rage Issue 5 - The Phoenix Festival 95
Jimmy Blackburn, Colin Hamilton, and Mike Bracken all jumped in the rage limo and headed down to see the best of the UK's indie line-up did they have a good time ? Well you'll have to read on. Or just click on one of these highlighted bits to jump to a particular day or topic. Saturday, the infamous NME/ Farm/ Brookside/ ringers football match. - Did Damon score ? does anyone care ?? and finally Sunday
EMF were once going to be the biggest band in Britain. Their debut single, Unbelievable was a thriving mass of melody, hooks and a chorus that everyone could shout. They worked hard, playing lots of the smaller venues in order to maintain a less fickle fan base than the standard set of fourteen year olds. They made friends with Carter USM and became 'the chart group it was OK to like'. They courted the press with stories about drinking exploits and tricks with plastic cups. They followed up their hit single with Children and Lies, which were good, but nowhere near as good as the first but, hey, it's EMF, and they're all right. Their first album sold well but since then their popularity has waned and the joke has worn thin. Live, the EMF experience is similar to the records, Unbelievable is still the wonderful but all the rest falls short. Sure, they bounce around with endless enthusiasm but it's not enough anymore. The lowest point of the set is their version of the Monkees classic I'm a Believer which has added ‘oi's', putting it on a level near to Duran Duran's dire cover of White Lines.
Aztec Camera headline the Melody Maker stage on the opening night. The running order must have been organised before news of the Edwin Collins revival had left Belgium. Roddy Frame looks as young as he ever did and plays his original brand of sweet pop music. Walk out to winter, Phenomenal Rain and Get Out Of London are all included and demonstrate that simple chord based songs stand the test of time well. Maybe he should get himself over to Belgium for a little while.
However, at last his sardonic pop seems to have struck a chord with the Great British Public, as A Girl Like You seems set to see him enshrined on oldie stations for the rest of his natural lifespan. Which seems apt as its instant familiarity seems to have made its success inevitable. That and topping the Belgian charts. Tonight he dips into his back catalogue, even as far back as the earliest days of Orange Juice, with a suitably out of tune version of Felicity (which suddenly made me realise that the youth club band I was in ten years ago sounded like it, but crap...) and a rare rendition of his previous "novelty" hit Rip It Up. More recent solo material has often been underrated, but songs like Dont Shilly Shally (sort of Dale Winton meets the Velvet Undergrounds "Rock N Roll") and Fifty Shades of Blue spent three or four minutes getting to their excellent choruses. It makes you want to grab him and beat fifty shades of something at times... Its usually worth getting there, just that sometimes the journey takes too long. The biggest cheer (apart from the Hit) comes when he namechecks the event in song (" Another summer festival..the wholly detestable Phoenix festival.") No one does that at Glastonbury... The excellent sympathy Hit unsurprisingly closes the set, as Edwyn falls/dives into the throng, still playing his guitar, as the band, including ex-Pistol Paul Cooks familiar thump on drums, play on. He is received rapturously, which seems like deserved justice for the original lost fey fop of pop. The Morrissey its okay to like.
As Edwyn fell into the crowd, on the main stage an singer who does not need to fall back on occasional hits stubbornly refused to appear. Following one of the longest and most tortuous soundchecks in the history of pop festivals, his Bobness finally crept onto the mainstage. In an ill fitting silver grey jacket, looking for all the world like a has-been snooker player, Dylan and his band stumbled into their first number. Backed by two guitarists dressed a la garth brooks, and a drummer last seen as Animal in the Muppet show, the incongruous foursome apologetically milked the crowds applause.
It is perhaps unfair to criticize Dylans sets, as his hugely loyal fans would quite happily cheer if he farted while playing maracas. Fortunately for the few neutrals who dont hang on his every nasal drone, the next few numbers were mercifully passable. Although his rendition of I Want You convinced many that he was aiming the song towards his respirator, a virtuoso rendition of All Along The Watchtower threatened to save the set. However, all this did was to highlight the dilemma of seeing Dylan live. With so many hits over the decades, his choice of half a dozen tracks was bound to please only a small segment of the adoring Dylanites.
Unworried by the increasingly somnolent crowd, the flab four then moved into acoustic mode for the remainder of their show. A rousing, if elongated, version of Finger Lickin Blues was probably the highlight of the whole show, and if the crowd was only partly satisfied, then they had two memories to fall back on:actually seeing Dylan move, which is akin to meeting the Queen Mum in your local Ladbrokes; and watching the security staff vainly try to stop punters videoing the set. After all, Dylan had been introduced as a Columbia Records Artist, and even the screens at the side of the stage went off when he played, presumably to protect copyright.
In the end, Dylan was nothing more or less than expected. A supremely talented musician in an unforgiving venue with a simpering crowd. The only thought that this reviewer was left with was: why would anyone, other than the terminally insomniac, want to video his stage show?
Over in the Kiss 100 Jazz tent, possibly the strangest mixture of artists and crowd gathered to fill the tent to bursting capacity. As a huge downpour hit the festival, a combination of soul kids, ravers and seriously stoned jazz freaks piled into the tent, some to catch Galliano, others to escape the rain. As the set was running behind schedule, and with water teeming into the tent, the crowd of hectic e-heads became ever more tetchy. In an understandable but senseless move, the DJ Normski, yes that Normski, played some Public Enemy. As a result, its fair to say that by the time Galliano took to the stage, they received the loudest and most energetic reception yet seen at this years Phoenix festival. Always a crowd pleaser, this time Galliano cut a more experimental set than normal, as their tunes were laced with high pitch synth and (deliberate?) feedback, to leave the crowd happy, if a little hot and sweaty.
Another act to benefit from the downpour was Mark Lamarr, who used the packed comedy tent to display his viciously cutting wit. After utilising a few obvious props: such as asking the audience "love, have you ever been in love?" before going into a scripted routine, the show was given an added edge by a heckler. Lamarr may well have enough wisecracks to silence the most troublesome crowd, but he is at his best as a stream of conciousness comic. When a young heckler screamed "haw haw haw" during one of Lamarrs rare silences, the comedian immediately launched into a 15 minute demolition of hecklers in general. In truth, this spontanaity was exactly what Lamarr needed, as anyone who has heard his radio performances can testify. With his allocated time over, Lamarr re-entered the stage for another 10 minutes, winding down the show, and his vitriol, with professionally gifted timing.
Pitchshifter remove a few cobwebs by bombarding the crowd with noise. They're working hard, before the end of the first song they've thrown shirts and bottles of water into the crowd and passed the microphone down to allow the fans to scream along to the tunes. And, they are tunes, despite the fact that every instrument is being hit or struck as quickly as is conceivably possible, the final product is intelligent and very listenable. On the back of a heckle the singer climbs on to the crowd and surfs along for a fair while. It's all very impressive for eleven at night let alone eleven in the morning.
Senseless Things farewell show never actually takes place, due to singer Keds non appearance. Having just joined, or left the Wildhearts they withdraw too. Nonetheless drummer Cass puts in one of his all time great backstage performances, at no time talking in less than psychobabble and ruining a decent pair of white jeans. He was always wasted behind a mere drumkit, and elsewhere..
Impressive is not an adjective that can be applied to the goings on at the football tournament though. As eight teams struggle to take the £1000 prize money (to be donated to a charity of the winners choice, naturally), the crowd were witness to scenes that would make Vinny Jones resemble Pele. The Brookside team, with Bev and Mike Dixon, were first up against fellow scallywags the Farm. With Blurs Damon Albarn guesting for the NME team, little was given for their chances. However, as he had to be introduced to his fellow teammates in the hotel that morning,( all deceptively fit and rumoured not even to know what NME stands for) they may yet prove to be challengers.
Damon "girl's blouse" Albarn
As for the team that stands to lose most face, the 90 minutes magazine outfit, they had ex Special Terry Hall playing the anchor role in defence, although their first performance suggested that he may be taking that description a little too literally. His producer Lightning Seed Ian Broudie looked less than composed at the back without his shades on. With the sponsors team, Red Bull, looking like they had taken their sponsors lager as a refresher, and one member of the Farm heard to say the word catenaccio, it quickly became clear that some teams were giving the event more credence than others. As the Rage team thankfully departed the arena, the shooting threatened to endanger the health of the nearby bungee jumpers.
Silk Cut, a footballers best friend
Obviously disgusted with the absence of talent on display on the football pitches, Ice-T emerged onto the main stage to remind most of the 20,000 or so punters why they were here. Bedecked in black basketball shirt, and supported by his cast of "homies and niggaz", Ice-T quickly showed his competence in dealing with a largely white and lethargic crowd. Indeed, at some points in this festival, it seems that there are more media liggers than punters, and with their cynical reluctance to get involved, Ice-T demonstrated his showmans skills to first whip up some energy by splitting the crowd (roughly between bitches and fellas) and then uniting them as one people ("the words rock and roll have nothing to do with skin colour").
A quick version of let's get butt naked showed that the Iceman was not taking the set too seriously, gave way to a sarcastic rendition of We Are the World. Warning the women that "the crew are in town for just one night", and spreading "muthafuckas" and "bitches" around in his typically un-PC way, Ice-T looked to be turning the gig into a one-man comedy show. Having establihed a jokey rapport, and running through his personal vinyl history, he then managed to silence chants of "get on with it" and "you fat bastard" by moving onto a track from the uncompromising Home Invasion. Followed by a funkier than usual Iceberg, and then a positively violent Drive By, the set had changed tone completely. It was almost like watching Charlie Carole (he's a clown in the UK) turn into Charles Manson.
Introducing his new album, the imaginatively titled he implored the crowd repeatedly to "get down" as a heavily funky Make da Loop Loop closed with the sardonic line:"Nigga Im trying to make my bankroll bigga!". By now the heavyweight tracks were to the fore, just as well given Ice-Ts increasing girth, and leaving the set with "Ill cramp your style with a bullet and a smile", and the classic Original Gangsta, Ice-T had a previously passive mid-afternoon audience screaming "OG". A quick change from hat to bandana announced the arrival of his band Bodycount, and as Eze-E gave way to the Executioner, the crowd was treated (?) to some energetic if self-indulgent clattering. Although his paean to gun ownership, crude sexual allusions and unforgivabe plugging of his new album threatened to detract from the set, here was anartist witha huge reportoire, a distinct attitude and a name that isn't Bob showing that a badly tied slot, mixed weather and a slightly bemused audience is no hindrance to a class show.
Simultaneously on the Jazz stage Texan MC 900 ft Jesus ( the name comes from a vision claimed by a local TV evangelist) is leading his highly talented band through a set of positively cerebral trippy jazz-rap. His detached demeanour and understated approach are the exact antithesis of all round entertainer and rebel rouser Ice T, but no less satisfying for that.And tracks like The City Sleeps must have impressed a large audience
Welsh teenagers Gorki's Zygotic Mynci are a real highspot on the Melody Maker stage, with their eerily authentic take on classic British pop psychedelia, casually combining their own Aint Got School in the Morning with the Beach Boys Good Vibrations to great effect. (I am not making this up) Singer/keyboardist Euros Childs is a natural, and a fine ivory basher, and though the mock doomy The Game of Eyes wouldn't scare anyone over eight years old , it could catch the hearts of the nation. As poppy as Blur's weird kid brothers, Gorki's manic innocence reminds me of no one more than the apparently lost Frank and Walters, seen through the distorting effect of magic mushrooms.
Scotlands AC Acoustics are hardly a jolly festival act, though their surly grinding guitar rock often gets near to Swervedrivers Anglo/American trademark.
The first thing to be aware of when first watching Man Or Astroman is that they believe that they come from outer space. They arrived on this planet when they crashlanded in Alabama which explains their strong American accents. They have been booked for the this festival because they play load quick thrash surf. Some of their tunes sound like they're instrumentals but in fact their voices are functioning at a frequency greater than 20,000Hz, beyond the human ears hearing limit. All we get to hear is their storming bass led tunes. Some of the dogs on string are looking rather upset though. They realise their error and allow us the pleasure of the songs and simultaneusly aid the comfort of canine contingent.
Terrorvisions clodhopping pop metal seems to please the kids, but what they do to Kraftwerks classic The Model is probably beyond coherent description here. And their side gets turned over on the footy field later...by the Royal Shakespeare Company! Its one nil to the well rehearsed set plays of the Stratford lads in a truly bizarre fixture.
Public Enemy instantly gain attention by announcing that their last ever show will take place at the Hackney Empire in July, and an appreciative audience soak it up, for possibly the last time. Apparently Chuck D plans to expand the original PE concept with live instruments, which should provide an interesting contrast with tonights stripped down show, with only DJ Terminator X joining the two frontmen on stage.As ever Chuck D and Flavor Flav play the parts of prophet and fool. For every call to fight the power from Chuck is met with a promise of free beer forthe masses (and some rather poor freestyling ) from Flav. The set is tremendously entertaining, and sounds surprisingly good too, even if the idea of a medley of some of the most influential songs of the last decade seems a bit perfunctory. Black Steel, By the Time I get to Arizona and Fight the Power flash past like a radio with an inbuilt short attention span, and we're left counting the marvels they didn't perform, like Bring the Noise, Channel Zero and Don't Believe the Hype, to name but three. Hip hop is well past the stage of novelty and translates better to the big arenas than many other forms, as IceT showed earlier. Good luck and thank you Public Enemy, not least for not dragging the act out past its sellby, not glamorizing the driveby, and best of all treating the audience withrespect by raising serious issues while always being aware of their own position in rocks iconography. And yes, there were a couple of bored looking geezers posing in black berets, same as ever.
Spiritualized Electric Mainline, to use the full title that no one does, seem to play only at festivals these days, usually in a tent around the chill out hour. This less than hardworking act, who pop out wonderful albums every two or three years, which should really be named "Now Auditioning for Drummer" as another one leaves in search ofmore regular work, have struck gold with the latest sticksman. Chris Sharrock has played in everyone from the La's to World Party and could well be the man to bring some stick twirling glamour to the resolutely downbeat but dramatically lit live Spiritualized experience.This does not apply to the music which is as tremendously complex as three chords can be, and veers between fragility and frenetic power with real grace.
To a point Spiritualized are a one trick band, they start quiet, get louder and faster, and then stop and repeat ten times. Thats forgetting that the journey is a major part of the pleasure, and after two days at Phoenix its like leaving a jam on the M25, and finding the next exit has. put you on the Pacific Coast Highway. Its still just a road, but the scenerys a lot better, and theres plenty of interesting twists and turns. Recent hype-hit Let it Flow, and great non hit Medication ( and Jason Pierce wasn't singing about Anusol, though I'm told its a good buzz...) are exemplars of their improvisational style, but the high spot is watching bassist (and useful harmonica player) Sean Cookson and Sharrock really playing their way into the songs, spurring each other on. Walking with Jesus, from Pierces time in Spacemen 3, is now the fully fledged Velvets style feedback monster is always imagined itself as. By the time they finish I have no idea how long they've playedfor, but I could have heard the lot again happily. Lets hope this line up records together soon, or at least once. If the Verve can talk their way into the top ten, why arent Spiritualized up there too?
Nitzer Ebb can't be here so they are replaced by nonsoundalikes, The High Llamas. They play a glorious set to approximately 80 people which is rather sad. Their melodic tunes and entertaining songs deserve a far bigger audience than this. Their version of The Dutchman fell apart well before anybody tried to stop it, but generally their harmony orientated sound which is supplemented with a string section produce one of the highlights of the festival.
By the time the Verve come on the tent is packed once more. Anyone who came to see their psychedelic blues was in for a treat. They have come on a long way and play a set that draws the listener in slowly absorbing them into their guitar orientated music. The ideal preperation for Spiritualised.
On the comedy stage Lee Evans is telling some fine jokes to a huge audience. A lot of the material is from his dismal TV series but it's a far funnier live. Here he can adapt the length of the jokes to match the audience's response and get involved with the hecklers. This keeps everyone on their toes. High points of the set include a method of reducing baby snatching from hospitals by not cutting the umbilical cord, preventing bread from falling butter side down by dropping it before you butter it, and an extended mime to Bohemian Rhapsody. Highly entertaining material but not quite ready for TV yet.
Sunday starts with the information that Warren G is not playing. How will the time be used we wonder, by making all the intervals five minutes longer. Nice one!
Credit to the Nation play a bright set featuring their softer version of rap. Matty Hansen bounds round the stage while his dancers put on a fairly uninspired performance. The songs have a subtle underlying stance against rascism and sexism if you listen carefully enough.
Spearhead played three different stages at Glastonbury, and still festival goers haven't become bored with them. Despite a long downpour people remain enraptured by Michael Franti's soulful sounds. He is a confident man who continues to take risks rather than settle for easier options. Spearhead are far mellower than The Beatniks or the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopracy ever were but, even without a loud driving force to his songs, he manages to create engaging listening.
Paul Weller played here last year as part of his drive to be as popular as Sir Cliff Richard, I suppose he may even be looking for a knighthood. His chances won't have been reduced by his funk orientated set tonight. It may have taken him a while to get it right since he split up The Jam in the dim and distant past but now his popularity appears to know no bounds. Surely the next set of honours will see something for the great man. An excellent finish to an improving featival. The Mean Fiddler Organisation won't be making millions yet, but the 40,000 or so punters were given excellent facilities, a varied line-up, and an object lesson in how to organise a music festival.
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