"There is a rarefied magic about Haldern that transcends the usual plus points I associate with summer festivals. Maybe it’s because Haldern is a small, home-grown affair and one that has cussedly stayed that way. "
Haldern Pop Festival: 2008, Part 1
Sehnsucht is the German word for longing, melancholy. And boy did I get a big dose of it whilst the backstage fire crackled and spat through the early hours of the last day. The knowledge that Haldern’s “land of Faerie” would be inaccessible for another year is always one that always tempers the spirits.
There is a rarefied magic about Haldern that transcends the usual plus points I associate with summer festivals. Maybe it’s because Haldern is a small, home-grown affair and one that has cussedly stayed that way. Or maybe it’s because you know you are never ripped off and everyone is so disarmingly pleasant, generous and helpful. Even the sponsors, (with one notable exception - but you’ll come to that later in our reports), get in the vibe of the weekend. Whatever was happening on the cigarette-sponsor bus Saturday afternoon definitely wasn’t an ad man’s dream…
Whatever Haldern’s special ingredients, the essential innocent, fun recipe of going camping and watching bands is still potent here. And I have to say, the growing realisation that thousands of German and Dutch music lovers are collectively going slightly loopy under canvass is a very invigorating one.
Anyway, enough sehnsucht! To work!
DL: Erecting camp Incendiary at Haldern is always a joyous moment in our year. We arrive with spirits soaring and amber liquids flowing; the car so heavily laden that it creaks and groans every time we get out of it, like a tired old dog being harassed by a bunch of excitable toddlers. We throw open the boot, mess around with tent pegs and guide ropes until something resembling a series of small tents appears. Well, that’s what we usually do. This year Incendiary brought a tent so large it could have easily hidden some large digging machinery inside it and therefore we christened it with the name Dick and decided that if things went a bit haywire we’d just keep on tunnelling and make our way to Switzerland before the rains came. Then again, this was Haldern and things don’t go haywire at Haldern. Well, not in a bad way.
RF: This being Haldern’s 25th anniversary, big things were planned for the opening night. As well as the usual groovy hippy vibe in the Spiegel tent, the main stage was to be bombarded with a stand off between the Cromwellian mission of Foals and the regal Grande Masque of the Flaming Lips. But we had to wait a few hours for that duel to begin. Kicking things off in the tent was…
DL: Zinn, Vin? Brinn? What was his name again? Didn’t his name have an x in it?
RF: Finn, who hails from Hamburg.
Finn was backed by three gentlemen all dressed in black; studious in demeanour and playing quiet, melancholy, singer-songwriter pop. The light relief was given by the Jarvis Cocker lookalike on percussion who sported blue face paint beneath his heavy NHS specs. He has a great voice, and unfortunately for us he knew it.
After a while, hearing everything in the same key, style and tempo can begin to grate, however good, and even with periodic glances at the Blue Jarvis on percussion, our attention began to wander. We gave up when a cover of Moon River and I Just Called to say I Love You were aired…
DL: I laughed a little at the Moon River cover, if only because I was a bit amazed that he dared attempt the song at all, but the Stevie Wonder thing was a step too far for me as it just made me question his taste. Also, filling the stage with bored looking gentleman staring at their feet is fair enough, especially when one of them resembles Mr Cocker, but it would be nice if they had something to do. Fair play to the guy for stepping in - and boo hiss ra to Noah and The Whale for cancelling - but he did get on my nerves by the end. He has a great voice and I really enjoyed the first few songs, but you’ve got to have more than one trick up your sleeve I think and Xin, Zin, Finn didn’t.
RF: Yeah, Finn is okay, certainly talented but needs to get some sand in the songwriting Vaseline.
Following Finn, Norman Palm came on and, dressed in a red plaid shirt, did some camp fire acoustic tunes that have entirely failed to register in our memory.
DL: So much so that I can not recall a SINGLE thing about him. Seriously. Nothing!
RF: Maybe he was too quiet? Maybe he was too similar in approach to Finn? Maybe the Young People of Today need to stop listening to Joni Mitchell? (Is 2008 really 1975 in disguise?) No matter.
Fleet Foxes followed, bringing yet more acoustic guitars and backwoodsmen chic to the party, but what Mr Palm lacked in presence, the Foxes more than made up for in sound and professionalism.
DL: Did they ever! This was a band that I’d heard a lot about but had never actually been able to get a listen to, apart from a song or two and, to put it simply, they blew me away. All hail the fabulous, furry Fleet Foxes! Solid, tub thumping rhythms, really beautiful vocal harmonies and the kind of solid, wonderful performance you wish for every time you go to see a gig. They seemed to echo around the tent like a bunch of singing trappers floating down a river on a canoe, it was really, really beautiful.
RF: There’s a glint of steel here, despite the hippy-isms. They are professional (you need to be to hone harmonies that tight) and they know how to set a mood. This was modern country folk, widescreen style. It was also a blistering gig, with enough menace and intent to balance the CSN sheen. At last!
DL: Now I will have to temper that a bit as I saw a similar kind of band, Tunng, here in this very tent a year ago and they blew me away that night too but when I listened to them on record I found them to be a bit fey and a bit too light, losing most of the power and passion that I felt when seeing them live and I fear the same thing may happen with Fleet Foxes. No matter though, they had me singing “I was following the, I was following the, I was following the” for the rest of the night so I think we can safely say that they did their job and they did it well.
RF: The Spiegel Tent had settled into a groove for the evening, one that was to be continued with the mighty Yeasayer. Another bunch of studious kids, more found sounds and customised electronic nonsense, and more eclectic intentions than is possibly necessary, but hey! Yeasayer have made a pretty impressive first album and there’s a poppy groove about them that could be developed into something truly special. At times as they settled into thumping out their anthemic rhythms, we thought that they could (if they stopped hiding behind their instruments and being so bloody gauche all the time), turn into Wilder-era Teardrop Explodes – albeit without the massive drug intake.
DL: Personally I found them to be a band that reminded me of a bunch of other bands without ever really feeling like they were as good as any of the bands I was comparing them too.
RF: Still, the audience dug them, and so should you.
DL: Fair enough, they certainly made more of an impact than Norman Palm and you’re right about the audience – they loved them. Perhaps it’s just not my thing.
RF: After the Yeasayer experience, your correspondents stumbled over to see Foals blasting out their abstract funk clatter. Foals are enjoying a meteoric rise and are determined not to let it slip, that’s for sure.
DL: Now this lot I enjoyed immensely, for the most part. I liked the way they set themselves up on stage, all facing inwards, as if they were still playing in their parent’s garage and boy did they make a nice loud racket.
RF: It’s as if they’re on some kind of mission, known only to them. And despite enjoying this hard-headedness, I find their music Gnomic and ever so slightly inhuman. Sure, people love their sound and enjoy their cussed “mission to the land of new music” nature; the big test for them will be when they throw away their textbook. And the whole stunt of facing each other whilst playing (even on a big stage like the main stage at Haldern) does belie this. I could be cruel and say bands like Henry Cow, Gong & the Soft Machine did this “serious musician looks at serious musician and goes to Nirvana” thang back in the 70s. But I won’t elaborate. For now a question will suffice. Can real life experience enter the Foals canon in any way? We’ll see. A determined, hard-edged gig was enough to give the audience high expectations.
DL: I think they make great music, but there’s not a lot to hold on to, there’s no real hook, no real hit single in there yet and I get the impression that it’s probably better to play than it is to listen to, although it’s still very good indeed. I think we just need to give them time.
RF: After this things got confused. Somehow your correspondents found themselves chatting to Steven from the Flaming Lips who saw no reason to dissuade us from joining their Baroque escapades onstage. Soon, suitably attired in man-made fibres and armed with torches, two of your team were whisked away to become part of an excited Tellytubby crowd.
DL: Yes, I’m afraid all journalistic integrity and impartiality went out of the window and, as I spent my time bouncing around the side of the stage dressed as a purple Tellytubby, armed only with a spotlight and an array of ridiculous arm movements, I don’t think it would be fair for me to review the gig properly as I certainly can’t be objective about it. Besides, I couldn’t even hear half of them, due to standing so close to Steven’s amp.
RF: Sadly, the third member of your team saw fit to rant and rage against the sheer muselessness of modern rock and roll. Maybe it’s because his costume didn’t fit and a red Tellytubby head doesn’t go well with a Yellow Tellytubby body? Maybe it’s because listening to the Litter and Chuck Berry on the way to Haldern had given him an attitude a mile high and twice as wide? Whatever, that costume man, it was Unclean and Wrong.
“Being a Tellytubby? I’m selling out Chuck Berry!”
Being placated with the Lips’ collective weed stash was still not enough for this infrequent toker to stop the anti Genesis/Lips rant. Still, standing backstage, watching the hamster ball, confetti and dry ice create a vision of an uber party Funhouse, an appreciation of why the Flaming Lips can be so much fun live was hard to deny. And playing She Don’t Use Jelly was cool too.
DL: It was amazing! At least for me. And being able to look out onto a sea of smiling faces and be some four or five feet away from the band whilst they played that and Do You Realize is a memory that I think will live with me for a long, long time. I honestly felt like crying, but that may have been all the dry ice. Judging by the looks on the crowd’s faces, I think the band did well, but then they always do and if you haven’t experienced a Flaming Lips show, then you simply owe it to the child within you to make sure you see them before you die. It’s imperative.
RF: After that an impromptu party made up of various bands brought a very colourful evening to a close.