The Charlatans, The Automatic, The Young Knives, The Long Blondes, Kid Harpoon - Electric Gardens Festival- 5th/6th of August

Mark L 23/08/2006

OK so the blurb says that the Electric Gardens Festival is a 'boutique' festival. What does that mean? Anyone know? You at the back. Jonny: with the cigarette sticking out your mouth.

'Does Boutique mean that you are asked to pay £7 for a hamburger and people go around selling cigs like choc ices?'

I'm not sure Jonny, how about anyone else. Class? Class? Can I get a rewind?

'Sir, Sir, does it mean you can watch 14 year olds buy Smirnoff Ice but also experience exceptionally clean toilets?'

Well, Jenny, that may be. Let me get back to my review and you will find out.

Yeah, so I was sent down to 'review' the festival. For a new festy such as the Electric Gardens, I think it is only fair that I don't just focus on the bands. But the actual festy itself. So let's get some of my overall impressions of this two day festival which resides in the garden of a country manor in Canterbury. One little caveat. I only went to the Sunday. The 'indie/rock' day. Yeah I know, 'lightweight', but in my defence, the Saturday was mainly DJ bods, DJ bods I haven't even heard of, and frankly I didn't fancy it.

Firstly: the moans. The Electric Gardens Festival claim on the site that being a 'boutique' festival they avoid the trappings of other festivals, so 'you can say goodbye to over priced warm cans of lager' and hello to bars stocked with 'top lager and award winning cask conditioned ale'. You even get to look forward to food sourced from 'only local ingredients' to provide 'delicious freshly prepared dishes'.

Sounds exciting doesn't it children?

What it does not say is that you will:

-Be asked to pay £7 for an average 'Walthamstow Market' hamburger and a limp salad.
-Illogically be asked to pay £3 for a pint of Red Stripe yet also £3 for half a pint of Carlsberg.
-Get told halfway through the day that the ice cold beer on tap has 'run out'.
-Not be able to spot any such thing as an award winning cask conditioned ale.

Somewhat disgustingly priced food wise, I think there must have been a mini revolt when the main food tent seemingly slashed prices from £7 to £5 (the same price as the food in the VIP tent). Whoop whoop. What value. Seriously. This practice has to stop. It is pure and simply daylight robbery. There is nothing to justify this sort of expense. I know a good hamburger, and whilst not terrible it tasted more like a frozen supermarket burger than something sourced from the 'finest local ingredients'. And I know this doesn't apply to 'mere mortals', but the VIP section was shit. Paying for food and drink? What is all that about? We are very important people don't you know.

With the bitter taste of the coleslaw in my mouth my 'homies' were then affronted by the sickening sight of three official festival staff going around with choc ice style dispensing units, selling packets of Camel like they were sweet packets. Without coming across all pious, I must say that in this day and age where we want to discourage smoking, this was a sickening thing to do. Especially as most of the audience looked like they were just out of nappies. What's more, and apart from the lung cancer issues, there is nothing more annoying than the guy in front blowing ciggy smoke in your face while you are trying to watch the band. They should be banning smoking at festivals, not going around encouraging it.

Later in the day there was something else to top this. Watching girls obviously, OBVIOUSLY no older than fifteen, buying Smirnoff Ice from the Smirnoff Ice stall, seemingly, without so much as a hesitation from the staff. Now, it is all very well having a festival that is practically overrun with little chav kids. But drunk little chav kids is something else. Apart from the illegalities of selling alcohol to youngsters, you also have the side effect of 'bottle throwing'. Which reared its ugly head during the Automatics' set.

Another fucking stupid thing, was the size of, and heat inside, the MySpace Tent. It was tiny, and led to a situation where you either couldn't get inside it at all, or when you did get inside you almost died from the 'hot liquid magma' temperatures. This was poor planning because the bands playing the MySpace tent were not small bands by any means. The Electric Soft Parade, whilst having a lean period of late, aren't the sort of band you can put in a tent smaller than the Bull and Gate!! Neither are Battle for that matter!! Stupid. Next time, get a larger, more well ventilated tent.

The third tent (the 'Eat Your Own Ears' stage) was a circus style set up, which was a bit cooler than the Myspace one, and quite a bit larger. Although, apart from Jamie T and the Mystery Jets I didn't notice any acts to justify that tent being so larger than the MySpace one. In my eyes, the Mystery Jets are a tiny band anyway, and I wouldn't watch them if they were playing inside my head. Any band who pulls out of a charity gig for a kiddie hospital at the last minute due to the fact that 'things are going mad for us at the moment, and we may get a better offer', is not worthy of playing the display tent in Millets. Middle class dullards.

Now you may think that this festival was a total disaster. But you would be wrong. I enjoyed myself. The setting was very nice (in the leafy surrounds of a lovely country manor), and the atmosphere was very friendly (apart from said drunk kids throwing bottles). Also, outside at least, it wasn't overbearingly crowded. The festival was not sold out, from what I heard anyhow, but I really think that any more people on such a small site would have made things 'Myspace Tent' esque, unbearably claustrophobic. So either reduce the capacity or make the site larger guys.

Bands? What Bands? OK, lets talk bands.

First up on the main stage we had The Boy Least Likely Too. Who played enthusiastic, upbeat twee indie which came across like Ooberman mixed with Belle and Sebastian mixed with country and western. Whilst not a particularly amazing band they were a jovial (eurgh, soppy word alert) enough start to the day, and got a few heads tapping and people smiling. Their cover of George Michaels' 'Faith' was terrible though.

Meanwhile, in the circus tent, the most rock and roll man of the day was playing. A little earlier on Kid Harpoon had pulled up in front of us at the entry to the VIP section and simply stated 'I haven't got a pass but I am meant to be on stage in five minutes'. After playing a sea shanty set of modern folk rock with satirical lyrics and a Beatles tinge, he then posed for us with his food. Top bloke: if you pay good money for it you have to get it in the picture I suppose.

The Long Blondes seemed slightly adrift on the main festival stage in the height of the afternoon daylight. They are the sort of atmospheric band that suit playing a dark, dingy indoor club while the winter wind howls outside in the dead of night. They pulled it off reasonably well though, with that mix of Chrissie Hynde, PJ Harvey, a dollop of YYYs and er, some Sleeper. In fact the bastard child of Sleeper and Kenickie, “Separated By Motorways' got the loudest cheer of the night. I enjoyed 'Giddy Stratospheres' myself, for the wobbly vocalising.

Then The Young Knives took to the main stage and showed us not only what a great band they are, but what a great festival band they are. The songs, pitched perfectly between comedy and serious pathos, big dumb bouncy riffs entwining with more introvert angular art rock. It was simply a great set, of a great bunch of indie songs. The band were very tight, and entertained with mid song banter. Mostly consisting of verbal jousting between the bassist (the House of Lords), and the singer. The "hits", 'Hot Summer', 'Here Comes the Rumour Mill' and 'She's Attracted To' were all played brilliantly, but the strength and variety of the rest of the set was what really impressed. Only two bum notes really:

One was a song called Elaine, which sounded like it had been made up in sound check, and did not match the intricacy or lyrical wit of the other songs. The second faux pas was courtesy of the House of Lords, at a loss as to what to say during some tuning up, he decided to state that he loved 'all the girls in the crowd, except for the ugly fat ones'. I reckon he feels like a prize turnip for saying that. Whether he thought that coming from him (someone who could be said to be calling the kettle black) would mean it would come across as 'ironic' I really don't know. The joke certainly was not THAT obvious to a bunch of fat, ugly 14 year olds with low self esteem. I mean how must they feel knowing that even, Jonathan King lookalike, the House of Lords, doesn't want to sleep with them?

Scots band The Fratellis were on next. Starting reasonably well with one of the singles, they progressively got worse and worse, playing awful limp wristed songs, including one dirge of a song which I like to call the 'worst song ever played at a music festival'. It really was that bad. The Fratellis are the sort of band who are getting by on one or two half decent singles, slyly hiding the fact that they are the indie punk equivalent of Travis. As the set went on, I thought I was watching a bunch of pub rock bores play the Walthamstow Standard.

In the circus tent we caught the last song of the Veils set. Spooky and atmospheric sounding, I would have liked to have seen more.

Now a little wander around the festival revealed what were
exceptionally clean toilets. Great stuff. Then back at the circus tent some new age type character gets on stage trying to be the folk rock Moby. Adem was the name. Time to go back to the main stage.

Back at the main stage, band of the moment, The Automatic were playing. Now I am not by any means a massive fan of The Automatic, prior to the festy I thought they were simply OK, and Pennie the yelping keyboardist was, well, one of the most annoying little characters in music. However, I have to say (somewhat controversially on GIITTV) that they were brilliant. I really enjoyed it. I don't know if it was because I had just seen the Fratellis before, but The Automatic seemed like the perfect festival band, and pulled out a set of ferocity and drive, making each one of their songs sound more vital and urgent than the recorded equivalents. Pennie, although a bit grating on record, in a live context, gives the whole stage energy, and everyone has something to look at as he pounds the keyboards and flings himself around the stage. It was great to watch, and the sound was powerful and compelling. Yes, most of their songs sound a bit samey (i.e. Raul with a different chorus). But over the course of a shortish set, the energy levels never flag, and you cannot help but get drawn in by it all. They even played a long lost b-side, which came across better than most of the Fratellis' album material.
Their penultimate song was a cover of Kanye Wests' 'Goldigger' which officially converted me to the cause of Alex Pennie (well, for a little while) who raps his way throughout the whole tune like some sort of demented wannabe gangsta on day release from Broadmoor. Genius. Then the obligatory set closer 'Monster' which I am pretty sick of, but left everyone with dumb smiles on their faces. OK, I probably wouldn't buy their record and listen to it at home. They aren't a particularly 'deep' or emotionally involving band. But in this environment the songs worked awesomely, the band were tight, Robs voice was raw and powerful, and Pennie just saved himself from a hanging. Brilliant.

Here is what one of my homies and photographer extraordinaire, 'Dick W', had to say about it:

'Ahh I had so much fun Sunday. I really am still buzzing from The Automatics' set. That was awesome; I still say one of the best live shows I've seen in years. I've read it before but Pennie's voice is like another instrument. How about the bit in one of the songs when it suddenly stopped for a split second and Pennie quick as lightning turns round and puts a hand up to the drummer as if to say, STOP! and then he carries on, head down pounding away at the keyboards with clenched fist swivelling on his winkle pickers, I saw those bad boys when I went up for photos which makes that leap he did from lying flat out on stage to standing upright in one go all the more impressive. Then there was Goldigger, how fucking impressive was that? Ahh, not saying it was a one man show by any stretch, it takes all of them to make the songs so strong, but he is a fucking star! Do I sound too enthusiastic, hehe, use that as a review'

Sums up the chaos of it, better than I could.

So...after such a storming set we went back to the MySpace tent to see if we could get in and see the Electric Soft Parade and then, hopefully, Battle. No luck. The tent was jammed solid with loads of people around the outside trying to catch a glimpse of anything going on inside.

At the time there was nothing we thought worth seeing in the circus tent and we didn't fancy seeing Morning Runner on the main stage, who were on in 15 minutes or so.

Pissed off at not being able to actually see the bands we wanted to review, it was time to make a decision. Did we wait until the Charlatans headlined the main stage, after Morning Runner, or did we go. Then we thought of something else. The two main car parks of the festival led out onto a very narrow country lane. So narrow that it is almost only suitable for one way single file traffic. It was likely going to take hours to clear the car park afterwards and actually get off this log jammed lane and onto the motorway. We decided to forgo the Charlies and make our way home. They would probably be playing all their shit new reggae style stuff anyway.

So lesser reviewers who leave things early (ish) would have made up, the rest of this review. But sometimes you take what you can and go. I for one am not trading hearing 'The Only One Know', for the chance to get back home before the early hours of the morning, avoiding traffic gridlock.

So there you have it. Would I go again to this festival? Yeah I think I would. It was a lovely location and atmosphere (and the PR team at EMMs were lovely). But, if you do go, bring a packed lunch. In a He-Man lunch box if possible.