Live Music + Gig Reviews

Secret Garden Party 2008, Day 3 @ Abbots Rippon, Huntingdon

27 July 2008

Secret Garden Party’s final day is even hotter than the day before. By 8:30am adipose tissue is rendering to oil.

But someone had to go sit around the campfire, burning his shorts on the sparks from the spitting wood until gone four in the morning, so getting up is proving rather difficult.

So it’s up in time for breakfast/lunch of a falafel with chilli sauce. Feeling a little queasy but certainly more alert we take in a little of the, hopefully unintentionally, homo-fetishist sock wrestling.
Still needing a wake-up call, maybe Ciara Haidar could be just the ticket. And sure enough she disappoints not. If you get the chance to see her live go – she was there at the camp fire last night, so maybe she feels as crappy as we do, if not worse. But despite the festival fatigue she delivers a rock opera tour-de-force performance. With gusto and brio in spades, she also delivers on the melody, wit, and pathos. Favourite live act of the year? Maybe.

In stark contrast, my least favourite might have been Beans on Toast. Another one of those festival acts, whose charm seems to be about appealing to the easiest audience of all – no not kids, but really really stoned people. His songs are all about taking drugs at festivals and trite anti-establishment messages. His voice is like gravel, an easily explained phenomenon when he asks the audience to supply him with some of the ubiquitous nitrous oxide. The audience are lapping this up.

Lacrosse pays diligent homage to nineties Scandopop. Their boy-girl vocals, proclaiming “The world is full of Saturdays, it’s always Saturday around here”; despite it being a Sunday, we get their drift. The lolling audience seem happy enough to let the Wannadies stylings wash over them, although the upbeat sentiments do coax a few into a vigourous straw fight in front of the stage. The Loose Salute‘s slow burning country is a little too earnest for this time in the festival. Everything is in the right place, the keys, the guitars, the female harmonies, but there just doesn’t seem to be that much going on behind the eyes.

A brief break by the main stage, which seems to be running late, running early, or simply not playing anything and a chance to catch a little more sun. A little way away two people are rolling down a hill in a tractor tyre, aiming for a ramp that will shoot them into the lake. The same hill will later be lined with soapy bubble rap to create a slide – while all the while a country swing band plays beside the festivities and people spiritedly line dance. The festival is descending into wonderfully humoured and good-natured chaos.

Back in the Where The Wild Things Are tent, The XX are young, dressed in black, and doing a fine line in eighties styled goth titles, such as White Lace. But this band are not just a bunch of miserable teens – the measured crystal vocals of the female singer are packed full of emotion, and a perfectly judged cover of Womack & Womack‘s Teardrops turns the song into a pleading apology to a cheated ex.

With the sun in descent and the festival goers suitably out of their trees, it can only be time for Morcheeba. Are they a band for people who don’t really like music, or people who have taken too many drugs? In that, they are perhaps playing to their perfect audience. Everyone has gathered for the croud pleasing set. French vocalist Manda does a passable impression of ex-singer Skye on hits The Sea, Part of the Process, Trigger Hippy, and others to rapturous reception. With the balearic beach-scapes on the screens on stage and the softening glow of the Cambridgeshire sun, even old curmudgeons are nearly won over. Nearly. But again, when so many other people enjoy it so much, who are we to criticise.

As an antidote, we shamble over to Lykke Li. The smaller tent is packed out for one of the most exciting live music prospects of the festival. Hair straight up and down, plunging neckline with bawdy gold pendants, she is as stylish as Grace Jones, and her stage presence is second only in the weekend to the ’80s veterans. Many of the tracks on the debut Youth Novels don’t quite live up to their promise on record, but live they really come to life. With Lykke Li throwing herself about the stage crashing into cymbals there is a party feel to them. Little Bit, the highlight of the album is the highlight of the set, gorgeous, plaintive, and moving.

A blunder in scheduling has St Etienne start 10 minutes after Lykke Li. But the veterans of kitchen sink dramas and urban love stories are still going as the Swede’s set comes to an end. A smattering of hits from across the decades serves as good advert for a forthcoming greatest hits package – but after Morcheeba much of the audience has dissipated to make sure that all their baggies are empty before heading off, and worse still, the weather breaks and the heavens open.

A torrential downpour sends people off into the tents for the likes of Metronomy, Florence And The Machine, Noah And The Whale and Late Of The Pier. And He’s On The Phone, which would in better circumstances have a whole field jigging, is heard over the falling rain by few more than the owls and the crickets and a handful of die hards. St Etienne soldier on regardless, you don’t get to be where they are by stopping just because no-one is listening.

Secret Garden Party is not a music festival, there is so much else going on that the music is rather a pleasant surprise when you stumble across it. Having said that, everyone would have found at least a few acts to draw them in, and once there, many more to their liking. The scheduling was a bit ramshackle, with acts running early, running late, being swapped, or not appearing at all, making it hard sometimes to see what you plan to, or even know what you are seeing. But then there is always something else just around the corner. With a bill selected to appeal to the people who go to that festival, rather than a dedicated music fan, the organisers judged it pretty perfectly, and if many of the acts were a little ropey, that can be forgiven, they put their heart, dreads, and souls into it.

The final day was, like the others, patchy so gets a 3/5 for the music; the same for the festival’s music overall. But then, everything else about the festival, the events, the distractions, the site, the weather, the organisers’ commitment to their ideal, and the punters’ commitment to have a bloody good time and making the most of everything offered is unparallelled and deserves nothing less than 8/5. So the festival gets five stars.

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