What’s in that dark cloud overhead…? V98 review

Well, if it’s August, it must be time for the Chelmsford festival of all things pop, and V98 held for this undiscerning punter the following mixed bag…

Saturday – A nice fluffy summer’s day

  • iggypopIggy Pop – 8/10 Dinosaurs live longer these days (Main stage)
    ‘Lust For Life’ isn’t just a song title you know. It’s as much information as you need about Iggy Pop. For he’s still larging it, bouncing around and whipping the audience into a frenzy in a way that puts to shame many of the ‘new’ stars on parade. Iggy opted for a bit of crowd diving and was nearly sucked under, his microphone momentarily giving some karaoke quality time to an able and appreciative fan. The Popster must have Inspector Gadget sprung heels, as with more energy than Calvin & Hobbes he bounces and twists his way across the stage and back, leaving the appreciative audience short of breath and frankly wondering quite how he manages it. Exhausting stuff!
  • Gomez – 7/10 Interesting in a different sort of way (NME stage)
    Spinning out of some unnoticed field, neither left nor right, Gomez fills a a musical snack gap that you hadn’t realised existed. It’s not Oasis, nor Kula Shaker. It’s not one of the many thing that I shan’t bore you by listing. They play good music well. There’s light and shade, pace and emotion in there too. On stage the band enjoyed it, and so did we. Keep an ear open for Gomez, I don’t quite know where they’re going, or what they’re up to, but it’s going to be fun finding out.
  • Saint Etienne – 4/10 Too cool, too uninvolved (NME stage)
    The two backing singers where great. No really, they were. Playing percussion, dancing to every track, goading the audience along, and generally busy having a whale of a time. It’s a bit of a shame therefore that the rest of the band didn’t look behind them to see how it should be done. Whilst the Saint’s threw out their carefully controlled and constructed pop with precision, there was too little passion, too little committed involvement – the attitude seemed to be ‘oh yes I’m a pop star’ and to shrug in some ‘it’s just something I do’ way. Now, where did I put that dry ham role and my can of warm, flat cola?
  • Catatonia – 9/10 Oooh, there’s lovely isn’t it (NME stage)
    ‘Oi listen, you know the best thing about playin’ festivals in Britain?’ she called out, swigging the last drop from a bottle of wine, ‘The audience’s more pissed than I am!’ Cue fit of rolling laughter. Pumping the audience into life they kicked off, we responded and Catatonia rocked their way through a tight and varied selection that delighted all and when they strode into ‘Road Rage’ the audience went ballistic. For full-fat contrast during a slower number, when the power went on the accompanying guitar, she just sang on, and we all loved her for it. ‘Thanks very much for your help.’ afterwards she waved happily to us. Brilliant.
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain – 4/10 No singer, no style (NME stage)
    Having been barely audibly as he mumbled and moaned his way through the opening numbers, when the lead ‘singer’ sat down, to be hidden by the monitors and played his guitar it pretty much summed the whole gig up. Oh sure they play tight, slick, pumping guitar rock, but they’ve all the stage presence of recent road-kill and absolutely no singer at all. I advise them to watch any number of the other bands on display for that essential ‘how to perform and project’ guide, because we deserved better. What a waste, what a shame, what’s next?
  • The Verve – 7/10 Did they lip sync? (NME stage)
    I’ll be honest, I don’t much like The Verve. I’ll be more honest, I am not a fan of any of the Smiths-stylie navel retentive toss. And before you ask, I didn’t like the Smiths either, so stop pulling that face. Never the less, the Verve played well and keenly, the fans seemed by and large contented if not fantastically happy, it’s just that they don’t hold (for me) broad appeal enough to headline at a big festival. Sorry boys, but I expected better.
  • Underworld – 7/10 Play sequence 1, 2, 3 and 5, and repeat, fat boy (NME stage)
    Lager lager lager lager. Lacking any particular visual appeal other than that of the average nightclub they kicked out enough hippy trippy techno to get a good 80% of the audience dancing like loons. Nothing wrong here.

Sunday – Noah would have looked worried

  • Rialto – 7/10 Is John Lennon your dad? (Main stage)
    In that nothing-to-lose early afternoon slot Rialto managed to involve and excite a sizeable portion of an audience that, in all honesty, probably just happened to be milling about when they fired up. Good varied, toe tappers rolled out and soon the audience numbers standing and paying active attention were on the increase. To be honest whilst I can’t recall any song particularly, what there was of their classic style guitar, MOR rock worked admirably.
  • Feeder – 5/10 Fun, if you go that way (Main stage)
    Although their first three tuneless little ditties blurred into one, the surging jumping (not terribly large) crowd down at the front didn’t seem to care. Their heavy rock, nearing Korn territory, didn’t seem to be bringing many (or any) intrigued passer’s by and I didn’t stay. Hey-ho.
  • Heather Nova – 8/10 Ooh she’s gorgeous and BLIMEY can she sing! (NME stage)
    Carol King, erm, no, Cheryl Crow, erm no, that one who sings to the Lord for a Mercedes, no. Look she reminds me of someone (and someone damn good) but I can’t work out who, or indeed why. Obviously it doesn’t matter. Heather’s voice is strong, clear and effortlessly ethereal when needed. But this chick rocks, and is ably supported by a damn fine band – special mention goes to the lead guitarist, and the girl with the electric skeletal oboe: wired weirdness. No one-riff tricks here, it was a good set that seemed well balanced and drew a warm response from a curious and growing audience. Good stuff and here’s to the next time because I suspect her name went into many a mental notebook.
  • Stereophonics – 7/10 I remember thinking they were good (Main Stage)
    There’s nothing else to say really. I remember thinking at the time that they were good, it’s just that I cannot recall a single thing about them now. And yes, I’m worried.
  • James – 9/10 Good value (Main stage)
    I think that every lead singer should watch James, and particularly (obviously) the lead singer of The Jesus and Mary Chain. File the experience under ‘on stage charisma and audience involvement’. That they managed to elicit the response they richly deserved from a rain beaten crowd said a lot. Lively and entertaining they didn’t falter not even when one guitarist got caught full face with a bottle (plastic but full) and went down – this dangerous practice really is NOT part of the ‘festival experience’. As welcome as a hot meal on this cold, wet and windy day, James were excellent festival fare.
  • Republica – 10/10 Oh, just leave them on stage (NME stage)
    ‘Let’s be facking ‘avin’ ya then!’ screamed the hi-energy pocket rocket with the two tone red/black mop top. Like some demented Toyah Wilcox pumped high on adrenaline, Red Bull and life she ripped through the songs with lusty gusto and would have kicked the ever living daylights out of the surging, bouncing, ecstatic audience – fortunately the man-mountain security crew protected us. Tight, sharp and DeFiNiTeLy UP for it, the band rocked, the audience bayed for more, and the Essex Girl kicked ass. Hook her up to the national grid, we could all do with some of that sort of energy. Fackin’ fantastic.
  • Morcheeba – 8/10 Lovely (NME stage)
    ‘Let me see all those heads nodding.’ she sweetly mocked with a Cheshire’s grin, ‘Come on, bend your knees, it’s not difficult.’ For this is ‘Black Music’ for the ‘Middle English’, and we all duly and politely assembled to applaud and, yes dammit, nod gently along in time. Beguiling us with their warm charm the ‘cheebas took a stroll through their excellent two albums, the only vague disappointment was that they didn’t (noticeably) choose to put a spin on any of their numbers. Still, pretty much everyone in the audience had and knew the discs – albeit unable to sing along when requested. We all shrugged, their lyrics aren’t really sing-a-longy. We didn’t care, and I don’t think they did too much, for we were all too busy having fun.
  • PJ Harvey – 9/10 Darkly intense like rich Colombian coffee (NME stage)
    And like heady and bitingly strong coffee you either love it or don’t. The worryingly quiet crowd loved it, every little drop. Delayed by interminable setting up problems some disgruntled shouting was soon rubbed away when Polly Jean arrived, as in a rapt silence we drank deeply from her well of dark songs sung strongly. The thin drizzle swirled diamond glinting about her where smoke, spotlights and raven hair combined to frame her pale pale skin and ruby ruby lips, as out powered out a deep-set rhythm that savaged the psyche’s soft underbelly. The talented band threw the métier of their medium around with slick precise ease. Not enough, never enough. not when it’s this good. Disturbingly brilliant or brilliantly disturbing, take your pick.
  • Texas – 5/10 Nothing here to cause offence. (Main stage)
    Now I have to be careful here, because a) I’m not a fan and b) I was huddled under a tree whilst it rained – did I mention the rain yet? But then again this is where I watched James from, so here goes. With a nice sensible bob cut, big-message tee shirt, the lead singer seems crinkle cut from self-rolling dough, the perfect icon for middle management thirty somethings to come home to after a hard day at the office and relax with – just like the music, the band and the whole thing. When in a fulsome Scottish accent she declared that, in answer to some never heard question, she could rock, I kind of dreaded what would follow. So whilst intoning slightly some saucy lyrics she touched her groin, I and the rest of the audience seemed quietly embarrassed rather than excited. All in all, pretty pointless.
  • Ian Brown – 1/10 Oh, just GO AWAY! (NME stage)
    What musical creature is Ian Brown? I asked myself this question many times during his set. He’s got the personal charm of a verruca, the dance technique of a hill-walking rambler and an obvious fetish for wanting to be mistaken for ‘one of those naughty boys from Oasis’. Seeming to plagiarise everything current thirty months ago down to its lowest common denominator, this was ‘brit pop’ for the tone deaf. Out of the large audience a low percentage seemed to be actively enjoying it and a lot voted with their feet. I quite liked (aka felt sorry for) the band right up to the point the lead guitarist used his teeth to play a riff – well if they want to flush their obvious talents down the toilet this way, then that is their business. Rubbish.
  • Fun Lovin’ Criminals – 10/10 Super smooth, as cool as a Latin nights, bro! (NME stage)
    How to explain this. I’ve been trying to find the right words. How about these ones: cool, fun, sophisticated, energetic, Latin, smooth, rocking, beaty, involving, entertaining, slick, talented, funny, punk, controlled. Well there are enough words to be getting on with, so, without irony or use of negatives, construct as many sentences as you need containing these (or similar) words for that build-your-own-review experience. For the record they passed through Scooby Snacks, Smoke ‘Em, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and King of New York on their way to completing a top quality show. What was new sounded good, what we knew sounded great. Me, I’m still speechless – wow! 100% Pure Colombian bros!

flc

To sum up V98, the site was well organised, the stages set in natural amphitheatres and each far enough apart to make them (almost) unintrusive for the other. For me the Sunday line-up was always going to be better, and so it proved. I missed Moloko, James Brown and All Saints to name but a very few, but that’s the way it goes. There was plenty of food available, almost too much choice to be honest, whereas the queues at the beer tents on (sunny) Saturday were bad enough to discourage casual drinkers – beer oddly enough wasn’t much in demand on Sunday, or rather Rainday.

To be frank, if I’d been camping, I would have hated Sunday, because it rained or drizzled pretty much the whole day. Any decamping would have left you with sacks of wet (not damp) gear and rain up to your elbows, although the previously bone dry ground took the rain pretty well and didn’t get anything more than slippery/slimy.

So was V98 better than V97? I’d say so, although it is a close call. Lacking the likes of the truly world class crowd-pleasers Blur and the likes of Kula Shaker, the ’98 vintage pulled ahead by virtue of its full bodied appeal – particularly on Sunday. That said, this year’s dance tent looked very slim – Bjorn Again (98) vs Sneaker Pimps (97) anyone? I’ll also confess to thinking that the running order looked questionable at times, as did the content – witness Catatonia, who I would prequalify as almost sure-fire crowd-pleasers on the alternate stage and lowish on the running order. Is that sensible in any language? I am left wondering how much influence the record or management companies have on the scheduling of the stages.

Well, that’s all in my humble opinion. I wonder what brew they’ll cook up for next year, and what delightful ‘Heather Nova’ style surprises will be in store? I can’t wait.

Phil Brown