Live Music + Gig Reviews

Summer Sundae 2011 @ De Montfort Hall, Leicester

12-14 August 2011

An ice cream coloured welcome lies just beyond Summer Sundae Weekenders gates, just across from a spoken word bandstand encircled by brightly coloured deckchairs, giving an instant hint at the ethos that lies behind the festival.

Preparations for this 11th year havent always reflected that aura, but there are happy faces in Fridays queues, clutching crates of beer and plastic-bottled concoctions, showing all is once again right with the world. A first lap of the relatively small site afternoon reveals there are more sponsors here than last year perhaps a sign of the times – but theyre far from overpowering. And all of the outdoor bars possess a refreshing rustic, local feel, having been taken over by a Leicester establishment with a mission statement involving real ales, ciders and fresh cocktails.

2:54 begin our weekend at the Rising Stage their lo-fi low-toned pop an impressive start that whets the appetite for Warpaints performance on Sunday. A quick sniff of Louisianas Givers on the main stage shows their Afrobeat, organic sound has gone down well, paving the way for artists of a similar ilk, The Bees. Chicken Payback turns the grassy bowl into a mass of poultry imitators, while new material including I Really Need Love prompts a steady bop to the hearty strings and barn dance harmonies.

The days award for spine chills goes to King Creosote and John Hopkins, Creosotes pure voice telling simple folk tales of his Fife homeland. Hopkins grand piano ivories echo around De Montfort Hall and his atmospheric electronic sound effects appear to float, leaving the crowd in stunned silence.

A promising start leads to a surprisingly flat Friday evening. Graham Coxons heavier-than-expected set at the main stage fails to excite most but those who already count themselves as fans. But he deserves more reaction and would no doubt get that were his demographic different. Nevertheless, Freakin Out is met with pockets of pogo-ing and later, the throng bellows, Standing on my own again in Cockney lilts back at the stage.

The real disappointment is The Maccabees decision to devote the lions share of their headline set to plugging new material, outnumbering the older tracks. It obviously plays on Orlando Weeks mind, as he apologises more than once throughout the set. Nevertheless the band is clinical and note perfect, and there are memorable moments – the lovestruck, gently plucked guitar intro of First Love extracting cheers and cooing sing-a-longs to its query, Are you cool, symmetrical?. No Kind Words and Can You Give It are among other welcome additions to a performance sans encore, its absence begging the question of whether a festival headline spot is the right time for a sales pitch. Meanwhile, not 50 metres away back undercover, another audience is being satisfied with the blissed-out reggae beats of Toots and the Maytals.

Saturday affords more time for wandering, but not before Flashguns appear indoors, their jagged riffs at breakneck pace waking bleary eyes. Showaddywaddys inclusion on the bill mightve turned noses, but their sun soaked ’70s revival forces smiles, dodgy nostalgic boogying and chanting to Hey Rock N Roll amidst fresh pops and fizzes of ring pulls that say peoples mood is good.

Next up is Geordie singer-songwriter Beth Jeans Houghtons angelic tones, but no one can seem to decide whether her set is wonderful or lackadaisical. The eyes quickly adjust to the darkness in time for recent Hurts support, The Heartbreaks, with music that romanticises their rough-edged Morecambe roots with part-Morrissey, part-euphoric guitar indie.

Dionne Bromfield brings jazz-soul-pop to the proceedings, along with an all-male dance troupe. Her soulful tones cant help but force comparison with Amy Winehouse, but this time, she chooses not to cover any of her late godmothers tracks. Next up, Yaaks Foals-y guitars strike immediate chords with the crowd. They might describe their music as channelling the thoughts of Jean Jacques Rousseau, but Hrhrhythms percussion is irresistible and the jangling riffs turn the tent into a mass of dancing feet.

One of the weekends gems, Dizraeli and the Small Gods, draw us to the Musician Tent with hip hop beats, travelling band strings and female beatbox world champion Bellatrix. Their acerbic-tongued rhymes are inspired, taking an eyebrow raising look at societys irks, along with commercial giants Tesco. Theres time for the briefest blast of Reefs indie dancefloor nostalgia, before Pete and the Pirates follow with harmonic precision and instant likeability, beginning with Mr Understanding that starts the five piece off on the right foot.

Reporting the plateaux of excitement as Newton Faulkners headline set arrives would be to relay an outright lie. But somehow he spans the vast age range of those that have stayed and the crowd quite happily rests in his palm to a cover of Massive Attacks Teardrop. This leaves I Am Kloots beautiful melancholy for the indoor top slot. Few know the words to Proof a track considered their biggest hit but that doesnt matter as its poetic lines and brushed, tip-tapping drums lull into a gentle rock. After a concerted effort at the late bars from festival-goers wishing re-inject liveliness into their bodies, they propel themselves into the silent disco and the rather nifty Wagamamas stand, which has a DJ booth.

Making our way indoors for the first Sunday artists, Dark Dark Horse, we pass through a garden area where hats are being made and a woman is teaching people to effortlessly hoola hoop, spinning it over her head and onto each arm, before letting it fall back to her hips. The Antlers also feature on the same stage, their music conveying vast space in an increasingly crowded room, with spellbinding grandiose piano chords and Peter Silbermans pitch-perfect high vocals that bristle the neck at I Dont Want Loves close.

Awash with lounging bodies, the grassy bowl welcomes Leisure Society, while simultaneously, The Phantom Band appear to have swallowed The Battles twisted metal electronica, washing it down with glugs of grungy Black Rebel Motorcycle Club riffs and growling Glaswegian vocals. Weekends and Bleak Days (Hot Summer) is Young Knives rallying cry, drawing an energetic, knowledgeable crowd in the mid-afternoon with a series of cult hits. And as evening approaches theres a straight choice between grinding electronica and up and coming indie in the shape of Factory Floor or Dutch Uncles. The former generates rib cage-jostling bass and screeching feedback, with head-wreck drum beats and chanting vocals that proves too much for some, but they make the appetite crave more electronica thats been devoid on the billing.

The Cuban Brothers emerge a clear Summer Sundae favourite with close-to-the-bone innuendos and phallic references. Clad in skin-tight, fringed lycra suits, their breakdancing moves and covers of White Stripes and Public Enemy pack out the field. Things become altogether moodier with the aloof cool of Warpaints indoor set – a savvy line up addition that draws a huge crowd to hear their lo-fi, downbeat art rock symphonies from debut, The Fool.

Example is the first up of the two remaining teen dream acts. His cocky mix of attitude, fun and pureed dance pop sifts the younger crowd to the front stage and wins over a portion of the rest when Kickstart hits the speakers. Mercury Music Prize nominees Everything Everything are also on the bill, but Kitty, Daisy and Lewis close the weekend for the Musician Tent to twisters and movers of all ages, including altogether smaller fans on shoulders, who take a liking to the band through protective headphones. Heavy interaction and cheeky smiles make for a popular performance from McFly thats met with day glo delight. And conversely, Blood Red Shoes close the weekend with a wall of grizzled indie rock noise.

The stark contrast between these artists is a marker for this years festival. Thats because it is the contrasts and diversities of Summer Sundae that delight, as genres of music are placed in a higgledy piggledy fashion, where unsigned hip hop is followed by indie rock and roll an unusual bonus for a small festival. But still, there is a nagging unease that this year has possessed a gaping hole where some middleweight artists should have sat, even if at the expense of one of its three days. Summer Sundae knows it has succeeded in a year when festivals are being canned at an alarming rate, no doubt because of its unique, friendly, boutique feel and knack for intelligent bookings. To that effect, it would be a huge loss if it didnt remain a secure repeat fixture for years to come.

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