Live Music + Gig Reviews

Festival Review: Field Day 2008, Part 1

9 August 2008

Forward to Part 2

The sight of ponchos, brollies, wellies, mud paths, bucketloads of rain and lots of gritted teeth is a given at certain festivals.

Ok, make that most festivals in this country. But this sorry sight on an August afternoon in Hackney is really taking the piss. Hours of incessant drizzle and rain aside (and a chuckle at the people wearing flip flops) Field Day 2008 was, with some caveats, a vast improvement on 2007.
Yes there were still epic toilet queues, but the bars were fine in number; there was plenty of space between the stages to wander / avoid hearing an electro DJ over a folk singer in full swoon, and the sound levels were generally fair to middling, compared to last year’s much reported levels at least.

Sadly for them in their debut album’s release week, Noah And The Whale were scheduled at a ludicrous 12:30pm main stage slot, when even the most eager music fans were still trying to find their way round the site’s walls to the entrance. And once in, for the first few hours anyone without wearable or carriable rain cover huddled into the Bugged Out or Adventures tents, ensuring they were perpetually packed. It also meant about 13 people damply braved the start of Howling Bells‘ only slightly less ridiculously early 1.30pm set, also on the main stage. Replete with material from their forthcoming second album, Juanita Stein and co managed to bend more and more ears over as drizzle quickly turned into shower.

A curious moment took place when The Mae Shi boarded the MySpace Routemaster. As we huddled on the platform, somewhere ahead of us, beyond crammed-in heads, somebody punched the roof and shouted through a megaphone, apparently doing a vocal version of one of their songs. And then they stopped so we decided to watch an egg and spoon race and a few rounds of of tug-of-war, which were both much more gratifying, if damp. Later in the same place, wannabe bunnies could be seen chomping through carrots in a bid to win… more carrots. Hats off to the healthy eating message, anyway.

At the late-running Homefires stage, former Delgadoes singer Emma Pollock was next to be introduced by curator Adem. Her songs are simply structured and her lyrics are pleasantly everyday; if you lived in Scotland, she’d be the girl-next-door, and she made for a pleasant change of pace from all the party beats pumping out of the tents.

With the umbrellas up and obscuring the view for the main stage, it’s hard to tell exactly who is meant to be playing, but once Hayden Thorpe’s remarkable falsetto is placed in front of off-beat guitar jerks and starts to emanate outwards, there is no mistaking that it’s Wild Beasts.

Plying a sound which could just as easily leave some recoiling with disdain, whilst others at the same time justifiably marvelling in the brolly-shaking buoyancy that is not so much bubbling, as full to overflowing. Marmite music, if you will. In Please Sir there are croons a-plenty, an oddly mysterious number which would be a sing-along if we could just understand the lyrics. Something about cheesy chips?

Hannah Holland on the decks in a packed Bugged Out tent with friend and collaborator MC Chickaboo was as dirty as you would expect from two thirds of the Three Wise Batty Bitches – absurd, bass-laden, squelchy and sleazy. For every pair of wellies grinding the grass into sludge, another pair of jellies, stilettos, winkle pickers or wedges teetered past, transforming a sodden corner of Hackney into a sparkly Shoreditch shindig.

For the first, but certainly not the last time today, the rain relented right up until New York’s anti-folk hero Jeffrey Lewis stroked the first chord of the first of four Crass covers, System, System, System on the Homefires stage. Lewis is as much a storyteller and entertainer as a musician, and that is evident today with the airing to the huddled masses of two epic tales from his back catalogue: the five-minute finger picked tale of terror that is Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror and The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane, a convoluted but nevertheless encapsulating and mind-bending way to warn people of the perils of LSD. Don’t do drugs, kids.

The diminuitive folk-songstress Laura Marling turned up to the main stage sans keyboard player, who was stuck somewhere on the M25. Yet again, the excess of umbrellas creates restricted viewing. Note to those with hooded raincoats: you do not need an umbrella as well, and are you aware that other people exist?

Playing an equally short and sweet collection of songs from Mercury-nominated debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim, the performance is ultimately enjoyable but undeniably underwhelming during the more serene moments, solely due to the lack of reach of the PA, which is just far too weak for a voice as delightfully delicate and understated as Marling’s.


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