The V Festival (Staffordshire) - Review
These Pop Music Festivals have never really appealed to me, for various reasons. In addition to my reluctance to surrender home comforts like electricity and warmth to sleeping in a flimsy tent in a muddy field two miles away from an overflowing chemical toilet, I had no desire to contract pneumonia, dysentry, to pay eight pounds for a kebab that would most likely kill me, or in all honesty, desire to see very many of the bands that made up this years uninspiring festival line-ups. But this Summer has dragged terribly, with it's inclement weather and the least interesting Big Brother since the one with Gos and Cameron. So I decided to accept the offer of two VIP tickets to The V Festival. Despite the health risks, I summised that festivals must have something going for them, and whatever that was would be a little bit sweeter given that it was free. So I ironed some shirts, stocked up on bog roll, enlisted a friend with a car, tent and good map-reading skills (the enigmatic Oscar Godfrey) and set off as bright and early as we could muster (about 11.30) with the coolbox full of cider, gin and vodka still sitting on the kitchen table, something which we would realise to our dismay some time later.
Incidentally, the night before setting off, we watched Rocky IV, Robocop and Terminator and I would recommend this triple-feature as a good way to get any weekend break off to a spiffing start. Who doesn't feel great when that guy get's smooshed with toxic waste and the end of Robocop and starts melting and screaming HEEEELPPP MEEEE at the Dad from That 70's Show? It's a warm feeling that stays with you, and can shield you from the various irritances that a weekend break such as this one inevitably threw up.
Until about three miles from our Motorway turn off, we were making impressive time - but we soon realised the queue of cars on the hard shoulder was also headed to V, and eventually we would have to stop pretending we hadn't noticed and join it. After that it took somewhere in the region of six hours to make the final 13 miles of the journey, but given that the weather was lovely and we had plenty of crisps, it simply served to exacerbate my curiosity. I strained my neck to see glimpses of the stages in the distance, and started to harbour faint desires that all these people getting out of their stationary cars to piss in the bushes and then sit on the bonnet drinking strongbow would become my friends through the unifying power of music and alcohol and adverse living conditions, and hopefully some of the people would be good looking, one would maybe look like Kelli Garner from the film "Thumbsucker" and the one where Tommy Lee Jones has to house-sit a cheerleading squad who witnessed a murder (it's great), and we'd curl up in the same sleeping bag to keep warm and maybe she would put her ladypenis in my boyvagina. This impression was spoiled somewhat by the chubby teenager who hurled vague abuse (does "Noel Fielding" count as abuse? He had the kind of Northern accent that makes everything sound like abuse. I assume he was telling me to get a haircut, which is probably good advice) at me while I sat in the car boot rolling a fag. His bravado was subdued when we popped out of our tent later to see him pitching his own, right next to his Mums.
After having a Jaffa Cake and pondering the coolbox full of booze still sitting in the house, we decided it would take no longer to go home and get it than to drive out to an off license to restock and face rejoining the epic queue taking up half the M6. By the time we made it back to the tent that night, those camped around us appeared to have already made their alliances with their neighbours and each new group was getting noisily drunk in their tents. Over the booze from the coolbox - which had taken on legendary, Ark-Of-The-Covenant style status for me during the drive - we debated which of them to perhaps join. Some horsey girls and impossibly dull man-children were repeatedly quoting the same jokes from Family Guy to eachother and trying to woo eachother with tales of the wackiest things they've ever done when they were drunk. Most involved showing their bottoms to passing cars, or vomiting in a bouncers face, or something. On the other side, neither the aforementioned Mother and her brood or the lairy chaps singing Kasabian songs together seemed like good bets. So we continued drinking and drawing pictures of penises to amuse eachother, facing the gradual realisation that while the inflatable green and orange tent looked cool, it was riddled with holes, and during our brief foray into the arena the clothes which I had strewn about the tent whilst trying to locate a lighter (I had one in my fucking pocket the whole time) had become soaked through. I inwardly high fived myself for choosing such a classy outfit to be stuck with for three days.
V has a solid reputation as the most depicably commercial and mainstream of the major festivals, and it's not difficult to see why. Aggressive sponsorshop and advertising and branding is everywhere, and instead of an interesting range of stalls you've got banal t-shirt stands, bong shops, chip vans and someone dressed up as a packet of Trident chewing gum trying to persuade you to dance like a twat while he sprays you with a hosepipe. And people were doing it. For free chewing gum. Since scruffy boys with guitars have become acceptably mainstream and listening to Girls Aloud acceptably alternative and it's become impossible to stage a festival without having it broadcast around the universe at the same time, it seems ludicrous to expect any festival (even one with it's hipster credibility relatively intact, like Glastonbury) to provide real spontaneity or surprise. Like anything with a potential for money-spinning, it caters to as broad an audience as possible, meaning that the smaller stages where one might expect to witness exciting up-and-coming new acts are full of identikit singer songwriters, while at various times the main stages are full of similarly dull singer-songwriters that happen to have been marketed to greater success. Does anyone expect Corrinne Bailey Rae to provide a live music experience that will grow to be a cherished memory for any at all? I expect Corrinne Bailey Rae to poo a robot lobster with dicks for hands first. I expect her to become first President of The Sun first. And of course, a heavy Police presence is deemed a necessity at festivals now, otherwise they might descend into a portaloo-burning-down riot a la Leeds the other year. I suppose this is hard to argue with - a few police cars about the place is probably less of an imposition than being stabbed, or something - but being probed by sniffer dogs and eyed suspiciously at every turn can put a dampener on your day.
The actual Sun itself clearly decided that the V Festival looked shit, and decided to shun it for the entire weekend. As such, it quickly descending into the kind of rainy, windy mudbath that wacky students enjoy flinging themselves about in, but seeing the idiots who had come in fancy dress wandering around filthy, depressed and lost was a rare joy. Have you ever seen a fat, drunk Batman fall on his arse and bemoan getting mud allover his map? I have! It's hilarious. It gave me an idea for a film. It's about a fat, drunk version of Batman, who gets lost in a field, and falls on his stupid arse. Exhaustion and a lengthy lunch of super noodles, cigarettes and booze meant that we didn't get into the arena until fairly late in the day, missing Sophie Ellis Bextor and McFly. Boo! I did however, see Ortis from CBBC (who has extraordinarily nice teeth), someone off Hollyoaks and Emmerdale throwing up a little bit, someone who I think was Simon Webb from Blue, and possibly Dave Gorman in the VIP bit before we went to see the end of Lily Allens set. The definition of a VIP being stretched somewhat, there. Oh, I also saw about one minute of The Goo Goo Dolls set, and the same of KT Tunstall, which was frankly plenty and then some.
What we saw of Lily Allen was good - she knows her appeal, is comfortable with large crowds, and her beefy reggae band sounded great in the brief moment of sunshine they elicited. What I've read about her "controversial outbursts" onstage at the festival is fairly tame compared to what she actually said (the anti-George Bush stuff was almost verbatim what she said the last time I saw her, and frankly criticising George Bush is even more boring now than it used to be). The Channel 4 Stage was running behind schedule, and someone in the wings was trying to get Lily to curtail her set, which she refused to do on the grounds that it was only the Manic Street Preachers who were going on next, and they were likely to play "an hour of boring shit". A slightly embarassed but long-time Manics fan, I stood in bitter silence while the crowd erupted into applause at her comments. Perhaps the Manics are now considered so boring that slagging them isn't even news - the crowd certainly dispersed fairly quickly once her set finished, allowing me to get a good view of the Manics set, which was excellent. The mixture of old and new material showed that since their critical and chart heyday, the band have continued to produce occasional anthemic pop classics which sit comfortably alongside hits like "Australia". The energy with which they continue to perform reaaally old ones like "You Love Us" and "Motorcycle Emptiness" is admirable, and while the later albums may fall short of the bands early promise, I left encouraged that they weren't a complete write off.
The Killers headlined on Saturday night, and are a band who I've recently come to a grudging respect for. I've always found them vaguely annoying, but "When You Were Young" or whatever it's called is one of those songs that climbs inside your head and shouts I'M BRILLIANT until you're forced to agree with it, like Rudebox by Robbie Williams. The bands spirited live performances of it on telly gradually persuaded me that they were, in fact, quite good. A cursory examination of their back catalogue revealed that unfortunately yes, they were quite good, and I was going to have to admit it, however much of a prick they look. To rub salt in my wound, they were a brilliant headline act, and very few bands could have constructed a euphoric, fist-in-the-air, singalong finale from Morrissey-esque ballads of personal torment. Morrissey would be quite good at it, I imagine.
That night, nearby conversations sounded as insufferable as the previous nights, and once again me and Oscar sat drinking in torchlight making up lists of celebrities to include in a fantasy tent orgy, historical figures to include in a fantasy tent orgy, sports players to include in a fantasy tent orgy and people from art school to include in a fantasy tent orgy. Then all the same, for a wost ever nightmare orgy. After all that, I slept brilliantly, and awoke the next day fit as a fiddle and ready to sit in the tent drinking, eating pop tarts and having panic attacks about the impending inevitability of a large bowel movement and the water-sodden, useless toilet rolls that I had packed sitting in a corner of the tent. By now I was resigned to what kind of experience this festival was going to be - basically a crap theme park where you can get drunk, but with marginally better food (at one point I ate a really delicious spring roll, and some falafel). There was the dodgems to go on, and I was looking forward in particular to Jarvis Cocker that evening.
Before getting to Jarvis we saw Dizzee Rascal. I'm quite fond of Dizzee Rascal, but rap music live is always a tricky proposition as watching someone DJ is never that exciting, and the whole thing will flounder unless the rapper happens to be extraordinarily captivating. While his chum was overly fond of shouting "Make some fuckin' noooooiiize!" during and between every song gave the JJB Arena the feel of a mucky Butlins and the drop-the-music get-the-crowd-to-sing-this-bit trick was used about ten times in each song, I thought it was pretty good. In the I'm-just-a-rascal-dizzee-rascal song, it sounds like the woman is going "I've got the baked beans" and that's always fun. Next we saw The Coral, whose earnest, serious dedication to the 1960's is much more enticing as a live proposition than on record, where it can be slightly embarrassing particularly when coupled with their stupendously rubbish lyrics.
Jarvis was, predictably, the star of the weekend. His years in the wilderness haven't dulled his wit or showmanship, and both were on fine form as he played a set completely free of Pulp songs, instead focussing on his recent solo album. That albums smattering of great songs sounded even greater here, and a few of the others encouraged me to re-evaluate the album as a whole. Still, having a legend of Jarvis' stature onstage during a weekend of sets that had basically been greatest-hits run throughs, and yet to only hear his most recent material felt like a minor swindle. Wisely, Jarvis has taken to inserting a surprise cover at the end of his sets to offset such disappointment and played a barnstorming version of Purple Haze. The funky, glam undercurrents of songs like "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" are given full reign here, and Jarvis' voice is surprisingly a great match for the song. It can be viewed via the modern wonder of youtube below...
Being six foot seven, skeletally thin, and as of quite recently having to wear glasses, my inevitable vague resemblance to Jarvis Cocker led I think to me being saucily glanced at by one or two of his female fans. Sadly, by this point, the prospect of a festival shag in my squelchy tent with my ever-more-painful bowel situation seemed too strenuous to bother with, so I rolled a fag and ignored them. I always do things like that and regret it for quite a while afterwards. Like when I was in love with this barmaid, and she miraculously knocks on my door one night because she was walking past and someone was unconscious in the doorway and she was trying to find out if he lived in our building. Instead of helping, I went back inside and looked at her through the blinds. Why did I do that? I'm an idiot. I need to sort it out. The thrill of seeing a set as involving and accomplished as Jarvis' re-ignited my desire to work as hard as possible on my fledgling band Senceless Apocalpse, who have lain dormant for months now, with only two gigs and one recording under our belt (the recording and a video of the first gig are on our MySpace page). It led to discussions of line-up changes and exciting new directions which have me completely convinced that I am going to be a famous rock star in less than two years. Naysayers be fucked, with my rock prowess.
The goodwill engendered by Jarvis and my subsequent blast on the Oxygen stall (for a small fee, you can have odd cocktails of gas pumped up your nose for their surprisingly effective rejuvenating properties and a brief, pleasant sense of dizziness and confusion) and furthered by a really incredibly stupid food worker accidentally giving us free falafel spilled over into the evenings headline set by The Foo Fighters. Not a band which I've ever had any interest in, but if anthemic, overblown heavy-ish rock has a time and a place, it's on the Sunday night at a rainy festival when I've had a few drinks and am being offered a few more by a strange man next to me. Having been stuck in traffic all day Babyshambles were still to play, but I'd been standing up for a long time by this point and couldn't really be arsed with them. When we got back to the tent, that Mother had not taken well to Amy Winehouse cancelling her set. She had, in fact, proceeded to get drunker and noisier and hurled abuse at our tent for no discernable reason. I rather strongly got the feeling that I was lucky to have milked an enjoyable afternoon out of this shitfest (I had also managed to find a toilet in the VIP section with a comparitively bearable smell and ample supply of toilet paper) and it was time to call it day. Oscar didn't want to spend another night in the leaky tent and in that him driving home didn't stop *me* from drinking, I didn't really object. Some fucking prick stole our wheelbarrow, but we did find alternate means of transporting our goods through the sludge back to the car, and left the ramshackle tent to fend for itself. I believe they give them to charity, or something. They can have the hob nobs I left in it too. The only that remains I believe is to list for you the ten women I would like to include in my fantasy celebrity tent orgy. They are...
Geena from Coronation Street (a few years ago), Faith off Buffy, Freema Agyeman, Liz Barker off Blue Peter, Kelli Garner, Ophelia Lovibond (Mandy off Nathan Barley), Shannyn Sossamon, Cassie off Skins, PC Rosie Fox off The Bill and Sandrine Blancke.