Michael Lomas braves road-trip ruin in a desperate search for the sun. What he finds are ornery guards, boys with drugs up their bums, and a whole lot of bands.
Daily text alerts from Virgin bloody Mobile and the onset of rain clouds can only mean one thing: it's festival time. I learned my lesson last year when I tried to save money by buying a £3.99 sleeping bag from Tesco -- it gets fucking cold and wet in the Stafford countryside -- so, this year, we prepare everything to a tee before packing up the heaving car and squeaking on down the motorway.
Of course, as you get a little older, the excitement of heading off on a road trip to a toxic festival weekend whilst singing along to the Rolling Stones only lasts as long as it takes to hit the first traffic jam which comes within an hour. After nine more on the road -- when you're still stuck in a car moving an inch a mile with the optimistic sunshine replaced by the sight of wet fields and mud -- not even the prospect of seeing the Beatles with a naked Jimi Hendrix on lead guitar could lift you from the traffic inspired fury.
At about eleven o'clock at night, I arrive with my girlfriend, can't find where our friends are camping, and have an absolute blast putting the tent up in the pitch black. We're next to a load of aging, violent Mancs celebrating their success at smuggling copious amounts of speed into the festival grounds (by keeping it up their arseholes!). But sod it; we're here, and, er, ready to rock.
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In the morning, after I've eaten a few burnt, but strangely undercooked burgers from the damp barbeque, I carry the tent -- Chuckle Brothers style -- across the campsite to where our mates are set up.
In spite of all my early setbacks, the line-up at the festival is looking pretty damn good. Once you get past the presence of festival favourites/musical nonentities like Keane, the Ordinary Boys and Daniel Powter, what remains is a weekend with Rufus Wainwright, Richard Hawley, Radiohead, Beck, and Morrissey.
First up, after negotiating non-existent security checks and smuggling in a bottle of rum with wonderful ease (and without putting anything up anything else), it's off to a packed tent to watch recent Number One sensation, cockney swear-box, and all-round top girl Lily Allen. Despite the fact that she's playing stupidly early in the day and only allowed a 20-minute set, her catchy-as-hell ska-pop lifts the mood of the soggy tent -- "Smile" and fantastic set-closer "Alfie" spread summery vibes.
Next in the tent, after some singer who I'll remember absolutely nothing about, is Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley. His jokes are as awful as they were when I saw him a few months back. ("Parking today was a nightmare... I ended up parking in a disabled space... The attendant came over and goes "what's your disability?" I said, Tourettes, now fuck off!"). Thankfully the music remains fantastic, and a half-lit, starry-eyed mood descends on the tent as soon as the opening swell of "Cole's Corner" drifts into the air. The meager length of the set means we're denied "Run For Me" and "Baby You're My Light", but the countryish shuffle of "Just Like the Rain" and the gorgeous closing storm of "The Ocean" are enough to leave mouths open wide. Even my mates, here for the rock and roll kicks of Kasabian and Paul Weller, wander out of the tent donning glazed, "Jesus, that was amazing" expressions.
The Beautiful South
Unfortunately, the next part of the day goes missing, though I believe it includes rain, rum, and other silly things that give you a very bad head. I catch about 10 minutes of Paul Weller, still rocking angrily, before I hide from the rain, fleeing to the tent again in time to see an energised set by the Beautiful South. I've been recently convinced by my girlfriend that Beautiful South is not the chart-busting pop band for dads that I thought they were, and that assertion proves true in person. Paul Heaton might dance like a giddy uncle at a wedding, but his barbed and twisted little pop gems about regretful alcoholics and disintegrating relationships were made for mass sing-a-longs. And really, who could resist singing along to the likes of "Don't Marry Her", "Rotterdam", and the wildly appropriate rain hymn that is "Manchester?"
With the dark starting to descend all over Staffordshire, there's a choice to be made between Faithless, the Charlatans, and Rufus Wainwright. Bland folk loser Sandi Thom is on one of the smaller stages, I think, but frankly, I'd rather stick knitting needles into my genitals than listen to her. So, on the basis that I saw Faithless play exactly the same dance-a-long festival set about five years ago, that the Charlatans will no doubt be here again next year, and that Rufus is generally ace and far sexier than both of them, it's off to the tent we go.
After a slow start, a completely solo Rufus Wainwright (accompanied only by a remarkable brooch) finds his feet with a swoonsome set of chamber-pop cabaret. His voice sounds even richer and darker live, and he's absolutely on as he sings "Vibrate" -- surely the most perfect post-modern love song ever written. By the time he gets round to playing "Gay Messiah" (dedicated to Madonna "for ripping me off"), he has this small corner of Staffordshire eating out of his hand.
After that, being the stubborn and miserable git that I am, I leave my friends to have fun with the awesome (so I'm told) Groove Armada soundsystem while I drag my girl off to see Morrissey on the main stage. Now, before I go any further, I have to stress that I love Morrissey; I really do. I spend far too much money on old Smiths vinyl, own at least two unnecessary Morrissey live albums, and, for some reason, once learned how to play "The Draize Train" on guitar. But, tonight, Morrissey is shit. Maybe it's just that, at the back end of a day of rain and excess, we're all a bit frazzled, or maybe it's that Mozza's set stinks. Either way, it's just not happening.
The low point is unquestionably when the man who once wrote "Paint a Vulgar Picture" puts a phone number on the giant screen and implores an increasingly bored crowd to text in and download his new single as a Crazy Frog style ring-tone. Even the Smiths songs, though fabulous, sound like they're being performed by a tribute band.
We get treated to most of Morrissey's latest, overrated album, a few b-sides and the Moz taking his shirt off three (yes three!) times. Like so much of this set, it just doesn't work. Morrissey may remain a gloriously charismatic stage presence, and you almost forget he's been crap when he plays a sparkling version of "Irish Blood, English Heart", but it can't make up for what is an exceptionally lackluster headlining slot. After a stunningly lifeless "How Soon Is Now", he thanks us all, leaves the stage, and doesn't bother with an encore.
Still, festivals aren't all about the music. At the end of a wet day, everyone is feeling that fuzzy drunk rush you get at these places. There's plenty of booze back at the (still dry) tent, and Radiohead to come tomorrow. Despite the rain, I don't think my Saturday at V has turned out so badly after all.