GuilFest 2006
Live Part III

Sunday, being a day of rest, rudely started with visions of being cremated alive. The temperature inside the tent had reached cataclysmic proportions, almost as if we were pitched on top of Mt Vesuvius. It was therefore another early start punctuated by another long wait in the bog queue passing the time by giving knowing nods to the other gents which were there the same time yesterday – and they say women tune their body clocks to each other!

Still you don’t need to know anymore about that. What you do need to know about though, is the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. You think you don’t but you actually do, trust me.

Its mid-day on Sunday, it’s baking hot and you’re the first band on. The audience are near comatosed and there’s 20, 000 of them to try and resuscitate. You have no drums, no electric guitar, no banks of keyboards and no lightshow. Basically, you’re stuffed.

That is unless you’re the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. Oh yes indeedy. Coming at you in full dinner jackets and cocktail dresses, they look like they should be playing the local WI, but with the first twang of a silver ukulele its clear these guys mean business.

‘Respect’ (Aretha Franklin) managed to get half the audience on their feet, ‘Caroline’ (Status Quo) got the dancing going and ‘Anarchy in the UK’ blew whoever was left wondering what it was all about, well away. Basically they were brilliant and by the time they did their final number (‘Teen Spirit’) every single member of the audience was won over. They got one of the biggest cheers of the weekend followed by one of the biggest boos when they weren’t allowed out to do an encore. Damn you Radio 2!

With rock music you can take your Gran to, and a set full of comedy, charm and attitude, you really do need to catch these guys if you haven’t already.

Next up for a bit of main stage action were 3 Men and a Black, being The Selecter’s Pauline Black’s acoustic ska supergroup, accompanied by her ever changing 3 man line up. Today we had Dave Sharp (the Alarm, Stiff Little Fingers), Eric Faulkner (Bay City Rollers) and mainstay, Nick Walsh (Bad Manners).

Kicking of with ‘Too Much Pressure’ it became immediately apparent that we were listening to the best female vocal of the weekend. Miss Black has power, range and emotion in massive abundance but above all she knows just when and where to use it – and when she does those hairs on the back of your neck start twitching.

However, with constantly changing members comes a fluid set list which invariably contains a few hits from the other members groups. Today we had The Alarm’s ‘Meet Your Maker’ and the Bay City Rollers ‘Shang-a-lang’ which were all received well, but not quite as well as anything by The Selecter.

Acoustic ska works if ‘On My Radio’ is anything to go by, and a set filled with these would have kept the audience up and dancing following the previous ukulele onslaught (two words I thought I’d never use in the same sentence). Unfortunately there was a surprisingly folky element and Pauline’s natural unassuming nature obviously allows a large part of her set to be taken up with other people’s not so ska’ry tunes. The ‘See Emily Play’ tribute to Sid Barrett was fair enough ( as was the excellent tribute to Desmond Decker being ‘Israelites’), but can we have more acoustic ska next time please Pauline?

A stroll around looking for lunch meant we bumped into Velvet Razor at the Ents 24 Stage. Billed as heavy gothic, prog-rock originals its fair to say there should have been some deep dark melodies all wrapped around some chunky riffs. Alas, despite their promotion from a smaller stage last year, Velvet Razor failed to live up to their description. Coming across as a straight ahead rock band with 80’s keyboards to match, this was pub rock on a large scale with tracks like ‘Calling To You’ best suited for the Dog and Duck on a Wednesday night.

Lunch with the Stereo MC’s was then calling and we nestled down to catch the groove. Unfortunately despite Rob B’s relentless energy and solid tunes, the heat was beginning to take its toll with the crowd who were all scrambling for the meagre patches of shade on offer. He tried his best and from what I heard, the set was flawless however, come what may this is band best served when the sun’s gone down and there was nothing the MC’s could do about that.

With time to kill before our pilgrimage back to the main stage to see The Stranglers, a swift stroll around the smaller tents was in order and it was here that funk tinged, hard rock of Retrograde Inversion stop us in our tracks.

From the first glimpse it was clear to see that this was a very young band. Stage presence, audience banter and confidence all need to be worked on but this lot have the raw ingredients needed to make some damn fine music. Singer Louise Coady has a wonderful voice which defies her early years. It pierced right through the wall of noise created by the two guitars, bass and drums and topped off a rocky and atmospheric sound. With a hint of Gothic to their look, tracks like ‘Take Me Away’ carried lots of emotion in the build up verses exploding into an almost thrashy chorus, upping the tempo with lots of wah and distortion from the guitars.

‘Cobra’ showed another side to the band which, while being another building tune, had a funky undercurrent and moody verse, exploding again in the chorus.

There were a few problems with the mix, such as the bass was either lost or in your face, but these small niggles aside, it was an impressive performance for a band so young.

As with all festivals it wouldn’t be entirely complete without a Leveller hanging around and fortunately Simon Friend arrived just in time from Belgium to make it so.

Strutting out on stage with all the confidence and presence of a seasoned performer (which of course he is), it came as a bit of surprise to hear he was feeling a bit nervous. Despite being on his own with just an acoustic guitar for company, Simon came across as anything but, commanding the attention of the crowd from start to finish and drawing any passers by right into his musical snare.

On offer was a choice selection of some of the Levellers best entwined with a few of his own tunes from the Drunk In Public side project.

‘Sell Out’ and ‘The Boatman’ were perhaps the stand out tracks which sounded all the better with just one man and a guitar. However, such was the audience reaction when he’d reached his allotted time that the Ents 24 people had to let him out to do an encore, otherwise they may have had a small stage invasion on their hands. And what a great encore it was – ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ sang with such emotion you could visibly see tears in some of the audience’s eyes and, given that this song holds a very special place for me, I must confess that they weren’t entirely alone.

Sniffles over and officially getting the biggest cheer for solo artist all weekend, it was off to catch a slightly different emotion in the form of The Stranglers.

However, before the men in black there was a little matter of Sparks to deal with.

Now for those of you that don’t know anything about this band, their stand out hit was back in the 80’s with ‘This Town Isn’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ (or something like that) which featured Russell Mael’s operatic vocals put to Ron Meal’s deadpan, Hitler-eque keyboards. Sounds mad? Well they are. And quite frankly they are all the better for it as there is no-one out there who sounds remotely like them. In fact if I had to give you a description the best I could do would be something like Meatloaf being beaten up by the Divine Comedy while Depeche Mode and Leslie Garret refereed. Got it?

No matter, with new tunes like ‘Dick Around’ and ‘Can I Invade Your Country’, Sparks manage to fit pop, rock, electronica, opera and psychedelia all into one set, and more often then not, into one song!

A sometimes creepy but energetic and totally enthralling live experience – may they live long and prosper.

So to the musical institution that is The Stranglers.

Originally called the Guildford Stranglers it was perhaps no surprise that both them and Hugh Cornwell were playing the same festival. Of course everyone was excited about the possibility of a reunion on stage but, as their history shows, that was unlikely to happen. And it didn’t – damn!

Never mind, what we were presented with was a set kicked off by the radio unfriendly ‘Five Minutes’ which suddenly saw a middle aged mosh pit develop front centre of the stage. Indeed, given the heat the fact that there was a mosh pit at all was surprising, let alone the furious one that developed. Every now and then some unsuspecting fan would get sucked into it only to be spurted out covered in sweat, loosing half their clothes and wearing a big smile.

For me though, the mosh pit managed to add another object to my ‘strange things I’ve been hit with at gigs’ list. Bottles of piss aside, its not a big list being as the only other entry was a boomerang when Metallica took the stage back in Donnington 91 however, I can now proudly add stuffed monkey to that particular hall of fame – hurrah!

Err sorry. So The Stranglers. Big lads, dressed in black, black guitars, black attitude and bags of hits – and they managed to fit as many as they could into their 45 minute set. They were all there ‘Walk On By’, ‘Strange Little Girl’, ‘Duchess’ and ‘London Lady’ to name but a few – and then mirroring Mr Cornwell’s set, they finished on ‘No More Heroes’ leaving all of us worryingly exhausted. A really great performance which no doubt set things up perfectly for Mr Billy Idol to close the festival.

But hey, why go and see a man with only three hits (‘Money, Money’, ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’ – stop me if I’m wrong here) when you could go and see the best band to come out of Northern Ireland since Stiff Little Fingers! Therapy anyone?

But just before you book your session I need to mention Breed 77 who’s tail end of a chainsaw of a set I managed to catch.

Billed as a ‘startling mix between flamenco and metal’, for once the program was pretty much spot on. These boys seriously rock and tick all the boxes in the metal gods checklist however, they are not the sort to get bogged down with the same old clichés. This is a metal band with no fear as the appearance of a mandolin, bongo and Spanish guitar showed.

And these were no props either. Fitting right into the grinding riffs, the melodic use of all three of these instruments gave Breed 77’s tunes an original twist which, coupled with their ability to right a decent song, made for a unique and super sweaty experience.

New single ‘Apathy’, with its socially alive lyrics, is due to be released soon and if this description in anyway intrigues then I’d urge you to get hold of it.

And so for me, the band I had been waiting for all weekend – not least because their album ‘Troublegum’ got me through university with most of my faculties intact and the fact that the last time I saw them some bastard parked a chip van right in my view (I was working the T-shirt stall at Donnington).

Arriving on stage with a veritable sand storm of dry ice, messers Cairns, McKeegan and Cooper proceeded to bring the house (well tent) down in a hail of 3 minute missiles all of which hit their target.

Now kids, getting to the front when your favourite band is on is always a must however, take note from an old fella and try to get centre stage or else you’ll have your head in the bass bin, and that’s not very good for your hearing. Indeed, with a wall of amps occupying most of the stage, I can confirm that 2 days on the ringing in my ears from the left bass bin is still there haunting me, much like the image of Mr Cairn’s twisted face as he launches into another brief, piercing solo. Mind, I don’t regret a second of it!

The set was as tight as you’d expect covering songs all the way from ‘Nurse’ (‘Teethgrinder’) right up to the current album ‘One Cure Fits All’ (‘Walk Through Darkness’) but, as you might expect, it was the ‘Troublegum’ tunes which got the best reception.

‘Knives’, ‘Screamager’, ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Isolation’ were all delivered with utter venom and a lot of spit (especially from Mr McKeegan who does a smart trick of gobbing over his head when playing – it’ll go wrong one day though). However, it was perhaps Cairn’s lucid dedication of ‘Die Laughing’ to late, great Sid Barrett which was received the best, so much so that the audience gave him back a little piece of themselves – a pair of dirty Y-fronts! Ah well, it can’t be G-strings all the time I suppose.

Ending with ‘Walk Through Darkness’ Therapy? left the audience in a complete state of aural bewilderment and mental satisfaction. Our session was complete and we were cured – well bloody knackered anyway!

And that was that… well not quite as there is just one thing I need to mention and that’s the Silent Disco – the what? Yeap, the Silent Disco.

With Therapy? all packed up it was time to don the two channel headphones and enter the crazy world of the Silent Disco. Two DJ’s, two sets of tunes, a pair of headphones each and room full of people dancing like loonies who every now and then looked very confused when their partner started shuffling to a different beat. It looked even stranger when you took the headphones off!

So with the thought of more airbed acrobatics and another roasting in the oven in mind, the votes were cast and the midnight drive home won unanimously.

Guilfest, it was a pleasure – see you next time round!

Written by Habert on

Pete Habert was sub-editor for The Mag and co-ordinated submissions from the swarm of writers that contributed articles from their local music scenes.

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