, he’d alluded to his equipment getting fucked up beforehand), failing to scrounge a list as they hadn’t used one (well, they only played 4 songs, so no surprise!), then ran into Rich and scooted off to the food village , to grab pulled pork rolls for tea. MAC DEMARCO, on the main stage, spun a Summery vibe that was pleasant enough and appropriate for the sunkissed arena, but was lightweight and gossamer thin, like Toploader if they’d blanded out even more, and so inoffensive it was, well, offensive! We gave him 10 minutes, by which time his onstage larks were more entertaining than his music, then called in on the Verity stage for the last couple of numbers from IN HEAVEN. I liked their closer, as it had the scuzzy, sleazy loud-quiet-loud dynamics of The Pixies, then was left frustrated as their set finished 10 minutes early! So with time to kill, we set up on the fringes of the Big Tent awaiting former Supergrass man GAZ COOMBES. However, the breathless, fast-paced and rocking opener aside, his set was also largely forgettable, suffering from a general paucity of quality material. It felt as if, in an attempt to distance himself from those knockabout pop Supergrass days and go in a more crafted, widescreen and “mature” direction, he’s lost his mojo somewhat. A shame, but this performance (which also included a turn from Ride drummer Loz Colbert) was certainly a better use of his time and talent than his desperate Hot Rats covers project. Took a break mid-set to check out NIMMO on the Verity Stage, to find a terrible dance outfit, so ‘twas back to Gaz!
So, into the early evening and the main stage for US punk icon PATTI SMITH, touring her piece de resistance, the 1975 masterpiece “Horses”, celebrating its’ 40th (!) anniversary. Drawling the opening line, “Jesus died for someone else’s sins… not mine” in her laconic New York tones, she held the biggest crowd of the day captivated throughout, as opening track “Gloria” swept from her shocking lyrical manifesto into galloping primal garage rock, then “Birdland” sprawled, widescreen, epic and fractured as Smith recited the extensive lyrics over this jagged musical base with the aid of a slew of cribsheets, and “Free Money” rocked like an absolute bastard, a galloping fist-pumper.
“So, the record “Horses”; that was side “A”, and this is Side “B”” announced Smith thereafter, clearly a fan of vinyl! She allegedly fucked up the intro to the strident “Break It Up” (“I never do anything perfect… I only fuck up perfect!”), but no-one really noticed, and again “Land” sprawled and rocked, taking in vignettes from “Land Of 1,000 Dances” and “Gloria” again. A final “Elegy” (“written 40 years ago… when I was a toddler!”) was a touching tribute to friends lost, and a reverential hush fell as Smith read out their names, a cheer greeting each name (“Joe Strummer… Joey Ramone… Fred Sonic Smith…”). Sombre and haunting, yes, yet it seemed totally appropriate that this celebration of one of rock’s classics should acknowledge those who walked alongside Smith on her journey.
Glad though I was to have witnessed all of “Horses”, I was eager not to miss a second of my potential highlight, so after “Dancing Barefoot” and an impromptu “Happy Birthday” to her bassist, I cleared off to avoid any possible rush back to the Big Tent, pitching up stage left, 3 rows back for the Tent headliners, due on at 8. SAVAGES, all dressed in black, duly arrived at the witching hour and burst into impossibly dramatic and strident life, vocalist Jehnny Beth remarking, “let’s pick it up where we left it, right?”. Hoo boy, did they ever… opener “City’s Full” was thunderously powerful, Fay Milton pummeling the beat like a muscular blacksmith pounding on a red hot anvil, “Shut Up” was snarling, startling and dramatic, the pseudo Goth guitar licks circling the tent like a conspiracy of ravens, and a clutch of new numbers showed promise and progress, whilst thankfully not straying from Savages’ harsh, jagged post-punk 80’s rock sonic template (one brutal newie featuring some resonant riffery which almost recalled Killing Joke!).
But this was all about Jehnny Beth. Prowling the stage, snarling and spitting like a cornered wolverine, wild eyed and scarily intense, she gave an unsettling, threatening yet totally captivating frontperson performance throughout, abandoning the stage to lean into her frenzied and adoring public, challenging them to generate noise and fury (“we’ve just come back from Greece… you need to be louder than them!”). “She Will” (“one you might know…”) was brilliant, their best number being delivered with aplomb, building relentlessly into the crashing, cymbal-led chanting chorus crescendo, Beth hunched over onstage just like Seafood’s David Line used to, during their equally intense “Folk Song Crisis”. A simple but effective message prefaced the lengthy absorbing workout of “Fuckers” (“I know these are hard times and we’ve signed up for another 5 years… but looking at you all, I think we’re going to be alright… don’t let the fuckers get you down!”), then morphed into the all-too-soon set climax, the careering hellride of “Husbands”, the Dead Kennedy-like bass riff propelling the song to a breaktaking climax, bringing the Set Of The Day to a close. Brilliant.
I gathered my thoughts and a set-list (yay!) before returning to the main arena for the Main Event… As dusk (and the temperatures!) fell, headliners RIDE were just easing into their set opener, the stretched, loose-limbed and libidinous guitar workout of “Leave Them All Behind”, then into the groovy descending verse of “Like A Daydream” from their sophomore “Play” EP. The subsequent set drew almost exclusively from those youthful spiky early EPs and the first two albums, the heady amphetamine rush and shimmering guitar effects and reverb of “Nowhere” and the more expansive “Going Blank Again”, which saw them as the darlings of a new vanguard of British guitar rock, rather than from the troubled pseudo Britpop of their later work. Give the people what they really want, indeed… Drenched as much in their influences (the effortless cool and widescreen expanse of Echo And The Bunnymen, the smothering reverb dreamscapes of My Bloody Valentine, the juxtaposition of squalling feedback and easy melody of The Jesus And Mary Chain) as in their guitar effects, they were nonetheless a shining star in that early 90’s period, another band who should have been stadium massive back in the day. Still, there’s yet time…
Tonight saw them deliver a faultless, professional and perfect sounding performance, a little understated at times but thoroughly absorbing and eminently listenable throughout. “It’s been a great bill; I can’t believe Patti Smith went on earlier [than us]!” remarked vocalist Mark Gardiner before the wah-wah of “Seagull”; “Dreams Burn Down”’s normally powerful crashing drum intro seemed a little understated, but the song ultimately soared to a chiming, plangent crescendo; the splendid jangle of “Taste” (which Gardiner dedicated “to anyone who’s had a tequila slushie today!” and which I almost missed thanks to a pre-emptive loo trip) brought to mind those early 90’s Level 3 nights, and the sinister, spooky march of “Drive Blind” featured a thunderous, drawn out and thrillingly thrashing middle 8, which Andy Bell subsequently announced was, “for the Valentines!”
The chiming, echoey opening riff of “Chelsea Girl”, their debut EP’s leadoff track and the scheduled last number, resonated around the arena at 10.20, prior to which Gardiner announced that this was, “the beginning,” of a new phase for Ride, which was good news. During “Chelsea Girl”s noisy JAMC feedback stomp, we moved to the back, getting a jump at the end back to the tube station, then back to the car just before midnight after a relatively smooth cross-town journey, and home for a red-eyed 1.15 am. I think Mark Gardiner put it best, having incredulously remarked, “what a time, what a gig!” and I can only echo that. Good company with Mr. May, at a splendidly organised, generally very friendly (slightly over-zealous security at the entrance notwithstanding) and all inclusive Festival in Field Day, featuring great sets from Ex Hex, Viet Cong, Patti Smith, Ride and my Band Of The Day, Savages. I’d certainly recommend it, and I hope to be back in future. A great (Field) Day out!