Tantrums, tents, and torrential rain: The Festivals 2009

1 October 2009

Hannah Brooks remembers the mixed bag of ‘rock gods‘ and ‘jig pits‘ at this year’s Reading festival

The festival went off with an acoustic bang, when birthday girl Florence and her Machine did a set on the BBC Introducing stage for Radio One’s live lounge. Friday’s headliners Kings of Leon were a big disappointment, complaining that the crowd was too quiet, “I’m trying really hard not to say anything negative here” moaned front man Caleb, but with a poor performance the fans did their best to stay enthusiastic.

Saturday saw Patrick Wolf with an average performance of material from his new album The Bachelor. It didn’t nearly match up to The Magic Position, which was what we were really there to sing along to. Perhaps the best surprise of the weekend was the fact that the rumours were true…Them Crooked Vultures, a ‘superband’ made up of Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones, filled a mystery gap in Saturday’s NME line-up. When Grohl poured water over his sweaty face, and shook his grizzly hair at the screaming audience, it was undoubtable that we were in the presence of a Rock God. The set was awesome, the guitar solos soul-wrenching and the drums were, well, Dave Grohl’s. Later the Main Stage was taken over by the Prodigy who gave a solid, if uninspiring performance, but with space to dance and some neon face paint anyone could have a good time. They were followed by The Arctic Monkeys, who started off with a good mix of hits and new material, but as the night got colder, the band got drunker and the set slowed to a near standstill.

The last day saw Frank Turner give an awesome performance of his own brand of angry folk rock that we all love so much. He warmed the hearts of the audience with a full band rendition of “Long Live The Queen”, and instructed the audience to form a circle (no moshing allowed, oh no, this was a ‘jig pit’). And this is why we love Frank, his songs are angry but he’s got a heart of gold, which he further proved by running from the NME stage straight to the BBC Introducing Stage for a surprise acoustic performance, where he stayed for an extra song, “Dancing Queen”, as the crowd chanted for more. The weekend was topped by the headliners, Radiohead, who on Sunday Night gave a truly awesome performance. ‘All I Need’ brought tears to a thousand eyes, a stage set of dancing lights combined with the soul-searching voice of Thom Yorke created a state of utterly legal ecstasy. If the rest of the weekend was a disappointment, Radiohead made 2009 the best Reading ever.

Adam Whitehead contemplates the satisfactory, but un-extraordinary, Leeds

One of the weakest line-ups in recent memory, including Bloc Party’s now painfully customary second headliner slot and the prospect of showers, indicated that Leeds Festival 2009 would struggle to match the triumph of the previous year.

The signs weren’t good when the Arctic Monkeys’ first opportunity to showcase their new heavier sound proved a mild disappointment due to a questionable setlist. Thankfully a surprise appearance by Them Crooked Vultures delivered a festival high-point on what was otherwise the weakest day of the weekend.

Saturday’s more enticing line-up was packed with hotly-tipped new bands, one of these being The Joy Formidable who’s raucous performance kick-started the day. Perhaps it was something to do with the free t-shirts being handed out, but for a band who had released their debut album barely two weeks earlier, The XX played to an impressively large crowd, justifying every bit of the hype they have been afforded in the process. Elsewhere Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs treated the audience to her usual array of dazzling costumes before a beautiful rendition of ‘Maps’ concluded their set.

By now it was clear the gods were on our side when the rain relented and Radiohead just about resisted the urge to play two hours of obscure B-sides. Drawing heavily from their latest album ‘In Rainbows’, the band proved a fitting finale to what was the best day of the festival.

Of the bands on offer on the Sunday, The Virgins showed that they had enough catchy disposable pop that they could have lent a few much needed tunes to the Kaiser Chiefs, a band craving another hit more than Pete Doherty right now. A hometown crowd and Ricky Wilson’s enthusiasm just about managed to pull them through.

This brought us to the Kings of Leon, who having endured a difficult Reading, endeared themselves to Leeds with a crowd pleasing set.

Although this year’s may not be remembered as a classic festival, it’s unlikely anyone went home disappointed.

Lauren Babcock recalls the meteorological and musical delights of Spain’s Benicassim

Benicassim is the best festival ever. Who could refuse 4 days of unadulterated music, 9 days of camping, a beach within walking distance and guaranteed sunshine? Furthermore, what sets Benicassim apart from the British festivals is the fact that fellow campers do not seem set on beating the hell out of each other or degrading themselves in public. And I far preferred the daily pang of heatstroke to waking up in the middle of the night, struggling to put on my muddy willies, and wading towards the long drops, head torch intact.

Benicassim lacked the line-up of Glastonbury and Reading, but had something for everyone. From the charts to the cool to the just plain odd, Beni had it all.

This year’s headliners did not disappoint. On Thursday Oasis took to the stage for what turned out to be one of their last performances. Naturally, Liam stormed off in the middle of “Wonderwall”, threw a paddy, blamed sound system problems, but soon returned smiling to finish the set.  The set included some epic sing-a-longs so inspiring that, at one point, a dozen fans scaled the stage, desperate to catch a glimpse of two men in parkas.

On Friday disaster struck as extreme weather conditions forced the closure of the festival. A field next to the site caught ablaze, delaying the start of Paul Weller’s set. Shortly after, strong winds forced the singer off-stage as teams frantically dismantled the arena. The Tom Tom Club, who replaced Kings of Leon, were interrupted by the evacuation of festival-goers by the bus load.

Fortunately, we were more set on re-enacting Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” video than panicking about our security.

The next day, hurricanes aside, the music returned with a vengeance. On Saturday I watched Peaches in a haze of girl crush as “Fuck the Pain Away” generated an orgy of glitter and craze. 2 Many DJ’s performed a mind-blowing set which ended with an explosion of ticker tape into the night sky; one of the most stunning scenes of the festival.

Sunday closed with Friendly Fires, who pulled out all the stops and wowed swarms of screaming girls with hits such as “Paris” and “Jump in the Pool”. Finally, the festival ended with a perfect, synthesiser-infused, pyrotechnics-loaded performance from The Killers.

Any festival that survives a hurricane to deliver the goods deserves some significant loving. The performances were stellar, the crowds were fantastic, and the week one of the most unforgettable I’ve ever had. Tunes, chorizo, siestas and sunshine? Beni, I’ll see you next year.

Dan Jones was spoilt for choice Glastonbury

Wednesday Morning, 9AM, the Cambridge troupe were heartened by the sight of Worthy Farm, looking as beautiful as ever.  Spirits rose and rose as the event geared up; even Thursday’s small patch of rain, eerily in sync with the jaw-dropping passing of a certain chimp-loving King of Pop, could only dampen the mood temporarily. Extra-curricular areas, from tree cafes and craft workshops to gothic whore-houses and gay 80s night-clubs, were difficult to get into, but spectacularly worth it.  And the multi-coloured Kids Field, with its Helter Skelters, puppet booths, yelling toddlers and (oh yes!) Bodger and Badger shows, frequently turned grown men into bursting bubbles of childish excitement.

And what of the bands? Thousands to choose from, spread across dozens of stages, yet the siren call of the cider bus often kept your good correspondent from the coal-face of gig-going. However, the triumvirate of silver-haired foxes lined up to headline (Neil Young, Bruuuuuuuce Springsteen and Blur) all seemed to deliver passable performances in front of 5,000 ultra-ecstatic fans and 70,000 people slowly swaying and wondering whether they were old enough to know any of the songs. All three drew positive reportage though, so, job done. But the true magic of Glastonbury came from the moments of bliss scattered around the smaller stages. Whether it was beatboxer Shlomo warping minds with the considerable aid of his Vocal Orchestra, the tight jazz harmonies of the Pupinni Sisters, or the mind-blowing dance-ambience of the Animal Collective, every corner of the site just gave and gave, musical moments stacking up as far as they eye could see. All tastes are catered for, and every Glastonbury goer will have their own list, so when you see them, ask them and watch them gush.