Monday 31st August – Reading Festival Review
This week’s blog is a special edition for two reasons; first, it’s all about the Reading Rock Festival, and second, it’s the last one I’m planning on writing for a while (but more on that later). So without further ado, here are my thoughts on this year’s Reading Fest.
Now if you’ve come here looking for an unbiased, objective account of the 2009 Reading Festival you’re shit out of luck, as I love this fest with every fibre of my being. As well as being the first one I ever attended back in 1992 (when Nirvana and Public Enemy headlined – what a great year to make a debut), it’s also the festival that I’ve been to more than any other (this was my 14th), and the one that I’ll keep going to until I’m physically incapable of doing so. There’s something about the place that’s special to me – it feels like a spiritual home – the majority of the people that go there are music fans rather than scenesters, and the line-up has never failed to excite. But one of the key things I’ve learnt over the years is that the main (outdoor) stage is best avoided wherever possible, as both the sound and atmosphere on the other stages (which are all inside giant tents) is usually vastly superior. Thus even though I was a big fan of all the main stage headliners (Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, and Radiohead), I decided to give them a miss and head for more esoteric fair elsewhere. So with that in mind here are my edited highlights of this years Reading, in no particular order:
Faith No More
The last time I saw Faith No More was back in the mid nineties at the short-lived Phoenix Festival with my mate Daz (who I share a long list of festival memories with), where in a highly inebriated state we ended up shouting ‘play the one we know’ until the suitably titled ‘Epic’ duly arrived. Safe to say, I was a bit more aware of the band’s output this time around, thus it was a no brainer to go and catch them headline the NME Stage on the first night. Having reformed against all expectations (the band apparently hated each other when they split in the late nineties), I was initially impressed by how accomplished these guys were as musicians, fusing elements of hard rock, funk, hip-hop, punk, and even jazz into a cohesive whole, but the show stealer was lead singer Mike Patton, who stalked the stage in a red suit while carrying a cane, his vocal range impressive, his vocal style commanding. The set was fantastic, taking in classic tracks like ‘Be Aggressive’, ‘From Out Of Nowhere’, the aforementioned ‘Epic’, and their faithful cover of Lionel Ritichie’s ‘Easy’, and it was a great way to close out the first night. Minor gripes? No rendition of ‘We Care A Lot’ in the encore, and where the hell was the crowd? But even though the tent was only half full, the atmosphere was still great, and when I heard that KoL’s main stage headlining set had been beset by sound problems, I allowed myself a wry smile.
The Manchester Orchestra
Jumping back in time to earlier that day, the first great band I saw was The Manchester Orchestra, again on the NME Stage. Despite their name, The Manchester Orchestra hail from Atlanta, Georgia, and take their cue from the likes of Nirvana, Weezer, and Foo Fighters, creating a sonic landscape from their multi layered, wall of noise guitar sound. I’d caught them earlier this summer at the Latitude Festival where they’d impressed, but this time around I thought they moved up another level (maybe because of the more receptive crowd, maybe because I recognised some of their songs, maybe a little of both), and I came away vowing to purchase their back catalogue in a hurry.
Canadian punk rock gods Alexisonfire (pronounced ‘Alexis on fire’ rather than ‘Alex is on fire’ – something I’m still trying to come to terms with) played the Lock Up Stage on Friday night. The Lock Up is one of the smaller venues at Reading, and for two of the three days it specialises in punk rock music (on the third it inexplicably morphes into a dance zone). In years gone by I’d been lapse at checking out the bands that were playing there (although I did manage to catch The Gaslight Anthem early afternoon in 2008), largely because I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the acts and there was always enough to keep me busy elsewhere, but this year I was keen to spend more time in what I’d come to realise was one of the tightest, most passionate stages at the Fest. Alexisonfire are a great example of all that I’ve just said. I didn’t know a thing about them going in, but the tent was rammed, and my three compadres (Lisa, Jay, and designer of this very website, Chris) and I quickly discovered that we were the only people present that didn’t know every word to every song. Hell, this band are good – songs that I’d never heard before sounded familiar by the time they were halfway through, the sound was great (loud guitar riffs that cut you to the core, impassioned vocals that soared above the melody), and the dedication of their fanbase made me feel humble to be a in the midst of it. Great stuff – I’m now going to catch them on the Eastpak Antidote tour that’s currently traversing our shores (where support comes from Anti Flag – old school punk rockers that also put on a hell of a show in the Lock Up later that day).
Mariachi El Bronx
So on to Saturday, where the first band up on the main stage was Mariachi El Bronx, but before I talk about them, first a few background words on their alter egos, The Bronx. The Bronx are a punk band from L.A. who absolutely fucking SLAY – hard, heavy, and aggressive, they’ve been making a riotous noise for three albums now, to critical, if not necessarily commercial, acclaim. Coming from LA, they’ve been surrounded by Mexican culture for most of their lives, thus they decided to don some Mariachi suits and record an album of traditional Mexican music – acoustic guitars, horns, strings, the works – how punk rock is that? One (lazy) criticism often levelled at punk bands is their lack of musicianship, something the Bronx have put firmly to bed with this record. In short, it rocks in a Mariachi stylee, and their appearance at Reading was simply perfect for a sun kissed August midday – classic songs, beautifully performed, I doff my sombrero in their direction.
So having now covered their alter egos, where better to go than to The Bronx themselves, who were playing third from top on the Lock Up Stage later that day. This was a set I’d been really looking forward to, having never seen the band live and only recently got into their stuff. The Bronx are full-on, in your face, mile a minute punk rock – hardcore stuff that’s an assault on the eardrums, but never at the expense of melody, the sort of music that grabs you by the throat, shakes you like a rag doll, then throws you down in a corner leaving you battered, bruised, and smiling – fucking fantastic. Highlights of the set were pretty much anything taken from their third album (which is the one I’m most familiar with), but the tracks ‘Knifeman’ and ‘Past Lives’ are worthy of special mention.
After nipping over to catch a great set from Glasvegas on the NME stage after The Bronx (loud, epic, moving, and worthy of more column inches than I’m giving it here) it was back to the Lock Up to catch Saturday night’s punk headliners Rise Against. This band differs from many of their counterparts by being strict vegetarians/vegans and active supporters of animal rights, as well as being political activists and generally socially aware – topics that are covered in many of their songs. But if you’re immediately thinking ‘oh no, another band forcing their opinions on me’ then have no fear, Rise Against rock and they rock hard, and in the final analysis that’s all you need worry about. The tent was packed for their set, so much so we could only squeeze in on one side, and the atmosphere was electric. An hour or so later we’d moshed to prime cuts from their three major studio albums, with tracks like ‘Ready to Fall’, ‘Re-Education…’ and ‘Rumours of My Demise…’ obliterating all before them, and it was during their set I had one of my moments of this or any festival, as I glanced to my right to see my wife headbanging like a maniac with a huge grin on her face – I’m not exactly sure how I managed to find my soulmate in life, but I’m hugely thankful that I did.
So on to Sunday, and first to get a mention are UK punk heavyweights The Gallows who played on the NME Stage. Before their set I knew a few of their songs and liked a couple, but I’d always found them a little too raw for me, particularly the screaming vocal style of frontman Frank Carter, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t expecting great things. How wrong was I. The Gallows were absolutely fantastic live, really impassioned and connected with the crowd, you could tell that this was a band that meant everything they said, and said everything they wanted to. Best songs were ‘Abandon Ship’ and ‘In The Belly of a Shark’, but the best bit was when Frank got his kid brother out to sing, and was visibly moved by the experience. Top bloke, top band, top gig. And a special mention for my mate Moff at this point, who had much the same thoughts about Gallows as me – it was his first ever Reading, and I think it’s fair to say that he’s caught the bug and will be back next year.
The Gaslight Anthem
As anyone who follows this blog will know, I’m a big fan of The Gaslight Anthem, so I was eagerly anticipating their set on the NME Stage on the Sunday, and as per every other time I’ve seen them they didn’t let me down. In the space of just a year they’ve become one of my favourite bands – blue collar rock ‘n’ rollers from New Jersey following in the Springsteen tradition, their two albums are both great, but it’s as a live act that they’re really something special. This is heart on your sleeve music, tell it like it is music, impassioned, moving, soulful stuff that I really connect to – nostalgic tales of dusty boardwalks and old white Lincolns, each song a four minute lesson in the art of narrative storytelling, and the more you listen, the more substance you’ll find. As I sang along to the barnstorming ’59 Sound’ I found myself choking out the chorus, almost moved to tears by the sheer life affirming nature of both that song and their entire set. Magnificent stuff.
Earlier that day on the NME Stage, Frank Turner had stepped out to play to a very big crowd. Man, just writing that sentence puts a smile on my face. When someone like Frank starts to get the success his huge talent indisputably deserves, you know that you can finally score one for the good guys. The first few times I saw him he was always a support act, taking to the stage with just an acoustic guitar for company, and it was obvious from the off that he was pretty special by the way in which he made a crowd sit up and take notice in a hurry. Frank’s music is best described as punk folk – he’s on a quest to make the phrase ‘singer-songwriter’ cool again, to win it back from the worthy, dull hacks that populate the upper reaches of the charts these days. At Reading, half the crowd were belting out the words to most of the songs – amazing tracks like ‘Photosynthesis’, ‘I Knew Prufrock before he Got Famous’, ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’, ‘The Real Damage’, and the show stopping ‘Long Live the Queen’ – a song about the passing of a close friend that somehow manages to be both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time – now that’s talent! If I was close to tears during Gaslight, then I was crying like a little girl during ‘Long Live the Queen’. He even invented the circle jig at one point (like a circle pit but more folky). It’s an indisputable fact that if everyone were a Frank Turner fan, the world would be a better place.
Them Crooked Vultures
And finally, I’d like to tell you about the set played by Them Crooked Vultures. Them Crooked Who? I hear a few of you cry – well for any of you that have been living in a music free zone for the last few weeks, let me explain. Mid afternoon on the Saturday at Reading there was an obvious gap in the line up on the NME Stage, suggesting a ‘surprise’ special guest slot (I say ‘surprise’ as anyone that frequents the excellent efestivals.co.uk forums knew who was filling it well in advance). This was the one gig above all others that my friends and I were desperate to see. A once in a lifetime opportunity to see a band of this stature in a tent, and one that also brought back a swell of great memories for me.
Them Crooked Vultures are a supergroup in the true sense of the word, featuring former Led Zep member John Paul Jones on bass (and other assorted instruments – some of which were so outlandish they looked like they’d come from a mad inventors workshop), Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age on vocals and lead guitar, and adopted son of Reading, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters on drums (plus Alain Johannes of QOTSA on guitar). To get the memories comment out of the way first, the last time I saw Dave Grohl perform in a tent was way back in 1995 when he played his first ever UK festival show as a Foo Fighter at – you’ve guessed it – the Reading Festival, in the very same tent that the Vultures were set to play in 2009. Back in 1995, the tent was truly rammed – not just busy rammed, but people climbing the stanchions to get out of the crush, condensation falling like rain from the ceiling, band stopping every few minutes to appeal for calm rammed – the sort of thing that would give a health and safety official an instant heart attack these days. To this day it remains the most exciting gig I’ve ever been to.
But back to the Vultures. These guys were stand up, knockdown awesome. Incredible musicianship from some of the most talented guys to ever share a stage. Heavy riffage and intricate solos from Josh, John Paul Jones turning his hand to so many different instruments I figure he could get a tune out of lump of charcoal, all rounded out by Dave’s trademark powerhouse drumming, the songs (known of which have yet been released – making the crowd’s ecstatic reaction all the more impressive) took their cue from ‘Songs From The Deaf’ era QOTSA, with a definite Led Zep influence thrown in, and even hints of freeform jazz. It was one of those gigs that it was a plain honour to attend – a history in the making type affair, so to sum it all up in one word, I’ll close my Reading 2009 Festival Review with this: Mindblowing.
The Blog Goes On Hiatus
As I mentioned back at the start of this lengthy review, this is going to be the last blog that I post for a while. I kind of feel that it’s run its course for now, and that my time and yours will be better spent engaged in other pursuits. There may be the odd special edition every now and again, but in the meantime keep an eye on the Latest News section of the site for future updates. I hope that I’ve provided you with some entertainment over the last couple of years, and I sincerely thank you for your support.
Monday 24th August – V Festival Review
Regular readers of this blog (if indeed such creatures exist) may have noticed that when it comes to reviewing bands my comments tend to be fairly positive (I’ve always worked on the principle that if I haven’t got something nice to say, I won’t say anything at all). Well no more. For one week only, I’m going to tell it like it is. Ladies and gentleman, please be upstanding for my V Festival Review (people of a nervous disposition should look away now).
V Festival, Chelmsford, 2009 – not so much a festival, more a bloody great gathering of chavs in a field. As I walked around it was designer clobber and tracksuits as far as the eye could see – I’d estimate that less than 5% of the people there sported band t-shirts and while this might seem like an odd point to raise, I think it’s an important one, as it highlights the fact that there’s a helluva lot of V festival goers who couldn’t give a toss about the music. To be fair, that probably wasn’t a bad state of mind to be in at this years V, as the quality of the line up, which has been on the slide for a while now, finally decided to throw itself off the edge of the good musical taste cliff. This is a festival where it was possible to sample the delights of Taylor Swift, The Script, Pixie Lott, Tynchy Stryder, Lily Allen, The Saturdays, Katy Perry, James Morrisson, Alesha Dixon, Natalie Imbruglia, and flavour of the month comedy bra bint, Lady Ga Ga (I could go on, but I’m fast losing the will to live). A festival where Calvin Harris play above the Happy Mondays. A festival where Will Young is still allowed near a microphone...Will Young…I kid you not.
So as an avid rock fan, what the hell was I doing there in the first place? Good question. Well it wasn’t always like this. I’ve been to 12 out of the 14 V’s and I’ve had some good times over the years, catching bands like Foo Fighters, QOTSA, the Chilli Peppers, Teenage Fanclub, the Manics, Muse, Ash, Primal Scream, Kasabian, The Hives, The Strokes, KoL, BRMC, Cooper Temple Clause, Nine Black Alps, Radiohead, and many more, thus I was willing to accept the fact that the line up was diverse as there was always just enough rock to see me through. Every year I’d take advantage of the early bird deal and get my tickets on pre-sale, trusting that when the line up was announced months later it would be adequate (I never expected greatness – adequate was fine), but this year something went horribly wrong. How wrong? Wrongness on the scale of Mr Sodding Hudson. For the first time ever, there were mutterings from our camp about selling our tickets, but there was still the odd golden nugget buried amongst all the shite, so in the end we figured we’d make the best of it and view it as a final hurrah – one last blow out in a Chelmsford field before heading onto brighter pastures in 2010 (Sonisphere, Reading – I’m talking to you).
And while I’m on the subject of fields, a couple more things before I get on to the music. Hats off to the three Essex girls camping behind me, who managed to take levels of idiocy to a new level. On Friday afternoon, one of them wandered over and asked to borrow our mallet as they were having trouble putting up their tent. Having duly obliged, I then sat there and listened to them moan that mallet number two wasn’t much better than mallet number one in their delightful accents for a few minutes, so in the end I went to give them a hand, only to find that they weren’t trying to hammer steel tent pegs into rock hard ground, they were trying to hammer the ends of fibreglass tent poles through the concrete like surface. Having somehow managed to stifle the worst of my laughter, I asked them if they had any tent pegs, to which they replied, and I quote: “What? These metal things?” They’d only put the tent up once before, in their back garden, where the soil was soft, which meant that the ends of all of the fibreglass poles were now rammed full of dried soil, thereby making it impossible to attach them to the tent. It took me about half an hour to clear them out with my house keys, and another 15 minutes to successfully erect the outer skin (I left them to do the inner, as by that point I was becoming worried that stupidity might be catching). And the final kicker? Their younger brother and his mate had spent an hour trying to put the tent up earlier before giving up and wandering off, only to return at almost the exact moment we’d finished. If the children really are our future, then God help us all.
And campsite story number two (I’ll keep this one brief as I can hear people snoring at the back) – a lad came over to inform us that someone had broken into his tent during Friday night and emptied his wallet to the tune of a couple of hundred quid. Now this sort of thing goes on at all the festivals, as anywhere there’s a large group of people there’s bound to be some thieving scum, but V is the only one where I personally meet people that have been robbed there every year – in fact it’s the only one where I was fucking robbed, pickpocketed in the arena, which means I now walk around with my wallet on a chain. Anyway, on to the music – here’s what I thought of the bands.
We planned to kick off the first day in the company of Starsailor – not my favourite act by any means, but they’ve got a few good tunes and the lead singer’s got a decent voice, but this didn’t happen as the queues to get into the arena were still ridiculous an hour and a half after the gates had officially opened. Good start. Once we were in, we ignored the first of the drink tokens outlets where the massive queues dwarfed the ones outside (drink tokens – what the fuck? This is the only festival I go to that doesn’t operate a cash bar and it’s a total shambles – I can only assume that either they don’t trust their bar staff or its some evil way to get more cash out of the punters – I wonder how many of those tokens go unused ever year?) and headed around the far side of the site to the main stage where both the token outlets and the bars themselves were deserted (this happens every year – you can draw your own conclusions about what this says about the punters). But the acquisition of tokens and subsequent beer came at an additional cost above the financial one, as it meant we were in the vicinity of the world’s biggest selling artist of the past two years, Taylor Swift. Yes, you heard right, some blond bint called Taylor Swift is officially the world’s biggest selling artist of the past two years, thereby proving that there’s a massive market for watered down, commercialised, country tinged pap from the Good Ole US of A. Having decided that puncturing our own ear drums with a plastic fork was a bit of an extreme measure this early in the Fest, we moved ‘Swift’ly on (see what I did there?) to catch a band called Raygun on the Virgin Mobile Stage, mainly because they had the attractive feature of not being Taylor Swift.
Well Raygun were a real surprise, in so much as they somehow managed to quickly make us long for some good ole American country tinged pap. In the ten minutes of their set that we subjected ourselves to, the lead guitarist knocked out an awesome guitar solo (did I say awesome? I meant fucking dire. I always get those two words mixed up) as he approached the lead singer, who proceeded to be overcome by the lightweight fret attack to collapse to the floor, hands held overhead to ward off the six-stringed attack. Now if you’re James Brown, Godfather of Soul, feigning being overcome by exhaustion on stage you can get away with such theatrics, but if you’re the lead singer in a band called Raygun, you’re just embarrassing yourself.
Next up – yay – Aussie rockers Jet, who finally gave us something to smile about. These guys offer retro sounding rock ‘n’ roll with a fair bit of Antipodean swagger, and every time I’ve seen them they’ve delivered. Knocking out a mixture of classic tracks from their first two albums plus a smattering of impressive sounding new ones, they put on a quality show and went down a storm, suggesting that while rock music might be on its last legs as far as the V organisers are concerned, not all their punters agree.
And after Jet came the realisation that there was nothing remotely worth watching until The Specials arrived at 6 o’clock, which was almost two hours later. With time to kill on a bright sunny day, we did what any good Brit would do and set up camp by the bar, where copious amounts of alcohol would be necessary if we were going to put up with the mockney warblings of Lily Allen on the main stage. Actually, that’s a little harsh, as little Lil does have the odd half decent tune (well one actually – The Fear), but by the end of her set I felt like I’d been locked in a room with a whiney teenager for an hour.
Thankfully, within five minutes of The Specials starting memories of the tabloid bothering chart moppet quickly faded. I have to admit that I missed out on The Specials first time around back in the early eighties thanks to a combination of my tender years and lack of musical taste, but having caught them on the TV coverage of Glasto, I was eager to make up for lost time. They played a greatest hits set, featuring all the old classics – Rat Race, Too Much Too Young, Rudy, etc, and Ghost Town to close – which had just the right balance of amped up tracks and dubbed out cuts to blend perfectly with the early evening nicely picked vibe that we had cultivated.
After The Specials, it was straight over to the Virgin Mobile tent for Leeds very own rock ravers The Sunshine Underground. I’m a big fan of this band, who make rock music with a danceable beat – I challenge anyone to watch them and keep still – and it was great to catch them in a tent where the lights were down, the volume was up, and the band were on top form. Tracks like Borders, Put You In Your Place, and the mighty Commercial Breakdown all culled from their debut album Raise The Alarm were up there with my songs of the weekend. These guys are well worth checking out if you get the chance, and special mention goes to vocalist Craig Wellington who can certainly belt out a tune.
Next up was a five-minute foray to go and see what all the fuss about Pendulum is about, and suffice to say, I still don’t get it. Aren’t they just a poor man’s Prodigy? Then on to the final band of the day, The Killers, who held the headlining slot on the main stage. Now I like The Killers, although I think their first three albums (including the B-sides and rarities compilation) are all better then the current offering, which is a little too lightweight for my taste, and I thought they put on a really good show. The set list was well conceived, and as the crowd were familiar with most of the songs it was one big sing along from start to finish. So after a slow start to the day, we managed to finish on something of a high, and with the awesome Biffy Clyro to look forward to on the Sunday, plus what would no doubt be a quality set from the ever-reliable Gallagher brothers, we retired for the evening in relatively good spirits.
When the sun rose the following day, hangovers were in surprisingly short supply, so after rustling up a full English on the camping stove and washing it down with a nice warm Fosters, we set out for the arena with a spring in our step and a can in our hand (only to drink en route of course – the chances of smuggling booze into the arena if you were that way inclined were about as high as smuggling a Sherman tank through an airport metal detector). The first big decision of the day was Ocean Colour Scene or The Lightning Seeds, and on the basis that we’d seen OCS before (and the fact that they were very late starting their slot – we had no idea why at the time) we opted for Ian Broudie’s mob. Initial signs were not good when they started with a semi acoustic version of one of their hits (can’t remember which one now, can’t be bothered to look it up online) and proceeded to treat the audience to a number of new songs, all of which were so lightweight they literally floated off into the ether before I could decide how dull they were. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but if you’re yesterday’s news as a band (and let’s face it, they’re hardly up and comers any more), and you’ve been given an afternoon festival slot, surely it makes sense to remind everyone why you were invited in the first place by knocking out a greatest hits set? We left halfway through before comas set in, and hightailed it back to the main stage to catch the last couple of OCS songs, which while admittedly were meat and potatoes dad rock, they were quite tasty meat and potatoes dad rock never the less.
So once again the day was off to an inauspicious start, and we still had an hour and a half to wait before Biffy Clyro came on (which was again spent by the bar – this Festival was doing wonders for my liver). Now Biffy are a magnificent rock band – loud, melodic, and ambitious, they put on one of my all-time favourite gigs at the (far superior) Reading Fest a couple of years back, and they were one of the main reasons why I had kept hold of my V ticket this year. They were awesome as ever, with tracks like Mountains, the epic Living Is A Problem, Machines, and new single That Golden Rule, in fact the whole set was a fucking treat, although it’s fair to say that some of the crowd were confused by the sudden appearance of an electric guitar.
After the highpoint that was the Biff, next up were James, a band with a great back catalogue and a certified fruitcake for a lead singer. The last time I saw them (at V a couple of years back – that’s a point, have I mentioned that the line up has become very predictable in recent times, pretty soon acts like Goldie Lookin Chain (2005, 2008, 2009) and Paulo Nutini (2006, 2007, 2009) won’t bother going home from one year to the next) they were pretty woeful, mainly because they seemed to have forgotten the fact that they’d penned a load of top ten songs and decided to treat us to a load of self indulgent toss instead. By now, the news had well and truly broken that Oasis had fucked off back to their mansions, and fair credit to James lead singer Tim Booth, who came on and announced that to help make up for this fact James would now play their most popular songs. All in all, it was a pretty good set, and a nice way to pass an our or so on a sunny afternoon, and kudos to Booth for still dancing like a man with a clutch of angry ferrets down his trousers even at his advanced age.
After James came a bit of Elbow, who started off impressively but didn’t manage to hold our attention for all that long (admittedly, by now we had the attention spans of a class of five year olds and mental faculties to match thanks to an afternoon’s boozing in the sun), then it was off to see The Enemy on the second stage, who were pretty good, although I can’t help wondering if their time in the spotlight may prove to be rather more short lived than they hope.
At this point, we’d planned to catch Oasis headline the main stage, but they’d pulled out because Liam had the sniffles/had a hangover/couldn’t be arsed (delete as appropriate). Now I know losing your lead singer would be a bit of a blow for most bands, but Noel has stepped in on a number of occasions in the past to take on vocal duties, and I was pretty disappointed (completely fucked off in fact) that he chose not to do so this time. Compare this to Pearl Jam’s reaction when their support band couldn’t play just a few days earlier in Toronto – they came out and played a covers and rarities set, effectively supporting themselves. Even a shortened Oasis set would have been better than nothing, but instead we had to come to terms with the fact that Snow Patrol had been elevated to headliner status (what is the world coming to?). We caught the first half hour or so (again, sitting by the bar – there’s a bit of a trend emerging here) to confirm that they were dull, middle of the road indie – harmless enough, but not exactly awe inspiring, so we bade them farewell and headed over to the Virgin Mobile Tent to catch our last band of the weekend – British Sea Power.
I’d seen the tale end of a British Sea Power set once before at Reading, attracted into the tent by the fact that half the crowd were waving branches in the air (the band decorate the stage with bits of trees for some reason) and I thought that they were pretty good, but it turned out I was wrong – they’re not pretty good, they’re very good. Great songs, great sound, a bit quirky, and a wonderful way to draw proceedings to a close. Hats off to them, and next time I swear I’ll bring some foliage.
So that it for V as far as I’m concerned (barring a complete turnaround in their booking policy allied to a sudden chav-flu epidemic), there’s plenty of other festivals to chose from, both in the UK and abroad, and many of them even have actual musicians on stage as opposed to manufactured pop pap. In the final reckoning, I figure I saw 8 bands this weekend that I enjoyed, and that’s just not enough given the cost of tickets, spending money, and the aforementioned superior festivals elsewhere. So long V, thanks for the memories, don’t call us, we’ll call you, and will the last chav on site please turn out the lights before leaving.
What’s Steve been listening go this week?
Anything with a fucking guitar in it. Played loud. Very fucking loud.
Blood Law attracted some coverage in the national press this week, when the Daily Mirror newspaper ran a short and sweet review. Here’s what the Mirror had to say:
'Zac Hunter's welcome return in the sequel to Justice For All. This time the ex-LAPD cop infiltrates the gangs of south central to find the kidnapped daughter of a former grass. Gang warfare is about to kick off big time.’
Further publicity came from an interview I did with Rafe McGregor, which was posted on his influential blog ‘Crime Stories and Weird Tales’ on Wednesday 12th August. Rafe is a critically acclaimed author of historical crime fiction, and you can read the interview here (about halfway down the page):
In an effort to reach as many people as possible by electronic means, I also run pages on Facebook and MySpace (and please feel free to join me on either), and I was recently contacted by the manager of up and coming ska band Kid British on MySpace, who had this to say:
‘I look after the band Kid British and really as a literature fan just wanted to wish you good luck in your new profession, I have great respect for people that pursue their dream profession and turn their back on the 9 to 5 as it is a VERY brave decision, and I wish you all the best - as an avid crime fiction reader myself I will definitely give your novels my attention. Good luck and kind regards, David’
I’m not sure about it being a brave decision, more an insane one, but messages such as this are incredibly heartening, and I’d like to thank David for taking the time and trouble for spreading such good vibes.
Next, a heartfelt thank you to all those that came along to my signing at the Norwich branch of Waterstones on Saturday. There’s always an element of nerves ahead of an event such as this, as you’re never sure who’s going to show up (the thought of sitting at a table on my own for an hour keeps me up at night), but I was chuffed to see a steady stream of familiar faces enter the store and it was great to make a few new friends as well. I signed lots of copies of Blood Law plus a few of its predecessor, Justice For All, and the fact that the events manager, Ben was still smiling when I left (despite the fact that I’d managed to spill coffee all over his Waterstones branded tablecloth!) signalled that the signing was a success. Thanks to Ben and the team for inviting me in and making me feel so welcome, and I hope to see them all again soon. If you’d like to check out a few photographs of the event, please click here.
And finally, I’d just like to report that quite a few of the people that came to the signing commented on how much they like my website. All credit for this goes to my web designer and dear friend Christine Woods, who does a fantastic job creating and maintaining all that you see in front of you. Thanks Chris – you’re a star!
What’s Steve been listening go this week?
Avenged Sevenfold – by Avenged Sevenfold
The Bronx II – by The Bronx
Runnin’ Wild – by Airbourne
Monday 10th August
First this week, a quick reminder that I’ll be signing copies of Blood Law at the Norwich branch of Waterstones (Castle Street) on Saturday 15th August at 12 noon. If you’re in the area, please come along to grab a personalised copy of what’s sure to be one of the summer’s most action-packed reads! The last time I had a signing in my hometown the support from the local populace was humbling, so fingers crossed this one goes just as well.
On the publicity front, I appeared in an article in the Eastern Evening News last week. The article appeared in the employment section of the paper and focussed on people that have made career changes (something that’s becoming increasingly common in the modern world), and it gave me a good opportunity to give Blood Law a few more plugs. If you’d like to read it, follow this link:
I’d also like to draw your attention to the good people over at the Eurocrime website, who are currently running a competition in which five copies of Blood Law are up for grabs. If you’d like to enter, follow this link then scroll down:
And finally, some news of a possible music/books tie-in. Having posted my review of the Sonisphere Festival on this website last week, I then posted it on a number of other sites where I figured it might be of interest, one of them being the official forums for the Festival itself. A freelance journalist that writes a lot of excellent copy for the Sonisphere site then got in touch with me, and we’re planning to do something together in the coming weeks. I’m really hoping that this comes off, as it will bring together my two great loves of crime fiction and rock music. Stay posted for further news.
What’s Steve been listening go this week?
Sink Or Swim – by The Gaslight Anthem
Life And Times – by Bob Mould
The Sufferer and The Witness – by Rise Against
Last week I was a guest on Radio Norfolk’s Drivetime show, where I got to chat about my latest novel, Blood Law, my chequered past, and my enduring love of rock music. The show lasted for around an hour, and I was stoked to be able to introduce six of my all-time favourite tracks. For those of you that missed the show (and give a damn), these were my selections:
The ’59 Sound – by The Gaslight Anthem
Everlong – by The Foo Fighters
If I Can’t Change Your Mind – by Sugar
No One Knows – by Queens of the Stone Age
Suspicious Minds – by Elvis Presley
The tracks went down well with both the production team and the listening public at large, and I’d like to think that I gave Radio Norfolk the rockiest sixty minutes of airtime in their existence! All in all, it was an interview that I really enjoyed, and I’d like to thank both Sophie and Matthew at the station for inviting me on. And to continue on this music related theme, please read on for my review of the inaugural Sonisphere Festival that was held at Knebworth last weekend.
What’s Steve been listening go this week?
Man Vs Monster – by Fighting With Wire
Blood Mountain – by Mastodon
Significant Other – by Limp Bizkit
Having had so much fun at Latitude a couple of weeks back, Lisa and I made a last minute decision to join our good friends Jay (part man, part cider drinking machine), Chris (my uber talented web designer) and Phil (the leather trousered wolfman) in attending the first ever Sonisphere Festival at Knebworth. Now the first thing you need to know about Sonisphere is that it RAWKS! When a band like Feeder are one of the lighter acts on the bill you know that you’re in for some serious riffage. Kudos to the organisers for putting together a stellar line up, and also for listening to experienced festivalgoers to ascertain what works and what doesn’t when it comes to rocking out in a field for a weekend. Anyway, here are my thoughts on a few of the bands that I threw up devil horns for:
Linkin Park/Dead By Sunrise
Linkin Park were the headline act on the first day, and this was the second time that I’ve seen them. The first time around I’d thought that they were almost too good live – too polished to be exact – and that their set would benefit from being a little bit rawer, and while these doubts still hold true to an extent, I’m glad to say that I enjoyed them a lot more at Sonisphere. For me they’re at their best when they’re at their heaviest, hence my set highlights were ‘Crawling’ and the awesome ‘One Step Closer.’ As part of the encore, frontman Chester Bennington showcased his new side project, Dead By Sunrise. This was a controversial move for some, but one that I wholeheartedly approved of, as I thought they were really impressive – like a darker, rockier version of Linkin Park – and I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of their debut album when it’s released later this year.
Avenged Sevenfold were a band that I wanted to check out at the Reading Fest a couple of years back, but they thwarted me by pulling out at the last minute, so I was glad to get a chance to catch them this time around. Once I’d got past their slightly cartoonish appearance (which goes right down to their nicknames – Zacky Vengeance or Synyster Gates anyone?) I really enjoyed their set. They’re billed as a metalcore band but I’d say that they’re at the more melodic end of the spectrum (at times they reminded me of classic era Guns ‘n’ Roses), and their diversity and musicianship put them ahead of the vast majority of their contemporaries. Good stuff.
Nine Inch Nails
I’d love to report that nine Inch Nail’s final live appearance was mind blowing, but sadly that was not the case, largely on account of the set list that Trent Reznor chose to go with. It was one for the fanboys, omitting many of their best known tracks, and focussing quite heavily on their tender, melodic side as opposed to the bruising industrial noise at which they excel. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a Nine Inch Nails haunting ballad as much as the next man, but as half the crowd around me were too busy talking to listen, the atmosphere was not the best. ‘Hurt’ was still phenomenal though, and I’m glad I caught them a couple of years back at Reading when they were truly magnificent.
Having seen Welsh rock upstarts Attack! Attack! a few times now (initially supporting the likes of Lost Prophets and Funeral For A Friend, and more latterly on their own headline tours), I’m starting to feel kind of paternal towards them (God, that makes me sound old!). It’s not often you get to see a band develop on stage, and while they may not be household names just yet, I’d wager that in the next twelve months their fanbase will justifiably explode. Regular readers of this blog might remember that I likened them to a cross between the aforementioned Prophets and Fall Out Boy when I first saw them, and at Sonisphere they played an impassioned set on the Bohemia Stage packed with choice cuts from their excellent debut album. As the gig progressed, you could see the crowd swell in numbers and become ever more appreciative, and when they left the stage to a standing ovation I was satisfied that the lads had taken another step towards global domination.
Before Airbourne came on, I was kind of expecting them to be a poor man’s AC/DC, but while they obviously owe a debt of gratitude to their fellow Aussie rockers they’re no mere copyists. In Joel O’Keefe, they have one of the most energetic and charismatic front men on the scene today – a nervous ball of energy whose sheer enthusiasm can’t help but win you over, he spent the gig running from one side of the stage to the other, riding on a roadie’s shoulders while high fiving the front row of the crowd, and even climbing to the top of the speaker stanchion (which must have been at least 100ft off the ground) to shred out an awesome guitar solo (in the rain – I bet the Health and Safety Officer was having kittens!). A hugely entertaining set packed with top quality Aussie hard rock, Airbourne get the joint nod for my band of the weekend.
And yes, you’ve guessed it, the other co-winner of my band of the weekend goes to Limp Bizkit. A guilty pleasure for some, the much-maligned Fred Durst and his crew put on a cracking show, fusing beats and riotous aggression to good effect to really get the crowd going (one of the few bands to achieve this on the main stage – I’m not sure why, but the audience was fairly reserved here for the most part – maybe because the festival was new?). Bizkit knocked out all the old classics – Rollin, Take A Look Around, My Generation, and an absolutely riotous Break Stuff. Yes, lyrically it’s pretty dumb stuff (which Durst himself alluded to a couple of times), but the guitar playing of Wes Borland elevates it to another level, and if you’re able to tune into the angry teenager locked inside you, it’s a helluva lot of fun. Guilty pleasure? Like I once said in an interview, I don’t do guilty pleasures – if I’m being pleasured, there’s no room for guilt.