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.
Part 2 - Radiohead Summon the Sun
After the epic rain and epic disappointment of Morrissey, it is with trembling trepidation that I stick a head out of the tent on Sunday morning. But, though there are clouds covering most of the sky, it seems like the rains have blown away -- maybe Morrissey took the wet weather with him. As if that isn't reason enough to celebrate over an early morning bottle of Martini, the sound of Radiohead sound-checking "Karma Police" from the main stage comes drifting over the campsite -- yep, it is going to be a good day.
It should be said that having a good time at the V festival depends entirely on the people you go with and what you get up to. In other words, it generally has nothing to do with the festival itself, which -- this year's line-up aside -- is often pretty awful. The main criticism of V is that it's a soulless corporate rip-off that caters to Bacardi Breezer-drinking, Coldplay-loving, non-music fans. And that's more or less true: if you let it, the festival experience at V has the potential to be the worst you're going to get anywhere. It's almost as if the organisers of V know that, with no Glastonbury this year, they'll have no trouble bringing in the punters. So why bother making the effort?
Other than a Strongbow-sponsored DJ tent permanently packed full of people who've spent £120 on a festival ticket to drink cider and listen to remixes of Black Eyed Peas songs, there is nothing in the main arena except queue after queue for food stalls selling rancid burgers at £7 a pop. If you don't smuggle your own entertainment into the arena (and I thoroughly recommend that you do), you'll spend most of the weekend in three-hour bar queues for lukewarm cans of Carling.
Phew, the rant is over, and to be honest, since we manage to sneak bits and bobs of everything we need into the arena, most of these trappings are easily avoided. So, armed with gin and sunshine, it's off to watch the elegiac pop of the Divine Comedy on the main stage (in the fucking sun!). Except, I've read the time wrong in the program (which cost £10, but I won't go there...) and arrive just in time to catch their last song -- bugger.
After that crushing blow, things get worse in the small bands tent as I decide to have a tipsy picture taken with a friendly-looking security guard. He poses for the picture, laps up the attention, and then wanders over to confiscate my bottle of gin -- which I've absent-mindedly kept in my hand for the snap. I'm annoyed, but really, stupidity doesn't come much stupider. I think the Young Knives are onstage at this time, but with the sun out for the first time all weekend, it's time to burst out of the tent and go find whatever is on outdoors.
Unfortunately, this means almost nodding off during a dismally boring set on the Channel 4 stage from the Cardigans. I have been reliably informed that the Cardigans used to be a fab little '60s-ish pop, but here they are so mind-numbingly bland that their performance washes over me. I can't remember a single thing from their set -- except that they don't play that cool song from Romeo and Juliet.
Following that comes the not entirely unwelcome news that Big Brother's Preston and the Ordinary Boys have pulled out. After being asked repeatedly by a random Scouser if I want to buy any pills (I don't), we watch We Are Scientists. Though I've never been taken by their clever art-pop on record, finding them a bit annoying, they prove a decent festival band. The high points from their With Love and Squalor record are aired to an ecstatic reaction, and though it's hardly groundbreaking stuff, it is the best thing I've seen so far today.
The weather has cleared and Morrissey has gone, so the music should be fantastic. I react rather despondently as I realize that it isn't. I've made some poor choices and, to cap it all off, I'm now without gin. Thank God for Beck. Taking the main stage in a Stetson and a pretty terrible new haircut (which leads to my girlfriend deciding she no longer fancies him), he's nearly upstaged by the fantastic puppet show on stage behind him. But, the sheer awesomeness of his late afternoon set keeps him in the clear.
Super-hits like "Devils Haircut", "Loser", and "Girl" are played with funky zest, and even the new stuff sounds like a return to his body-popping Odeley days. We get a rare, stripped-down "Debra" from Midnite Vultures and the sight of his band and puppets playing wine glasses and salad bowls on "Clap Hands". After showing a video of the rock and roll puppets trashing Radiohead's dressing room backstage and indulging in the sort of debauched behaviour that would make Pete Doherty blush, Beck comes back on and leaves us with "Where It's At", "E Pro", and a whole lot of good-time vibes.
Which leaves us with Radiohead, the ultimate in good-time bands. After Morrissey, there are worries as to which Radiohead will turn up. Will it be the hulking rock juggernaut tearing through "The Bends" and "Paranoid Android", or will it be the dizzying, bleeping, experimental techno Radiohead? Thom Yorke has promised to play "the hits", but, then again, he probably thinks "Treefingers" is quite catchy. Of course, it's not long into the set that I realize: Radiohead are simply astonishing.
In a set that pulls together all of their previous incarnations, they play with an almost transcendent beauty that changes the weight of the air as the songs unfold. "Airbag" is followed by "2+2=5", then "The National Anthem", and I remember what an incredible floor-shaking rock band they can be. "Fake Plastic Trees" soars and "The Bends" is a revelation, greeted like a lost classic though it's been heard a million times. Even a creeping, paranoid version of "The Gloaming" and the three new songs -- particularly a beautifully resigned "Nude" -- sound utterly vital. "Lucky" sends sparks out through the crowd, and "Everything in Its Right Place" brings everything right up to date as the band leave the stage to scrambled snatches of voices and electronics crackling like static after a storm. It seems almost like a footnote when the band comes out to play "Creep". Even though they've long outgrown the song, Jonny Greenwood's guitar-assaulting grunts still anticipate the most loudly sung chorus of the weekend.
As the sun comes up on the festival and we have the joy of leaving the site on country roads to look forward to (we'll eventually find a short cut through a farmer's field onto the main road, but it takes others over nine hours), I leave a fantastic weekend with mixed feelings about V. As a festival, it is lazy, unfriendly, and extortionate. Once they'd packed as many paying punters in as possible, the entire festival is overcrowded and shambolically run by greedy, over-zealous cretins.
But, in spite of all of that, there were still moments from the likes of Beck, Radiohead, and Richard Hawley that shone out from the weekend and made the music as memorable as at any festival I've ever attended. And besides, once you're back at the campsite having a drink and a laugh with your mates, you can be anywhere and it will be amazing. I'll definitely be back there again next year -- just not for V.