Still expanding, now with 78 performance reviews, our coverage of the GREENBELT festival continues.
Continued from page 1
ARCANE ROOTS -The Underground - 11.20am
Having read various rave reviews of the Surrey-based Arcane Roots I entered the venue with high hopes and immediately my expectation was rewarded. As soon as the band hit the stage they were running, giving a superb performance of their unique, fresh take on the now stale indie scene and with an intense, even gripping performance they were certainly a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately for the band, such an early start and small crowd did not help create atmosphere, and despite their best efforts the audience did not appear to be particularly enthused. Halfway through the set and already covered in sweat, the band launched into yet another jarring, groove laden tune with one of the most unique voices I heard all weekend leading the attack. Finishing the gig with a blues-inspired song, the feverous act reached a climax with some superb guitar work from Andrew Groves and solidified Arcane Roots as a band who appear to transcend a number of genres. This gig was a simply superb, energetic way to start the Saturday, despite the inert crowd.
HEATHER ANDREWS - Performance Café - 12.15pm
When Heather walked onto the stage and started singing her first song, "A Day At The Beach", I didn't think she was particularly special. It was a pleasant enough song, but along with the following number "Saturday Morning" it erred on the side of dull. In her early 20s, the singer had family support with her band consisting of sister Helen and dad Richard. Heather is a recording studio engineer who, in downtime, has been recording songs for her album 'Songs Of My Very Own'. "Too Weak To Speak" was the song that caught the attention of hugely successful producer Narada Michael Walden (who has produced the likes of Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston) and persuaded the luminary to help Heather with her album. Listening to the song here one could hear why it got Walden's interest. A delicately beautiful song about falling in love with the wrong man, it was packed full of raw emotion and marked the turning point in Heather's set. No more dull, safe material. Now her songs had edge. During "Miss Evans" Heather invited the audience to tap and jingle along on mugs and with keys, the result being a messy but effective little orchestra to accompany a sweet, simple song about her best friend. The last song, "You Got What You Came For", almost had a Kate Nash feistiness. It summed up nicely the feeling I was left with, that there is more to Heather Andrews than first met the eye.
KINCH - Underground - 1pm
Ladies and Gentlemen, another catchy indie band from Yorkshire. Kinch remind me of fellow Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs. It's those sing-a-long "oh oh oh" type choruses that gave it away for me, perhaps best demonstrated in their undeniably hooky song "Philosophy". The relatively small but youthful crowd lapped up the band who had managed to squeeze this performance in between Leeds and Reading festivals, performing at each site on the days either side. As for this gig, it's a shame they didn't flyer a little more and get a few more punters in. Still, the lads did a reasonable job of keeping those who were there entertained with onstage banter and a little medley of mainstream hits including Kate Nash and Beyonce's "Single Ladies". Their own songs held up nicely alongside their mainstream contemporaries, as well as the aforementioned bands there are obvious hints of the Ordinary Boys and Dexy's Midnight Runners too. All in all, it was very catchy and infectious and bound to appeal to those teenagers who are enjoying their version of what I called Britpop back in my day. A tight and easy on the ear set was rounded off by their best known song "If Looks Could Kill".
ELLIE WILLIAMS - The Performance Café - 1.05pm
Ellie began her very laid back gig on her own, sat behind a keyboard. My instinctive reaction was what a beautiful voice the lady possessed while her wistfully haunting melodies ensured I was instantly captured by the emotive performance. Introducing her guitarist (John) and bassist (Ewan), the songs grew in both timbre and zeal with what were evidently heartfelt lyrics. Unfortunately, the impact began to lessen. Introducing a tune called "No Lies", Ellie began to suffer from what is sometimes known as "predictable chord syndrome", where every song seems to blend into the next. This was a massive shame, especially since her cover of "This Woman's Work" by Kate Bush was just brilliant, with a lovely mellow touch to it. Finally, the set picked up with a jolly rendition of "Firefly" and this jaunty mood continued until the end of the set. Ellie has a great voice but needs a wider selection of songs.
LOVE & JOY GOSPEL CHOIR - Big Top - 1.45pm
As I strolled over to the Big Top, I could sense that the air was filled with anticipation. Into view came a large queue which snaked its way around the tent and back again, four or five people deep - clearly the idea of a full-on gospel choir celebration was an appealing one. Inside there was a deafening roar as the Choir filed onto the stage. 'Kracker' introduced the Choir and their conductor, Dr Tani Omideyi. Several minutes into the set, the crowds were still filing into the tent, some dancing as they did so. In fact, there were very few people who were not being drawn into moving to the undulating, propulsive rhythms of the music. The choir sang "We Lift Our Hands" and those who hadn't, danced and clapped. Song after song brought thunderous applause and cheers! There was a pause for a DVD to be shown chronicling Love & Joy Gospel Choir's work - they're not just a musical unit, they're a ministry. The statistics given were impressive - LJM Group, of which the Choir is a part, have accommodated 170 care leavers; helped 365 young people gain GCSE level qualifications; given over 1,000 adults new skills and interests; and their projects have impacted the lives of over 7,000 people. Following the DVD, 'Kracker' moved to the front of the stage and sang "Lord You Love Me". The audience was silent. Peter Hawley played acoustic guitar and sang delicious harmonies. At the end of the song the audience went wild, wanting more. The set was again interrupted by an announcement for a forthcoming performance of the play World To Rights. Then the audience were encouraged to "funk out" and "groove out" and that's exactly what they did to "My Name Is Victory", with passion, age not coming into it, one mass of people really going for it! Peter picked up his guitar for a second time and from the minute he struck the first chord of "Movin' On Up" the audience were there, the rhythm had them again in its grasp. The set paused as Yemi Adedeji shared history about how he came to hear about Jesus. He challenged everyone, asking them what they were going to do. His message was to get involved, don't be spectators. The choir started to sing "You'll Never Walk Alone", but football was nowhere in anyone's thoughts as the tent echoed with the song as the choir took the hoary standard heavenwards. As the song finished, the choir left the stage during the last few bars. The Big Top would have been lifted off the ground had it not been for the ropes securing it in place. Next year, why don't Greenbelt get really radical and give over a whole afternoon in the Big Top to LCGC, The ACM Choir, IDMC and, of course, Love & Joy? We can but dream.
BOSH - Underground - 1.50pm
Right from the get go Bosh had us hooked. Two of their best songs from their 'Sound The Alarms' album gave Bosh a very strong start and they nicely managed to keep that momentum into the rest of their set. Missing their usual drummer meant that this year we'd at least get to see one quarter of [dweeb] in the shape of lead singer Tim Alford, who more than ably filled in behind the kit. In an interview after their set it became increasingly clear none of us had any conceivable idea of how to describe the band's sound; perhaps a melodic, anthemic and British take on Foo Fighters? Dave Griffiths sure does have that Grohlesq vocal style going on. However you may want to describe it, I was pleasantly surprised by how many quality tunes I recognised from their back catalogue. Not only that but a few newer and equally tasty tunes crept in, including a very worshipful song dedicated to "the men" - it's rare I can say of a set that there wasn't a single dud in there. The crowd size started surprisingly small but had more than doubled by the end of their set, a sign of a band who knows how to draw in a crowd and (more crucially) keep it. Their performance amazingly finished ahead of schedule, allowing them one more track, "Filth In Filth Out". Problem is, Tim hadn't learnt this song on the drums, regardless he drummed on and you wouldn't have noticed the difference. I really don't know how I've gone this far without seeing Bosh live but now that I have I'm a fan.
VULA - Performance Café - 1.55pm
As one half of the vocal team behind chart-topping dance sensation Basement Jaxx (the other half being in her backing group), Vula was arguably up there with the most successful acts at this year's Greenbelt. So you might be forgiven for thinking she was a bit of a 'diva'; especially after arriving 10 minutes late. You'd be wrong though. Vula had a lovely stage presence, came across humble and self-deprecating, especially as she kept forgetting the words to her songs! Her set kicked off with "Mr Happy", which was a bouncy song about the Mr Man cartoon character. After that she performed edgier songs like "Negativity" about the people who put her down when she was starting out, and "Get Your Own", an instruction to a girl who wanted her man, although Vula did point out it wasn't autobiographical ("No one's ever stolen my man!"). Then she chilled it out a bit and did gorgeous covers of "Loving You" by Minnie Ripperton and "Butterflies" by Michael Jackson, to commemorate what would have been Jackson's 51st birthday. "Crash Da Party" was amongst the least exciting tracks. There was nothing wrong with it per se, it just didn't have the magic that most of the other tracks exuded. The singer definitely saved the best two tracks for last. "Oh My Gosh", which she co-wrote and performed with Basement Jaxx, sounded sensational played acoustically, as did the fiendishly catchy "Money". It was made even better by the comic solos from her backing singers La-Donna Harley Peters and Sharlene Hector that the crowd loved: "I've got a shoe problem but I've confessed it to the Lord so it's okay!" A brilliant set.
CENACLE - Underground - 2.30pm
It does seem strange that at the end of the first decade of the 21st century a newly formed band decided to go down the rapcore/nu-metal route. Admittedly music, like fashion and so many other things, is cyclical and no doubt this will start sounding fresh in a few years but right now in 2009 it all sounds rather dated. To their credit, these guys all seemed pretty young and have made their Greenbelt debut pretty soon into the band's life. Four of the seven songs in Cenacle's set were taken from their promising debut EP, whilst the remaining three (that's almost half of their set) were covers. Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River" wrapped things up, P.O.D.'s "Boom" also got the treatment and "Shut Me Out" by Kutless gave us the most obvious indication as to who their biggest influence is. The two singers' voices are both pretty high but harmonised nicely to sound like John Michah riffing with Trevor McNevan. The four original songs, of which the title track "Immortality" is perhaps my favourite, all showed potential but only minor glimpses of finished product. Still, the decent sized crowd enjoyed the set and there's plenty about this band that's worth me keeping an eye on their progress. One would imagine that once they've written a few more tunes and further established their sound they'll stop sounding like a Kutless cover band.
FOREIGN SLIPPERS - Big Top - 2.45pm
The first daring feat performed by Gabi Fröden - more recognisably known under the moniker Foreign Slippers - was the successful negotiation of her guitar strap over her wonderfully elaborate hat. The second daring feat, which she and the band just about managed to achieve, was winning over a large Big Top crowd with a set of disarmingly intimate songs. Due to a late start and some gentle numbers kicking off the set, the occasionally bewildered audience took a little warming up. Seeming unsure of the reception of Tom Petty cover "I Won't Back Down" she tentatively asked, "Do you like that song? It's a wonderful song isn't it?" Gabi's interaction with the audience was predictably sweet and odd - three times she had to explain "that was a joke!" Having toured with Duke Special and Beth Rowley it was no surprise to find Foreign Slippers' landing somewhere inbetween the two when it came to musical style. Quirky and melancholic with a penchant for unusual sounds and minimalist tunes, yet boasting an enchanting voice and a good range. Sadly, it seemed that by the time the show really got going it was pretty much over. This brief, nine song set barely hit the half hour mark but did manage to satisfy the fans, as well as provide a welcome introduction to those new to the band. With a Performance Cafe also scheduled, Foreign Slippers could turn out to be one of the more warmly received acts of this year's festival - the fans who went wild after every song intend to make sure of that.
THE FANCY TOYS - The Performance Café - 3.15pm
The Anglo-French duo unfortunately arrived a little late, so the set was cut short by about 20 minutes. However, as soon as they launched into their quirky and cheerful folk/pop songs and had the audience clapping along within minutes of the opening number, their touch of humour added to an already novel performance was well received. Bringing a ukulele into the equation for the second song kept the audience engaged and added a new dimension to the left-of-centre take on folk music. Musical creativity was evident in their danceable songs which were reminiscent of a stripped down Gogol Bordello but with some, shall we say, interesting use of a xylophone. Playing four songs meant that this group only made a fleeting impression, but what they did was hugely enjoyable.
100 PHILISTINE FORESKINS - Underground - 3.30pm
What were people expecting going into this gig? Certainly their name (1 Samuel 18 will fill you in) piqued the curiosity of many a Greenbelt punter. For me I had a reasonable idea, having heard their wondrous split EP with German hardcore ranters Preacher. However the live experience far surpasses anything you could lay down in a recording studio. Put simply this was Scottish freak punk at its finest. The Foreskins started as the side project for Dougle McMysteron of Voice Of The Mysterons during their band's downtime but also incorporates the ex-drummer from Edinburgh punk legends The Exploited. It was said drummer, Ian, who gave an impassioned and impromptu testimony mid-set of how his life was redeemed in Christ and the clear and apparent joy he had of being able to once again create unique and glorious music but this time for his Saviour. The band nailed the Old Testament imagery and indignant ranting down to a tea, encouraging a raucous reaction from the crowd. Circle pit, square dancing, skanking, wall of death, zombie conga - you name it, it was there in some shape or another. Their set ended (as it did in an even more bizarre way for their acoustic set in G-Music) with "Zekes Old Bones", fast becoming a stone cold classic, allowing for a cacophony of drumming by all three members after the initial bellowing by Caledonia's finest sideburn wearer. Naturally there was the usual wrestle with the venue's poor live sound but even still their Rodent Emporium-but-heavier approach was greatly appreciated by a packed Underground crowd. Chatting to the lads at their press conference (they still don't quite know how a six-month-old band managed to garner such a thing) they told me one of the highlights for them was the post-performance revelation that Rob Bell had twittered their band name as one of the best he'd ever heard. If you missed 100 Philistine Foreskins' tumultuous set then there's no way your Greenbelt could have beaten mine.
FOY VANCE - Big Top - 3.45pm
Looking more like a typical Greenbelt punter in wellies and floppy hat than a performer, and crouching over a microphone stand that seemed to have been set up for a leprechaun rather than a full-sized Irishman, Foy Vance cut a distinctive figure on his first full Greenbelt appearance. But this was roots music at its most raw and passionate, and a packed Big Top crowd was enthusiastic in its appreciation. Sometimes, when artists drop cover versions into their set, it shows up the weakness of their own material. The genius of Foy Vance is that not only did his own songs more than stand up to the comparison, but that he didn't just copy songs from other sources, he made them his own too - from an incredible acoustic treatment of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" to the closer, a slightly more straightforward but equally powerful cover of the Joan Osborne classic, "What If God Was One Of Us", this was musicianship of the highest order.
DANNY COPE - Performance Café - 4pm
Danny has a winsomely modest persona that from the off engaged the audience - "I was introduced as an 'intellectual' - don't believe a word of it." Wakefield-based Danny had hoped to play Greenbelt with a band but is just as effective as one-man-and-acoustic, his smooth and tuneful voice effortlessly registering his memorable lyrics with the audience as he sang, "I must be lazy, or crazy or a bit of both." He introduced one of his oldies "Sandcastles" with an amusing explanation of the different Northern and Southern pronunciations of "castles" then sat at the piano for a song before breaking into one of his best compositions, "You Colour Me In". No wonder Danny has a job teaching songwriting skills to others. Seemingly every line from this consummate songsmith shone with insight and an easy eloquence while his melodies were fresh and memorable. With so many Christian singer/songwriters opting for either the clichés of Bible paraphrases or the confusing obliqueness of obscure metaphor, Danny's deft fusion of spirituality and songwriting craft could only be admired. No wonder the audience clapped long and hard at the close.
CONDUIT - Underground - 4.15pm
It's official, the band's transformation from punk outfit Ignited to melodic hardcore unit Conduit is clearly complete. There's no shred of punk left in their The Devil Wears Prada meets Underoath meets Life In Your Way sound. Their musical transformation is especially helped by a much more convincing scream, perhaps a little too raucous to be considered by the majority as easy on the ear, and a heavier end to their sound than previous attempts in my company. I'm not the only one to notice progress as guitar virtuoso Jeff Scheetz has flown over from the States to record their debut album. As ever the Coventry lads are blatant in their lyrical stance and also felt able to profess their faith from the stage on a number of occasions. Rare you hear that at Greenbelt. Biblical themes were used frequently and spoken word from the Good Book provided a good segue between two of their best tracks. The one downside to their progression to a more heavy yet diverse sound is that the apprentice sound guy didn't perhaps do them the full justice which is sadly often the case at the Underground venue. In places there was intentional discordance but in others it just sounded like a bad mix. Still, the samples worked and the band continues to get better. I eagerly await their debut album, out in November.