A Safari in Leicester? – not quite; but as usual for Summer Sundae all human life was on display on the opening day of what Steve Lemacq called “The Grandson Of Glastonbury”. The Safari theme was muted, apart from a few lion statues and the appropriate naming of the main venues, but that was to be welcome. One of the great things about Summer Sundae is that it is familiar, chilled out and friendly; and very easy to get around! Here are the highlights from all three days.
The first day often takes a while to get up to speed but having someone of the quality of Dan Mangan in the sweaty circus tent that is the Into The Wild stage was a bonus. My opening two bands this year had a few of things in common: the ability to instill beard envy, the name Dan and a depleted line-up. Dan Managan was without guitarist Gord Grdina and produced a folkier sound but still managed to whip the place up during Oh Fortune and Post-War Blues before leaping into the crowd for a communal sing-along to Robots.
On the stage of the indoor Crocodiles Lagoon Datarock were entertaining but one trick ponies. Nice tracksuits though. The Dan (Armstrong) in Clock Opera was conspicuous by his absense, apparently stuck in London and “doing 150mph up the M1 as we speak”. This could have been a disaster for the remaining three members but they took it all in their stride, swapping instruments and filling in for keyboards, however and whenever they could.
They made light of the whole thing asking the crowd to shout for Dan so that he received a rapturous welcome when he emerged from the back of the stage looking panicked and sweating, and picked up seamlessly halfway through a tune. Guitar based indie rock was transformed into a huge sound on White Noise.
Huge is an approriate adjective for Lestoh’s own Uncle Frank Benbini. He’s a big lad, although more svelt than previously, judging from the cut of his poncho, and a massive personality. After all it takes someone larger than life to increase the cool quotient of someone like Fun Lovin’ Criminals.
I need someone to explain the Kill Bill theme for the band and his dancers The Frankettes, but Frank gave us the usual mixture of soul, dub, hip hop and profanity. I trust the pushy mother who insisted on manoevring her little angels down on the barrier was able to explain what punani is. Maybe she thought he was singing “Give Me Bananas”.
Asian Dub Foundation provide a rarely heard political voice in a world where hip-hop and many other styles have been reduced to the banal or the chauvenistic. But there is no po-faced posturing from these guys; just infectious high energy matched by the strident messages in the likes of Fortress Europe, Instigator and History of Now. For me they were the highlight of the day, galvanising the crowd in front of the main stage.
A product of the Brit School conveyor belt, headliner Katy B brought her auto-tuner and a superfluous band. Both spent their time singing and playing over a backing track. Although the kids were going wild in response to her affected London hip hop patois it was only when a few technical issues raised their heads that she came into her own. Ditching the earphones she moved centre stage becoming immediately more impressive, and more expressive, as if some pretence had fizzled out. I think this was an indication of what she is really rather than what others may want her to be.
All in all this was an enjoyable Friday although a bit low key for an opening day. However, the big guns are scheduled for the remainder of the weekend.
Day two was all about being in the right place at the right time. The days over the weekend see the faithful appear to support their particular favourites, almost to the exclusion of everything else on show. Adam Ant had an impressive following. This has two effects: the bank leading down to the main stage becomes full of people sunning themselves and getting steadily inebriated, and there is an opportunity to see some highlights whilst remaining relatively unmolested by disinterested chatterers.
Molotov Jukebox were already up against heat-induced apathy when they arrived. Neither also Sprach Zarathustra or Ukranians style folk music had the desired effect so singer Natalie Tena simply told the crowd off until the dancing started. If they had kept up the eastern feel they may have had more sucess but they reverted to a latin groove that actually suited better the mood and the conditions.
The variety of venues has always been a feature of Summer Sundae. Unfortunately the genius of combining a real-ale tent with a venue may have come slightly unstuck with the appearance of Buenos Aires in The Watering Hole. The local post-rock exponents had the tent packed out and some bright spark decided to put the smoke machine on full tilt. The place was a turkish bath. The band soldiered on in spite of the heat with their complex rhythms and time signatures. These are another outfit that warrant more attention and a second listen, perhaps in a conventional venue.
Lianne La Havas was beautiful, cool as a cucumber in the heat and as talented as her reputation suggested but this was a day for venue hopping so I only heard a few of her tunes before heading for the sanctuary of De Montfort Hall.
Jonathan Richman sucked everyone into the stream of conciousness of his back catalogue. This proved slightly unnerving as I’m not sure even he knew what was going on. His drummer had the look of a man who had seen it all before and made it up as he went along.
The Indoor stage also saw Micachu and the Shapes give a typical performance of studied disinterest alternating with frenzied thrashing and Merrill Garbus’ alter-ego Tune-yards have to be seen to appreciate what goes into her music. By now the heat had even got to the DMH stage but the whole place was dancing. An absolute wizard on the creation of live vocal and drum loops she leaves you with the feeling that the live performance is what it’s all about. So who buys her stuff?
Then there was Adam; slightly moth-eaten, slightly paunchy (then aren’t we all?). He brought his pantomime onto the outdoor stage with the hits all having the desired effect. He gave it loads but was wilting towards the end.
Familiarity breeding contempt I gave Ocean Colour Scene a miss. There is only so much Moseley Shoals one set of ears can take. Death In Vegas, on the other hand, can play as long as they like. They are all about the atmosphere that they create as the volume builds and builds.
Day three on the way- I hope Mr Lydon has brought his shorts.
In the spirit of leaving the best until the last day three Sunday proved to be the busiest and liveliest. I wish I’d had a pedometer with me to check the miles that I’m sure I put in from venue to venue. It was hot and humid so by the end John Lydon was berating the crowd for being too laid back. “Leicester used to be well hard – what’s happened”.
Before the headliner we had a series of performances that deserve full reviews on their own – (maybe we’ll see a couple appear here over the next week or so). At one point the indoor stage represented a parade of the criminally underrated.
First on the list were Her Name Is Calla (HNIC), on at the ludicrous time of Midday whilst most revellers were still getting to bed. They ought to be huge but there is something that appeals to my inner music snob about the fact that I love them and they pass other people by. Maybe it’s also because they and singer Tom Morris are so prolific, and their releases are hand-crafted. In a world of disposable music the arrival of a CD from this band is still an event. Reverting to a live five piece they were able to combine the low key elements of their music with the blistering energy of something like Pour More Oil.
Maybeshewill followed straight on raising the volume with their tuneful post rock. Loads of commentators compare them to Mogwai, but I’d say Mogwai with better tunes. Reflecting the incestuous world of Leicester music there was a bit of personnel swapping between them and HNIC.
A quick yomp up to the Into The Wild tent in time for The Staves showed that the place hadn’t cooled down from Saturday and that the trio from Watford were very popular. They cheerfully announced that the don’t usually do a lot other than sing and that this was the first time they had ever needed towels on stage! We could have done with a few in the audience. The delicate harmonies and effortless interaction between the three sisters kept the place packed with others turning up to see what the fuss was about.
Back at De montfort Hall Vancouver’s Japandroids kept the volume up and set an impressive pace….
..whilst on the main stage Team Me and Kiwis, The Black Seeds, kept everything just a bit more chilled out. The Black Seeds proved to be a good festival band but if the mix of reggae and soul that seems to be the staple for them is the reason why their album went double platinum back home, then those New Zealanders need to get out more!
One thing that I like about Summer Sundae is the way that the incongruous can rapidly turn into one of the highlights of the weekend. Billy Bragg in a sweaty tent was indeed one of those, with his tales of Woody Guthrie and how Billy himself, the Guthrie Family and US band Wilco composed and sang the music for innumerable lyric sheets left behind by the lendary folk musician. Billy was funny, the tales poignant to the point where emotions were in danger of overflowing, and the political message still as fierce as when I first saw him donkey’s years ago. A re-worked Waiting For The Great Leap Forward was topical in the extreme with Cameron and Clegg, Pussy Riot and Syria all featuring. Some pundits like to have a go at Billy Bragg these days, accusing him of hypocricy but I don’t think he has a cynical bone in his body.
People like to have a go at “Reverend” Jon McClure as well but he comes over as a normal bloke. Reverend and the Makers had the unenviable task of keeping the crowd up to speed when all a lot wanted to do was sleep off the beer and wine but they managed it – just!
There are not many performers who would make a feature out or gargling with whisky and using a big black dustbin as a spitoon but then John Lydon is no ordinary bloke. The belligerence may be a bit contrived these days but when PIL perform it’s still Johnny Rotten standing behind the gurning and the strange little moves that he puts together, feet rooted to the ground. There were plenty of PIL fans around so new songs like Deeper Water and One Drop were well received, but most people were waiting for Disappointed, Rise and Warrior with it’s appropriate yet strange Guthrie-esque echo “this is my land”.
Festivals come and go and it can be hard to give them any perspective with the noise level of a typical British summer but to me Summer Sundae was as strong as ever. You could sum it up by mentioning those three old geezers of varying relevance in 2012, Billy, John, and Adam, along with a host of exciting new performers. I hope that they are all still around in the years to come.
A final word about the Safari theme – it took us three days to find this chap. I think he was playing along, but you never know, maybe he dresses like this all the time!
Words – Ian Gelling
Photographs – Stephanie Colledge