If Glastonbury is the aging hippy of the festival scene, and Readingthe surly teenager, V Festival has always been seen as themiddle-class parent – polite, moneyed and, well, more than a littleboring. However, with a giant Glasto-sized hole in the calendar, and aCarling weekender disappearing quickly into emo-pop turgidity, there’sa suddenly an opportunity for a really decent festival to come andsteal the show this summer.
And with the best line-up it’s ever had, Vcould be the answer to our prayers – enough indie to please the trendyfringes (We Are Scientists, Imogen Heap) enough pop forthe festival virgins (Girls Aloud, Daniel Powter) andthe coup of the year – bringing notoriously conglomerate-hatingRadiohead to the live music equivalent of Bluewater.
The thing about festivals with the reputation of V is that you expectsomething a cut above your traditional warm-cider-in-a-fieldexperience. You expect sun, grass, Pimms and girls in straw boaters.You certainly don’t expect sheeting rain, mud of Somme-likeproportions and a army of pissed Brummies wearing wellies, which isexactly what greeted us as we arrived at Weston Park on Saturdaymorning. So much for ‘nice’, then.
Inside the enormous festival site, things weren’t getting much better.After refusing to pay 10 for a bit of cardboard with the hideouslyinaccurate stage times on, it was a shock to the system to find we hadto queue for a token just to get a beer. And someone, even worse,somewhere is playing the Sugababes new album so loudly wecan’t reallyconcentrate on the complicated token system. Actually – hang on asecond – it is the Sugababes, mincing about behind a couple ofwhite stools on the main stage. And, funnily enough, despite the rainthe crowds are lapping it up, despite the old one, the blonde one andthe one whose name we can’t remember not actually doinganything. Hits? Check. Pouts? Check. On-stage charisma? Bugger, left itbackstage with me makeup.
We miss Lily Allen here (but caught her at the Secret Garden Party on the same weekend) andhead over to catch the end of real queen of MySpace, ImogenHeap, at the cavernous JJB Arena. On stage, a woman wearing apattern dressstands alone behind a huge stack of keyboards. “Thank you” she intonesdemurely, “this is my last song”, before launching into something that can onlybe described as death-metal-gone-disco. It’s visceral, experimental,exciting pop music, and completely unexpected from such anunassuming-looking girl.
Back at the main stage, Hard-Fi are industriously attempting tosabotage all the hard work they’ve put in over the last few years bybeing, well, indescribably awful. While footage of bombs and riots on bigscreens is bad enough (c’mon guys – leave the Combat Rock stuff out,you’re not The Clash) frontman Richard Archer is completelywasted – God knows what on – and ruins what could have been a highpointof the band’s career. Even the rest of the band look faintlyembarrassed when he launches into another burbling monologue beforeLive For The Weekend. It’s a sad sight, especially for a band thatpromised so much.
Disappointed, we hop across to see perennial indie nearly-menDelays at the Channel 4 stage, which is a gloriously sunnyaffair, repletewith smoke machines, flashing lights and singer Greg Gilbert’simpossibly high vocals, which would have threatened to smash all glassin the vicinity, if it hadn’t been confiscated on entry. Nearer ThanHeaven and Long Time Coming are joyous, and, even in the torrentialdownpour, it seems that the sun shines down on this little stage.
Delays arethe complete antithesis of Hard-Fi, professional, committed andexcellent live. As is James Dean Bradfield, erstwhile frontman ofgeneration terrorists The Manic Street Preachers, and currentlyforging a successful solo career with album The Great Eastern. Finallyfreed from penning jaunty jingles to Nicky Wire’s risible lyrics, JDBhas grabbed the chance to write an entire album’s worth of songs tohimself in impressive style – new single That’s No Way to Tell A Lieis a fantastic slice of XTC inspired pop, and he even drops in OceanSpray and a rapturously received No Surface, All Feeling from hisManics days.
By now forced by the exorbitant festival prices to exist solely ona diet of chips and Strongbow, we stumblethrough the mud to the pick of the tents, the Virgin Union to catchdark indie popsters The Crimea. With song titles like Lottery Winnerson Acid and My Girlfriend Just Died, you’d expect a bunch ofMorrissey devotees, instead, the Crimea are the missing link betweenThe Kinks and Leonard Cohen – gloriously melodic, but with the heart ofa serial killer.
In a completely different, but equally transcendent moment, ThePipettes bound onstage minutes after the Crimea, and deliver acomprehensive masterclass in cool, offsetting matching polkadotdresses with ’60s wall-of-sound inspired three minute pop. Beautiful,sassy and spiky, these three girls from Brighton are everything thelifeless Sugababes are not; Pull Shapes, One Night Stand andDirty Mind sound fuller live than they do on record, and we canexpect much in the future from these sassy lasses.
We catch the tail end Faithless, who have been expertlyplaying the same festival-pleasing set for the last… ooo… 50 years orso, and trudge across the now gamely flowing river of mud to seeRazorlight unleash their eponymous second album upon thefestival circuit. It is a bombastic experience.Johnny Borrell’s confidence, sky high at the best of times, nowappears to have gone into orbit, and deservedly so – spiky post-punktracks from their first album like Stumble And Fall and GoldenTouch are almost drowned out by the cacophony of cheers, and the moreMOR-tinged new songs like America and Can’t Stop This Feelinggreeted like old friends.
On the way back to the tent, we meet a tidal wave of peoplewalking in the opposite direction. Morrissey finished already?Actually, he’s just getting started – thousands are deserting theMozfather as his pretty hitless set veers into solo-album overkill.Muddy punters, desperate for There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,are bemused and shiftless in the face of a barrage of effete songs offhis occasionally tortuous recent albums. Closer How Soon Is Now istoo little, too late – most have left the field for the campsite. Onthe way out, we hear one punter mutter “Well, at least tomorrow,Radiohead are playing”. A subdued end to a good day.