Charlotte Hatherley, Chew Lips, Slow Club, Goldheart Assembly
Sam Lee 13/06/2010
Who doesn't love a nice picnic on a hot summer's day? Well, if today is anything to go by, quite a few people, actually. Despite the fact that there are four up-and-coming bands and three DJs on the bill, as well as nostalgic activities such as sack races and face painting (both of which, to be fair, turn out to be a bit rubbish), there's barely a couple of dozen people here as the first DJ, Blonde Ambition, attempts to get the few who are here warmed up with her 80's-inspired set.
The crowd has grown to a slightly more respectable size as our host for today, Jameela Jamil (from T4, apparently...) wanders onto the stage and introduces the first band, indie-folk sextet Goldheart Assembly, telling us that they're her favourite band on the bill. I'm sure they'll be thrilled. The sparse crowd seems to share her enthusiasm though, and warmly welcome them as they amble on and pick up their instruments.
They open their set with a cover of Tom Waits' 'Clap Hands', which begins with a lone acoustic guitar and gorgeous harmonies from the two frontmen, bassist and singer James Dale and guitarist and singer John Herbert. Afterwards Dale thanks the audience, especially Geoff, an enormous hairy man who's been dancing on his own right in front of the band, and who, according to the bassist, "makes it all worthwhile." After heckling the people who are watching for free from the other side of the fence they launch into their latest single, 'King Of Rome', which sounds just as dynamic live as it does on the album, followed by the breathtakingly beautiful 'So Long St. Christopher'. They go on to play 'Wolves and Thieves' next, before tearing it up with the 60's garage-rock influenced 'Oh Really'. The end of their final song 'Engraver's Daughter' comes around far too soon, and Goldheart Assembly say their thanks and walk off to enthusiastic, if quiet, applause.
As they leave the bandstand, DJ cocknbullkid begins her set, which is pretty memorable, but maybe not for the reasons she would have hoped. Out of nowhere a hundred or so completely naked cyclists appear, just as she starts playing Rihanna's 'Rude Boy'. Whether it's perfect comic timing or just a hilarious coincidence (and I suspect it's the latter), seeing such an unattractive mass of pale middle-aged flesh going by, soundtracked by Rihanna's suggestive drawl of "Come here rude boy, is you big enough?" is an unexpected highlight of the entire day.
Fortunately they've dispersed by the time Sheffield duo Slow Club sheepishly come on stage. They slowly fade into the retro-tinged 'Wild Blue Milk', which sees both Charles and Rebecca playing guitar and singing lead vocals. It's pretty obvious that, live, these two are more punk in ethos than folk, as, despite having some glistening folk-pop gems in their set, they approach each song with a sort of nonchalant ferocity. This is particularly apparent when Rebecca takes to the drums, like in 'If We're Still Alive' , in which she pounds the floor tom to within an inch of its life, after claiming that "it's quite subdued in this field." Geoff, the hairy one, who hasn't moved from his post directly in front of the bandstand, takes this as his cue to make his air guitar actions even more exaggerated, but everyone else seems to miss the hint and remains sat down towards the back of the park. Even the promise of "an exclusive, Bristol, oh my God!" does little to rouse the audience, who seem perfectly content to just relax in the sun and let Slow Club's folky ballads gently wash over them. By the time they reach their final song, the more upbeat and thrashy 'Giving Up On Love', their frustration at the docile crowd is becoming pretty obvious, and they don't hang about for long after they've finished playing.
They're not the only ones to notice the chilled out nature of the sparse crowd, but they don't handle it half as well as London electro three piece Chew Lips. They confidently take to the stage as singer Tigs shouts "Hey! How are you? Half asleep?", but unlike Slow Club, they don't let the atmosphere (or lack of it) affect their performance, launching energetically into their set. Tigs throws herself around the stage, at times out of control as she trips over, but she laughs it off and carries on with even more vigour, while the two multi-instrumentalists Will Sanderson and James Watkins nod their heads in perfect unison behind her. The appearance of their latest single, the more accessible 'Karen', halfway through their set gets the best response from the crowd so far, even prompting a few girls to run forward and dance with hairy Geoff (who's still going, by the way) and Jameela Jamil, who seems a little put out that Geoff's getting more attention than she is. The effortlessly cool 'Toro' keeps those at the front moving, and Tigs dances amongst them during their slower final song 'Gold Key'. She even stands and chats with them all for about half an hour after they've finished their set, while headliner Charlotte Hatherley is setting up. What a nice girl.
Charlotte Hatherley always seemed to be a bit of an odd choice as headliner. It's not that I don't like her or anything, it's just that, well, she's been around for a while hasn't she? Her set doesn't get off to a great start, not helped by the poor sound which makes it difficult to even tell whether her opening song's any good or not. Next is single 'Alexander', which suffers the same fate. It's a tepid and one-dimensional performance, during which people start to pack up their hampers and go home. And unfortunately, her set continues in the same way. The electric drum kit (she's doing a 'stripped-down' set today) sounds out of place, and the fact that there's no bassist means that the two electric guitars just blend together into an indistinguishable fuzzy mess. At best, it sounds as though none of the musicians are adapting to the more basic setup, at worst - it sounds scruffy and under-rehearsed. The over-zealous guitarist flings himself wildly around the stage, even when it seems a tad unnecessary, before making a complete fool of himself as he strides into the crowd, dragging people up to the front from where they're sat as he throws their food around and drinks their beer. If he'd been less of a tosser I might have felt a little bit bad, but now I don't feel at all guilty in being completely honest and saying that it's an absolutely awful set. Even their cover of Kim Wilde's 'Kids In America' ends up sounding like a poor school talent show audition. The only good thing I can say about the performance was that it was less than half an hour long, so, luckily enough, the pain was fairly short-lived.
Although, on the whole, the music has been good and the weather glorious, there just seems to have been something missing today. I guess you could blame it on the disappointing turnout, but even the people who were here didn't really give bands the reception - or even the attention - that they deserved. Maybe it was down to the fact that Charlotte Hatherley just wasn't the right headliner for the occasion. Maybe it wasn't advertised enough. Who knows?
But, as it was all for such a good cause, I'm going to stop complaining about it and conclude with this:
I had quite a nice day, thanks.