The most bizarre name of the day is that of Soda Fountain Rag (Norway)
For London’s Popfest all-dayer, eight bands (and one solo act) lit up the 100 Club with infectiously fun, wryly beguiling and in some cases outright bizarre performances over the course of a frenetic eight hours.
Ballboy front-man, Gordon McIntyre (Edinburgh), opens up proceedings with a short acoustic set. He brings smiles to the faces of those who have managed to arrive for the early start time (he acknowledges that many of the crowd must still be drunk from the previous night) with a handful of charming songs, an amusing story about guitar peddles and witty lyrics including “If my hangover was country it would be Belgium/If my hangover was a town it would be Slough.” Just right for this time of day.
Plouf! (Sheffield) don’t take themselves too seriously, and they encourage the crowd not to either. “I’ve never played guitar on stage before,” warns the female half of the band, and really this is self evident. The two members revel in a deliberately amateur approach as they take it in turns to strum wildly on the guitar and perform songs on such topics as a potato seller in Sheffield with large spectacles and, one of their “favourite subjects”, stationery.
The boy and girl co-vocalists of Red Shoe Diaries (Nottingham) both have pleasant voices, but this is not sufficient to drag anything memorable out of more than a couple of their platitudinous songs – on the whole they are a little flat and one-paced. Towards the end of the set the band start to cut loose a little and enjoy themselves – the female singer dancing merrily during an instrumental section of the set climax – and it is a shame they didn’t show such jollity from the start.
The most bizarre name of the day is that of Soda Fountain Rag (Norway). And twee points galore go their way for having a female stand-up drummer and also for utilising a kazoo as an instrument on a couple of songs, but these are the most noteworthy things about them. The singing drummer is entertaining enough – although she seems rather aloof and austere, at one point sending an admonishing glance in the direction of her guitar-playing colleague when he messes up the start on a song – but the bass and guitar lack punch.
Standard Fare (Sheffield) is the first band to get Popfest bobbing and bopping en masse. Dancing and Philadelphia are evidently already live favourites, even before they have been released, as arms from within the crowd thrust jubilantly into the air when the opening strains of these songs chime out. There is something captivating about the female vocalist’s disinterested and yet longing vocal – as she sings about relationships and alcohol – and pure indie pop tunes like these are hard to resist.
The indie pop continues in earnest with allo darlin’ (London). A brilliantly jangly lead guitar and ukulele are hallmarks of each of the songs, and the infectious happiness the band display throughout spreads around the venue. The highlight comes mid-way through the set when the band step to the side while, with obvious emotion, the uke-playing singer performs a new song called Talulah about her distant friends in Australia.
After a few false starts the singer of Dorotea (Sweden) typifies his band’s good humour by explaining that their new drummer (an Ipod playing backing drum tracks) is a little drunk. It’s hard not to laugh. The obstinate piece of technology does give them considerable problems at first, but when they get settled into their groove they rattle off a series of what seems like hundreds of punky little numbers of sub-sixty seconds in length. The dancers in the crowd lap up every last one of them.
Shrag (Brighton) have said themselves that they are not a careerist band, but they are already better than a lot of their peers who take themselves far too seriously. Tonight they belt out songs from their forthcoming record with fervour and deliberation, and an unusual lack of crowd interaction, which to me suggests they are out to impress. Singer Helen is in a particularly boisterous mood, dancing energetically throughout and delivering most of Habit Creep – complete with aide-memoire jotter pad of lyrics – from a crouched position on the floor. Perhaps her stage presence is channelled by the rest of the band, or perhaps they’re equally up-for-it themselves, but the result – from the indecipherable yelping at the start of Ghosts Before Breakfast to the infectious keyboard refrain of Tights In August – is stunning.
And then comes the turn of headliners Ballboy (Edinburgh). Half-man, half-shortbread, they bring charm and wit to the many inconveniences of being alive, with a uniquely Scottish lilt. A good chunk of the audience are loyal followers, having come specifically to bellow their lyrics about loss and pain joyously back at them. With a festival set of sparkling favourites, they repay such devotion graciously.
As Ballboy leave the stage after an encore, and the DJs start to spin the hits, the crowd starts to thin and anticipation for next year is already growing.