Alex White's spot of bother with the mic late on was somehow in keeping with the rock n roll nature of the set. At least it allowed Tom to do his Madchester Ian Brown monkey-man impression.
Haldern Festival 2-4/08/07
Ah, Haldern... Each year Incendiary magazine are royally entertained by the line up, welcomed by the locals, soothed by the beautiful rural surroundings and amazed by the camping ethos of the German nation. Each year your correspondent has battles of Homeric proportions with constructing his tent. And this year (despite a great deal of help), a shape resembling a battered carrier bag – a bag on the verge of a slow, sagging death - was achieved.
Hurrying off to the Spiegel Tent for the opening night, we arrived just in time to catch Kate Nash, a late replacement for the gloomy Editors. Nash - backed by a band that looked as if they had escaped from a school field-trip - ran through her array of girly witticisms with remarkable aplomb. I have to say that she's a hell of a lot more entertaining live than on record. Maybe it was all the eye-rolling and coquetry at the piano, but so what? It was a great way to start a festival, not too much bombast, just a nice, gently uplifting feeling of expectation. Following Miss Nash, Grand Island got stuck into a quirky, almost deliberately eccentric set with time changes and noisy intermissions galore. I'm pretty sure I heard the odd yodel emanate from the stage, but then that could have been the Diebels beer. Still, it was full–on stuff, at times over-energetic and maybe excessively masculine... Truth be told, it all got too tiring after a while so we headed outside for a break.
Following the 'Island, Get Well Soon produced a set of pretty generic Coldplay/Editors-style rock. It was okay as far as it went, but it didn't shake Incendiary's tree I'm afraid. Still, Tunng were on next. After their brilliant shows in Amsterdam and Rotterdam I'd been boring my colleagues senseless about the greatness of Tunng. And Tunng playing the Spiegel Tent was as good a gig as you could have wished for; a gentle folky feel and a happy band (despite the odd technical glitch early on). Of course Tunng's secret weapon is combining their pleasant acoustic patterns with those epic, ravey sound-scapes; a trick that worked brilliantly in the Spiegel Tent. Playing Woodcat and Jenny Again would have made my night alone, but their decision to air some new tracks was inspired. These tracks, (one had a name like Bullet... I can't remember the other) were looser and more "groovy", much more interactive... and in the Tent's heady atmosphere they became the soundtrack to the evening. Marvellous.
Two Gallants rocked out brilliantly in their darkly humorous manner... I do like the way the duo make enough noise to fill an aircraft hanger, and still manage to create a set full of light and shade. After the Gallants, Incendiary decided to call time on the night, so sincerest apologies to An Pierle & White Velvet and Naked Lunch. I'm sure you were both brilliant.
Friday morning broke with sunny skies. Surely the rain that had made the last couple of Haldern Fridays some of the muddiest days in our collective memories would stay away? Well, it was certainly hot enough when the magazine's staff trooped into the Spiegel Tent to see our long time favourites Brakes. After a couple of years on the road, (and a couple of albums' worth of material under their belts) Brakes have developed into a pretty formidable live outfit. And within about five minutes it was clear to all present that the band had decided to start the day's proceedings with a heady "thump" and the crowd were only too willing to reciprocate. (Singer Eamon Hamilton's part on the infamous British Sea Power tulip bulb throwing/stage wrecking "incident" of 2005 is still very much remembered here). Cease and Desist was tremendous, as was a corrosive I Can't Stand to Stand Beside You, where Eamon's vocal exertions almost had him swallowing the microphone placed in front of him... In all the times I've seen them, I've never known the band so 'full on'; it was a good eight or nine songs in before the tempo and intensity dropped with On Your Side. And, as usual, arrangements were tweaked, guitar pedals were experimented with and pineapples were thrown. Whisper it, but if Brakes can get the normally placid Haldern crowd moshing, then they're on the verge of something. A great gig and a fabulous encore in Spring Chicken. Is that really their first festival encore?
Time to stroll over to the main stage, where Ripchord started proceedings with a very energetic if not very imaginative set.... Still there was always Gabriel Rios, who could surely capture some of the vim and wit of Brakes... well he couldn't. Incendiary really like Gabriel Rios, but to be honest his performance failed to lift the spirits, he seemed withdrawn and going through the motions. A shame... After that we had interviews to do so we missed Polarkreis 18 and Paul Steel, so again we apologise to those two excellent acts. Still we came back in time for The View, who had seemingly taken an inter-band decision to play everything at double speed, or maybe they were just excited, bless... The set was energetic, fun and very poppy, if somewhat formulaic "indie-pop". What the heck, the kids enjoyed it. More teenage enthusiasm could be witnessed in bouncing hordes in front of Jamie T, who really rocked out. I wasn't expecting something that, erm, heavy to be honest. But fair play, Jamie T was the first act that really caught our imagination since Brakes.
Magic Numbers were up next and Incendiary nearly decided to take things easy for a while. To be honest we've never got Magic Numbers, as their LPs have sounded pretty insipid and we've always wondered if they were a case of hype over talent. But on this showing, Magic Numbers are a considerable proposition as a live band. They were tremendous, their music possessed space, ingenuity and real power. I finally 'got' the brilliance and charm of the 'big' songs, such as Forever Lost and Love's A Game, which had previously sounded so limp on record. And their playing just as the sun set only created a classic festival memory. Quite worryingly one of our assembled party got his lighter out and waved it enthusiastically in the air (luckily he was reprobated on this matter later)... How to follow Magic Numbers? Try Spiritualised for size. No guitar feedback this time, rather an assemblage of strings and choir with Mr Pierce sitting facing his keyboardist, strumming an acoustic guitar, oversized shades firmly shutting out any excess light... Now pay attention readers; to play a set of slow stoner tracks to an outdoor festival audience takes some guts, but such is the quality of all Pierce's work (right back to his Spaceman 3 days) that the crowd were sucked into this peculiar druggy vibe and calmed into a sort of understanding acceptance. It must be the omnipresent references to Jesus. What made the difference was the stunning quality of the arrangements and their execution by the choir and string section. A truly fabulous gig.
At this point Incendiary split into two groups, one watching the Waterboys, (who played Whole of the Moon and were by all accounts pretty great) the other camp decided to get into the tent to watch the Maccabees create a maelstrom of eccentric, quirky noise. I didn't like their LP, but live they're a different proposition. Go and see them soon.
Following that we had interviews to do so we missed Patrick Watson but I believe he nearly took the roof off with a brilliant gig that set things up nicely for Electric Soft Parade. Looking non the worse for wear after an eleven hour wait between Brakes & ESP gigs, Tom & Alex White strode the stage like returning heroes - ESP are big news in Germany despite the trials and tribulations over the past few years - and kicked off into a tremendous set choc-full of classic pop goodness. It's a bloody hard trick to make great, radio-friendly pop songs without looking like a wannabe, wanker or a puppet. This lot get away with it in style, because there is always the feeling that an act of wilful, artistic self-destruction is never far off. There's no doubt, where there's no pain, there's no gain. Oh, and Cold World was great, as was Misunderstanding and If That's the Case. We were even treated to a blistering version of GBV's Universal Truths and Cycles, and Alex's spot of bother with the mic late on was somehow in keeping with the rock n roll nature of the set. At least it allowed Tom to do his Madchester Ian Brown monkey-man impression. A truly great gig. After that Incendiary partied on down, were "treated" to a frankly terrible version of a Seal song by a bass player who should know better and finally stumbled back into the tent to catch Under Byen who sounded druggily fabulous. Not that we could take any more, so it was Bedfordshire for all.
Last day already? Never... Off to the all day breakfast place to eat as much scrambled egg as possible without causing offence, and then off to catch Sereena Maneesh whose 2-d rockisms were firmly applauded by this magazine. I don't know what was going on, but despite them being woefully out of tune at times they still rocked hard, in a droney, Sister – era Sonic Youth kinda way. I really liked them, even during the bits where they were all over the place. And, as I said, the cartoony rolling around on the floor stuff (including a tremendous pretend-fight at the end) was worth it alone. Surely nothing could follow this? Ah yes it could. Friska Viljor strode on all bedecked in black and white and made a very psychotic, very Scandanavian noise. After starting off with a couple of overbearingly twee love songs, (you should know this Scando stuff by now, painfully angsty lyrics with slightly surreal observations), things started to warm up with screeching, juddering beats and jarring guitar runs and a dry scraping sound; not a million miles away from the noise Kaisers Orchestra create. A great and pleasant surprise.
Voxtrot were up next and began pleasing the crowd with a set of charming, clean-cut jangle pop, drawing heavily on the likes of early 80s New Pop and stuff like Lloyd Cole or the odd C86 band. They certainly know how to enjoy themselves, this lot... Their enthusiasm rubbed off onto the crowd who jigged about pleasantly enough. Johnossi followed Voxtrot's snappy gig up with a batch of enthusiastic, raucous numbers. I do like these lads; there's something in this duo's music that's like some big gambolling puppy, brimful of hope and indestructible clumsiness, wrecking your grandmother's parlour. Sorry to say that "work commitments" meant we missed Malajube and Architecture in Helsinki (sorry chaps) but we were able to catch Shout Out Louds who were bloody tremendous if somewhat obvious in their Gothy run throughs. Still, tracks like The Comeback were pretty great. I'd like to see them push their talents a bit more though.
Off to the Spiegel Tent to catch the Drones. Running into a couple of chums (and fellow BSP fans) from England meant more drinks and the discovery that handing out free sweets meant instant friendship – ah if only life could be that simple elsewhere... Onto the Drones, who are a band very much in the Australian Inner City Sound tradition. Replete with whispered vocals (always on the verge of a violent outbreak), fractured, shimmering guitar runs and booming bass lines the Drones laid down some pretty inspiring rock and roll that was shatteringly basic in it's intent. Oh, and loud and brutal, just how it should be, devoid of any fat and gristle. Ghosts couldn't have been a greater contrast; vague waves of radio friendly pop washed over the crowd. Sorry to say we found it pretty ordinary. I mean we know what they're trying to do, and it's bound to find a sizeable audience, but making music that is pleasing and nothing else is just something that doesn't light any fires for us. This writer wandered off to find the odd press contact leaving erstwhile colleague Mr Damian Leslie to witness the genius that is Duke Special.
After Duke Special, the Earlies laid down their stoner groove with aplomb. There's something of the early '90s abut them, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it's an echo of My Bloody Valentine somewhere (albeit an acoustic one). Still when they get going they are a great, organic mass of acoustic guitars and keys. Quite surprisingly one female member of the audience decided that it was perfectly reasonable to conduct a personal conversation with certain members of the band mid-song. Maybe she was trying to stage dive, and stage diving at an Earlies gig is something else I can tell you. Things rumbled pleasantly on till about 4am and this magazine's writers stumbled back to their canvas abodes with sore feet but light hearts. Do we really have to wait another year?
Words: Richard Foster.
Pictures: Chris MacDonnell, Mariska Van Den Hoven
If anyone has any doubts over the benign spirit that seems to guide this festival, then let me furnish you with two incidents. Yours truly somehow managed to fall up a flight of stairs, twisting an ankle into the bargain. The speed and care that the medics patched me up was incredible and certainly not experienced at other festivals I've attended (not that I'm a serial festival ankle twister, I'll have you know). Great thanks to them. Secondly, Damian's wallet fell out of his pocket (causing no end of worry). Of course, this being Haldern, the wallet was handed in replete with cards and money and young Mr Leslie had a mental weight of considerable proportions lifted from his shoulders. A big thank you to that person, if you read this and get in touch, then a night is on us.