2010 saw Summer Sundae in its tenth year having overcome controversy and reorganisation to produce yet another fine event with the usual understated but excellent line up and a few welcome surprises.
A few years ago I reviewed the Summer Sundae Weekender describing it as the antidote to festivals and nothing has changed my opinion of this small but high quality festival. In comparison to the big boys this event is a doddle for the festival-goer. There are no huge crowds as the site holds only a few thousand; no marathon route marches as all the venues are a few minutes walk apart, no aggro or people throwing stuff, no apparent thievery, half decent toilets and relatively little mud although some tried to take advantage of what there was to be found!
Combine this with a consistently good and eclectic mix of performers and a relaxed almost family atmosphere and it’s easy to see how Summer Sundae has led the growing band of smaller events now developing into serious players on the summer festival programme.
Reviewing a festival with such a wide range of bands and performers can be a tricky compromise between covering the ground and doing justice to the acts. So I’ve taken the selfish route by concentrating on the three outstanding performances on each of the three days with some honourable mentions along the way.
Seasick Steve first appeared at Summer Sundae in 2007. Hidden away in the Musicians Stage back then he proved to be one of the gems that the weekender throws up every year. Three years on and, although not exactly a household name, Steven Wold has turned his song and dance routine with his wooden box (the Mississippi Drum Machine) and a host of Heath Robinson guitars including his Diddley Bow, into a headlining, almost cabaret-style act.
You don’t get to play the pyramid stage at Glastonbury as a novelty and a good proportion of the crowd were word perfect to all his songs from the raucous boot-stompers like Chiggers, a tale of nasty critters found in the southern USA to the more wistful, thoughtful Walking Man. He’s also no longer alone on stage either with wild man drummer and dab hand with the sweeping brush Dan Magnusson keeping him company, and for Walking Man he picked a young lady out of the crowd (“I needs me a woman”) to serenade;. Not frightened to put himself about over the day he was seen taking in the other bands in particular the mid-west vibe and west coast looks of Lissie on the Rising Stage He was the outstanding act of the weekend – bar one.
Teenage Fanclub should be a national treasure. Perpetually under-rated they still labour under the labels that they gathered early on with comparisons to Neil Young and other West Coast artists being more pejorative than complimentary. Their melodic yet powerful approach was well suited to the outdoor stage. It was no surprise that the average age of the first few rows increased alarmingly when they came on but the emphasis was on their new material from the recent Shadows early on, rather than the string of familiar tunes that ended the set, with The Concept, Sparky’s Dream, Ain’t That Enough and the John Peel favourite Everything Flows. They had promised to be one of the highlights of the weekend and so it proved.
If you like old-style power-pop with a public school accent then Erland and the Carnival are the band for you – it’s all in the keyboard sound and the jangly guitars. They were a pleasant surprise and a highlight of the day because the stylised 60s/70s feel that they give off on record translates into a much more vibrant and hard-edged live approach like a cross between James and Neil Hannon. This was most evident in Derby Ram and My Name Is Carnival. This was one of the better attended sessions on the Rising Stage.
Outdoors Charlie and the Martyrs got the crowd going with their indie pop lounge lizard style and Ffion Regan proved that full on electric was far superior to his acoustic Dylanesque tunes; his performance was like watching two bands. The Sunshine Underground showed all the promise that they have without letting anyone pin them down, which may prove to be their undoing, and Slow Club were highly entertaining but still stuck in the Ting Tings meets The Raveonettes rut. Two major disappointments were the non appearances of Fanfarlo (for the second year running) and The Wave Pictures, who I still need to see live.
Mark E Smith is so unpredictable that there is a wry irony in the fact that The Fall provided us with by far and away the defining set of the weekend. The rumour was that they had been on top form recently, but that can mean many things. Performances by The Fall can range from something akin to a train wreck, to edgy outings with songs being reduced to instrumentals as our main protagonist decides that he’s had enough and wanders off leaving the band to carry the can. However those who turned up looking for disaster would have been greatly disappointed.
I’ve seen the band many times over the years but this was the first time in a while that they seemed almost in control. Peter Greenway still looked as if someone was holding a gun to his head and MES still wandered around a bit, engaging in his “active mixing” and moving microphones around resulting in a comedy moment where he’d forgotten that he’d thrown his own mic in the kick drum. At one point he stood with his back to the audience and gave Greenway a fatherly, almost reassuring, pat on the shoulder before proceeding to play havoc with his amp stack. He also got his hands on the keyboards with his wife and chief minder Elena looking on nervously
There were people in the crowd who had turned up just for this and they were well up for it. The band were on fire from the set piece opener as each band member walked on for Our Future Your Clutter. By the time MES walked on the atmosphere was electric. The covers White Lightning and Strychnine formed the backbone of the set but the highlights for me were Bury with the crowd chanting “I’m not from Bury!”and eventually Blindness. There was a twitchy moment around Weather Report when MES seemed to have decided it was time to go down the pub putting his coat on and packing up his A4 lyric
sheets. He then looked at us all for a few seconds removed the coat and got on with it again!
Polarising opinion to the end you either love MES or hate him. He’s a genius to many and a waste of space to some, but this performance was up with the best I’ve seen of him over thirty years.
Daniel Snaith’s exponents of electronica Caribou packed the indoor stage and showed that they are another band that are far superior live than recorded. Two drummers -always a good sign.
Original Indie Trash” was represented earlier on in the day by The Woodentops, their 80′s sound brought right up to date with a heavier feel. They were less experimental than expected concentrating on the Rough Trade output; Move Me and Why Why Why standing out.
Expending a bit more energy than I would like after The Woodentops I managed to cross the site to The Rising Stage in time to catch A Genuine Freakshow. They were worth the effort. It was the first time that I’d seen them although they came with a reputation. They fill the stage with their musicianship but their songs aren’t in any way overpowering, as some bands who include strings and horns can be, and they were by far the most impressive of the relative newcomers over the weekend.
Some pundits have labelled Diana Vickers as a triumph of presentation over substance and sadly she did little to dispel that opinion. She looked good -
- and the kids (and I mean children) loved her but that was about it. She absolutely murdered a Snow Patrol tune – quite a feat.
Summer Sundae has always produced a gem for me, whether it’s a new band or one that you know that you should have known about all along. After seeing The Besnard Lakes I had the feeling that I’d been missing out somewhere along the line and that I had a bit of catching up to do. By the reaction of the rest of the crowd I wasn’t alone. They were an unexpected pleasure with their mix of ethereal harmonies and shoe gaze guitars. Most of the material was from their latest offering The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night and if they are touring anywhere near I would recommend them; their festival set wasn’t long enough.
The first time I saw the next band was at a previous Summer Sundae.
Back then they were part of a major Scottish invasion of the festival along with the likes of Camera Obscura, James Yorkston, Kenny Anderson/King Creosote, and Emma Pollock. They played on the Rising Stage to just a couple of hundred people in the know.
How times have changed. Three albums in and Frightened Rabbit are an established force packing the indoor stage this time around. It’s an encouraging sign when people other than hardened fans know the words and the whole place was singing along to Swim Until You Can’t See Land from their recent Winter Of Mixed Drinks. They have been reviewed on Birmingham Live several times to the point where we have almost charted their rise. Their material can be a bit inaccessible though, so it will be interesting to see where they go from here. Do they stick to their guns or become Biffy Clyro?
The delight of the weekend was The Low Anthem As part of the growing American trend they are typical of the genre – they sound as if they come from the back of beyond rather than urban Providence Rhode Island were they are based. They really do sound like they’re yearning for something from the past and something more simple. The stage was littered with a variety of instruments, most of them acoustic including an impressive pump organ and a saw! The songs are a mix of folk and blues with gospel overtones.
A technical hitch gave those lucky enough to be in earshot of the stage a treat. The big vocal microphone around which all four band members gathered gave up the ghost so they went truly acoustic, singing out from the outdoor stage. The effect was like four people busking, so much so that front man Ben Miller asked us to “just put the money in the hat”.
The tradition at Summer Sundae is that Sunday starts in a laid back fashion. Matthew P was just the man for the job with his solo acoustic takes on girls, Suffolk and travelling. He’s a seasoned festival man these days and it shows, joking with the crowd who seemed more intent on sleeping than listening. Just as laid back was Jose Gonzales, another summer Sundae veteran and favourite, but this time appearing as part of Swedish indie-folksters Junip.
The organisers really fell on their feet with the final outdoor head-liner.
Back when they were booked Mumford and Sons were an up and coming band from London; no big TV fanfare, no Glastonbury. So it was a bit of a coup for Summer Sundae to have them appearing although they may well have warranted the Saturday Night slot such was the clamour in the crowd to see them.
And so ended another Summer Sundae; one that may not have taken place at all given the upheaval following 2009. But I’m glad to say that it came back stronger and just as well supported. Here’s hoping it will carry on for an eleventh year!
Photos – Stephanie Colledge
Review – Ian Gelling