Still expanding, now with 78 performance reviews, our coverage of the GREENBELT festival continues.
Continued from page 5
[CRAVE] - Underground - 2.35pm
You can guarantee that this tight Northern Irish outfit will get off to a kicking start, and today was no exception. Things were made even easier for them now they're a four-piece. I was always amazed by how big their sound was as a three-piece but now with an extra guitar they sound huge. Entertaining, rocking, tight, thought provoking, intelligent, inspiring, evangelical, spirit-filled - man, I love these guys. The whole set was full of God's Spirit and certain songs, such as "Siren", really knew how to stir the very depths of my soul. A few songs into the set a new one to me was introduced, "Royal Red". The lads were clearly going for an anthemic sound with this one, which nicely matched their post-grunge meets Foo Fighters sound. The song actually proved to be one of their softer ones. The fellas had obviously been blessed with the chance to sound check before their gig and as a result sounded a whole lot better than their last Greenbelt appearance. Lead singer Scott likes to explain each song and do a bit of banter, the problem was he over ran a little, meaning they didn't have space for all the songs they'd hope to play. The band launched into their farewell song with full gusto but sadly some feedback coming from one of the guitars slightly marred their sound. However the crowd lapped up the performance and gave them a rousing sending off.
TIM HUGHES AND AL GORDON - Centaur - 2.45pm
Greenbelt may have been slow, very slow, to embrace the guitar-driven pop rock of modern worship (at least in the Soul Survivor model) but the big crowd in the Centaur for Worship Central's Tim and Al showed that many Greenbelters have no problem with that particular worship template. The duo hit the ground running and opened with an impassioned prayer that Heaven would meet earth, then burst into Tim Hughes' classic "Beautiful One" which directly led the 2000 strong congregation into communication with God. Heading straight into "Happy Day", I grew more and more impressed by the spiritual focus that the band conveyed. It was evident that these musicians were not showing off or playing too simply but rather were creating music through which God could minister. As the passion in both the band and congregation grew, Tim led us into "Dance Dance" which reflected very well how God was speaking to the crowd. Tim then let Al take over who went into a very rousing, spiritually fervent rendition of "Mighty To Save". As the worship naturally progressed to a more reflective mood it took a lot of effort to remain focused enough to carry on with the demands of review notes. Ending the session with a prayer that asked for God's love to empower us to change the nations, the Spirit was tangibly evident. Even after the band had finished, the congregation continued to sing "Amazing Grace". Utterly wonderful.
THROUGH SOLACE - Underground - 3.20pm
Not for the first time this weekend the traffic caught out contributors to this year's festival. On this occasion the Welsh five-piece melodic hardcore unit were a guitarist down, made even worse by virtue of the fact that Rob also provides the melodic vocals. So a quick change to the set list was clearly in order prior to taking the stage and they admirably performed better than almost any other hard music band this year. Considering this potential disaster the band still delivered a very solid set, playing a lot more of their earlier stuff - which relied less on a second vocalist. From their Strikefirst Records debut "Almost" still managed to sound epic, with a strong arc of emotion and power. But then mid-set a breathless Rob managed to find his way to the Underground venue and suddenly a solid four-piece performance turned into an immense five-piece offering. Another re-jig of the set list saw them play three songs at full capacity, of which "Tides II" best demonstrated their diversity in sound and oozed of God's Spirit. The band were clearly worshiping God at this point, as was I, and this worked as a very effective way of nailing their evangelical colours to the mast. The band wrapped up with "Taylor" and the crowd used it as their last chance to pull some moves in the pit. Kudos to the band for managing to play so well missing one band member and then double brownie points for raising the already high bar once Mr Milligan got his Cambrian self on stage.
OPTIMISTIC SOUND SYSTEM - Mainstage - 4pm
After such a sterling performance by the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, I was wholly looking forward to a couple of hours of chilling out to Optimistic Sound System's selection of dub, reggae and soul tracks. Unfortunately the crowd rapidly dispersed and so the deejay found himself playing to around 20 people which for the Mainstage is pretty disastrous. However, those who were there enjoyed a well mixed, relaxing set of easy listening soul classics, the perfect way to spend the Monday afternoon, especially after having had such a busy weekend.
JEFF SCHEETZ - Underground - 4.05pm
There's no doubting that Jeff Scheetz is one of the most underrated guitarsmiths of the last two decades. Everyone watching him clearly felt honoured to see the American virtuoso live but you can't help feeling that there's only so much guitar twiddling you can watch before you want to hear full songs. Thankfully this was achieved after his opening three numbers. The set started off with a trio of tunes in which Jeff played solo to the accompaniment of a backing CD, provided by his usual band from back in the States. Then he enlisted the help of three very talented Brits: Dave Knowles on drums, Mark Ellison on guitar and V-Rats founder Pete Emms on bass. When the other lads in the band joined him on stage Jeff's words were "we're just gonna jam, it should be fun." He was not wrong, it was a whole lot of fun, but perhaps a little more than a simple jam session. Once again Jeff's dazzling axe-work really left any guitarist in ear-shot with open mouths. Jeff was clearly enjoying himself. The rest of the band were having a great time too and Jeff's beaming smile certainly showed his appreciation in being joined by the other lads. It left me hungry to see him as part of a full band with stunning vocals in tow. Nonetheless the near capacity, older-than-average crowd lapped up the performance of a master musician.
THE FUTURES - Underground - 4.45pm
Only a small crowd turned out for the Brighton post-rock outfit and by the end of their time on stage you started to see why. At the start I put it down to them starting earlier than they were scheduled to do so. I initially went into the gig expecting "rock and roll meets hardcore" as this was how the band described themselves. Instead I got a new take on Envy On The Coast or the fellow nautically-named We Are The Ocean. As any band of this type worth their salt should, The Futures had a quality synth player who added some nice sounds to the mix. The compelling thing about post-rock is the layering and gentle build-up process it brings to the sound, but the downside is that it can get very boring if it's not done well. This was The Futures' problem; at times they came close to brilliance but sadly not close enough. Instead, we had the spectacle of a very talented bunch of musicians failing to entertain.
MARTYN JOSEPH and STUART HENDERSON - Centaur -
Singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph and poet/broadcaster Stuart Henderson are not only longtime Greenbelt stalwarts but also collaborators on much of Martyn's material. So a joint appearance of singer/songwriter and performance poet seemed perfectly logical, and the only surprise was it wasn't original to Greenbelt - this was actually a festival reprise of their joint Because We Can tour based on exactly that premise. Having had the length of a tour to hone the content and presentation made for a smooth and well-worked performance that blended poetry and music very effectively, as well as giving space to each contributor to perform some of their own material individually. The standout moment of this section of the gig was, for me, one of the collaboratively-written songs, "Everything In Heaven Comes Apart", which has long been a favourite of mine but here took on a new dimension with some of the verses being recited as poetry rather than sung - it was surprising how much of a difference it made to the emphasis of the words and their emotional impact. But the other big plus of this performance was entirely non-musical. On the tour, each event had consisted of two parts, the music/poetry presentation and a separate section where the proponents engaged in a question and answer session with the audience. Despite being concertinaed into a single festival event, this distinction was maintained with Stuart and Martyn spending some time responding to queries from the floor. Most of these, as expected, were about the mechanics of songwriting and the opinions of the duo on matters relating to politics and Greenbelt, but one question came from a small child who asked "How old is God?". Stuart Henderson delighted the audience with his answer: "Older than an elephant, older than a giraffe, older than the moon, older than space, and younger than you".
SLEEPS IN OYSTERS - The Underground - 6.55pm
My curiosity was aroused when I read that Sleeps In Oysters were described as an electronic band who created experimental sounds using a number of different instruments. Being keen on experimental electronica I was wholly looking forward to seeing this band. As they arrived on stage, switched on their lamp and readied themselves before the various instruments that had been strewn across the table I felt sorry for them as an audience of maybe 20 people had turned up. Utilizing mobile phones, laptops and bells, the sound which began to form was unlike anything I had ever heard, the closest I could have gotten to it was perhaps a more melodic sounding Merzbow crossed with a very conservative Aphex Twin. The soaring vocals of Lisa Busby gave the beautifully crafted folk-influenced electronica background an air which drew in the listener and with a focussed, natural performance from the band even the audience became involved. I was handed a recorder and on cue, was commanded to play whatever I felt. It was so honest that I found myself with my eyes closed becoming completely engrossed that it was sad to stop playing. Bringing even more instruments into play including a mandolin and a mini-accordion, this was a gripping performance from Sleeps In Oysters that kept the audience entertained throughout. Ironic indeed that such an innovative performance should have been to such a small gathering.
CORNERSHOP - Mainstage - 8pm
Well, that was a bit of a letdown. Many of us remember the band from the Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim mix of "Brimful Of Asher" but little else. It turns out there's a reason for that. Cornershop didn't even close on said song and their own (the original) version doesn't quite pack the same punch. For me their standout tracks were ones that best mixed their own Indian roots with the indie/Britpop sound of the mid '90s. One particular song really went the whole hog with the sitar and theremin and was sung in a subcontinental dialect. Interestingly it repeated Allah's name in the lyrics or at least that's how it sounded to me. The use of other tongues as well as some of the less standard instruments for an indie band wasn't quite enough of a wow factor for me though. On stage Cornershop were remarkably low on energy, which I guess matched their sound nicely but it made for a very boring spectacle. If you're gonna play Mainstage people expect a performance and with these guys there was absolutely nothing captivating about them. Compared to a whole host of bands I've seen in the Underground this year, these one-hit-wonders from Wolverhampton and Leicester completely failed to deliver.
FOXES! - The Underground - 8.05pm
I had heard that Foxes! were one of the bands to look out for at this year's Greenbelt and as they started to play I instantly heard a fresh take on what seemed to be a throwback to '60s electropop. With some slight ambient tinges, the band launched into "6 O'Clock" which added touches of synthpop to an already eclectic mix. They kept the audience tapping their feet and wondering what was coming next. Unfortunately, though, the band gradually lost contact with much of the audience. The energy on the stage did not match the sometimes very clinical music, and although it was quirky, jaunty and rather original, their impressive eclecticism did not have this reviewer wanting more. It was only when they began to play their new song "Sailors" the very 1960s sound again made audience connection. Undoubtedly, the new material from Foxes! was better and more mature. Hopefully they will improve with age.
ATHLETE - Mainstage - Monday 9.35pm
Apparently, Greenbelt have been trying to book Athlete for ages, so it was something of a coup to finally get them to appear. The wait was worth it, though, with the final night's Mainstage audience treated to a performance from a band at the top of their form. With a new album, 'Black Swan', released a few days before the festival it was always going to form the core of the setlist, but the back catalogue wasn't neglected with hits such as "El Salvador" and "Shake Those Windows" from 'Vehicles And Animals', "Half Light" from 'Tourist' and "Hurricane" from 'Beyond The Neighbourhood' all putting in an appearance. The finale, not surprisingly, was the top-five hit "Wires" - although lead singer Joel Potts did joke earlier that "actually, we're not going to do that one this time" in response to a shouted request for it from the crowd. With the ability to slip smoothly between the music and bantering with the crowd, it's easy to see why Athlete have a reputation as an excellent live band, and they certainly lived up to their reputation here. All in all, a fine end to the weekend's Mainstage lineup.