You know that feeling you get when you’re camping, and you wake to find you’ve slept next to the tent mattress rather than on it, and thus spent half the night awake? It’s with a sense of what could have been that Saturday dawns, and, though a little sleepy-eyed, I’m happy to emerge to find it’s a beautiful day, sunny and warm.
It’s all kicking off at 12 over at the Garden Stage, so a quick freshen-up over at the luxury water point and a bit of breakfast at the nearby breakfast bar and it’s away, scuttling across the arena. The place now really takes on its best light, the various food and wares stalls shimmering in the sun and the crowd, naturally, in the sun, just that little more chirpy.
As we walk down the slope to the Garden Stage, Sunny Day Sets Fire are hammering away like a Pop thunderstorm, and where last night’s superstars Yo La Tengo have crystallised into an avant-garde beast, these are almost purely sensual and visual thrills. Drummer Onyee bounds between instruments in a melodious sundance, and the five-piece band erupt around her in a manner their name would suggest. I get images of The Little Ones playing Yo La Tengo, and that, I think, is such a grand way open to the day.
Sunny Day Sets Fire leave us in a final explosion of melody, and it’s back across past the peacock perched on the reception roof to the Big Top to catch a band that I really fell for at last year’s festival. Hush the Many these days seem to be an enchanting Pop beast, looking fantastic on a stage decorated with a big Hush the Many banner, which looks fantastic too. They play with an involved kind of freedom that makes them look huge, five glowing figures etching joyous sounds that roll like molten lather. Humble poetic vignettes are strewn amongst what are now beautifully accomplished orchestral pieces, and it’s simply a breathtaking set that has everyone on the lawn afterwards exulting, so much so that we almost forget that it’s 2.15 and I’m From Barcelona are due on at the Garden Stage.
It’s the biggest rush of the weekend as we scuttle across, and thankfully we’re here in time. The stage is decorated with myriad balloons, and one of the twenty-nine band members takes a peak through the backstage curtains to see if it’s safe to come out yet. A thundering electronic version of their signature tune Treehouse emerges from speakers, and Emanuel Lundgren bounds out like the best karaoke star in the world, singing along in the most riotous-yet-twee fashion I’ve seen.
His band follow, rushing out with confetti spiralling everywhere, and here starts the best party in town, ever. I’m not sure if Barcelona time their confetti to fly with their choruses or vice versa, but whatever, it’s a brilliant Pop feast in the afternoon sun, Collection of Stamps, We’re From Barcelona, Oversleeping and Chicken Pox erupting like huge fireworks, and to their every ebb a different blaze of colour emerges from the stage.
Three black-suited male backing singers are going like crazy stage left, and the two colourfully dressed ladies in the middle are a wondrous visual focal point. It’s a sugar-rush frenzy, and a wave of giant balloons released from backstage sends kids running off from their parents through the crowd in pursuit, the successful ones returning proud with their new prizes, while stray balloons get stuck in the trees to provide a brilliantly surreal sight. A chorus of kazoos (“they sound terrible, so everyone should have one!”), some beatific hand-clapping and some more handclapping later and we’re left with a post-party feeling approaching total awe.
It’s now 20 minutes later and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to unglue the smile on my face, and it’s not as if there’s any really bad acts around to do it for me. The Concretes at the Garden Stage are pouting their way through a set of laconic and shimmering indie, led by new vocalist Maria Eriksson with a quiet kind of allure, and a quick glance at someone’s watch says it’s time to pop back off to the Big Top, where ex-Hefner man Darren Hayman is due on.
Last year’s traditional Hayman set at End of the Road caught on with the crowd pretty late, everyone seeming to step into the tent about twenty minutes in, but there’s no such meandering today, and it’s a real buzz to have the Hayman experience with another few hundred admirers. The Big Top is heaving, and Hayman’s on top form, songs from his new record with current band The Secondary Modern really hitting home with quintessential humour, romance and intelligence. He announces a good-natured “ukulele vs banjo challenge” before one track which teems brilliantly and hilariously with their dual rhythms, and watching Hayman live always throws up particular personal highlights.
I’ve already got my head in the stars after the aching strains of Let’s Go Stealing, the exquisitely-swaying Nothing in the Letter and the better-than-Hefner She’s Not For Me when the first notes of the classic Hello Kitten set me and everyone else ablaze. A raucous feast of poetic Pop sentiments has made me dizzy in appreciation, and in a personal note soon after I declare my retirement from ever writing about him again. I’m not sure if I’ll stick to my word, that’s not really the point, but one more thing in case I do – you’ve simply got to here the way the ukulele runs through his new album. It’s like some high-powered beast – the eighth wonder of the indie world…
A “secret” Hayman gig has been announced to the whole of the Big Top tent, its location “over by the piano, somewhere in the woods”, so I set off to check out the trail in order that I can eliminate some of the inevitable wrong turns when I make my way over later. I haven’t traversed these paths yet and it’s a great little walk, taking me around the front of the Garden Stage area and through a cluster of fairy-lights intricately wrapped around the trees to the final destination, a lone piano with a modest grassy area for people to sit down. Satisfied of my bearings, I make my way back.
Blanking the Cider Bus with an intrepid air I make my way down the side-alley to The Local where another little revolution is taking place. I can’t get inside at first as the place is bulging with people like a scene from a cartoon, but what I hear makes me hang around. I edge my way closer and closer, first making out the violinist and her friend standing next to her on backing vocals, both writhing around in a sultry manner and contributing their bits with fervour, then as I get closer I make out the guy at the helm, an Indian-American who turns out to be a such a great talent.
The band are called The Young Republic, and they treat us to a feast of old Pop nuggets played in the beatific language of party-folk. Violins sway, brass parps, a flute moans, mandolins fly, a contrabass underpins, and we’re swept along in devilish complicity. The Young Republic provide a classical/folk tinged feast of ingenuity and retro grace, and to top it all we have possibly the best comic line of the weekend so far from the lead singer, who dedicates one number to “the American version of The Office”.
Having retired from writing about Darren Hayman a while back, it’s time to make the walk up to the secret piano setting to see him again, and, well practiced, I find a seat on one of the last remaining bits of open space and sit quietly with a cider. This is to be a performance by his bluegrass band Hayman, Watkins, Trout and Lee, and they all stand there in an imaginary spotlight in the best of humour, Hayman introducing them all with comic nonchalance before someone says “go”, and they leap into action like troubadours of old.
There’s no PA system present, and we barely hear them at first. Two hundred or so people have gathered, maybe more, and it’s like trying to see in the dark. Slowly though we adapt our ears, the banjo merges with fiddle, percussion and guitar, the dual voices of Hayman and David Tattersal ring out that little bit louder, and we have a small London bluegrass miracle on our hands, the Hefner wit written right through it.
It’s a terrific half hour or so, perfectly-formed songs and an amazing atmosphere, and as the music begins to intrude on our little party from the main stage, signalling the end of the gig, I find it really hard to tear myself back. Hayman cajoles Tattersal into plugging his gig with The Wave Pictures tomorrow, another mental note is made to check them out, and it’s off back though the magic trail of lights to rejoin the teeming masses.
Many a recommendation has passed me by over the coarse of the year, but a friend’s passion for Danielson has stuck in the memory, and I kind of see why as back at the Big Top all the rules of Pop are torn up before my eyes and put back together in new constellations. Danielson himself remains relaxed as his band of new folk warriors erupt around him with short, sharp hooks and staccato ingenuity, and he feeds into it a laid-back kind of lyrical air that makes for an enjoyable, fascinating gig. So fascinating in fact that I completely miss Brakes down at the Garden Stage, which is a terrible thing to have happened.
We hang on in the Big Top to enjoy Architecture in Helsinki‘s avant-garde sounds for a while, rising and falling into some frenzied land between Sunny Day Sets Fire and Yo La Tengo, all drama, passion, fragmented hooks, quirks and fiery yelps, but time is running out to grab a drink and something to eat before Super Furry Animals play the peacocks’ den, so it’s off to The Bimble Inn to meet friends and huddle in anticipation.
After the day we’ve had, it’s fitting that tonight’s headliners are not some pretentious troupe of doom-mongers, and we wander over for the Super Furry Animals relaxed and ready to enjoy. Gruff emerges from somewhere round the back, someone comes out wearing that really funny giant Power Rangers helmet sideways, and it’s off we go into an alternate land of humour and light-hearted wonder.
Do or Die, Rings Around the World, God Show Me Magic, Ice Hockey Hair and Hello Sunshine have never sounded better, buzzing along in a manner that makes the crowd exult in one dizzy pile, and come the end we’re left in a beatified sort of state, baying for a more from the Furries’ enchanted cartoon land.
A pal decides we should visit Port O’Brien at the Bimble Inn rather than the very enticing Tack! Tack! Tack! DJs playing Swedish discs at the Big Top, and though the thought of what they’re spinning over there nags at me a little during their set, O’Brien are fantastic, playing folk and country with a certain guile and purity and spilling poignant shanties out into the night in grand style. It’s been a fantastic day, full of Pop moments that’ll stick in the memory for a long while to come, so it’s off back to the tent, on with the I-Pod, and off to sleep with dreams of tomorrow. Isn’t Jens Lekman supposed to be playing?