Monthly Archives: September 2010

You Can Call This A Swan Song

As you may well be aware, the wonderful Grammatics are no more. Bowing out from the live arena with a series of shows in August, they have now closed the curtain on their career as a whole – but not before releasing one final EP, entitled KRUPT (in reference to the fact the band had gone bankrupt). The EP was fan-funded via Pledge Music and was recorded in a week with James Kenosha (the producer of their eponymous debut) at his studio near Bridlington. The band may have been struggling financially, but on this evidence they were far from creatively bankrupt.

‘Stalinesque’ kicks off the EP with a fuzzy bassline before exploding into a chorus of jagged guitars and staccato cello, while ‘Mutant Reverb’ is Grammatics in full-blown dramatic mode, building from understated melancholy into an all-encompassing maelstrom of noise. The band have never been ones to shy away from experimentation – Owen has wryly described ‘Church Of The Great I Am’ as “us going R’n’B”, and he’s not far off. It’s a hugely anthemic ballad that sees the band take a huge stride into pop territory – but it maintains that distinctive Grammatics feel thanks to Owen’s wonderful voice and some fantastic cello from Lins Wilson. ‘Cedars-Sinai’, meanwhile, pushes the boat out further, swathing everything in echo to create an almost shoegaze sound. Closing out the EP is the title track, ‘KRUPT’, which touches on the band’s demise (“When the game is over/and you’re haemorrhaging money”). It feels like a dignified finale, with Owen’s resigned vocal backed by a sombre piano and cello accompaniment, while the drums remain defiantly regimented.

Although KRUPT is a worthy send-off , it also provides us with a tantalising glimpse of the second album that might have been. On this evidence, I believe it would have been at least as good as their debut. At least, thanks to their fans, Grammatics were given the opportunity to go out with a bang rather than a whimper – and that’s something we should all be grateful for.

But don’t just take my word for it – check out ‘Stalinesque’ from the EP below (via Drowned In Sound).

KRUPT is available on iTunes now.

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I woke up in a field near Abergavenny: Tales from Green Man

Another year, another new festival experience. This year I decided to make the trip down to Green Man festival in Wales – here’s what happened.

Prologue: Thursday

Striding through the throng of race-going mutton dressed as lamb that is spewing forth from York station, I collect my train ticket and then duly watch the train I had intended to catch leave the station. Not the best of starts, but luckily I’ve learned from similar ineptitude in the recent past and not booked myself on a specific train. So after a short wait for the next train to Manchester, it’s off to Abergavenny on a train to every station ever (via Boots’ Meal Deal). The weather gets steadily worse as we go further south, and by the time I reach the festival site it’s clear that it’s been pissing it down for hours. After quickly throwing down my tent during a period where it’s not quite raining so much, my entertainment for the evening consists of the ‘lost’ Leonard Cohen film, Bird On A Wire. It’s a very revealing documentary of his 1972 European tour, with some particularly touching moments – particularly during the last gig of the tour in Jerusalem. Worth watching if you’re a fan of the man – and if, like me, you’re not, it serves as a good education. After that, there’s not much else to do but head back to my tent and curse the rain.

Friday

The fact that it has been raining pretty much non-stop all night and throughout the morning makes me inclined to avoid the main stage as much as possible. I do feel sorry for Green Poll winners The Dufflefolks – but no amount of sympathy is going to make me stand out in the rain out of simple curiosity, so I head for the Far Out tent instead. There I find Plank, who not only get an applause for their soundcheck, but also for their set of pleasing math-rock goodness. I remain in the tent for Matthew & The Atlas – and despite the fact that they sound like Mumford & Sons, the idea of being somewhere that’s not dry is still less appealing. I do venture out after that to catch The Wave Pictures on the main stage, who entertain with wry banter and amusing lyrics. After finally meeting up with my friends Emily and Laura, I quickly depart to catch the end of O.Children’s set of dark and menacing rock, and then it’s back to the main stage for Mountain Man – or at least it would have been if they’d shown up, but they’re late. So instead we get some guy called Sweet Baboo who also sounds like a one-man Mumford & Sons, but with far more ridiculous lyrics.

After that diversion, another quick trip back to the Far Out tent for The Hundred In The Hands. I only end up catching the last few songs of their set, and I wish I’d arrived earlier as I like what I hear – jagged guitar meets Crystal Castles beats ‘n bleeps with sultry female vocals. Their set ends a bit earlier than advertised, so I have a walk round as I have some time to kill. On my travels I come across an all-female a cappella/beatboxing quintet called The Boxettes, one of whom is apparently the world female beatboxing champion. Their performance is impeccably tight and so they’re actually very entertaining, performing mostly original material but mixing in covers of ‘Feeling Good’ and some 90’s dance classic or other that I forget now. Definitely one of the weekend’s biggest surprises.

By contrast, Chew Lips suffer from the problem of not being as interesting as they think they are – sure they’ve got some decent enough tunes but they’re kinda throwaway electro-pop all the same. Later, Sleepy Sun battle through sound problems to put on a stirring performance, and then it’s time to wait for what is, for me, today’s main event – and Fuck Buttons do not disappoint. They sound absolutely colossal and are completely mesmerising throughout, seamlessly stringing together tracks from both their records – from ‘Surf Solar’ through ‘Bright Tomorrow’ all the way to ‘Flight Of The Feathered Serpent’s euphoric close. The crowd are absolutely baying for more and an encore would have been completely justified, but sadly there isn’t time.

With the rain still relentlessly pouring down, Doves have the somewhat unenviable task of headlining the main stage. Perhaps the rain is dampening my spirits, but they feel a bit lacklustre after Fuck Buttons’ phenomenal set. Emily and Laura leave after one two many middling album tracks for their liking, but I decide to stick it out until the end. It feels a bit late coming, but there are rewards to be had for doing so in the likes of ‘The Cedar Room’, ‘Last Broadcast’ and obligatory set-closer ‘There Goes The Fear’ (hilariously mis-titled in the programme as ‘Here Comes The Fear’). And with that, Friday is done.

Saturday

Saturday starts with yet more rain and a bewildering but brilliant set from Islet. Their sound is best described as organised chaos – you’d almost think they were making it up as they go along, switching instruments regularly and diving in and out of the crowd, but they still manage to make something that sounds cohesive. There’s something oddly fitting about the moment when one member flung a tambourine high into the air – upon coming back down, it bounced once and then neatly landed on the sound desk.

After that lively start to the day, Joker’s Daughter proves to be far more interesting on paper (specifically, the paper of the programme) than she is in reality. There’s some vague blather about her having sent her demos to Danger Mouse, but all I see is a slightly dull female singer-songwriter in a jester’s hat. She then goes on to sing a song entirely in Greek – at this point, I decide it’s time to leave. I meet up with Emily and Laura again, kinda half pay attention to Wolf People, and take the opportunity to obtain photographic evidence of it not actually raining for once. We stick around the Far Out tent for Egyptian Hip-Hop, who sound like both Late Of The Pier and Foals on occasion, but lack the energy and intensity that makes both those bands great. The Besnard Lakes, on the other hand, make a big impression on the main stage with their powerful, stately melodic rock. Later on, Summer Camp prove to be appropriately named, their twee indie-pop recalling lost youth and blissful summer days, while John Cooper Clarke is as hilarious as ever over in the Comedy tent. I also recall watching Avi Buffalo but can’t actually remember anything about them other than that they were very humbled to be here.

Then it’s time for my big three acts of the evening, beginning with These New Puritans. They come one step closer to truly recreating their astounding work on Hidden tonight by bringing along two Bassoon players – unfortunately, the sound is a bit all over the place for opener ‘We Want War’, but after that it’s all smooth sailing. And while the band do slip in ‘Elvis’ and ‘Infinity Ytinifni’ from debut record Beat Pyramid. , the set is really all about Hidden, from the thundering, staccato ‘Attack Music’ to the majestic ‘Orion’. However, as brilliant as their set is, it makes me yearn to hear the record played live as intended even more – in particular, set closer ‘5’ would be even more wonderful with its full choral vocal. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed their performance immensely.

I briefly catch Billy Bragg on the main stage while queuing for a crepe – with the rain still falling, he offers the assembled crowd some comfort with the words “If it’s any consolation, it’s pissing it down at V [Festival]!” But I can’t stick around, I have Wild Beasts to see – I’ve belatedly come to like Two Dancers after finally getting over my aversion to Hayden Thorpe’s crazed falsetto. They create a heady atmosphere, with shimmering guitars and two distinctive voices filling the tent and drawing a huge response from the crowd – ‘Hooting And Howling’ and ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues’ are particular highlights.

The Flaming Lips put on what is easily the most spectacular show of the weekend – and that’s before you even get to the music. Wayne Coyne rolls around atop the crowd in a giant inflatable ball, gets carried around on the shoulders of man dresses as a bear, shoots lasers out of a pair of giant papier mache hands, and liberally showers the crowd with confetti and oversized balloons. Musically they often lean towards giant, psychedelic sounding freakouts, but the real moments are the big singalong songs like ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, pt 1’ and impossibly euphoric set-closer ‘Do You Realize??’. The crowd are desperate for more (specifically ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’, which has been oddly overlooked), but all Wayne Coyne has time for is one last, brief show of appreciation before we all head off into the night. There’s no doubt in my mind that the organisers missed a trick here – The Flaming Lips should absolutely have closed the festival. Although at least this way we got to watch them while it was dry.

Sunday

Appropriately enough, the sun finally decided to show up on Sunday. I’ve got a bit of time to kill before the bands start, so I decide to go have a closer look at the Green Man, and discover that the inside of it is full of little tags with messages on them. It’s the sort of thing that fans of Postsecret would have a field day with, with the messages ranging from the morbid (“I wish the plane would crash so I don’t have to miss him so much.”) to the endearing (“Please don’t rain for Mumford.”). My personal favourite was one that simply read (“I found a blank one! :)” ).

After that, our first musical act of the day are Message To Bears, who Emily has been told like a folky Godspeed You! Black Emperor – a description that proves accurate in terms of sound, if not quite in terms of quality, but they’re pleasant enough. After that, Je Suis Animal also prove to be very lovely, sounding a bit like a French Asobi Seksu. In between times, we hear some improvised raps about science – yes, really – in the appropriately named Einstein’s Garden. They’ve also got pedal powered mobile phone charging going on, which is a nice touch.

Lone Wolf helps me fill my obligatory quota of Leeds-based musicans in style, with his band consisting of members of Grammatics and Duels, as well as solo artist Napoleon III. He’s also really damn good, with the beautiful ballad ’15 Letters’ and stirring set closer ‘The Devil And I (Part 2)’ being real highlights. There’s also a treasure hunt going on around the site, with the clues having been provided via the video for ’15 Letters’. Lone Wolf gives us one final clue, telling us to check out the ivy wall near the Green Man Pub stage. I duly do so, only to find I’ve been beaten to the clue by a group of eager kids. C’est la vie.

Back on the main stage, Field Music prove to be an effortlessly melodic joy to behold and remind me that I really must get round to listening to their latest record. Later, Emily berates Laura Marling for lacking stage presence, and I have to concede her point – despite her admirable songwriting, the poor girl does just look a little bit worried all the time. In complete contrast, The Tallest Man On Earth suffers no such problems despite being just one guy and a guitar – despite my being unfamiliar with his material he proves captivating throughout, and when he brings on his friends from the band Megafaun for his final song, it’s an endearingly touching moment. Beforehand, I’d also caught a bit of Sparrow And The Workshop, who display a knack for catchy folk-pop tunes.

On my way back to my tent to get something a bit warmer and pick up my umbrella, I catch the last three songs of Mumford & Sons. To be fair to them, they’re alright in small doses despite the formulaic nature of their songs, and everybody seems to be loving ‘Little Lion Man’ and ‘The Cave’. They prove to be about a billion times more exciting than Tindersticks, who absolutely bore me to death on my return. The rain is once again setting in and so I look to find a diversion from their mind-numbing tedium. I find that diversion in Silver Columns, an amusing Scottish duo making slightly ridiculous but fun dance music.

Feeling much more entertained, I head back to the main stage to meet up with Emily and Laura again. However, with the rain continuing to fall hard, watching Joanna Newsom proves to be an exercise in endurance, both in terms of her lengthy songs and the increasing pain in my bony arse from sitting down on the hill that overlooks the stage. Don’t get me wrong, she’s fairly listenable – but she’s the kind of act I’d prefer to listen to while chilling out on a sunny afternoon, rather than when it’s cold, wet and dark. I finally give up about four songs in and go to see Gold Panda – who starts his set ten minutes late, takes another five minutes to produce something vaguely resembling a tune, and another five after that to elicit a response other than slightly confused shuffling from the crowd. Having said all that, once he gets going I do enjoy myself, although that’s probably because I’m in a covered tent with an excuse to move around a bit and keep warm as much as anything else.

Emily told me that they were going to burn the Green Man statue at midnight, so I decide to head out and see what’s happening, having the good fortune of bumping into her and Laura on the way. After that there appears to be a lot of indeterminate dicking around – tribal drums are played, some fiery bolas are spun around for a very long time, and at one point a paper dragon lit up by green flares processes past. Of course, we can’t really see much of this as there are at least three or four rows of people stood in front of us – and bear in mind that it’s still raining pretty heavily at this point. After well over 40 minutes they finally set the damn thing alight – luckily the spectacle does make up for the wait, and there’s a lovely fireworks display to go along with it. With the night having threatened to turn into a damp squib, Green Man finally goes out with a bang.

If you asked me to sum up my opinion of Green Man 2010 in one sentence, it would be as follows: nice festival, shame about the weather.

Epilogue: Monday

I awake after a fitful night’s sleep, and slowly pack up my belongings among an ever-dwindling sea of tents. Feeling optimistic because of the morning sunshine, I chuck my umbrella into my rucksack and dig out my sunglasses for the first time all weekend, before heading over to help Emily and Laura finish packing.

As we leave, it begins to rain.

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