Tuesday, 29 November 2016

1,012 THE PIXIES, Fews, London O2 Brixton Academy, Monday 28th November 2016

Ah, The Pixies… Boston’s groundbreaking 80’s surf/ sleaze punk, pre-grunge ruffians, the band cited by Kurt Cobain as his inspiration for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and a band I saw twice back in the day and twice during the early stages of their post-2000 reunion incarnation. A band I totally loved (although not, I confess, as much as Hub contemporaries Throwing Muses), but also a band who for 10 years have been off my gig schedule, primarily due to tickets for their intermittent UK shows (usually at tonight’s venue) proving as rare as rocking-horse shit, but also due to the lack of new quality material emanating from a band a decade into their “reunion”, suggesting any such gigs would primarily be nostalgia trips. However, a couple of factors conspired to sway me around this time; the enthusiasm of my friend Rich May for the gig, plus the prospect of a new album in “Head Carrier”, an album which, it subsequently transpired, held together as a cohesive and fresh musical statement of intent, rather than a scattergun collection of old riffs and offcuts lying around the rehearsal space (as so much of predecessor “Indie Cindy” appeared to be). So I booked tix on the pre-sale (on the banks of the lake, one sunny morning after a swim!), and we were go!

Fellow gig counter Stuart joined us as well, and despite problems with Swindon traffic hampering our departure, we three had a chatty, entertaining and largely unhampered trip down to Stuart’s sneaky parking spot in Hammersmith, tubing across to this cavernous South London venue and hitting the hall just as support Fews were rounding off their set. They were mining one note for all it was worth, thrashing it in a MBV wall of noise style, which if representative of their material might mark them out as one to watch. Too little to tell though… Wandered down near the front, stage left, over near the gents, which utterly reeked, as if an totally smashed rugby team had been pissing all over the floor then rolling in it. Not pleasant.

Still, The Pixies joined us dead on 9, wandering on in front of the scaffolded banks of backlights to a bossa samba backing track. Vocalist Black Francis bolted on a large acoustic guitar and eased into the eerie slow-burn “ooh-ooh”’s of opener “Where Is My Mind”, then guitarist Joey Santiago forced squalling groans from his guitar for the more frantic and fractured “Nimrod’s Son”. However after this relatively promising start things drifted quite quickly early doors; a whole lot of plodding acoustic early numbers seemed very samey and perfunctorily delivered, the likes of “Break My Body”, “Winterlong” and “La La Love You” almost merging into one, an excellently jolly “Here Comes Your Man” the only break to the monotony. This early disappointment was compounded by the band’s complete lack of communication or even acknowledgement of the audience: whilst Mr. Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV’s solo outings as Frank Black saw him occasionally voluble, his Pixies alter ego Black Francis is notoriously taciturn, only once during the whole gig directly addressing the audience (when tuning up one time), other than in song. This gave the impression that the band at this point were playing solely for themselves, and I mused – are we really here?

Thankfully, 40 minutes in, things changed, suddenly and dramatically, for the infinitely better. Sturdy newie “Tenement Song” was delivered with startling conviction, previously lacking, and “Classic Masher” was brilliant, the male/ female vocal interplay between Francis and “new” bassist Paz Lenchantin and the soaring chorus of their best new number a thrilling highlight. Now we’ve got a proper Pixies gig, I thought, as the surf punk riffery of “Head On “ came crashing down and Francis really cut loose with this voice, the dragon roar spitting fire and filling this vast auditorium for once. And thankfully I was right, as thereafter the hits rolled on – the avalanche chorus of “UMass”, the racy, conversational and sexy “I’ve Been Tired”, an eerie pink-lit “Velouria”, the seething, savage venting roar of “Rock Music”, a smoke-strewn, quickfire “Isla De Encanta”, a ball-crushingly massive “Planet Of Sound” – all delivered with righteous fire and fury.

“Hey” and the rock-steady “Gouge Away” was followed by the inevitable “Debaser”, all air-punching hooks, humourless laughs and eyeball-slicing viciousness. Overplayed, maybe, but still undeniably a classic. Set closer “Tame” snuck in, with a deceptively groovy ease, before a sequence of huge roaring crescendos, each more massive than the last, closed the set, the band then taking a lengthy bow to all corners and soaking up the audience’s reverence. At this point the whole room was then drenched in smoke and the band started up again, into encore “Into The White”, totally apposite for this sudden white-out, Paz’ dispassionate vocals matching the fuzzy, intangible mood of this, one of my favourite Pixies numbers, before they effectively dropped the mic and slunk off under the cover of this dense smoky fog. No list (they didn’t use one – I checked!) but an ultimately splendid set from the band, once they’d bedded in and really found their teeth, a fact which we three all agreed on and reflected upon, during a journey home which took us off the closed M4 through Reading and back home for a red-eyed 1.30. Not so much a set of two halves – more appropriate being, that wasn’t half a great gig!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

1,011 JIMMY EAT WORLD, The Amazons, Bristol O2 Academy, Saturday 19th November 2016

My second gig in 2 nights – both with Rachel in tow, I’m happy to report! – saw us blasting down a soggy M4 for an evening with Jimmy Eat World, perennial favourites of both of ours, evidenced not only by this being the 11th time I’d seen them overall (and 5th at this venue), but also by the fact that this was also a late add-on to my Autumn Dance Card, but, like last night’s host Frank Turner, another complete “no doubter”! The Arizonian powerpop/ melodic emo veterans had announced a tour in support of new album, “Integrity Blues”, their 9th and in recent keeping, a slow burner but a grower, relying on emotional depth and melody rather than upbeat power riffery to make an impact, so we’d again booked tix early. I loves the pre-sale, me…!

Our blast down to Bristol saw a reasonable arrival time, but we then had a frustrating 20 minutes driving up and down a packed out Trenchard Street car park (thanks to sold-out events at the Hippodrome and Colston Hall, as well as this one) before finding a parking spot. So we hit the venue just before openers The Amazons were due on at 8, and wormed our way down to our usual stage left floor spot to catch their set. From up the road in Reading, they played some traditional straight-ahead post grunge laze rock recalling very early Teenage Fanclub, with decent two part pseudo choral harmonies also a feature. An old fashioned, tried and trusted formula, maybe, but it works, so don’t knock it! Third number “What’s Your Secret” was a melodic and hooky delight, and the lead track to a forthcoming EP featured a creepy opening, giving way to a pounding bass heavy rhythm and a dead-stop pregnant pause – I like those! “We’ve played the Thekla, The Louisiana, we’ve done the Bristol ladder! It’s great to be playing at the biggest place in town,” gushed vocalist Matt, and the grungy, riff-heavy finale concluded a strong support set which indicated aspirations to play this venue in their own right might not be that far-fetched. I’d certainly check them out again…

The floor then became uncomfortably crowded, proper old-school rammed, providing a stark contrast between tonight and last night’s gigs, sell outs both – we found decent pockets of space with room to at least swing a small rodent last night, but here, simply putting hands in pockets was a considerable task… Luckily Jimmy Eat World didn’t prolong our wait, coming on promptly at 9 to no intro, and easing into a toughened-up version of dark, introspective newie “Get Right”. An incendiary “Bleed American” followed up, all seething power and strident chorus, although the usually brilliantly dramatic middle 8 featured a couple of odd- or bum-sounding notes. Early doors, though, the band were rocking, up to a chugging, angular “Big Casino”, after which the boys finally paused for breath and Jim Adkins announced, “it’s good to be back!”

The ballad “Hear You Me”, the backlit strobe accentuating its’ poignant emotional effect, was a stark, acoustically delivered early set highlight, but thereafter the set drifted for me for a chunk of its’ mid-section, a messy but smoothly melodic “Coffee And Cigarettes” and an understated but groovy “Lucky Denver Mint” notwithstanding. This had capped a 3-song vignette of older, “Clarity” material which seemed poorly chosen and garnered scant reaction from the otherwise enthusiastic sell-out crowd, and too many of the new numbers meandered in a mid-paced manner, lacking either emotional gravitas or powerful, strident impact. As if acknowledging this, Adkins finally hollered, “God Damn!” before a furious, angry riff-fest heralded a blistering “A Praise Chorus”, easily the best number tonight and just the thing to revitalise the set.

“We’ve been playing in some super hot spots lately; this feels relaxing compared to some of those places,” announced Adkins, “[but] this is like the ultimate party; as a musician this is what it’s all about!” This comment received a huge ovation, just the impetus for a strong finish to the set. A yearning “23” was excellent, “Work” was a titanic singalong, Adkins going off-mic to conduct the crowd, and a breathless, jagged “Pain” concluded a variable set; strong start, saggy middle, superb finish.

The boys took a lengthy bow after excellent encores of a joyful, playful “The Middle” and an excellently tumbling “Sweetness”, and we left for a sodden drive home with Jim Adkins’ fulsome praise ringing in our ears, and an unexpected set-list in my happy clutches. Seen them better, for sure, but any Jimmy Eat World gig – especially if “A Praise Chorus” is in the set – is a good night out!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

1,010 FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS, Felix Hagan and the Family, Salisbury City Hall, Friday 18th November 2016

Signed by Frank at his RPM Records set, 20 January 2018 (gig 1,067)!

Despite the rather annoying cancellation of the midweek Pete Wylie Oxford gig (no reason given, rest of tour is still going on. Bah!), I’m nonetheless hitting the November gig trail pretty promptly again, following the excellent “Shiiine On” weekender, with a weekend double-header! Jimmy Eat World tomorrow night, but tonight a relatively late addition to my Autumn Dance Card, with the ever-entertaining Frank Turner, the hard-working and prolific post-punk/ folk troubadour, whose all-inclusive and life-affirming shows have been a regular staple for me in recent years. No new product to push since last year’s splendid “Positive Songs For Negative People”, but having just returned from a lengthy US jaunt, it just seemed Frank fancied playing to “his people” again. I get that – and I’m up for it!

And, happily, also up for it (and tomorrow night too!) was my sweet Rachey, so off we trundled after Grandma arrived for babysitting duties, wending and winding through inky black country roads and drizzly villages, hitting the occasional massive puddle but parking up unscathed in the (free after 6! Yay!) car park behind the venue at ¼ to 8. Just missed opener Esme Patterson, but we popped into this large sports hall type venue for Felix Hagan And The Family, next up. They were however an unholy mess of bad cabaret, with Hagan, a bearded and head-banded figure sporting a feather boa, being backed up by a couple of tacky female backing singers, the type of which you’d think rock’n’roll had grown up and out of by now. Their best number by miles featured a building crescendo chorus which would have been epic, but for the horrendous backing vocal wailing totally spoiling the effect; penultimate number “I Want You” was a deadringer for Meat Loaf’s overblown “Deadringer For Love”, and set closer “Feel All Right” sailed uncomfortably close to Frank Turner homage territory. The old boy doesn’t half pick some weird supports…

Not long to wait for the main event, though, and the lights dimmed at 5 to 9, Frank immediately taking the stage for the acoustic intro to “I Knew Prufrock”, immediately eliciting a mass singalong as band joined in and the song built to its’ soaring, uplifting hook crescendo. A quite magnificent start, and the tone was set for another all-inclusive night, with the audience and performer as one, feeding off each other’s energy and enthusiasm. “I Still Believe” saw Frank exhort the crowd to roar the echoing hook, before the Winchester native announced, “welcome to show 1,978! [This is] nearly a hometown show for me!”

We therefore had the full-on Frank Turner entertainment and crowd participation package tonight: dividing the room into half to see which could make the most noise and introducing his mum, in the back balcony, as adjudicator; bringing a guy who’d travelled from Lithuania onstage and getting him to nominate a proxy, a girl from the front row who crowdsurfed around the audience to “If Ever I Stray”; and promoting charities “Safe Gigs For Women” (a representative of whom I’d enjoyed a chat with, prior to the gig) and “War Child” with subtle yet heartfelt plugs. But it was the music, as ever, which won out for me; following a tough yet poignant “Long Live The Queen”, Frank announced, “you’ve noticed I’m holding what scientists call an electric guitar… and whenever I do, I have to do this!” then rampaging into the unmistakable riff for a blisteringly messy “Ace Of Spades”; “Polaroid Picture” was preceded by Frank confirming he’d, “fucked myself up in the service of rock’n’roll,” but still exhorting everyone, against his doctors wishes, to keep jumping around with him; and an unexpected “Silent Key”, referencing the 1986 Shuttle disaster and featuring Esme Patterson on haunting, mid-song vocals, was a thrilling yet plaintive highlight.

A solo interlude was capped with the band returning for a deliciously pastoral, Decemberists-like “Opening Act Of Spring”, then it was onto the rousing singalong anthems again, with “The Road” and particularly set finale “Photosynthesis”  reflecting Frank’s philosophy perfectly; carpe diem, enjoy what you have, and live every moment. Also, as the man himself put it as he asked the crowd to hug a stranger (!), “by being in this room, we constitute a community,” that community being built on values of respect and looking out for each other. Damn right.

A jolly reel-along “Recovery” encore, and a couple of positively punk rock readings of “Get Better” and “Four Simple Words”, the latter of which saw Frank himself crowdsurf whilst still singing the lead line perfectly, then come to earth in the middle of the mosh to dance with an astonished young female punter, concluded another supremely entertaining set from a man whose philosophy I’m finding increasingly easy to buy into. Great stuff again, an easy set-list and a dry drive home down the country roads, spotting a barn owl on the way. A late addition, maybe, but on this form I wouldn’t have missed Frank Turner for anything!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

1,009 THE 2016 SHIIINE ON WEEKENDER, Various Venues at Butlins Resort, Minehead, Friday 11th to Sunday 13th November 2016

My first 3 day “Festival” since Reading 2003, but this is one with a difference, the second “Shiiine On” Weekender being part of an increasing trend for indoor themed festivals held at holiday resorts during their off-season, with bands and accommodation thrown in! A most attractive notion to those non-campers such as myself, “Shiiine On” in particular celebrates the 80’s and 90’s British Indie scene, encompassing late 80’s indie guitar, “Madchester” and baggy dance/ indie crossover culture, and delving into the early stages of the 90’s Britpop guitar pop explosion. An overall scene which I confess I skirted around rather than diving full-on into, I nonetheless investigated the inaugural “Shiiine On” bill last year, finding it a potentially attractive notion but with too much dance and not enough indie guitar rock for my narrow-assed and narrow-minded tastes. I was however very happy to see a more balanced bill this year tailored towards my more guitarry tastes, the likes of the Bunnymen and House Of Love piquing my interest considerably.

Rachel went to Iceland earlier this year with her mates on a 40th birthday holiday/ celebration, so I negotiated this as payback! All I needed were a couple of wingmen, and happily, after a chat at the Wonder Stuff gig earlier this year, I was able to recruit the Big Man, plus my friend and former boss Matt, Matt also sorting a 4th person for our chalet share in his old school pal Ian. Thus it was that Rich picked me up on a chilly but bright Friday November morning after the school run, fuelling up then hammering down the M4/ M5 and A roads to get to Minehead easier and quicker than expected, rocking up just after midday to find our chalet already prepared and ready for us. Good stuff! Checked in, dumped bags and took a quick walk around the very quiet early doors site (guessing most people are either travelling from further afield, or only booked Friday afternoons off work!), then, as we were by the seaside, we hit the sea front for fish and chips! Took a wander back and got squared away as Matt arrived, just in time for the first music of the day!

Into the Skyline Arena, the entertainment centrepiece of the Butlins camp, a large central area under huge tented covers and skirted by bars and eateries. It looked considerably different from when I brought the family here a couple of years ago, with the arcade entertainments largely removed from the back, and the Skyline Stage and soft play areas behind it taken out, in favour of a more conventional festival stage pushed to the far end. So here was our main entertainment location of the weekend, kicking off at 3.15 with a sadly sparsely attended set from THE RAILWAY CHILDREN. A real shame, that, as they were excellent openers; kicking off with the smooth, plangent and yearning “Brighter”, they played an intelligently crafted, hooky and memorable set of mature 80’s Indie rock, which had Rich and myself musing why they weren’t massive back in the day. Too “Indie” for the mainstream and too polished for the underground, perhaps, they would have crossed over superbly had they emerged in those 90’s Britpop years. Nonetheless, today’s set was a bright reminder of what was lost, with the smooth chorus of “Another Town”, the New Order-esque rhythm of the more upbeat “Every Beat Of The Heart” and the deliciously morose and brooding “Big Hands Of Freedom”, delivered by the svelte vocals of the equally broodingly handsome Gary Newby, all memorable highlights. Another shame was that they ran over time and had to cut 2 numbers, including my favourite “A Gentle Sound” from their set – I was looking forward to hearing it, and the drummer remarked, as he handed me their list, that they were looking forward to playing it!

We then ran into old Level 3 friend Kate and chatted with THE HIGH’s identikit baggy guitar noise as a backdrop. I remembered the breezy “Box Set Go” from those late 80’s baggy days, but nothing else stuck at all, so we then popped back to the chalet to regroup in anticipation of the evening’s events. Back in to a happily respectfully busier venue for THE HOUSE OF LOVE at 6. Opener “Never” was dedicated to the great Leonard Cohen, lost earlier this week, before the boys threw us a splendid curveball with “A Baby Got Back On It’s Feet”, the excellent opening track from their recent album “She Paints Words In Red”. However, the crowd were here for the oldies, and Guy Chadwick, Terry Bickers and co didn’t disappoint, delving repeatedly into their eponymous, Byrds/ Bunnymen inspired debut, with “Christine” slightly lacking in the wall of sound but nonetheless pristine and delightful, and “Road”’s wry and conversational verse leading to its’ powerful strident hook, guitarist Bickers high-kicking and throwing shapes in the process!

“I Don’t Know Why I Love You”, always a favourite of mine, was an incendiary delight, and an unexpected “Destroy The Heart” was a galloping, whirling thing of jagged beauty. After a moody and inevitable “Shine On”, Guy Chadwick pointedly thanked, “those who didn’t talk through the gig,” before closer “Love In A Car”, backlit by strobes, built from a slow burn, understated opening to a splendid, lengthy and absorbing crescendo. Suffering slightly with poor, thin sound at times, this was still a damn fine set, a nice punctuation point coming when we took a break outside afterwards, and I ran into Mr. Bickers, who remembered me from his set in Swindon with Pete Fij last year, chatted briefly and signed my list. Result!

Back in after our break for THE WONDER STUFF, who were “on it” from note one, carrying through the incendiary form demonstrated in their 30th Anniversary show in March, and delivering a serious early contender for Best Set Of The Weekend. From the outset they were excellent; a dark and dramatically cascading “Don’t You Ever” from their new CD was followed with an incendiary, speaker-shredding “On The Ropes” (I shit you not – midway through the song the speakers fed back an appalling groan as if they were about to blow, catching Miles’ attention but not causing him to miss a beat, consummate pro that he is…!), before Miles Hunt the genial host asked, “how’s your day been, Shiiine? Great to be with ya!” The day’s getting pretty good now, Milo!

The Wonder Stuff were the perfect party festival hosts tonight, covering all bases, delivering old Groove Machine favourites such as “Red Berry Joy Town” with the same gusto as the joyful fiddly diddly singalong mid-set material such as “Circle Square”, the “C&W hoedown” of “Golden Green” and the unannounced but unashamed communal singalong to “Size Of A Cow”. “Are you looking forward to the Bunnymen? To be honest it’s the only reason I’m here!” remarked Miles flippantly, which was clearly bollocks – tonight he was here to entertain, and give Ian McCulloch some pointers in holding a crowd in the palm of one’s hand. The tumbling fiddle of “Welcome To The Cheap Seats”, expertly provided by the eye-catching Erica Nockalls, resplendent as ever in a puffy Queen of Hearts dress, was again dedicated to Leonard Cohen (“to send [him] on his journey”), before Miles teased us with a singalong request; “I want one word – Dizzy! No not dizzy… Gently!” This was followed by another series of superb knockout blows, with a slightly messy “Unbearable” giving way to a superb “Give Give Give Me More More More” and the lengthy, pounding and powerful “Ten Trenches Deep”. Breathless and excellent stuff from the Stuffies, concluding a perfect all-inclusive festival set.

So, time to gather thoughts and wander forward, leaving the boys for ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN’s set, amazingly prompt starting at 9. To be fair, the Bunnymen’s presence on the bill was the one which really tipped the scales in favour of my attending, and a brilliant set for my 1,000th gig a couple of months ago showed they were on top form currently. In all honesty, they never really scaled those heights tonight, their more serious, studied oeuvre a complete contrast to the ebullience of the Wonder Stuff, and this felt more of a set for the aficionados rather than the festival goers looking for a beery singalong good time band. Worked for me, though; the dark psychedelia of “Going Up” melted into the plangent chime opening of “Rescue”, vocalist Ian McCulloch interspersing vignettes from “Broke My Neck” into the middle 8. An excellent, piano-embellished “Villier’s Terrace” went further, departing midway through into a part-cover of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, and the subsequent “All That Jazz” was probably my highlight, dark, menacing and pulsating. A couple of looser, dancier mid-set numbers in the Doors-y “Bedbugs And Ballyhoo” and the lengthy “Never Stop” led into a stately “Nothing Lasts Forever” and a shimmering, dreamy “Bring On The Dancing Horses”. Then, after a hushed, naked “Killing Moon” (announced by Mac as “the greatest song in the world” and dedicated to Leonard Cohen), an unexpected “Over The Wall” was a purist’s delight, the slow, drum machine intro and menacing, spoken vocal easing into the galloping widescreen and epic part deux. “The Cutter” closed the set, Mac really cutting loose with his soaring voice, before a messy encore of “Lips Like Sugar” was preceded by Mac announcing, “you’ve just seen a masterclass in… what we do.” I dunno Mac, tonight was a great set for us purists, but you gave us the true masterclass back in August…

This took us to 10, and with a couple of interesting things to come later, we grabbed a cuppa back in the chalet and watched the England football highlights, before popping back into the arena, this time into a smaller side-bar called Jaks, where we waited for the entrance of MARK GARDENER, spot on at midnight. The frontman of splendid reformed shoegaze/ guitar dreampop ruffians Ride, Gardener tonight was in full-on acoustic mode, remarking, “I’ve never been here before – it feels like I’m on acid!” then informing us as to his intentions – a few acoustic solo compositions, some material from his recent acoustic collaboration with Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, and some Ride songs. Inevitably it was the Ride material which went down the best, the elongated notes of “Polar Bear” an early highlight, although as Gardener himself recognised (replying to one punter’s request with, “impossible mate – some things are possible like this, but not that…”), he needed to carefully choose the Ride songs which would stand up to this naked treatment, stripped off all the heavy guitars and effects. A desolate and bare sounding “Chrome Waves” worked perfectly, then, after set closer “Dice”, from his recent album, he was persuaded to give “Vapour Trail” a go, the “woah-oh” outro a lengthy and excellent communal singalong vibe to finish a nice little set well worth staying up for. Not that we could say the same for our 1 a.m. treat in Reds: THE SEX PISSED DOLLS sounded a reasonably fun idea, a bunch of leather clad girlies playing old punk classics, but in reality they were a horrendous mess, particularly the lead vocalist, whose rasping vocals sounded as evil as she looked with her smeared make-up. Some covers were competent (“Ever Fallen In Love” and “Hanging On The Telephone” largely escaping unscathed) but others were utter carnage (“God Save The Queen” and “Sheena” being particularly trampled) and I couldn’t help thinking that “Dolls” wasn’t the key word in their name, more so “Pissed”, as you needed to be completely off your swoft to cope with them! Sadly, that was not me, and, tired of these punk rock classics being reduced to amateurish and gaudy pantomime (at one point, the vocalist held up a charity puppet and asked us to “make a wish,” so I did, but she was still there…), I called it a night, heading back to the chalet and taking advantage of the best part of his festival – a bed for the night!

A relatively quiet night as well – I’d expected some lairy hubbub into the night or even nearby chalets playing music into the small hours, but thankfully there was none of that! So a lazy morning saw Rich rustling up a cooked breakfast (nice one Big Man!) and, suitably refreshed, he and I went to Hotshots bar at 12 to see Swindon Town beat Charlton 3-0 live on the big screen. Result! JAMES ATKIN of EMF, plus, apparently, his wife on keyboards/ samplers and cousin on drums (“a family affair!”), were kicking off a tight and dark indie dance set on the Skyline stage, which was better than I thought and included EMF’s ubiquitous hit “Unbelievable” mid-set but which still didn’t float my boat. Instead, we were off to our first Centre Stage visit, the large evening function hall where I saw a Scooby Doo show on my last visit (!), but which this afternoon hosted THE KAR PETS. Featuring former Inspiral Carpets vocalist Tom Hingley and a whole chunk of young pups backing him up, they played a jolly organ-fuelled set of Inspiral Carpets material, ranging from the hypnotic psych-trance of “Commercial Rain”, through the knockabout pop of the likes of “Joe” and the groovy, fast-paced “Find Out Why”, to the more melancholy such as the delicious “Move” and the inevitable, somewhat elegiac yet singalong “This Is How It Feels”. A popular set, unsurprisingly given the Carpets (minus Hingley, who left, somewhat acrimoniously, in 2011) had headlined the Skyline stage one night last year, and one which Hingley, bowl-haircut and mad as a balloon, delivered as if his life depended on it, feeding wine to the front rows, rabble-rousing and exhorting terrace chant sing- and clapalongs throughout. “I’ve lost weight,” he declared, “I had a medical condition, which was that I was a fat bastard!” “She Comes In The Fall” got the joint jumping – quite literally, given the springy floor! – and “Dragging Me Down” was a chaotic ending, with Hingley howling the hookline to its’ conclusion. By no means note-perfect from his young band, but Hingley was fierce, energetic and committed; not bad for an old bloke with a dodgy haircut!

By now we’d been joined by Matt and his friend Ian, who was at the international football last night, so we popped back to the chalet during a lull, bumping into Kai, an old Swindon friend, who had the chalet next to us! Small world! Back in for the evening’s long haul, starting with MIKE FLOWERS POPS on the Skyline stage filling in time with easy-listening, saccharine-overloaded versions of the likes of Prince’s “1999” which no doubt had the Purple One turning in his sadly fresh grave. That joke wasn’t funny then, and for me it sure as shit isn’t now. Luckily we didn’t have long to put up with this nonsense before ECHOBELLY took the stage at 6. A fine, sparky and confrontational indie guitar band back in the day, their adversarial nature and particularly the overly political attitude of vocalist Sonia Madan probably precluded them gaining the more mainstream breakthrough success which came the way of contemporaries such as Sleeper, but after giving their CDs a whirl recently and finding they’d held up well, I was looking forward to the set. However the sound was murky and thin on occasion, lacking the beef that tracks such as racy opener “I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me” required. Sonia’s voice, perfectly enunciated, idiosyncratic and fairly unusual for a rock vocalist at the best of times, was flyaway at best and often completely lost in the mix (she in fact pretty much completely handed “Great Things” over to the audience to sing; one way to make up for the poor vocal mix, I guess!). Also Sonia herself was oddly simpering and coquettish throughout, very unlike the impassioned and polemic frontperson of old, the lioness losing her growl, perhaps? “King Of The Kerb” was the best sounding number on show, punchy and drum-beat dominated, and closer “Dark Therapy” was a moody, sombre piece to finish an oddly disappointing – and at 40 minutes, short – set.

This actually left nearly 50 minutes until the next act due onstage, and with nothing going on elsewhere, we chilled at the Burger King at the back of the arena and had some tea, once again ignoring MIKE FLOWERS POPS doing some unexpected fill-in material on the Skyline stage. None of us were particularly interested in THE BLUETONES, next up at 7.30, so we stayed put within hearing distance of their inoffensive but dull (or should that be dull but inoffensive?) set of post-Oasis mainstream guitar pop. A cover of Elton John’s “Benny And The Jets” and the ample crowd singalong to a dreamy-sounding “Slight Return” were the only numbers to rise above the mediocrity for me.

However, SHED SEVEN, despite my having a similar modest level of anticipation for them, were an entirely different kettle of fish. They’re a band whom I’ve not really rated in the past, finding them a fairly generic mix of identikit 80’s/ 90’s indie sounds, from the undulating guitar jangle of The Smiths (“Mark”) through the hollow anthems of Oasis (“Chasing Rainbows”), via the angular dance rhythms of New Fast Automatic Daffodils (“Dolphin”) to the bouncy Britpop of The Boo Radleys (“Getting Better”), but without an identity of their own. However they well and truly put me in my place tonight; coming on to the “Hi De Hi” theme and a spaghetti Western backing track through the billowing dry ice, they were straight into their stride with the loose-limbed “She Left Me On Friday” and a Morrissey-esque “Where Have You Been Tonight”, the soaring hook eliciting the first huge communal singalong, which included myself! “Are you all fucked? You all look fucked! [Playing here] is ace!” announced annoyingly skinny vocalist Rick Witter, as teasing, taunting and mesmeric a festival frontman as Miles had been the previous night, performing with a strut and a swagger and clearly loving it up there tonight. Following the extended rhythmic workout of “Dolphin”, Witter dealt with a heckler with, “ “come on you bastard?” Where are we going then? All back to your chalet is it?” and prior to “On Standby”, he flippantly held the crowd singalong back with, “not yet, not yet…. Oh, you’ve fucked it up!”

Before that we’d had a quite brilliant reading of “Bully Boy”, my set highlight, then “Going For Gold” was introduced with, “I’d have thought you’d have heard this song a lot over this [Olympic] Summer, but oh no, Spandau fucking Ballet!” Finale “Chasing Rainbows” threatened to unmoor the tent with a massive and celebratory communal singalong to close out an unexpectedly excellent set. Credit where it’s due, Shed Seven were utterly superb tonight. Never thought I’d be typing that!

That was the end of festivities in the Skyline arena as the clock struck 10, but we were in for the long-haul tonight! So, into the Centre Stage hall for some lesser but still worthy lights of the Brit/ Indie scene of the period, starting with THOUSAND YARD STARE, on at 10.45. They kicked off with an instrumental opener before being joined by intense vocalist Stephen for a rocking and impassioned “Version Of Me”, which had no little power and pace. Pace seemed to be the operative word for this performance; not only did they crack through the set like men on a serious mission, not only were individual numbers such as “Heimlich Manoeuver” and the excellent, sinewy “Buttermouth” delivered with the ubiquitous baggy “funky drummer” drumbeat reaching exit velocity at times, but also the skinny, red-clad Stephen paced along the perimeter of the stage throughout, often chatting away to himself off mic and, more bizarrely, eating apples and kicking them into the mosh! The relentless rhythm, aligned to some driving guitar and hooky tuneage, got the late night crowd jumping throughout, and after a splendid “0-0 After Extra Time”, TYS concluded a fun set with their debut single, “Wonderment”, which saw Stephen pile into the mosh. I grabbed a list and a word with the man afterwards, and he reflected on the simple joys of playing music again, a joy which certainly manifested itself in their performance. Fair play to you, boys!

THE FRANK AND WALTERS were next up; taking the stage at quarter to midnight in matching orange shirts and black ties (apart from the vocalist, who in lieu of a tie had a strip of black masking tape stuck to his shirt instead!), their set was a mix of their better known jaunty, Irish-tinged knockabout pop with either emotionally honest or faintly wry subject matter, or less familiar and darker, more punchy powerpop. Opener “Stages” fell into the latter category, although the likes of “Fashion Crisis Hits New York” and a splendid, singalong “Walter’s Trip”, later on, really engaged the crowd. The in-between song banter was equally wry and engaging, their Irish wit shining through as they addressed the size of the crowd (“my eyesight is poor, you’re sound like a bigger audience than the 20 of you I can see!”). A ramshackle and surprisingly affecting “After All” degenerated into a bouncy mass singalong, and closer “This Is Not A Song” was a mass love-in to end a jolly entertaining set. Shame about the lack of “Happy Busman” though…

Nonetheless, the night wasn’t over, and as the clocked ticked to a red-eyed 1 a.m., CUD took the stage. C86 veterans, their sound thereafter morphed from oddball backwards rhythmic math-pop to more straightforward funkier and powerpoppier fayre, whilst retaining their quirky humour and off-the-wall lyrical subject matter. Stars of Reading 1994 thanks mainly to an exemplary performance from frontman Carl Puttnam, they signalled a powerful statement of intent tonight with opener “Hey, Boots”, the insistently catchy hook underpinned by a racy upbeat rhythm which got the crowd bouncing again. And Puttnam was again on it; cutting an extraordinary figure, paunchy yet unabashed in skintight black, handlebar moustache and Ray-Bans, he threw shapes and bum-wiggled his way through a fine hooky set, his deep and dolorous baritone an unorthodox feature throughout. “Heart” featured a “Rebel Rebel” vignette for good measure, “Only A Prawn In Whitby” was a startling rhythmic delight, “Eau Water” and “Rich And Strange” were powerpop singalong delights, and “Magic” featured some creepy and slinky guitar work.

“You’re very well behaved for 15 hours of drinking before you!” announced Puttnam as the angular, grungy guitar of “Strange Kind Of Love” kicked in; then the soaring set highlight chorus of “One Giant Love” again saw the floor pulsate under us. “I’ve Had It With Blondes” closed out another fine set, proving these so called lesser lights of 90’s Indie still have what it takes. Well done chaps! Shame I missed out on the sole list (Steve Lamacq, up next for a late night DJ set, gave it to a fellow front row punter instead), but this was a fine way to finish a long evening, as we hit the hay gratefully, well past 2 a.m.

A very lazy Sunday morning was called for, therefore, and we didn’t bother getting into the arena until early afternoon, following another splendid Big Man-supplied fry-up. By this time we’d also said goodbye to Ian, off for a prior appointment, so it was down to the core 3 again, as we chilled in deckchairs at the back of a sparsely populated arena, our guess being that some festival-goers were heading off already. THE STAIRS opened up the Skyline at 2, with a very Rolling Stones proto-blues 60’s sounding set, albeit through a nasal 90’s Mancunian filter. They covered psychedelic legends Love’s “Little Red Book” early on, plus Them’s “Gloria” later, nailing their colours to the 60’s mast throughout, although one number (immediately following their Love cover) was a tough powerpop tune which made us sit up and take notice. Their final number also resembled a remake of The Stones’ “The Last Time”, so the overall verdict was alright but somewhat plagiaristic.

We did want to take notice of the next band though, that being JESUS JONES at 3.15. Of all the 90’s dance-influenced/ sampler featured bands which skirted around the perimeters of what constituted “Indie”, Jesus Jones were initially probably my favourites, retaining a guitar rock sensibility along with the pseudo rave dance elements of their sound. This afternoon’s set reflected that, as they lined up with a conventional “rock” band backline with the addition of one white-clad keyboardist who regularly went walkabout onstage throughout the set. Vocalist Mike Edwards, still as skinny and handsomely young-looking as back in the day – bastard! – led the boys through a good rhythmic set of their dance/ rock collision; “Never Enough” was a tough, hard-rocking early highlight, after which Edwards introduced “Who Where Why” with, “I’m still trying to find the answer – maybe it’s shoved down the back of the sofa!” Even the sample-heavy numbers were tougher, rockier and more energetic, with “Bring It On Down” another guitar dominated highlight. The inevitable “Info Freako” ended yet another sparkling set, after which we dashed into Hotshots to try to catch the opening stages of a very wet Brazilian Grand Prix!

Back out for early evening (at which time the GP was still, annoyingly, in its’ stop-start early phase), and made our way surprisingly easily down a fairly gappy front of stage, for our final musical highlight. ASH, late additions to the bill, greeted us with a “Kablammo” intro, then blasted straight into the buzzsaw youthful spunky opener “Jack Names The Planets”. “I’m impressed you’re all still standing!” announced vocalist Tim Wheeler, before gunning straight into a superb “A Life Less Ordinary”. That was it for me, I was straight in down the front, rocking away in a rambunctious yet happy big-boy mosh to the soaring hook of  my favourite Ash number, grabbing with both hands my last chance to dance, and hang tomorrow’s aching knees! Ash’s set followed a similar pattern to their recent Bierkeller jaunt, with the grungy growl of “Oh Yeah” merging into the joyous surf punk of “Walking Barefoot” and a slicing, slashing “Kung Fu”. The boys were on fire tonight, and hit followed hit, with a couple of numbers from recent “Kablammo” thrown in for good measure and stacking up well against the more familiar material. A spritely “Girl From Mars” was brilliant, the set highlight and one of the best numbers of the whole damn weekend, and all too soon the chiming opening guitar riff heralded the manic thrill-ride of final number “Burn Baby Burn” to end a superb set, the boys taking a deserved bow at the end. And, despite my usual bad luck with Ash set-lists, I managed to grab this one. Result!

Sweaty, dishevelled and a little sore having taken a hit to the side during the Ash mosh, I met up with the boys afterwards and caught the end of the Grand Prix in Hotshots, before grabbing some pasties and chips for tea and reflecting together about the weekend’s highlights. The terrace-chant baggy dance of BLACK GRAPE was an annoying backing track to our chat, and we did our best to ignore them. I then nipped out for a brief call to Rachel, and spotted Ash drummer Rick McMurray on his way out of the arena, so got my list signed. Double result! This took us bumping up to final day headliner CAST’s arrival at 9, so we wandered down to catch some of their set. The Byrdsian jangle and nasal hook of “Fine Time”, the only Cast song I could recall beforehand, was third number in, with subsequent material pleasant enough, but sounding curiously old-fashioned; very Beatles/ 60’s influenced, but also very dated, with nothing of the band’s own identity to commend it to me. I was astonished to read that Cast actually had 10 top 10 hits in that 90’s period, a prodigious amount for a band so ordinary. They clearly totally passed me by then, and gave me absolutely no reason to do otherwise tonight, so we headed off midway through for a relatively early night.

So, packed, breakfasted and out by the required 10 a.m. the following morning, Rich and I bade farewell to Matt before hitting the road and heading off home for a weary early afternoon arrival home. They’d been great company throughout, and in all honesty, Rachel aside, I couldn’t think of two better people to share this particular weekend with. Thanks guys. Furthermore, this was a splendid weekend’s music, pretty much every band I wanted to see delivering big-time (Echobelly probably being the only disappointment of the weekend for me), with one big and very welcome surprise in Shed Seven, who for me ran The Wonder Stuff close for Band Of The Weekend, with Ash a similarly close third. Also, the venue, location and facilities were top notch, the vibe relaxed and friendly, tribal but inclusive, with my fears about too many lairy bag-head beer monsters off the leash for the weekend ultimately proving unfounded. Plus a comfy bed to go back to each night after the rock. What’s not to love? So Kudos to the “Shiiine On” crowd – I’m already making plans to be back next year!