Haldern Pop Festival 2010, Day Two, Friday 13th August

Damian: Day two began in the bar. Quite literally, as Gary took to the stage in the Haldern Pop bar, situated in the centre of the village at around One o’clock. Now, playing rock and roll at that time of the day is a problem for most bands, but Gary? Well, what can we say about Gary?

Richard: Calling your band Gary takes some guts, but I’m sure that the appeal of seeing a band named after all the Gary’s of this world wasn’t why the audience was here. It turned out that the band (which had seemingly split years ago only to reform for this show) was a musical vehicle for a number of young famous actors, most notably a gentleman called Robert Stadlober, who was/is regarded as a bit of a dish by young Germanic girls. Regardless, in the bliss of ignorance, we watched a gig that will live with us to the end of our days. For one, a number of the band looked dead ringers for other people; Adam West on bass, and (most startlingly) Benny from Crossroads on drums.

Damian: Don’t forget that Mr Stadlober himself looks like the BBC Political correspondant Andrew Marr.

Richard: Secondly – outside of Stadlober - they couldn’t play a bloody note. Most crucially, the drummer lacked any kind of rhythm, or any appreciation of what songs he was playing. It got to the point where other band members were either counting him in or persuading him not to drink, or stare at the huge picture of the cow being milked behind him.

Damian: There was also that wonderful moment where the rhythm guitarist, trying to read the chords from a sheet of paper sellotaped to the keyboard, lost his place and so just stood with his arms in the air and stared out of the window until the chorus kicked in.

Richard: No matter, it was magnificent: utterly, absolutely magnificent, mainly because the songs were so good. These were Beatles/Aztec Camera-style torch numbers, or rockers that were a bit Deacon Blue in tone, belted out by the clearly talented & competent Stadlober. And somehow, just somehow… I feel that any improvement of the band in terms of musical ability would utterly ruin them. They were perfect and the gig was triumphant.

Damian: They were wonderful. If they ever learn to play they’ll be massive. As it is, they’re just ridiculous and I absolutely love them because of it.

Richard: After this we raced up to the Speigel Tent to see Wendy McNeill play her “Folk Noir,” (Musette, Klezmer, dark folk, that sort of thing) best seen on her brilliant LP A Dreamer’s Guide to Hardcore Living. In complete contrast to the amateur charm of Gary, McNeill played an absolutely perfect set, musically astute and canny, balanced with that hint of dark menace that we so love in her music. The gig was so compelling because the approach was so simple and frank, even if the subject matter is somewhat disconcerting at times. In essence, you can sing along to songs of murder, shape-shifting and depression without realising. To take this observation to the brink of flippancy, you could imagine a song like Ask Me No Questions being sung by Julie Andrews (that is, if the lyrics weren’t so off the wall). We got some new songs, which sound mesmerising and Wendy got yelled back for an encore which was entirely appropriate. Brilliant stuff.  

Damian: You can’t beat a sea shanty. You’d think that a girl and her accordion would find it hard to get a crowd of teenage festival goers to sway from side to side singing fishing songs, but this is Haldern and the crowd likes to get involved.  Also, credit must be given to the double bass player (a strangely, yet pleasantly, recurring instrument throughout the weekend) and, especially, the drummer who played with real style, without ever overpowering Wendy at all. Benny lookalike from Gary, take note.

Richard: The main stage at this point boasted Triggerfinger as its opening act. Somehow the bombast they showed was too much after the delicate patterns created by Wendy McNeill, so our judgement of them was initially quite harsh. Still, they rocked out well enough.

Damian: And they were followed by the Detroit Social Club who started the U2 Appreciation Society afternoon meeting that the band listed only as ? on the programme (apologies, we never did find out!) continued. Needless to say, that was enough to send us rummaging around the market stalls buying t-shirts and records.

Richard: We also ran to the Spiegel Tent, only to be confronted by Fyfe Dangerfield...

Damian: Who wore an interesting beard and headband coupling throughout the weekend.

Richard: ...who has progressed a helluva lot since his Guillemots days, and thank goodness for that extra punchiness, but we still really can’t get our heads sufficiently round his muse. We just can’t put our finger on why we can’t, either.

Damian: Avoiding the U2 fanclub for a while longer, we stuck around near the Speigel Tent until Laura Marling came on. Now then, we’ve heard a lot about Laura Marling. A LOT. We’ve been told on umpteen occasions about how bloody wonderful she is and how we should really, really check her out. Well, we did and we’ve decided that.......she’s ok.

Richard: She was perfectly respectable and perfectly competent but boring beyond the powers of description and possessed just enough of the whiff of Sunday school to make this old punk run a mile. I just do not understand why the tent was greeting Miss M as the answer to all their musical problems; believe us when we say there was weeping and hugging, sighs and faint wails of love and devotion. Fair enough, they paid good money.

Damian: She obviously touches a raw nerve with a lot of people because the tent was in rapture. We, on the other hand, thought she was perfectly pleasant but, seriously, what is all the fuss about?
Anyway, after that bewildering set we strode over to the Hauptbuhne to catch a glimpse of Rox.

Richard: Her debut LP is patchy, to say the least but that doesn’t matter so much when you have the talents this girl has; (including the ability to limbo dance and sing at the same time, which is well nigh impossible for 99.9% of us). And it certainly doesn’t matter when you are able to seize hold of a festival crowd and shake it into life. Haldern was at that point where the audience was waiting for things to take off, for gears to shift, for someone to pull everyone together. And Rox delivered in spades with a real display of sass and vigour.

Damian: She was one of the real surprises of the festival for me. I’d somehow managed to avoid all knowledge of her previous to this gig but I’ll be making up for that now. Rox provided a wonderful change of pace, particularly from Laura Marling and the U2 brigade and her band were incredible. Sassy, confident and a natural performer, she blew my socks off and had me dancing in the mid-afternoon sun throughout her set.

Richard: The songs that sound so stilted and unsure on the LP (mainly because they feel so bunched together, like odd bedfellows) were given room to breathe and stretch a little. And the band were marvellous, you’re right, subtly giving Rox the room to display her ridiculously infectious, puppyish charm to full effect. The highlights, funnily enough, weren’t the singles but more reflective moments like Rocksteady, Do As I Say and the great Breakfast in Bed. Marvellous, we say go and see her play, even if her music is not your thing.

Damian: Absolutely. You can’t fail to have a good night out with this kind of show.

Richard: Delphic were on next and built on what Rox had started with a great display of grit and sass.

Damian: Another pleasant surprise for me as I wasn’t expecting to like them half as much as I did.

Richard: Delphic create sumptuous, understated synth anthems, like Clarion Call and Red Lights, both of which were magnificent here. It helped that the sun was setting, that the strobes could be used to full effect and that the crowd had suddenly found their own identity (always on some point on the Friday, the festival audience finds its collective mental and emotional compass and acts on it). Still, Delphic have a number of “big” anthems that have a happy knack of not peaking too early, of having just the right amount of emotional connection, of allowing the listener enough room to reflect and react on the darker, grittier areas: tricks too rarely played by synth acts.

Damian: What impressed me most is how much of a show they’re able to create. A lot of bands of this ilk end up with a few wobbly kneed people twiddling knobs and waving their hands in the air and think that’s enough to make a performance but Deplhic’s clever mix of live instruments and knob twiddling make them an ideal festival band. They gave the crowd something to dance to and keep their spirits up, but the healthy injection of a bit of bite and sharpness kept them on edge and made them quite riveting to watch. Also, the way the guitarist attacked his instrument was one of the most rock and roll elements of the whole weekend. Consider me converted.

Richard: Interviews and other things meant we missed Post War Years, which is a shame…

Damian: We had a real fuckwit journo moment didn’t we? We walked into the tent. The band said goodnight. We walked out again. They did get a very loud round of applause though but for what we have no clue. Sorry. We then headed back to the main stage to catch Mumford and Sons, a band who certainly caused discussion within the Incendiary team, that’s for sure.

Richard: I’m no fan: I can’t for the life of me understand the seemingly unquenchable thirst for folksy harmonies: nor the fashion for about 50 guest musicians on stage at once(it’s this Sunday school “thang” you see). However they rocked out at times and the crowd was visibly content. And that’s all I can manage without sarcasm.

Damian: I’m no real fan of their album although I’ll confess to liking a couple of songs a lot, but I thought they really stepped up to the plate here.  They played like headliners, quite frankly, and I really got caught up in them. They played with real power and passion and the crowd went ballistic for them.  They put on one hell of a show and there was no sign of that twee-ness or flimsiness that I’d feared. I thought they were excellent. I still won’t listen to their album much but I was certainly impressed and they provided a good old fashioned Haldern sing-song for good measure. Their last track was a bit of a stumble though, that’s for sure.

Richard: Off to something I really did want to see, Esben & the Witch. Yet again we confronted a band who preferred to be unseen, preferring swathes of dry ice and backlighting to put the visual message across. As if this wasn’t enough, the singer mooched about under a hooded top. (Themes of the year seem to be the swapping of instruments taken to ridiculous lengths and wishing to hide on stage – is this what using computers does to Youth?). Still: however unprepossessing in appearance, the band’s music was pretty bloody great. The influences were there for all to hear; Cocteau Twins (the lad on guitar had got that Love’s Easy Tears era Guthrie sound off to a tee), Siouxie and XMAL Deutschland provided most of the ingredients for this particular sonic pudding. But spotting their influences didn’t really matter, as they certainly have something individual to offer in terms of attitude and a particular vision (even if these things could only be sensed rather than pinpointed). And the gig boasted a great ending: what had been a drifting, dreamy set was suddenly turned on its head with the last track morphing into a mini rave-up, GusGus style.

Damian: We’re in total agreement here. They were excellent, even though I have no idea why the guitarist was dressed in a black and white polka dot shirt. Also, why pull a bunch of cliché rock uitarist shapes when nobody outside of the first two rows can see anything? Seems like wasted energy to me.

Richard: We should say that we caught a bit of Beirut on the main stage but there’s something about the lad’s muse that continually fails to spark our interest.

Damian: As someone said to me backstage – Beirut? I don’t want to live there, even for an hour.

Richard: Maybe it’s our suspicion that the man’s personality is dependent on whatever musical stylings happen to take his fancy. No matter. Back to the Spiegel Tent for Daniel Benjamin.

Damian: Who was outstanding! The guy is really developing into an artist of real merit.

Richard: He also provided the comedy moment of the day by diving into an audience that resolutely refused to be dived on. Luckily Daniel’s music is of such calibre that any such embarrassments can be swiftly & easily overlooked. His songs possess a beautiful reflective pop vibe that puts this reviewer in mind of the Blue Nile, Aztec Camera or an MOR Pale Fountains (if you could envisage such a thing). And his music is about the only Emo-tinged stuff I can listen to without feeling that immediate violent retribution should be enacted upon the perpetrator. He has talent in spades.

Damian: Indeed, this set was a lot of fun. There’s a real sense of beauty in his melodies but he undercuts it with a sharp turn of phrase or slightly dark instrumentation at times. He’s up there with the best of them, honestly. Also, the fact that his wife plays with him as well as a bunch of close friends, you can really sense the trust and togetherness within the group. They’re a tight band, but they know each other well enough to have a little fun onstage. They can even ad-lib effectively when the keyboard breaks down. (Yes Daniel, we saw it.) If this lad’s in your neighbourhood, go catch him. I sense a star about to rise.

Richard: Serena Maneesh were on the main stage after Daniel; a band that knocked us down in slightly hysterical wonderment last time we saw them at Haldern back in 2007, even though that gig must rank as one of the messiest sets we’d ever seen.

Damian: And this was one of the most aggressive. Not that they tried to start a riot or anything (I seriously doubt that would be possible at Haldern) but aggressive in the way that they really couldn’t care less what the audience thought of them, they just wanted to make an extremely loud racket and bash everybody’s ear drums in. Incidentally, the crowd absolutely loved them, as did we.

Richard: It was a show of brutal intent. The last track must have chugged on at ear-splitting volume for 15 minutes: a digitised Sister Ray for this folksy crowd. As if that wasn’t enough the track’s sonic after-burn grumbled on for a further 10 minutes. Wonderful. It seems this lot could achieve a kind of greatness in retrospect.

Damian: And then it was off to the mirror tent once more for some Scandinavian weirdness, Thus: Owls.

Richard: Bloody daft name if you ask me but, there again, you should hear my Swedish.

Damian: You’d told me about their debut LP and had given me reason to hope for something interesting, but what I got was something remarkable.

Richard: As a live band this lot are a cut above. Being uniformly good looking in that Nordic way doesn’t hurt either and the girl singer’s voice is a thousand times more powerful live than it is on the record. Mein Gott, she gives it some thump, live.

Damian: My favourite sound of the entire festival came when the singer announced, off hand, that she was married to the guitar player and around a hundred blokes in the crowd all groaned in unison.  Hilarious.
Richard: The difference with Thus: Owls and other bands of this genre (you know, the folksy, “Play at Home” types) is that they emit a lot of presence and willpower. The track when the girl singer rants on about running through the fields of Norway was a highlight simply down to the band’s character and attack; Lordy, does the girl singer let the audience know she enjoyed running through them there fields. New songs sounded great too: this lot is onto something special.

Damian: Oh she yearns all right! And she uses some twiddly knobs to distort her voice effectively throughout. I was enthralled by them, even for the length of Iceland, which I’m sure took longer to play than the island did to form. Nevertheless I’d run back to see them in a heartbeat.

Richard: After that we were knackered and couldn’t face Junip, though we heard they were good: Bedfordshire for us, even if it meant slumbering alongside 4,000 or so increasingly frenzied Germans hell-bent on burning everything in sight.

Damian: Well it was bloody freezing, as starry-skied summer evenings often are. I made it back to the tent, crawled into my sleeping bag and zipped it right up to my neck and lay there listening to a guy a few tents away sing a song about toothpaste before I fell asleep, which was a strange ending to the day, that’s for sure.
 

 

Richard and Damian were talking to a grasshopper

 

If you missed the Day One review, it's here

And Day three can be found here.