Visit the Electric Proms website and you are promised ‘A New Music Experience’. Such statements are easily made but increasingly difficult to deliver, in a year where there seems to be a different festival running each weekend. So what are the BBC offering us that can’t be found elsewhere? At first glance, it has to be said the line-up doesn’t offer too much in the way of music still in its shrinkwrap.
This may be due to an apparent lack of curator or theme – where last year Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon were able to present us with The Good, The Bad And The Queen among others, this year has no equivalent debut.
There is however a comforting blend of youth and experience – and you don’t get more experienced in pop music than Paul McCartney. Recent pedaller of the mandolin, McCartney will no doubt be urging the sell-out crowd at the Roundhouse to ‘Dance Tonight’ among other things on Thursday 25th.
Closing the festival on Sunday 28th October will be Ray Davies and friends, who perhaps surprisingly include Mr Johnny Borrell and the Crouch End Festival Chorus. The mind boggles at the potential soundclashes on offer here – what is certain, however, is that Davies will perform tracks from his new download album Working Man’s Caf, along with classic Kinks numbers.
While these two are the big name experienced pop stars, the comeback of the year will undoubtedly be taking place while Davies performs in the Roundhouse. Over at Dingwalls, Edwyn Collins will be performing for the first time in three years, completing an unlikely yet triumphant return as he plays material from recent album Home Again. The intimate surrounds of the canalside venue should be ideal for the close-knit observations and harmonies of the album.
So what of the new? With many high profile acts already sold out, it’s a strong recommendation to take the festival at face value and go and find something different. With that in mind, the Jazz Caf is a good place to hang out at the weekend. Sunday night especially offers a treat, with solo performances from Ben Westbeech and Estelle, while on the Saturday Kano will be headlining a 1Xtra night in conjunction with Craig David. Forget the Bo Selecta imagery – David on form is a fine vocalist, and the combination with one of London’s top rappers should return an edge to vocal proceedings.
For a real cosy (some would say crushing) gig experience, the Barfly is hard to beat, and if it’s cold outside you can jump around to Reverend And The Makers, The Enemy or blahd within its confines.
Further down the road the wonderful Koko venue will be involved, and on the festival’s first two nights it’s hard to resist any of the four acts performing. Battles will bring their visceral live experience in support of Editors on opening night, while the second evening promises a spectacular of sonics and light for Justice and the Chemical Brothers, for whom Beth Orton will be performing vocal duties.
Rather closer to the centre of the pop road we find the Kaiser Chiefs and Mark Ronson, though both will be offering their music for appraisal through the different mediums of David Arnold and the BBC Concert Orchestra respectively. The orchestra should do a lot more for Ronson’s music than it did for either Guillemots or Kasabian last year, though it will be interesting to see how Ronson retains the brassy boldness of the Versions album.
We can’t reasonably expect Ricky Wilson to be performing Play Dead with David Arnold, but the website promises a combination of Arnold’s creativity and the Kaiser Chiefs’ “renowned energy”.
Films at the Festival is an important side project this year, with ten big screeners to enjoy. These look extremely well chosen, with Daft Punk‘s Electroma, The Other Side Of The Mirror, showing Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in previously unseen footage. With docu-films of Factory Records, Otis Redding, The Beatles and Sigur Rs all included, it promises to be an eclectic Prom season on screen.
So who have I left out? Bloc Party at the Roundhouse on Saturday 27th, the Basquiat Strings fusing jazz and classical styles in the same venue a night earlier, the rather mucky sounding Soil and Pimp Sessions, which promise layered improvisation with guest Jamie Cullum at the Free DM Studio, the Roundhouse on 25th October. There’s a tribute to Lal Waterson entitled Once In A Blue Moon, where the entire family will come together in music, and finally Siouxsie, who appears in the Electric Ballroom the night before.
It goes to show that if at first glance a festival’s bill might not excite, there remains plenty of new potential. Go on, use it as a chance to find your new favourite artist.