Chiselling the sleep from my eyes with a dirty fingernail, a familiar and irritating sound wafted over from main stage, sending the blood vessels in my forehead into a twitching frenzy. 20,000 early birds were singing the “woo hoo, woo hoo hoo” ditty from the Carling advert. Fifties-style Japanese Tarantino favourites, The 5,6,7,8s were busy lodging that bloody tune in our heads for the rest of the day. I arrived to see them finish. The crowd seemed to be having a raucous cheery time, but I felt my presence was better suited to the Radio 1 stage and Bloc Party.
There’s been a good buzz about Bloc Party, and they attracted a hefty crowd. Unfortunately, despite plenty of guts from lead singer Kele Okereke, they disappoint. His vocals are shouted across a sporadically tuneful backing. You can’t fault them for energy, and they display elements of The Jam and even The Cure, but all this ‘musical saviours’ hype smacks of NME hyperbole. Recent single She’s Hearing Voices, however, was brilliant, and there’s clearly a lot of good song writing going on in there somewhere. If not THE future then, at least ones for the future.
Johnny Borrel’s already legendary arrogance hasn’t endeared him to everybody. Music mags never fail to mention his own Dylan comparisons as if he had spat on a crucifix. Seeing Razorlight in an afternoon set on the main stage though, one thing is clear: Borrel is a natural rock performer. Pounding across the stage, dragging the mic cable behind him he looks full of himself and his songs. Golden Touch is met with an almighty cheer and you can’t help but think that this time next year these guys could be headlining.
What is Har Mar Superstar? An unholy mix between Prince and Danny Baker? He seems to have appeared on about five stages already at this festival, and you couldn’t move for him in the Guest Area (not as fancy as it sounds). Look – there’s Har Mar interviewing Goldie Lookin’ Chain! Oh, there’s Har Mar hitting Tim Wheeler with a foam truncheon. What’s that? It’s Har Mar juggling apples for an MTV crew. Well, finally it’s his own set and he goes down an absolute storm. If you can handle the excess R&B basslines, Har Mar’s tunes are funk straight from the groin. Elephant Walk and EZ Pass get everybody gyrating, and he brandishes his planet-sized ego by getting the crowd to sing “H-A-R-M-A-R SUPERSTAR!”. Watch out though – judging by his crowd-touching ways this balding, paunchy, but boundlessly charismatic bizarro is here to steal your girlfriend.
Saturday night on the main stage boasted surely the best consecutive line up of the weekend, kicking off with journeymen hip-hop heroes The Roots. They are a perfect hip-hop booking for the Reading Festival. With three electric guitars on show, there’s as much rock in them as rap, and we are even treated to a three-minute wailing guitar solo. Also, the sight of unpronounceable drummer ?eustlove’s door-frame-wedging Afro is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Next up is 80’s art-synth Germanic/Scottish pop band Franz Ferdinand. Even the sneerers tend to concede one thing: Take Me Out is a great live festival song. Most of the crowd seems to love the foppish ones going through tunes such as Michael and Matinee, but there is a sense of anticipation for the first instantly recognisable chord of their most famous single. In time it arrives, and pogo-tremors are felt as far away as Swindon.
Roll up! Roll up! Come and see the travelling soap opera that is The Libertines! A Doherty-free Libertines take to the stage and deliver a resolute and ballsy performance of Up The Bracket, which seems to scream, “We are still the Libertines, you fuckers!”. Carl Barat always had a better voice that Pete Doherty, so in some ways the band sound as good as they always have. But it’s undeniable – they have lost something. They lack the danger and madness that Doherty’s excess brought, and the engaging chemistry between the two leads. Barat stands with a steely distant stare as if all of this just reminds him of his fallen friend. Still, I get Along, Boys in the Band and Can’t Stand Me Now are met with universal roars and delivered with passion. It will be a tragedy if this band doesn’t survive the chaos.
I wasn’t really a Morrissey fan before his set. I am now. There’s his brand of dour, quirky charisma that has as much attitude as anything at the festival: “Let’s hear a big booooo for Radio 1!”. There’s his incredible knack for memorable, anthemic, unifying choruses (“Shoplifters of the World take over!”). Even his new songs sounded fantastic and achingly romantic: “Well you have never been in love, until you’ve seen the stars reflected in the reservoirs”. He’s a man with nothing to prove, doing what he does best. A great show, with Smiths classics thrown in to boot. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out has never sounded so epic.
In contrast, there’s a curious lack of showmanship about The White Stripes. It’s as if they’ve taken their iconic white/red aloofness too far. Their sound becomes samey after a while, exposing the limitations of the simple two-piece garage sound, and there is precious little interplay between them. Quite simply – it gets boring. However, Meg and Jack do remind us that they have crafted some blistering rock-pop tunes. All of the favourites are given an airing. Hotel Yorba, The Hardest Button To Button and Fell In Love With A Girl are fantastic, and when they arrive for an encore, we all know what’s coming. Seven Nation Army prompts a surge at the front that reaches critical levels and the Stripes leave on a high.