UB40 this year’s Guilfest winners. A pat on the back all round. There were hoardes of the shirts everywhere (I counted at least 30), adourning the backs of everyone from kids to middle-aged men and women. My favourite was the family of four all wearing matching merchandise.
But did the Brummie old-timers merit the attention? Many thought so. UB40 headlined the Sunday night Radio 2 main stage, bringing to a close Guilfest 2004, with many thousands staying on to the bitter end to hear their musical heroes.
The first song, played to whoops and cheers from a tireless, ecstatic crowd, wasn’t one I knew, with One In Ten next.
Not being a UB40 fan myself (they were an unliked teacher’s favourite – perhaps that scarred me), I took advantage of the band’s pull to drive out of a still quiet car park and wearily head home to London. On the way to my motor I heard Rat In My Kitchen – though I’m sure they would have played Red Red Wine, Kingston Town and other favourites.
Neither Che Guevara nor Morrissey were playing Guilfest this year – one dead and no musician, the other booked for the bigger Carling Weekender’s at Reading and Leeds, but both vyed for second place in the t-shirt stakes with the militant South American edging ahead.
A plethora of smaller bands picked up points with plenty of t-shirts sporting their names here and there. The popular Hamsters, playing the Uncut Aladdin’s Cave Stage, were spotted emblazened across several chests, whilst one middle-aged mum wore her allegience to Steve Harley, headlining the same stage, with a home-made number. Her daughters, sadly, didn’t follow suit.
No t-shirts for Norman Jay, hitting the decks with avengence in the Tropical Tent but the hundreds partying away in the cavernous marquis underlined the rare-groove mix man’s deservedly fine reputation.
None either for prog-rockers Space Ritual – a rejigged Hawkwind line-up -playing the Uncut second stage, but full marks for the most colourful and eclectic on-stage line up. The space rockers sported a variety of masks and costumes, from the lead singer’s red, spikey head creation to animal faces, silver pom poms and matching wig. With a wild carnival atmosphere supported by sound singing and saxaphone, this was one of Sunday’s highlights.
The were followed on stage by Selecter Acoustic who, despite playing to momentous support from the gathered crowds failed to impress this music reviewer. Perhaps I was missing something. The lead singer bored with her whiney, repetetive rendition of On The Radio, accompanied by bland chord strumming, while her voice – though good – seemed too shrill and operatic for the material they were playing. Earlier Eddie And The Hot Rods entertained with a set chock-filled with tub-thumping rock.
The Saw Doctors (plenty of t-shirts) proved a hit with the crowd on the Radio 2 stage playing a set packed with old and new while the excellent Femi Kuti dazzled with his Afro-pop; backing singers and dancers resplendant with toosh-shaking aplenty. Eat your heart out Beyonce.
But what of Ocean Colour Scene, penultimate act on the main stage? It was a blast from a distant teenage past for me, only vaguely aware before-hand that they were still knocking around.
Bedecked in a red zip-up top and whiter-than-white jeans lead singer Simon Fowler played to his adoring fans, including an adrenaline-fuelled leap in to the front row, enjoying the attention of clasping arms and shrill shrieks of excitement. Nice.
Sensibly OCS played only a few songs from the second and latest albums, choosing instead to concentrate on the infinately catchier material from their first, which had propelled them to the charts back in the mid 90′s. The set included Circles, The Riverboat Song, I See Myself and The Day We Caught The Train. Incidently, I lost a pound in a bet to a friend who told me the title was Jimmy Caught The Train. Backtracking wildly she then claimed that Jimmy wasn’t in the title but he definitely caught the train. I laughed. After two choruses I grudgingly admitted she was right. Spend wisely, Linda, spend wisely.
By concentrating on the hits they proved themselves a sturdy, workhorse of a festival band, both tight and affable. But the sound, which had impressed all weekend, disappointed. As the night wore on further away from the stage music sounded irritatingly like the noise heard through the flimsy walls of a next-door neighbour’s flat; tinny, bass-heavy and distant.
And of the OCS t-shirts? Despite plenty of audible support and excitement for the band I saw only one solitary soul proudly proclaiming his allegiance in two days. Even bonus points for the rabbit-toothed twentysomething’s autographed affair couldn’t help. My finely honed formula a failure, I can only hope it the inevitable exception to the rule.