Revolting Cocks: Someone, somewhere, wake me up

London Astoria, taken by C Ford March 04. CC-BY-SA license

London Astoria,
January 24th, 1991

The Internet never forgets. Or it might forget, but it has a tendency to remember again later, coughing up hair-balls of long-forgotten events that you’d be prepared to swear had been consigned to the trash-can of history. Or, in this case, the TC archives, for tucked away in the corner of And This Is What The Devil Does, was a grainy, obviously ripped from VHS (complete with rolling tracking lines) recording of the Revolting Cocks live performance at the Astoria in London from January 24, 1991.

This was an event which I had attended, and written about all the way back in TC 9. It remained one of my all-time most memorable live experiences: all gigs, even the Rammstein one written about a month or two back, were measured up against it, I had, at one point, a copy of the same bootleg vid, but this had gone among the missing in the two decades and 5,500 miles of relocation since.

The Astoria, meanwhile, had bit the bullet as well, having been demolished in 2009 as part of the London Crossrail project. My other leading memory from there is a show with Front Line Assembly + Sheep on Drugs, which seems have taken place in October 1995. The basement formed another venue, known as the Astoria 2, and it was in there that I saw VNV Nation in 2000, less than a month before moving permanently out to Arizona…and seeing the band again on the night I arrived in Phoenix! But to get back to the RevCo gig…

The concert footage  is, of course, seriously crap quality. Even at the best of times, you’d get better quality shooting from a modern-day cellphone, and that’s when the lights from the stage are not completely blinding, reducing the screen to a white blotch accompanied by a badly-distorted soundtrack of industrial metal. Our son wandered in during the early stages, glanced at the screen, then left without comment. While it might have been different had there been breasts on view at that point (we’ll get to that later), it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the experience. However, this kind of bootleg is less about convincing the neutral as to capturing the essence of a live event for those who were there. As such, this does the job impeccably.

As the band takes the stage, we see Luc Van Acker, clad only a lucha libre mask [which, amusingly, I described as a “neon ski-mask” at the time of the original review, having clearly no clue about Mexican wrestling!] and Speedos. Al Jorgensen is beside him, dressed like a villain from a Sergio Leone movie, in a duster and Stetson. They open with the anthemic Beers, Steers and Queers, and it’s not long before the audience is getting into the spirit, adding their own spin to the first part of the title, by hurling cans at the stage. Fortunately, tins of minced beef did not follow. In absolutely the right approach, Van Acker basically ignored them – I remember another show where a disliked support band’s lead singer issued the immortal line, “If you don’t stop throwing things, we’re going off.” Cue an absolute hailstorm

After that, and a brisk remixed version of BS&Q, it was on to their cover of Physical, with the relatively well-dressed Chris Connelly – in that he was wearing a suit jacket, as well as his boxers – taking over on lead vocals. Oh, and did mention the pair of go-go dancers who were now vamping things up around the stage? TV Mind saw a third vocalist (Phildo Owen? Trent Reznor? The personnel of the band in this era was fluid, shall we say) join the cacophony, and one of the rubber dolls placed on stage was thrown into the crowd, to be torn apart by the crowd. The camera was up on the balcony looking down, and I can’t believe I was in that scrum of humanity, though probably not quite in the pit, having learned my lesson at a Cramps concert the previous year, where I ended up in hospital, getting my lip stitched.

Van Acker, apparently feeling upstaged by Connelly’s sartorial elegance, or perhaps suffering an inferiority complex, had wrapped a towel around himself. Or it may have been just so he could simulate masturbation with a bottle of beer, spraying soap-suds onto the front row. Not to be outdone, Connelly spent much of the next song, Union Carbide, simulating sex with one of the dancers, in a variety of positions. Ok, on further review of the tape, let’s go with probably simulating sex. Meanwhile, Jourgensen carried out possibly the most transgressive act of the entire evening, from a 2012 perspective. He lit a cigarette on stage. I was shocked by this blatant disregard for the lungs of those attending this event.

There was a steady stream of crowd surfers – undeterred by the risks of passive smoking – who had to be ushered off-stage by security. During No Devotion: one of the youngest – barely a kid, who looked vaguely like Neil Morrissey – can be seen politely asking a big, dreadlocked surfer who’d ended up on the stage if he’d mind very much rejoining the audience. The surfer just stared at him and wandered off towards the back of the stage. [The stagecrasher who made a grab for one of the dancers was treated a good deal less kindly. Mind you, their tops had now come off. ] During Chickenshit, it was Neal Morrissey vs. the Dreadlocked Surfer, Round 2, and this time it took the combined efforts of several security guards to force the latter off-stage. Only, when he went, he took Morrisey with him, tumbling into the moshpit together, like the end of some previously-unseen entry in the Predator series.

Luc Van Acker was now wearing a Queen Elizabeth rubber mask and fake breasts, but still simulating sexual acts with one go-go dancer – ah, to hell with this, let’s call her what she was and be proud of it – stripper during Stainless Steel Providers, while the other stomped the remaining rubber doll to death. The encore, an extended version of Get Down, complete with Bruce Campbell sample, unfolded against a barrage of strobe lights, smoke and cacophonous guitars which leaves the viewer struggling to make out a fraction of what was going on. If you can imagine being trapped in a tank during a heavy artillery barrage, you’re thinking along the right lines.

YouTube video

But it was during Attack Ships on Fire (above), that I realized why this was still the yardstick by which all live performances should be judged: an absolute wall of sensory experience, summed up by Owen shrieking, “Someone, somewhere, wake me up!” while a topless vixen emerged from a cloud of dry ice behind him, and a faux Queen wearing a plastic policeman’s helmet shags another stripper off to one side.

That, folks, is entertainment. And it was, and remains, fucking awesome.

For more fun, read and enjoy Jason Pettigrew’s awesome diary of the US leg of thst RevCo tour. It includes such joys as “some pink-haired trollop gave Michael Balch a hand-job under his Fairlight (“She has a good reach. I suggested that she play basketball,” says Balch later.)”

Rammstein Live: Mein Herz Brennt Arena,
Phoenix AZ,
May 18th 2012

My first encounter with Rammstein was on the soundtrack of David Lynch’s Lost Highway in 1997, where I initially mistook them for Laibach – and wasn’t the first to do so. Somewhat snarkily, Laibach said, “They have proven once again that a good ‘copy’ can make more money on the market than the ‘original’. Anyhow, today we share the territory: Rammstein seem to be a kind of Laibach for adolescents and Laibach are Rammstein for grown-ups.” I’ve particularly wanted to see Rammstein live since hearing Rob Dyer’s tales of spectacles such as keyboard player Christian “Flake” Lorenz sailing out onto the audience in an inflatable boat. But I moved out to Arizona before they came back, and missed their 2001 tour so had to wait. And wait. Finally, I heard that they’d be playing here, and I’d get to see Rammstein live, 15 years after first hearing them – I think that’s a record, pipping the 14 years before I saw The Human League. At least until I ever see John Foxx (21 years and counting!).

We warmed up by rewatching their Live Aus Berlin DVD, which gave us an idea of what to expect: spectacle of the highest order, and a shit ton of pyrotechnics, in this case capped by lead singer Till Lindemann setting himself on fire to sing one song. But that, in itself, was some time ago, with the band now a decade older and wiser. Or not, since they still prove capable of creating controversy, even as Lindenann approaches his fiftieth birthday. There’s something both weird and strangely energizing about that face: rock stars are not supposed to be older than I am, especially the ones at the more “energetically corrupt” end of the spectrum: Al Jourgensen would be another such case of growing old disgracefully.

Chris and I made a day out of it, warming up by going to see The Avengers, having dinner, and then spending some time hanging out on a balcony at Westgate Center, playing “Spot the Rammstein attendee”. It really wasn’t hard, because just about no-one wears black in Arizona, particularly, between May and September: less a fashion choice than a survival requirement, in a land where you need oven-gloves to open your car-door in summer. It was, however, still interesting to note the broad spectrum of ages represented, from those who, like us, were around the band’s age, all the way down to high-school kids. On entrance, it was clear from the massive queues that merchandise was a large income generator – especially at $30 for a T-shirt. We opted not to bother with that, though did get a Rammstein flag, which will confuse the hell out of our neighbourhood come Memorial Day next Monday…

The group didn’t bother with a traditional support act. Instead, they had Joe Letz, drummer with another industrial act, Combichrist, come out and play harshly-remixed versions of their own songs. Reaction was “mixed,” I think it’s fair to say: I quite liked the remixes, but also heard shouts of “Fuck off!” I can understand the latter, not being a fan of DJs trying to act like they are actual musicians, as Letz seemed to think. The most amusing thing was the spotlights shining onto the stage were set so low that crowd members in front of them could use them to do shadowpuppetry. Needless to say, this opportunity resulted in rabbits, birds and not a few middle fingers being projected onto the screen. Like I said: mixed.

Then the actual show started, in typically unique fashion. In front of the sound booth in the middle of the arena floor, a pedestal rose up out of the floor, and down from the ceiling, a gantry descended, to form a walkway between that and the stage. Down from the side, the band members entered in a torch-lit procession, via the pedestal and gantry to reach the stage. before getting things under way with Sonne. That set the tone for the next two hours, an amazing mix of thunderous rock and visual awesomeness. which was just about everything a concert should be. One big plus: no new album, just a greatest hits’ collection, so there were no obligatory new songs which no-one knew.  Mutter was the most-played album – six of the 20 songs played came off it – but all six studio albums were represented from 1995’s Herzeleid, through 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da.

About the only mark deducted would be for Lindemann’s almost complete lack of crowd interaction. The master is VNV Nation’s lead singer Ronan Harris, with The Aquabats’ MC Bat Commander close behind, both turning between song banter into an art-form, which makes the audience part of the show and creates a sense of “belonging” which is also part of the live experience. Here, Lindemann barely acknowledged the crowd, with a couple of “Danke schons” being about the extent of it. Lorenz did, however, repeat the sailing trick mentioned earlier, voyaging out into the crowd on a rubber dinghy – and looked a good deal steadier than the presumably early attempt at the stunt on the DVD, though his trip was considerably shorter.

YouTube video

That said, the one word that sums this up would be “spectacle”. The group’s love of fire is clearly completely undiminished by the passage of time.  Lindemann is a licensed pyrotechnician, and the event featured fire shooting up from the floor, down from the ceiling and out over the crowd, to the extent that there were times when the band clearly had to be rather precise with their stage positioning, to avoid become bassist flambe. Fireworks were wielded, worn and strapped to instruments, but the most impressive early display was for Mein Teil, a song inspired by the Armin Meiwes internet cannibal case. That had Lindeman dressed as a chef, wheeling a huge cooking pot onto the stage, into which the keyboard player ducked and dived, while Lindemann unleashed what can only be described as a flamethrower at it. Repeatedly.

However, my personal favorite was likely Du Hast. Above is a clip of another song from the show, but it’s a perfect reproduction of what we got to see at our show, and captures perfectly the delirious sense that anything could happen at any time. The more the show went on, the further the level of excess seemed to escalate. Band heading back, via the gantry, on their hands and knees, as the drummer’s “dogs”, and playing three songs while crammed on the tiny middle podium? Check. An absolute torrent of sparkly chaff being unleashed in Amerika? Check. Lindemann riding a giant penis on wheels, and drenching the front ten or so rows in white foam during the last song, Pussy? That’d be a check, too. And this is in addition to the images shown on top of the article, which accompanied Engel. Any one of these would have been a climactic moment at any other show. Here, they were just another memory.

I’ve seen some amazing live events; the ones that stand out aren’t necessarily the “best,” they just stick in the mind for one reason or another. Maybe something good, such as the apocalyptic Revolting Cocks show at the Astoria in January 1991. Maybe something bad, like The Cramps gig where I ended up in casualty after going under in the mosh pit. But this one hit the absolute sweet spot between epic and incredible. I’ve not paid sixty bucks for a ticket to attend any band previously, but there is absolutely no denying that Rammstein provided value for money, an experience that was worth the fifteen years’ wait, and which will stay in my mind for at least that long.

Damp Squibs on Fireworks Night

Islington Garage,
5th November 1998

The origins of this outing lie in the last Flesh + Blood book — as is documented, Harvey Fenton devoted no less than TWENTY-SIX pages to Rockbitch, a satanic/sex/heavy metal (mostly-)girl group. Eyebrows here were raised as to whether they were really worth the coverage — Mr.Fenton assured me they were, so when I found out they were playing London on Guy Fawkes’ Night, what else could I do but turn up?

At this point, readers might want to visit the Rockbitch web site to get the background, especially if they’ve not got the Flesh + Blood book, with its tales of on-stage fistings, fan-fornication and general Excess All Areas. But was it all just a cheap ploy to get attention? If so, it was remarkably unsuccessful: here is Time Out‘s complete listing for the gig:

Rockbitch + Leech Woman + Breed 77. Garage N5, 8pm, adm £7. The opening set is provided by hotly-tipped metallers Breed 77.

Between that, and the fact that this tour takes in such stadia as the Fleece & Firkin in Darlington, it seems that mega-stardom is not quite banging on Rockbitch’s door.

The crowd were an interesting mix of hard-core heavy metal, the dirty mac brigade, and casually dressed men whose significance would become clear later. I carefully scoped out a position to stand; not so close that I ran the risk of becoming part of the show, shall we say, yet close enough to satisfy my entirely healthy journalistic curiosity — oh, alright then, and my prurience.

First of all, we had to get through the support bands; actually, I’m in agreement with Time Out, Breed 77 were actually very impressive, and I’d rate their chances of stardom considerably higher than Rockbitch’s. You heard it here first. The main support, Leech Woman, were familiar from Bradford; they were the ones with the angle-grinder, and once again the sparks were flying. The only noticeable change was the presence of black crosses of sticky tape on their nipples — again, the significance would become clear shortly. They cleared off, and the mob surged forward in anticipation of… well, whatever. It was really VERY tightly packed by now: I let go of my empty plastic beer glass and it took ten minutes to hit the floor. Then, to a roar from the audience, Rockbitch took the stage.


Let’s be honest. The words “Rawk Chick” do come to mind; rapidly smudged make-up, hair-colour from a bottle and so forth; not ugly, for sure, but not really my cup of tea. And hang on, what’s this? They’re also wearing crosses of sticky tape on their nipples! And one of them has ‘CENSORED’ scrawled on her stomach, above a large arrow pointing down… At the end of the first song, it became clear what was happening: the authorities had decided to take an interest, and the aforementioned casually dressed men were, in fact, plain-clothes coppers.

Now, if there’s one thing scarier than a Rawk Chick, it’s a pissed-off Rawk Chick. And, boy, were Rockbitch miffed; between every song, a tirade of vitriol was directed at the powers-that-be and the police for making them tone down the show. I had to sympathise, purely from a libertarian point of view, though some of their complaints were dumb. Saying “it’s just because we’re women” is palpable nonsense; they’d have got the same reaction had it been men sodomising each other on stage, or even straightforward heterosexual screwing. Claims to the contrary are just ignorant. I do also have to ask what they EXPECTED would happen; they’d have been better off going down the road a mile to Brown’s, where women ARE allowed to take their clothes off.

Anyway, despite the sign on stage saying “Fuck Censorship”, they didn’t, choosing to go under lamely; when the lead singer bravely exposed her nipples they was rapidly covered up again with more tape. Their stage act was reduced to a lot of lesbian kissing and some mock Satanic ritual, though covering the mouth of their skull prop with tape was a nicely ironic touch. The loss of their sexual exploits was a double edged-sword. While it certainly gave them something to complain about (Q1: is that why they’re called Rockbitch?), it meant they were thrown back onto their musicianship. This was largely bog-standard heavy metal (Q2: why do you only ever get Satanic metal, and never Satanic pop or Satanic C’n’W?), save their fretless bass player, who was not only the most skilled but the most attractive — and, an interesting point, kept her clothes on.

The overall effect was something between Spinal Tap and Showgirls, though sadly it had the sexual charge of the former, and the humour of the latter — though there was something ironic and almost charming in the way they described what we WOULD have been seeing, if it wasn’t for the presence of Mr. Plod. It is probably unfair to judge Rockbitch on a PG-rated performance, but the tame way in which this petered out does nothing to dispell the illusion that their attitude is nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy. [Whether or not it’s deliberate, it works as such, going by the inordinate interest the following morning in the office!] Still, at eight quid for the ticket, it was a ploy to which I was happy to succumb, having had an entertaining night. I may be deaf, as a result of leaning against the speaker stacks, I may be battered (the guy next to me was trying to slam-dance, even though there was about 3mm of play in the entire audience), and I may have no real interest in seeing them again, but it was an experience, and more fun than a handful of sparklers.

That Damn Show


Phoenix Arizona Saturday 19 September 1998 – All Freaking Day…….

The Phunk Junkeez - out on 'work furlough'

The Phunk Junkeez - out on 'work furlough'

Let’s see.. where do I start? Picture this: A baseball stadium, big enough for 30,000 humans – and several more sub-humans – harboring a music festival of epic proportions, in an area of Arizona bordering a retirement community, which houses only ONE policeman. Picture the old farts paying extra money to hire Phoenix police as serious backup just in case we get a little ornery. Hehehe… Then, picture one of the bands being very late for the concert because they got busted in Buckeye, a town south of Phoenix, for “smoking controlled substances”, and being given a “work furlough” in order to make the concert at all.

Then, picture quite the number of strange and unusual people, some carrying inflatable dates (I witnessed that) and quite the number of vendors selling everything from stickers that said “nice people swallow”, to adult novelties (which included to my utter delight an inflatable sheep that came with its own KY jelly), to free condoms and old, used cd’s… Where else to find the tent for Trash City? Right in the damn middle of it, where else? Yes, folks, your American Ambassador squatted her team of Trash vendors and journalists here, at the Peoria Sports complex for “That Damn Show” sponsored by a local alternative radio station and a local American beer company. All my fans who read my stuff on a regular basis should recognize the Peoria Sports Complex when I had to take my son’s class on a field trip there to see a baseball game and wrote about it.

The festival itself started at 11:00am and went on till almost midnight. I arrived at the stadium at 7:00am to set up our tent. The bands were great, let me try to remember all of them, here goes:

Harvey Danger, not sitta-ing on a flagpole

Harvey Danger, not sitta-ing on a flagpole

  • Urge
  • Harvey Danger
  • Cake
  • Fuel
  • Jackie the Jokeman
    from Howard Stern’s show
  • Blink 182
  • Sugar Ray
  • 7 Mary 3
  • Goo Goo Dolls
  • Phunk Junkeez
  • Lenny Kravitz

There were more, but I can’t remember…my brain was fried. The temperature was 109 degrees and I got a serious-ass farmer tan on my neck and shoulders. There was a ton of people and I set up the camcorder to do “man on the street” interviews for Trash City. At some future point we will show you photos of just how weird people can be and just how willing they are to do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, in front of a camera, if they have the smallest inkling that they may be on TV. I just neglected to say that it would be MY television they would be on, not network TV of any sort. But hey, you know my favorite saying: “fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

And we all love vindaloo...

And we all love vindaloo...

I got a good 28 minutes of hysteria on tape. Lots of TC fans telling the camera just what they think of Trash City and most of the responses were funny, witty, neglible, ignorant, unintelligible and downright obscene (may be considered offensive by British Customs and Excise). But despite the moral turpitude, one of the best parts was introducing the fans to the exercise of learning the lyrics to your pep rally song “Vindaloo”. [Oh, dear. I have to raise my hand at this point as the guilty party who sent Chris the CD… JhM] They began to think it was part of “Trash City Rules” so a lot of them used the chant “Vindaloo… Bucket!” in the videotaped interviews. Some day we may make that tape available for viewing to the general TC public, perhaps a “director’s cut” with everything left in, including a special wide-screen edition of “Trash City Bloopers”. But that’s only on the back burner of this American Ambassador’s charred flesh-for-brains.

One charming thing that stood out was “Miss Kathy’s Concessions”. I was reminded of the nostalgia days of ballroom dancing, of Fred Astaire dancing in night clubs, of the atmosphere of the 50’s and the romanticism that were “night clubs”, except these were Concession girls “Retro style”! They pulled up in a hot pink van and piled out of it, inflating plastic furniture and changing into costume: sequined miniskirts, fishnet stockings, 7″ spike high heels and bustiers that pushed their cleavage out into huge mounds under their chins. Then they hung trays from straps around their necks, filled to capacity with all manner of concessions, including lollies, chips, cigarettes, cigars, Ultra-sour Mega Warheads, and each girl went out into the bleachers spouting Betty Boop-like “Cigars, Cigarettes, Candy”. They were constantly selling out. I wonder why. I thought the concept was brilliant. It was retro, it was nostalgic, it was perfect. They told me they travel all over the country to different festivals doing this. I was impressed — and I am a female, and NOT a Lesbian. After saying that, I am sure that a huge percentage of the male populace enjoyed the visual displays they had on offer. And I don’t mean the trays around their necks… I just thought it was original thinking on Miss Kathy’s part.

All in all, a fun day, full of wild fans, great music, crappy food and expensive beer. This is the second year for this concert and judging from the enthusiasm shown, more than likely to become a tradition, unless the old farts from Sun City have any say about it. But we know what we’ll say if they try to stop it next year:


Chris Fata

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!

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.