Monday, 30 July 2018

Tramlines 2018 - Part Three

Sunday 22nd July

So today was all about the fringe stages with my girlfriend Beckie. Stevie P was gonna be joining us later, Mark's chances of joining us less likely after the mess that the Saturday had evolved in to. I was incredibly glad that Beckie had been drinking on the Saturday too. It meant I didn't have to feel quite as guilty about my fragile state. She (annoyingly) doesn't get hangovers but at least had the decency to be tired. Our first port of call was The Roebuck for a pint. It's become a kinda tradition whenever we go to Sheffield, That first pint took an absolute age. Our first spot of live music for the day was to be The Frog And Parrot for Murder At The Seaside. 

Having begun as an acoustic duo (Phil and Sally Johnson, although Sally wasn't a Johnson back then) they have gradually grown, first as an acoustic trio with the addition of Heather Cassim, technically a four piece with Dave the temperamental drum machine and now a fully fledged electric five piece. 

Today could well have been the hottest day of the weekend and Frog And Parrot was yet another jammed packed sauna. Murder At The Seaside have alarmingly good tunes and with the combined harmonies of Sally and Heather have something wonderfully unique. A set full of quality originals with the addition of a triumphant work through Duran Duran's Rio more than has the Frog And Parrot crowd enraptured. They finish with old favourite 'Coffee In The Morning' and I can guarantee if you see them live you will have the opening 'Na na na na na naa' etc in your head all day. There are far worse ear-worms. It should also be said they are some of the nicest people on the planet. They were kind enough to play my 50th birthday earlier this year for which I will always be thankful. A perfect way to start the day. We said our goodbyes with sweaty hugs (Tip: Never kiss a bald man on the head who's just done a gig in 90 degree heat) and headed out. After a quick bite we headed to the Crystal greenhouse.

Former Bottleman Billy Bibby was due on stage with his Wry Smiles but we opted to stay in the beer garden and just listen. It really was just too hot inside and my hangover was making no effort to depart any time soon. Drinking through it really wasn't having the desired effect. Had a chat with the October Drift boys and told them the tale of Mark and the previous night. The overall consensus was just how much they missed The Washington. October Drift were on my must see list along with Liberty Ship who were next up. Also today's Jimmy Mac was there and all of the Jimmys are always a joy to hang out with.

Liberty Ship seem to have been with us an age now. Think I first met them backstage at The Leadmill at a King Charles Tramlines gig some 5 years ago. The thing is they were so young when they started (watch the brilliant video for 'Which Way' for evidence) that they are still one of the youngest bands out there. This time together though has given them chance to seriously hone their craft. It's indie pop of the highest order. Wonderfully written and arranged and played by a band that really know what they're about. The place is packed for these local heroes and quite right too. The four minutes of latest single 'Which Way' may well have been my favourite part of the whole weekend. Another band destined to be a South Yorkshire success story. 

Stevie P had joined us prior to Liberty Ship and was staying for October Drift before the biggest of dilemmas regards clashes. October Drift leave absolutely nothing on stage. They throw everything into their set with a tangible energy that leaves you exhausted just watching. In these temperatures it's a brave move but that's how they've always played it. Take no prisoners is the October Drift mantra. Singer Kiwi as always tries to find anything accessible he can climb on, always trying to engage the crowd a little be more. Trust me, they're fully engaged.

When he strips down to just black jeans and Docs it's like seeing a young Iggy up there. (Thankfully unlike Iggy he doesn't go full monty. I saw Iggy stage dive naked once. That was an experience). October Drift are a powerhouse. It's a wall of noise and energy driving through every soul in that room. They're a hurricane of sound, a force of nature but in all this maelstrom the tunes are never lost. They are simply magnificent. 

A much need break was needed and we retired once again to the beer garden to mull over the clash dilemma. Avalanche Party were due on at Crystal soon, Mint were at Maida Vale and Strawberries at Cafe Totem were the main issues, plus Himalayas were on at Cafe Totem later who I had still failed to see live despite 5 attempts. I think Stevie P went to see Mint. Beckie loves The Strawberries which suited me fine. I'd not seen them for some time unlike the others on the list so we headed to Cafe Totem. 

I was going to say there was literally no air in Cafe Totem but that is obviously not true otherwise you wouldn't be reading this. It was stifling though. Hat's off to any band that played there. I didn't have my hat with me so couldn't doff away. I believe Jack from Cora Pearl had played there the previous day in a polo neck jumper. Wow.

The Strawberries have had a bit of a line-up change in the last year and are better for it. Joe Connolly firmly established on bass now has given Ethan Sherwin the chance to shine on guitar and he does it so well. Psychedelic wah-wahs dancing all-round the stage backing up Sam Neil’s blues tainted vocals. Joe is a seriously accomplished bass player, another that makes it look effortless, which has freed up drummer Ben Heath to show his beat perfect class. They are just a great, tight band. New single ‘In Your Dreams’ just soars with a new found maturity. Not gonna lie though, I was so glad when last song ‘Laburnum House’ kicked in, I just couldn’t take the heat anymore.

My mate Sam Craggs was playing at Crucible Corner and the plan was to go see him then back to Cafe Totem for Himalayas. The sun was dropping, Crucible has a lovely chilled outside area, we were knackered and very close to the station and not sure we could face the walk back to Cafe Totem, or endure that heat again. After a quick chat with Sam we decided to call it a day. 6 times I've missed Himalayas now. I might go back into promoting just so I can book the buggers and finally see them. 

So that was Tramlines 2018.

I got home to an email from the Tramlines organisers announcing there is to be a permanent memorial to Sarah Nulty (director and co-founder of Tramlines who sadly passed away this year aged only 36) on Devonshire Green. Virtually every band (especially the local ones) whether on the Main Stage or Fringe dedicated their set to Sarah. If it hadn’t been for Sarah Nulty then Tramlines wouldn’t exist. Simple as that. I have been going to Tramlines for several years now. All over the City this was the best one yet. It was truly magnificent. There can be no finer tribute to Sarah than that. This is her legacy and it is beautiful.


Tramlines 2018 - Part Two

Saturday 21st July (cont.)

So you find us at the main stage discussing BBR's set and our next move. We were waiting for the band to finish their many press duties to come out and be introduced to many, many people. One of the several Jimmy Mac's there that weekend joined us briefly. The beer was still flowing as was the JD. It was already getting messy. The sun was well over the yardarm (I have no idea what that means and have no idea if I've used it correctly. I didn't even realise yardarm was one word). The RedFaces were playing some pleasant jangly indie guitar, my hat was getting all the plaudits it merits and all was well with the world. The only things on my list (you have to have a Tramlines list. It'll go to pot of course but it gives you a slight sense of having a clue as to what the fuck you're doing) were one of Cora Pearl's sets that day and a Bang Bang Romeo live session at BBC Radio Sheffield for the legendary Christian Carlisle and his equally legendary BBC Introducing show. 

RedFaces came and went without me paying them the attention they probably deserved to be followed by The Everly Pregnant Brothers, the most Sheffield band ever to exist. To really be a quality comedy music act you need two things: Funny lyrics (naturally) and the musicianship to back it up. I think the sheer musical talent of TEPB sometimes gets lost behind the lyrics but it really shouldn't be underestimated. They are joined on stage by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Magid Magid himself, for their last song ('No Oven, No Pie'). Not a band I'd ever sit and listen to at home but immense fun live.

By now everyone's rounded up. BBR had to head to the BBC so me, Chris and the Marks decided to jump in a taxi and catch some of the fringe, namely Bungalows And Bears for Cora Pearl to start with. Cora Pearl are less than a year old, have just the two singles under their belt but are already making waves on the Sheffield music scene. This was the first chance I'd had to catch them live (after promising to several times). The singles are both excellent ('Hope Machine' in particularly is exquisite) but on this showing there is even better to come. Despite the heat there is a frenetic energy on stage as the band deliver rock fused indie grunge banger after banger, with a superb 'Psycho Killer' cover thrown in for good measure. They're already a class act and definitely one to look out for.

We retired to the back of Bungalow and Bears to try and get some air where Chris fended off constant 'I know you don't I?' questions and I grilled him (again) about Diane Keen. One of us (shamefully not me) was always going to the bar. (Chaps I had an interview yesterday. If I get the job the drinks are most definitely on me). Despite the huge numbers up at Hillsborough Park Sheffield city centre was still rammed. Time to jump in another taxi and head down to the BBC studios.

Before BBR's set Christian did a little bit of housekeeping, reminding us we were live on air, make as much noise as you want but no swearing please. No problem, I've got 9 years of presenting live radio under my belt, it's not an issue. A chilled and laid back set from the band yet they still deliver with the intensity of a main stage slot. That's a gift in itself.

No idea if it comes across or not but I seriously love this band. My good friend, festival partner, drinking buddy and all round top bloke had been missing all day due to illness but manage to rouse himself to get down just in time for the group photo shoot at which point some tall bell-end in a bright orange hat shouted. 'It's only fucking Sam Craggs!' Live on air. 9 years experience down the drain right there. I can only apologise. I'm gonna blame the JD.

Next up was The Washington for Kiziah And The Kings preceded by a very drunken conversation as to just how we were getting there and who was going with who. Once again it was Chris, the Marks and I who rolled into a taxi and headed to the last venue of the day. They were queueing to get in. Someone suggested trying the detestable 'Do you know who I am' line but I was fully aware that I was in no state to even utter those 6 words, Chris was but point blank refused. Good man. We got in to another heaving sweat box, probably the hottest venue of the day. I bumped into a couple of The Strawberries who had just finished their set with a promise I'd see them on the Sunday. Stumbled across Will from Cora Pearl and bent his ear about how magnificent they were before taking up my spot at the back of the tightly packed room with Mark (Rewind Mark etc). KATK have finally nailed their sound. The addition of a sax player has been long overdue. Their soulful reggae infused pop is the perfect end to the day. Sadly there wasn't enough room to skank. I say sadly, I'm sure had I tried I'd have fallen over.

The heat was getting unbearable and I think it was partly that, the wedding he'd been at the previous day and today's shenanigans that prompted Mark (Rewind etc) to call it a day and make the very sensible decision to get the last train. Why oh why oh why didn't I go with him!? I sweated some more before heading for the sanctuary of the beer garden. Mark (Photographer) having inexplicably managed to get some quality shots inside was asleep on a bench, Stars was arm wrestling all and sundry, Ross, despite the temperature, was just looking cool while Chris rescued me from a very deep conversation I'd got embroiled in about the power of music to save your soul, a worthy topic of conversation but not at 1am when your addled brain isn't even sure what the word conversation means. A sudden thud behind us indicated Mark had vacated his position on the bench to fall face forward onto the concrete. Surprisingly this woke him up. I've seen this man sleep leaning on a tent pole. We decided home may well be a good idea and myself and Mark staggered out leaving the rest of our compadres to party.

Obviously a taxi home to Doncaster was the only option. My phone had died and neither of us were capable of operating Mark's phone. I hit on a plan. My mate Zoe had mentioned a party back at hers so the plan was to get a taxi there, hope the party was still in full swing and plead with Zoe to phone us a taxi. Thankfully that's what happened although we hung around for a bit as Mark slept for a bit more and I had one final beer while discussing football rivalries with Zoe's son in law to be, Joe. Our taxi arrived and we were bundled in. 'Doncaster please mate'. 'Where's that?' 'Er, what!?' After drunkenly explaining the M18 we finally got home, 3am ish, very worse for wear. Steady day my arse. And we had to do it all again tomorrow. 

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Tramlines 2018 - Part One

As soon as July kicks in thoughts turn to Tramlines. Those thoughts are mainly how am I gonna fit everything in and how am I gonna get there. In recent years I've stayed in a hotel (ah, those heady days of having money), or at a mate's, or I've commuted from Donny and of course that one memorable year when I got it all wrong and spent the weekend lounging about in Sheffield Northern General. This year was to be a commuting year and relying on the infamous 23.29 last train to Donny. I can tell you now that not once was I on that train this weekend.

Saying all that on the Friday night I had the courtesy of a lift thanks to my Sine FM colleague Stevie P. Along with erstwhile photographer Mark Loraine we set off under heavy skies. Summer was having a night off and not before time. The Tramlines Main Stage has had another wander this year and is now camped out in Hillsborough Park and that is where we were heading with the plan of picking up our press wristbands, hopefully catching Milburn and treating it as pretty much a Stereophonics gig. We parked where we shouldn't, got VIP wristbands which we weren't expecting and entered the festival site through a gate we weren't meant to use. It was all shaping up nicely.

Now there has been much talk of Tramlines decision to move out to Hillsborough Park. But to attract the names they have this year and wish to continue to attract it makes sense to have a larger 4 stage, self contained ticketed site. There is still a place for the fringe stages (which were still rammed all weekend despite the 30,000 people in Hillsborough), you can still do both (even with the trams on strike) and at the end of the day it's not a fucking competition. Sorry but some of the post Tramlines rants wound me up a tad. The first thing that hits you is that the new set up feels like a festival, not a stage dropped in a park as Ponderosa and before that Devonshire Green had sometimes seemed. More bars and toilets though please. The queues were ludicrous.

Having found my good friend Zoe and bragged about having VIP access we though we should check out said VIP area. I would have though VIP would have had more than a small gazebo for shelter, a couple of very pricey take away vans, a bar with queues longer than out in the main arena and no view of the Main Stage but apparently not. We abandoned it sharpish to go catch Milburn properly. We're only a stone's throw from Hillsborough Stadium (admittedly you'd need a remarkably good arm, actually it would probably take relay throwing, but it's close OK) and Wednesday fans Milburn come on to Wednesday's adopted 'Hi ho Silver Lining'. My chants of Rovers Till I Die were very much drowned out. Still, I decided to put my footballing differences to one side and enjoy the band.


Yes there will always be Arctic Monkeys comparisons especially given the shared history of both bands. You have to wonder what would have happened if Milburn hadn't buggered off for 8 years. But at least it's all about the music and not a pigging hair cut. Milburn do what they do well and have built up a fiercely loyal fan-base. It's hard to be truly musically original these days, the trick is to do what you do better than any of your contemporaries. Milburn do that. Before 'What Will You Do (When The Money Goes)?' Joe Carnall announces 'You have ten minutes left of Milburn. Let's make it count.' They're taking another sabbatical. Just hope it isn't 8 years again.

Stereophonics are forever slipping off my radar and I have no idea why. It's happened all through their 26 year career. Last year's 'Scream Above The Sounds' is an excellent album. It sounds as fresh as anything they've done and yet I still forget what a tour de force they are. They are helped with this freshness by Kelly Jones' inability to age. I don't know what they drink in the valleys but it does him the world of good.

Kelly Jones. Photo courtesy Mark Loraine

Throughout the set myself and Stevie P are forever saying 'I hope they play (insert Stereophonics song here)'. They did. 'More Life In A Tramp's Vest' and 'A Thousand Tress' get an early airing and we know we're in for a good one. It's a 21 song, all eras set list that leaves absolutely nothing on stage, whilst looking effortless at the same time. That's 26 years honing your craft right there. When people have that tiresome best guitarist debate Jones is never mentioned. He should be. The outro to 'Sunny' alone shows what a master shredder he is.

(You can already see the difference between a professional photographer and my crappy camera skills can't you. Thanks to Mark Loraine for some of the photos used here).

'Traffic' is just simply gorgeous, 'Local Boy In The Photograph' perfect as ever and the 2 minute, punk frenzy, breakneck dive through 'The Bartender And The Thief' is mesmerising. Stereophonics more punk than Green Day. Fact!  We finish with 'Dakota' (of course) and the Hillsborough crowd go a little bit crazy. Bodies and beer fly everywhere. The young dickhead next to me who'd talked about his crocs (or something) all through the gig even pays attention. Stereophonics live are simply magnificent. We walked out drained from the whole euphoria of the experience knowing we'd just witnessed something very special.

And that was Friday. Back in the car, home by 11pm, only 2 beers (thanks Mark) and relatively fresh for Saturday.

Saturday 21st July

Saturday was to be another steady one. My girlfriend Beckie was joining me on the Sunday and it was agreed that'd be the day we went for it. Myself and Mark had a relatively early start (10am train) as we had a breakfast invitation at Zoe's. She lives overlooking Hillsborough Park. Ideal. Stevie P had decided to give today a miss and join us on the Sunday. We managed to get one of the few trams running and by 11am were munching sausage and bacon butties. There was an offer of coffee. Or a beer. Stupidly I unhesitatingly said beer and the first bad decision of the day had been made. My mate Mark (from Rewind in Waterdale) was in the area and dropped me a line. He rolled up with his bottles of neat JD and joined us for a pre gig beer. Mark (Rewind Mark not photographer Mark) could only do the Saturday but had had to buy a weekend ticket, 12 hours before Tramlines announced they would after all be selling day tickets. Nice. Today was pretty much all about Bang Bang Romeo who were on stage at 1.30. We wandered over to the site were Mark (Rewind etc) got his bottles in but had to neck his flask of JD. He then proceeded straight to the bar. Mark (photographer etc) took his place in the pit as we went stage front were we met TV's Chris walker who promptly went straight to the bar. I was feeling it before the band came on stage.

Bang Bang Romeo were doing three separate festivals this weekend. I'm not sure if that was the reason for the early stage time but they certainly merit a much later slot. Still, there was a decent sized crowd already in place as they take the stage to the strains of the 'Natural Born Astronaut' intro. 

They simply belong on big stages. From new songs like 'Baby Blue Bird' and latest single 'Shame On You' to old favourites 'Chemical' and 'Adore Me' they undoubtedly have the tunes and in Anastasia Walker have one of the most enigmatic singers you will ever witness. Ross Cameron is just the epitome of cool as his guitar soars through the heart of every song, tearing them up into kaleidoscopes of pure beauty, whether it's the aching strains of 'Chemical' or the full on glorious rock crescendo of the 'Adore Me's resolution. Live they are fleshed out with Ray Loverock on bass and Richard Cook on guitar and keyboards.

Cooky is just a fabulously talented musician. I've seen him in countless bands, playing countless instruments, playing countless genres and nailing it every time. Understated, certainly underrated, but ultimately reliable. He frees the band up to go off on whatever tangent they chose knowing Cooky's there to keep them all on track. Every band needs a Cooky.

Ray is one of the most accomplished bass players you could ever meet, he makes it all seem so easy. His presence has allowed Richard Gartland to mature into an unrivalled rock drummer, never missing a beat and throwing in fills that define belief, the backbone of BBR. The funk breakdown that Ray and Rich throw our way during 'Invitation' is simply sublime, as Stars pulls the crowd in further, wrapping them round her bejewelled fingers before offering her soul with the pleading of 'A little more now'. It's an absolute triumph.

Their debut album is due in the Autumn with a first headline tour to coincide. I already know it's gonna be massive. If there's any justice come 2019 Bang Bang Romeo will have the world at their collective feet. 

After their set myself, Chis and the Marks had a discussion trying to decide on a genre specific description of the BBR sound. We failed. Admittedly my hazy recollections of said conversation  don't help. Intimate stadium guitar based/indie/rock/pop/prog/funk anyone? Just go with magnificent. It's the best way.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Isle Of Wight Festival 2018 - Part Six - We're 230 Miles From Sheffield...

Monday 25th June 2018

Home time. A staggered leaving of the festival. Chris, Sharron, Gabe and Lewis were booked on the 6am ferry. I think they'd made the decision sometime during The Killers set that that wasn't happening. In the past you turn up at East Cowes and they get you on the next available ferry. Obviously they like you to turn up on the ferry you're booked on but at the end of the day they just want you off the island ASAP. This year with the numbers involved it wasn't gonna be so simple. I think Chris and crew were stuck in Cowes for the best part of ten hours.

The girls were on the 7.45am coach from the festival. No choice with that one. If you miss it you really are stuck there. A ludicrous time of day but they all made it. Brooky was on the more civilised 11am Ryde-Portsmouth one. I was booked on the 5.30pm with my coach from Southampton at 8pm but as mentioned the band had offered me a lift home. 9.30pm ferry but still get home quicker than with National Express. Allegedly.

So as everyone was packing up I wandered off in search of coffee and bacon. A security guard collared me and gave me a carrier bag full of beer confiscated off people last night. The no can policy at the festival does seem very random and it all depends on where you're camped. I wasn't complaining though. Fed and watered I said my goodbyes to people then started to pack my tent away. More goodbyes, this time to the myriad of insects who steadfastly refused to get out of my tent and are still in there, and I'm guessing probably in a bad way. I managed to get hold of Sam who asked if I wanted to go up to their tipi 18 miles away. I looked at my bags, looked at the burning sun, looked at the entrance to the car park 30 yards away where Sam's car was parked and lazily declined. I lay in the sun for a while before Sam, Rich and Ross arrived with their gear. We packed it in the car then yomped to the tipi to get everything else, including Stars. I copped for the merch box all the way back. Really wish we'd sold more merch.

And that was that, everyone and everything in the car we set off. We had to be off site by 12pm so were prepared for a long wait somewhere. It was a tad cramped and again I said I was more than happy for them to drop me in Cowes and I'd make my own way but they were having none of it. We tried for an earlier ferry but they also were having none of it. They pointed us in the direction of the nearest pub which became home for the next 8 hours. No complaints. The Folly Inn, Whippingham is a lovely pub on the banks of the River Medina with cold beer, excellent food and stunning views. 

The band embarked on some social media work as I just chilled, watched some football, went for a walk and basically relaxed. Sat with my mates who have just stormed the Festival Main Stage on a glorious day in a beautiful place. Doesn't get much better than that. This was always planned as the last photo of the Isle Of Wight tale:

Ross dived into the menu again.

I had my Slow Readers Club t-shirt on. BBR had recently supported TSRC at Manchester Cathedral and gained another boost to the ever growing BBRMY. Some Readers clocked my t-shirt , we had a chat, I asked if they'd caught Bang Bang Romeo (they had and loved them) and casually pointed out that the band were sat just round the corner. A pleasant hour talking music and the merits of two of the best bands around at the moment.

At around 8pm we decided to head off. Still no chance of an early ferry and were told in no uncertain terms to come back at 9. We did. We got on a ferry, did a sharp left turn that set all the car alarms off and landed in Southampton. We needed petrol which it turns out was a good thing. We got to Eastleigh and stopped to fill up. It was at that point that Stars noticed smoke coming from under the bonnet of Sam's Zafira. We had a look. The oil cap was missing, oil all over the engine was burning. None of us have a clue about cars but we all knew this wasn't good. We abandoned ship as Sam called the AA. Had we not had to fill up god knows what would have happened. By now it's 11.30pm. At one point another Zafira pulled into the garage. The owner nipped in to pay and left his doors unlocked. We genuinely considered nicking his oil cap. We didn't. Some two hours later a mechanic turned up, did the whole sucking air in over his teeth thing and basically decided he couldn't do anything at that moment and that we'd either have to stay there till the morning or get a recovery truck to take us home. We opted for the latter. We waited all looking overjoyed:

Two hours later we'd not heard owt. Sam rang and we overheard words like 'hotel' and 'half-nine'. Sam was told there was no truck coming at that time of night (At what point were the AA gonna let us know?) and we'd have to book into a hotel and wait for a recovery truck that would come between 9am and 10am. Also the truck could only go 50 miles so it would be a relay of trucks taking us home. We were 230 miles from home. It was at this point that Rich, Ross and myself sat in the back seat and just started laughing hysterically. I have no idea why but it was uncontrollable.  The AA would reimburse the hotel costs and breakfast. I had a tenner on me, Sam not much more. I never did find out who paid but I'm eternally grateful. 

Rich and Ross walked to the Holiday Inn (thankfully only half a mile away) where the receptionist took one look at them and decided they were expecting an influx of people at 2am and there was no room at the inn. Again, thankfully, there was a Premier Inn just a little further on that was far more accommodating. After a three way phone call between Rich, Sam and the AA to discuss fees we were in. They only had 2 double rooms but Tom on reception offered to make up a single bed in one of the rooms. Young lad who really went out of his way to help us out. He was an absolute star. When we'd all arrived and explained who we were and what we'd been up to all weekend he got very excited. His sister had been at the festival and raved about BBR. He asked for a photo. Despite being severely frazzled by now and not looking their best the band happily agreed. So this was to be our home for the night:

The band in one room. me and Sam in the other. I asked the immortal question that I never thought would cross my lips, 'Which side of the bed do you want, Sam?'

Tuesday 26th June

So the AA were paying for breakfast. I properly caned it. Quality stuff too. Sam got the call that our first recovery truck was on it's way and would be with us about 9.45  Our driver was to be Eric and he's a maverick. Another hero of the weekend. Sod the 50 miles. he was doing double that and taking us to Warwick services on the M40. He also told us that last night's mechanic could have done more. A good clean of the engine, top up with oil, new filler cap and good to go. He offered to take us to a garage but with not knowing it would definitely get sorted, more expense and time we opted for the lift home. We all just wanted to be heading in the right direction. 

Still, we'd had a comfy bed, a cracking breakfast and Eric's truck was a lot more spacious than Sam's Zafira. Think we were all feeling a little better about things. Eric was constantly trying to get hold of someone to arrange our next truck in the relay but whoever was on duty in the AA offices just wasn't playing. At one point he was on hold for 45 minutes. He finally got through when we were only 15 minutes away from Warwick and, bless him, had a proper rant on our behalf. By now it's 12.30 and the voice on the other end of the phone said our next truck would be around 1.20. Not too bad we thought till Eric informed us she doesn't have a clue and it could well be a 4 hour wait. 

So we sat in the services just waiting, drinking coffee, watching YouTube on Rich's phone and nipping out for Stars to smoke all my fags. We worked out that in all my years I've known Stars she probably owes me about 10,000 cigarettes. Now she's quit I've no chance. After about an hour Sam got a call that the truck would be another 40 minutes. After another hour Sam got a call to say that the truck had lost it's roof lights trundling down the M40 and had to go retrieve them. Finally it arrived. We didn't get the driver's name. He was no Eric. 

We were on the move again this time heading for Leicester, 45 miles. See, told you he was no Eric. Sam's parents live in Loughborough and he was hatching a plan with his girlfriend Jennah and his parents. If we could get Not Eric to drop us in Loughborough Sam was going to borrow his parents car and Jennah was going to drive down from the North and we'd do the final leg that way. Stars got in on it and Charlotte also agreed to drive down. Absolute legends. We arrived at Sam's parents to cold pints of water, cake and ice-cream and a gorgeous garden to chill in. Ross' car was at Sam's in Sheffield so the plan was that Charlotte would take Stars and Rich home and Jennah would take me, Sam and Ross to Sheffield. So we loaded up and said goodbye to Sam's family and his poorly little car. We were off again, following on Facebook as various members of our party made it home. At some time around about 6pm we were in Sheffield. Me and Ross loaded his car up and we got into our 6th vehicle of the journey (3 cars, 2 trucks and a ferry). I finally walked through my door just in time to catch Nigeria vs Argentina. Isle Of Wight Festival to Bentley in 31 hours. Awesome. 

Now obviously had I gone with my original plan of 5.30pm ferry and the National Express I'd have been home way earlier but I'd have been gutted to then hear about their journey and not have been there for them. It was a horrendous journey but made totally bearable because of the company. I love them all dearly.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Isle Of Wight Festival 2018 - Part Five - Like A Harry Kane Gunning For War

Sunday 24th June 2018

I'm not gonna lie to you, I woke up Sunday morning looking like this:

Me and the festival are both 50. One of us has aged better. Still, a cool shower and one of Chris' breakfast baps later I was feeling more alive. (Duck eggs people. It's all about the duck eggs. Glorious). First on today's agenda was football. Now I've heard several times 'Why go to a music festival and watch football?' There are several answers to this the most relevant one being 'What's it got to do with you?' This is England playing, in a World Cup - it wasn't just any old game. I will say though had there been a band playing I really wanted to see then I'd have picked the music but there wasn't. Saying that after one of the dullest Doncaster Rovers' seasons ever I'd have picked seeing The Sherlocks over some of the dross I watched last season. Actually that's not true. I'd pick root canal work over The Sherlocks. 

So we got to the big screen to find a crowd three times that of the average attendance at The Keepmoat last season. Peter Crouch was signing footballs and kicking them into the crowd. It was a party atmosphere. Chris and Gabe had gone for replica '66 shirts, a brave move in this heat. I believe Chris went 'full-kit wanker' for the game. 'Three Lions' blared out as it did all weekend. Chris had decided 'Three Brians' was a much better song. Between us we decided the triumvirate of Brians should be Messrs. Clough, Close and Cant with Cant as skipper and poster boy. (Professor Cox is on the bench). 

A solid first half performance, 6-1 win and a Kane hat-trick I think more than justified watching the game. The plan was back to the tents for more appropriate attire for some of us and then the Hard Rock Stage. I was looking forward to this one - drinking buddy James Walsh and then Suzanne Vega. Of course I'd managed to lose everyone on the way down, Ross and Rich were definitely behind me and yet when I got to the stage they were casually laid out on the grass with the rest of the entourage, beer in hand. 

James and Starsailor seem to go under the radar slightly yet he is simply one of the finest songwriters this country has with a back catalogue any musician would envy. Add to that his stunning vocals and he really is 'must see'. Thankfully a sizeable crowd do have him on their radar. It's packed. We get Starsailor's finest - 'Good Souls', 'Alcoholic', Four To The Floor', and a magnificent 'Silence Is Easy' all delivered with consummate ease. It's the most laid back set of the weekend and the perfect antithesis to the mayhem of the football.

We chilled. Chilled isn't the word there. We're all going mad with the suncream. I managed to throw most of my beer over Holly and then Brooky. I wasn't even doing owt. Just sat there. Decided standing was better and dropped 50p down the back of Stars' pants. I really shouldn't be allowed out. I poured a £4 bottle of water over my head and felt no better for it. 

I last saw Suzanne Vega headlining Glastonbury in 1989. She hasn't aged at all. Her voice is still immaculate. She walks on stage, dons a top hat and says 'You can probably guess what this song is' before the strumming out the opening chords to 'Marlene On The Wall'. It's brilliant. 'In Liverpool', 'Left Of Center', (she is New York raised, I have to stick with 'Center' as much as it pains me), 'Luka' and 'Tom's Diner'. all follow. It's the perfect hot, lazy Sunday afternoon soundtrack.

As we could all be together today (no media plans for the band) we decided on a meeting spot (end of the Comfortably Numb bar, opposite the soft drinks stall, next to a speaker stack). As soon as we were all there I buggered off to the This Feeling tent to catch Mint. Yesterday I really wanted to catch Himalayas at This Feeling but the being on completely the wrong side of the site and the Gallagher crowd made it impossible. Still gutted about that one but I was in a good location to go catch up with the Mint boys, Grimsby's finest. Naturally I bumped into Jimmy Mac again. This Jimmy was on the next ferry home. I think one of the others was driving Avalanche Party home while another was on the M1 with Apollo Junction in the back of the van.

LEGEND (him not me)

Mint are full on live. Sod the heat, they go for it. Zak, all hips and hair, his imploring rock vocals dancing all round Sam's thrashing guitar. They are a joy to behold. A large inflatable pink flamingo lilo appears and goes crowd surfing, sometimes alone, sometimes with members of the crowd desperately trying to cling on and one time with Zak enjoying a lie down. It's just immense fun. 

Sadly I don't have time to chat as I really want to see Van Morrison on the Main Stage, another who I last saw at Glastonbury '89, when, as a shock to everyone there, he smiled. If the Walsh/Vega sets were the perfect Sunday afternoon soundtracks then early evening is definitely made for Van The Man's soulful jazz/blues. Admittedly a lot of the crowd were just waiting for 'Brown Eyed Girl' but I was loving it. He's not one for chatting to the crowd, or even looking like he's enjoying himself but he does look the epitome of cool. I have a right singalong to 'Whenever God Shines His Light' and feel bad about it. Originally a duet with Cliff Richard from 1989's 'Avalon Sunset' it leaves me feeling conflicted. I love the song but I don't believe in God. Or Cliff Richard. 

We get a Them medley thrown in for good measure, 'Have I Told You Lately' which I last heard sung by Rod Stewart 12 months previously on the very same stage and then he finishes with, wait for it, 'Jackie Wilson Said', 'Brown Eyed Girl'. Moondance' and 'Gloria'!! I mean, c'mon!!! If he'd have done 'Sweet Thing' as well I'd have admitted Van's right about God and happily died there and then, apologised to St. Peter for all the swearing and spent eternity sipping Orangina with the big man.

Manic Street Preachers due up next and I was torn. I've seen the Manics a few times and they've either been stunning or woeful (a shocking V99 springs to mind). Plus Tankus The Henge were due on in 30 minutes on the Cirque de la Quirk stage. I really wanted to catch them but the crowd was already reaching 'stay put' levels. James Dean Bradfield approaches the mic and screams 'Motorcycle Emptiness' and within four bars I know I'm staying right where I am. It's a cracking set ranging from debut album 'Generation Terrorists' to this year's 'Resistance Is Futile' 

I'm not taken with their working of The Cure's In Between Days. I know they did it for Robert Smith's Meltdown but they should really have left it there. The rest though is exemplary. This years Father/Daughter moment for Chris and Stars came during 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next'. Don't let Stars kid you it was just the hayfever. 

'You Love Us' gets a 'Paradise City' intro and is, as always, both magnificent and heart wrenching with it's clips of the young band still with Richie Edwards filling the big screens. All too soon the bounce along intro of 'Design For Life' kicks in and they're done. Sod the Liam vs Depeche Mode as headliner argument, I'd have had The Manics over The Killers. I'm wrong of course.

We decided to move further forward, well everyone else did, I was happy where I was but neither did I want to lose everyone or be a killjoy. Even in a crowd this size in the open air there's always someone behind me moaning they can't see. I can' help being 6'5" and I've as much right to stand where I want as everyone else. Saying that I always try and make sure there's no one majorly shorter than me who's view I'm obscuring. At most gigs you'll find me starting at the front and ending up at the back. I don't mind. I'm getting too old for moshpits and with my condition (have I mentioned the heart surgery) have to be a tad careful about getting bumped around. One swift, hard hit to the chest and my little bit of carbon fibre could go wandering. 

I was very aware of being slightly crushed and surrounded by an awful lot of people, some of whom were getting a bit lairy. I was also very, very aware that I was a long way from the toilets and that was gonna be an issue soon. I decided to head out. You'd think a big unit heading out would be welcomed but you get just as much stick moving away from the stage as you do heading towards it. Happily back by the big wheel The Killers saunter on stage and go straight into 'The Man' from 2017's 'Wonderful Wonderful'. Before 'Spaceman' Brandon Flowers announces 'The great stunt driver Evel Knievel said 'People don't buy tickets to see me complete the jumps. They come to see me try my hardest.' Tonight we're going to try our hardest.' It's all a bit tongue in cheek, The Killers know they can deliver a show. Now, similar to Stereophonics three years earlier, I'd kinda drifted away from The Killers. I loved 'Hot Fuss', it was the soundtrack to my 2005, but after that we just went our separate ways. Not falling out as such, just tired of each others company. It happens. Probably 'cos of this I went for a wander. My phone needed charging before tomorrow, I'd have to get in touch with the band to arrange my lift home. Before I went I got one pic of Brandon just as my camera announced it was dying:    

That's a great jacket. It's up there with Ross's. So I banged my phone on charge for an hour (£5), got a coffee and something to eat and wandered back to the Main Stage to see The Killers delivering entertainment of the highest order and showing why I should have stuck with them. They just know how to do this (whichever line up they put up there, which is variable at best). I can just about forgive them the mawkish cover of 'Romeo & Juliet', it's Dire Straits after all and they were one of my first loves. The one note intro for 'All These Things That I've Done' lasts about 5 minutes. We know what's coming. They're teasing us. It's brilliant. The 'Got soul but I'm not a soldier' lyric really should be unforgivable but they get away with it through sheer showmanship. Likewise 'Human' and the bizarre Hunter S. Thompson misquotation of a lyric. We finish, of course. with 'Mr. Brightside.' It's one of the first songs the band ever wrote and recorded. It does seem to have been around forever which could be why it's spent more time on the UK singles chart than any other. It is one of the most downloaded songs in history. I'm sick of it. Yet, similar to 'Wonderwall' yesterday with the band blasting it out and 50,000 joining in it just works. There's fireworks at the back of the site, which seem a tad early as The Killers are still playing and I aggravate my sunburnt neck looking from one to another.

Main Stage all done I head off to pick my phone up and think about going to bed. Travis are closing things off at The Big Top and I decide to get as much out of the festival as possible so head that way, once again going against the tide of thousands. I can't really get near the Big Top but can see the crowd enjoying it and managed a frankly shocking photo of Fran.

I forgot how many Travis songs I loved, it's one massive, joyous singalong that I wish I'd joined earlier. 'Why Does It Always Rain On Me?' finishes things off before the obligatory 'Three Lions' kicks in. It really was everywhere.

And that should be it. My annual blog of The Isle Of Wight Festival done and dusted. The journey home should just be a two line epilogue. 

It isn't. 

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Isle Of Wight Festival 2018 - Part Four - I Carried Absolutely Nothing

Saturday 23rd June 2018

Part four and we're still only at Saturday morning. I better crack on. There's gonna be a one line review of James Bay later so that'll help. It was 'gold' day at the festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary. My sole contribution was a gold bandana tied round the beacon. A poor effort really. Wasn't even my bandana. I eyed my remaining beer and decided I really couldn't face 90 degree lager plus it would mean taking my bag into the arena again and I clearly couldn't be trusted with it. I regretted my purchases again and smothered myself with suncream borrowed from Gabe. I was suffering. The hat has it's uses as a meeting point but as regards saving the back of my neck from the sun it is woeful. Anyway, I was heading to the Hard Rock Stage to catch up with Apollo Junction and hopefully Jimmy Mac. (There was probably a Jimmy Mac at every stage. He's everywhere). I wandered off telling Chris I'd give him a ring in a bit knowing my phone would probably let me down and I'd be on my own all day. The band had a day of media appointments to fulfil. I took out a loan to buy an ice-cream and a bottle of water on my way to the Hard Rock and bumped straight into Jimmy, of course.

I'd somehow not seen Apollo Junction since IoW 2016. No idea what I've been playing at. In those two years they've matured into an excellent indie pop/rock band. Tight on stage, aware of when one of them wants to go off on a tangent and with a stage presence up there with the best. They start their set to a smallish crowd sat watching and finish it to a full field having a boogie. Always nice to see.

Their penultimate song included the John Barnes rap from 'World In Motion'. That was always gonna be a winner. Their final track found singer Jamie Williamson having a seriously prolonged walk through the crowd. I'm sure he was eyeing up a trip on the big wheel at one point. 

Miraculously my phone worked and I managed to get hold of Chris. Even more miraculously we managed to work out just which fish and chip stall he was stood next to and I went off to find them. I walked straight past them. I'm good at this. Chris treated me to a proper pint (a very cold locally brewed IPA), Lewis hunted down some gin and Gabe bemoaned the lack of alcohol free beer anywhere. Sharron joined us as Jesse J took the stage. I'm not a fan, not my kind of thing. She was absolutely brilliant. A stunning voice, a lot rockier than I'd imagined she would be and with a permanent smile showing just how much she was loving being up there.

Kodaline came on for a bit of background music so Chris et al went back to camp for some grub and I went to try and find the band with plans to meet by the Pinball Wizard bar. We'd found a nice spot there not considering that the arrival of a Gallagher would naturally mean the arrival of several thousand more people to that area. I wandered 20 yards to the backstage are straight into the band and most of the entourage. See when I don't arrange to meet someone I walk straight into them, when I make arrangements I invariably fail. There's a lesson there. 

Blossoms could have done with watching Jesse J to see how to engage a festival crowd and enjoy themselves. I love Blossoms, I'm a fan. Bought the albums, seen 'em live several times and they've always been excellent. I have no idea what was wrong today but it was an uninspiring, lame, lifeless performance. Maybe fatigue after being constantly working for three years? I don't know but it wasn't fun.

James Bay played. Did a cover of Tina Turner's 'The Best'. That's all you need to know.

By now Sam had turned up and I think that was everyone accounted for. Only taken 8 hours. Liam Gallagher was due on next. Everyone headed further into the throng but it looked like mayhem so me and Sam stayed where we were happily in the shade of an oak tree. Some people moan about stadium gigs (I know it's not a stadium but you know what I mean) and having to watch a gig on a big screen. It's not ideal of course, give me a Rock City or a Leadmill any day, but every now and then I don't mind. It's a lot more preferable to a having a bottle of piss thrown at your head. Plus when used effectively the screens can be an integral part of the gig.

And to prove that point Liam's swagger from backstage to stage front was shown on the screens. Cracking way to whip the crowd up. 

He says four words, 'Rock 'n ' Roll Star' and we're off. There is still a discussion going on online as to whether Liam should have headlined over Depeche Mode. For me it was the right way round. I've been listening to Depeche Mode since Liam was 8. Maybe not the best reason but it's the one I'm using. As it is Liam only has an hour but we get 14 songs and a healthy dose of Oasis tunes, (9 of the 14). We get the swagger, the calling out of someone in the crowd for being a 'shithouse', we get Liam. The rarely performed 'Whatever' is an absolute triumph, followed by 'Supersonic' and 'Some Might Say'.

No one wants this set to end, especially Liam but time is pressing. 'Do you want Wonderwall or Live Forever' barks Liam. 'Please not 'Wonderwall' I say to myself as the violins kick in on the 'Live Forever' intro. Perfect. As it closes, 'Fuck it, I'll play 'em both' says the man and we're closing with 'Wonderwall', the bane of every open mic everywhere, but when Liam's got hold of it with 60,000 backing singers it suddenly makes sense again and I remember how much I loved it when I first heard it in 1995. As the song draws to a close, the crowd in fine voice, Liam steps to the mic, 'You're beautiful' he tells us before swaggering off into a glorious sunset.

This is the bit when the vast number of attendees became an issue. We figured it'd be quieter for Depeche Mode so me and Sam headed forward hoping to find the rest of our troupe to be met by a wall of people going the other way. There was no security, no clear way in or out, just a melee of crushed people pushing in opposite directions. Tempers were getting frayed, children were crying. It was genuinely frightening. It had all got a bit Leeds Fest. As soon as we got past the sound desks it thinned out and we could relax but I'd come close to giving up. The main stage area is a bottleneck that's not been an issue in previous years. If the festival continues to attract these numbers it needs addressing.

We found Ross, and co on the first barrier. Stars and Charlotte had gone for an early night, again it had been a busy one for them. I was grilled by the 'young uns' about Depeche Mode songs including some tragic singing on my part. This was the big name band I'd been most looking forward to this year. A band that have gone from electro-pop pioneers to stadium rockers and everything in between over a 40 year career. 

There was some moans later of not playing 'the hits' but with 14 albums to go at there were always gonna be some favourites missing but we did get 'Personal Jesus', 'Everything Counts', 'Enjoy The Silence', 'Walking In My Shoes' and somewhat surprisingly, 'I Just Can't Get Enough'. 'Everything Counts' in particular was magnificent. The crowd singalong at the end just went on and on with Dave Gahan gleefully conducting the crowd. Both Gahan and Martin Gore looked honestly moved by the love pouring their way from the crowd. It was an emotional night. 

A truly awesome 'Enjoy The Silence' closed the set. I didn't want them to go. They didn't want to go. They were still saying their goodbyes as some people got back to their tents. I managed to lose everyone on the way back. Standard. I stopped off at The Big Top briefly to watch Hacienda Classical banging out 'Blue Monday' with Peter Hook looking all Hookyish before wending my way to my tent. It had been a good 'un.