Saturday 10th June
So 2am finds myself, Sam and Holly waiting for the Bang Bang Romeo charabanc to touch down. Quite a week for the band: Oxford on Wednesday with Starsailor, recording some TV on Thursday, the NME Lock In on Friday, an acoustic set on the ferry from Southampton and now gearing up for 3 sets at the IOW Festival (Big Top, Hard Rocks & This Feeling). You can never accuse them of not putting the work in.
They followed the beacon in (I'm sure the hat is the only reason I keep getting invited back) and after hugs it was back to camp, apart from Joel and Alan (Joel's Dad, van driver, bass player with Monkey Dust and all round top bloke) who went to see what this year's site had to offer.
I awoke to find the the sun had done it's thing on the Friday. And to think I'd told everyone they'd need wellies
Either that or I'd been sleepwalking through white paint.
A more successful shower this morning before the compulsory wander for bacon and coffee. Inexplicably ended up with a waffle instead of bacon. Bumped into Paves again. Two days in and I'm already in a routine. Also bumped into Sharron and TV's Chris Walker, which was a relief. Chris too had caught the sun. For me its just meant trying not to leave my DNA everywhere all week as the inevitable happened. For Chris it meant explaining to his Doctors bosses that they'll have to rewrite some kind of Sergeant Rob Hollins in mystery sunburn in October incident (he's currently filming Halloween stuff). Either that or spend six hours in make up.
Today was gig day for Bang Bang Romeo, Big Top - same as last year but in a better slot, 2.45. It was also the only two must see bands on the main stage day for me - Slow Readers Club and Arcade Fire. First job was to sort all the Big Top passes out. I say job, I just followed Sam and the band around as they liaised with their management (ZY Records) to get everyone sorted. The later slot meant I could check out the opening band on This Feeling, The Surrenders. A band that effortlessly mix blues and psychedelic rock and deliver it with style and panache. Seriously, these guys were class.
We got the call that all the passes were ready and we could get into the Big Top dressing room. As Slow Readers Club took to the main stage I was rounding people up and trying to be useful. I could hear them, just couldn't see them. It almost counts. Once again Sam forbade me to carry owt (bloody hernia. Bizarrely very few people seemed interested in seeing or touching it. Shame. I like to share) so I just sat in the dressing room charging my phone and drinking the band's beer and explaining to anyone who would listen about my relationship with BBR (7 years now. That's more than some of my marriages put together) while Stars' team got to work.
We left the band to get stage ready and retired to the VIP Big Top bar pre gig. (I know right!! I am very, very aware of how lucky I am). Bumped into the omnipresent Jimmy Mac for the first of about 80 times that weekend. Jimmy is a grafter. So much so that I'm certain he's cloned himself. No man can do that much work and be in that many places. Last year at the Big Top the band started with a decent sized crowd that grew as they played. This year it was already heaving before they set foot on stage.
Pretty much since Leeds Fest last year the band have been camped in the studios recording their debut album. When that hits it's gonna be a monster. As per, the songwriting machine that is Ross Cameron has been churning out gem after gem. There are three relatively new songs in today's set. They start with 'Johannesburg' from the Chris Kimsey produced 'We Were Born' EP. Joel's bass leading the band into a gorgeous dusk laden nightmare.
The band seem to have gone up yet another level. Joel Philips and Richard Gartland are as tight a rhythm section as you will find. They've found that telepathy that all great rhythm sections need. Joel's fluidity letting Rich throw in fills that you wonder how he'll ever get out of. You're still wondering as the songs fly to further heights.
All this allows Ross to twist his guitar straight through the heart of the songs whilst simultaneously caressing them, sometimes to within an inch of their lives. When you wake up at night thinking you've heard a noise and don't know whether to be scared or relieved that all is safe? That's Ross Cameron's guitar.
Plus, to quote Radio X's Gordon Smart, 'He's too good looking to be a man'. I'm not jealous at all.
The band make a glorious, sumptuous, monstrous, massive beautiful noise. It's needed to back the sheer power of Anastasia Walker's voice. I honestly believe that no other musicians could do credit to the weapons that Stars has in her locker. They are truly a band. More than a band. A gang. A powerhouse. A complete unit up there on stage. Of the highest magnitude.
The band power through the Cameron/Walker penned new song that is 'Runaway' before the opening licks of 'You And I'. Any band, ANY BAND, on the planet would kill just for the intro. Stars sings of a 'loaded pistol' and that's just how the band deliver it. Richard's gunfire pounding beat deflected by Ross' impenetrable guitar as Stars voice soars and dives through every soul there. Many, many words will be written in years to come about the power, range and magnificence of this voice. None will do it justice.
'Cemetery' is next up. First time I've heard it live for a couple of years at least. It's always had a special spot for me. Not only is it a stunning tune but with the parenthesised 'Ode To The Independent Record Store' it was always gonna have a place in my heart. Sadly my record shop is no more. Cemetery indeed. Still, it's good to have it back sounding better than ever.
New single (released the same day) 'Chemical' follows. It's the song I've heard the band perform most. Ross wrote it many, many years ago. This new reworking is sublime though. It's the sound of a band who know just how good they are and just where they are going. It's a breathtaking plea that love must be more than just a chemical reaction. Musically and lyrically it has taken on it's own life. It's a force of nature. If you haven't bought it yet do so.
Despite the countless times I've heard it before it is 'Chemical' that brings the first tear to my eye. Seeing a band (and your mates) on a big stage, tearing it up, looking like they were born to be there is just something I don't think I'll ever get tired of witnessing. I am indescribably proud of these guys.
Two new songs follow. 'Natural Born Astronaut' is as close to pop as they get but it still undoubtedly has the BBR hallmark. The chorus is ridiculously infectious. Stand out moment has to be the 5,4,3,2,1 countdown mid song that you fully expect to lead into a joyous cacophony but instead we get an acapella Stars sounding almost vulnerable. Once more an example of the supreme songwriting that abounds here. Interestingly Astronaut is Greek for Starsailor. Given the relationship the two bands have built recently (Starsailor's Barry Westhead has played keys live with BBR a few times now and appears on the upcoming debut album) it's wonderfully apt. Things slow down with the gorgeous, melancholic 'Beautiful World'. I'm not the only one crying now.
Former closer 'Invitation' is the penultimate song of the set, still a rousing beast of a song. The 'I have a question' call and response getting louder every time. Stars stage presence is second to none. You have a feeling right there that anything she asked of the crowd she'd get.
A reworked Adore Me is installed as set closer now. It is, and has always been, not only a thing of beauty but one of my favourite songs ever. It is haunting. It's a desperate plea to be loved. It's a plea that can't be resisted. (On a personal note the band dedicated this song to me at Tramlines 2 years ago just as I was undergoing heart surgery. I can never thank them enough for that). Now though the song mutates into a raucous finale. Stars says her farewells and the band take centre stage thrashing every last drop out of the emotion sodden Big Top. Joel in particular looks every bit the rock star as he batters his bass into submission. I'm not just crying now. I'm roaring. I don't care. It's tempting to steal Jon Landau's 'I saw the future of rock 'n' roll' quote on seeing Springsteen for the first time. They were that good.
The world truly is theirs.
Just writing this has left me emotionally drained again. Let's see what tomorrow brings.
Many thanks to Rutherford Photography for the use of the BBR photos.