Oh yes, that’s starting to look like a tent now
Oh yes, that’s starting to look like a tent now
The Haldern Pop Festival 2005, as told by Richard Foster and Damian Leslie
Thursday 4 August
Richard: May I start this article by stating very clearly that it was a very sunny day on the Thursday that we travelled down. Indeed, it was lovely as we pitched the tents in a pleasant spot in the back field of the campsite.
Damian: I’m sorry but I must interrupt here. Having emptied the car, which was a feat in itself given the sheer amount of stuff that Richard and Mariska had decided to bring with them, especially the two brontosaurus sized sleeping bags that, when spread out flat, could have covered Luxembourg; we set to work on building our tents. Richard, being the true handy man, set to work with much excitement. As I built my tent and Mac methodically laid his out piece by piece (very methodical is Mac, you see) I could hear Richard banging pegs with a mallet and shotuing instructions to Mariska, "No, put that here." "We’ll get this up first," "Oh yes, that’s starting to look like a tent now."
Having erected my tent I stood up to admire Richard’s handy work and simply gazed in amazement at what lay before me. Basically, he’d pegged the outer sheet into the ground and inserted a couple of poles into it somehow. The ‘tent’ was so low to the ground, doormice would have had trouble squeezing into it. The actual inside of the tent was laid in a heap to one side, but at least he’d managed to get the groundsheet underneath. And that groundsheet? Bigger than the sleeping bags, it could have covered Belgium.
Mariska didn’t look best pleased and I couldn’t blame her. In the end Richard was sent to one side whilst Mariska and I set about building an actual tent. Richard was only too happy to comment, "Oh yes, that’s beginning to look like a tent now."
Mac, in the meantime had erected his tent in such a professional and precise manner that I swear it would have survived a Class 4 hurricane. He may not be quick, but he builds things good does Mac. Anyway, once all three tents were up we drank a beer and sat by the car, feeling proud of what we’d achieved. We were here. The weather was great and we had a place to sleep. Hurrah. As the temperature cooled and afternoon became evening, we headed off across the camping ground towards the main festival site itself. The fun was about to begin.
Richard: Nothing could be better than this, we thought, sitting cross-legged in the "Turkish Bazaar;" eating couscous, smoking hubble-bubble and contemplating watching a perfect sunset fall over the increasingly busy festival grounds. Such was the langour of our mood that we were able to make new friends. Festivals would not be festivals without the people they attract. Our first new aquaintance was Gunther, apparently a Haldern mainstay since the first show over 20 years ago. Gunther hails from Vienna and is employed (his words) in mental health. Rather more bizarrely, he sported a pair of 25 year old lederhosen (which he claimed he wore constantly) and the racquets for a new variant of badminton, namely speedminton. As we lounged around on cushions, drawing on the hubble-bubble, Gunther told us of his Speedminton experiences, most notably a tournament played out in front of the Reichstag in Berlin in the dead of night. According to Gunther, the court was floodlit by black-light and the contestants were painted from head to foot in glow-in-the-dark paint, the whole event doubtless forming an unusual spectacle to the onlooker.
Damian: Our first friend made, Incendiary stumbled off to the Mirror Tent to see the opening acts, Franz Kasper and the Revs. Or we tried to. We eventually got in to hear the last tracks from Franz Kasper, who, to be honest, weren’t really our cup of tea. Indeed, I am at a loss to remember anything about them except for how pleasant the band members all seemed. The highlight of what we heard was a cover of Lennon’s Nobody Told Me, which (to be frank) they slaughtered, vacuum-packed and froze deeply.
Richard: Still, the tent itself was a picture to behold with the sun gliding through the coloured glass windows. Despite everything, we were happy. Next up were The Revs, fresh from Ireland. They would be best described to you, I feel, as a jaunty three-piece beat combination. They looked rather too well groomed, too obviously "in a band" for Incendiary’s liking, a little too obvious in style and content, a little too anxious to be liked. I always worry when a band asks an audience "come on everybody, you’ve got to help us here, put your hands in the air". Why? We paid. You, band, get paid. Therein lies the difference. Still, their Jam-inpired voguish pop was lapped up by the crowd (who were just glad to be in the land of the living after Franz Kasper).
Richard: Halfway through The Rev’s set, Mariska and myself decided to pop out to the chemical toilets (the purpose being three-fold, firstly to waste some Revs time, secondly because two of us were in desperate need of relief, and thirdly to aquaint ourselves (and thus resign ourselves) to the utterly nameless horror that is the festival chemical toilet). On leaving the tent we were confronted with a queue for the tent the size of which had not been seen since Moses led the tribes of Israel from Egypt. The question uppermost in our minds was, would we make it back in time for the following act, Stijn? The answer, after a half-hour wait, became pretty obvious.
Damian: Still inside, Mac and myself suffered through to the end of The Rev’s set, which just about caused us to lose the will to live. Those lads were just far too happy to be anywhere else other than their local pub in Ireland and although their cheeky grins and terrible jokes seemed to go down well with the crowd, we started to turn into grumpy old bastards so set off in search of the bar. By the time Stijn were getting ready to appear, the temperature in the Mirror Tent had reached a ridiculous point so, needing the bog and a breath of fresh air Incendiary decided to call it a day and leave Stijn to their own devices. We trudged off to the back field and patronised the mobile snack bar before turning in. Some members of our team were disappointed about missing Stijn, until we were informed (by a bespectacled bean stalk of a man from Hamburg) that we didn’t miss much, so never mind ay?
Friday 5 August
The following day dawned bright and clear. Surely the predicted rain would stay away? After all, life was too good and this morning too clear for the God’s to rain on our parade, so to speak. After a trip to Haldern village for some necessities (supermarket booze and an obligatory clean cafe toilet experience) we prepared ourselves for an afternoon watching some bands.
Richard: Incredibly, as soon as the festival doors opened, so did the heavens. Millionaire were on first, a fact which made it much, much worse for some members of Incendiary’s team. Dislike of Millionaire’s brash noise and disappointment with the bad weather brought them very close to tears, I am sorry to report. We took shelter from the pelting rain in the cigarette tent (go to Germany to see that rare thing, fag advertising!), watching the festival grounds become muddy, then swampy. Once Millionaire had stopped screeching death and torture to all, we slithered towards the stage to watch Art Brut. Now, seeing as we are talking about Art Brut, a wee digression is needed.
Last November, when they played at London Calling, we sent Art Brut one or two unfavourable comments. (As in we told them they were shit!) They seemed, on that showing, to be too cobbled together to be true. Just another bunch of arty chancers, we thought. Witnessing an older, wiser Art Brut eight months on, there’s now no denying that they are a different proposition altogether. There is a definite air of menace and purpose about the band that counteracts singer Eddie Argos’s jaunty, absent-minded on-stage capers. The songs (most notably in this performance of Formed a Band) are much tighter musically, much tougher, much more a complete package than the shambolic incantations of last November. We admit it, here in these pages. We were wrong. Art Brut are a proposition.
Damian: The best thing that can be said about the Kaiser Chiefs is that they stopped the rain. It’s always great to see a band on the rise and there’s no band around at the moment whose star is rising as fast as these cheeky chappies from Leeds. They pulled a great set out of the bag, with pretty much the entire Employment album being showcased and they went down like a house on fire. Ricky may only have one trick up his sleeve; that one where he jumps up in the air with his legs tucked in under him, but he received a cheer from the crowd every time he did it, all 350 of them! He’s a great front man though, running around like he owns the place, screaming for no apparent reason and banging various percussion instruments from time to time like a performing monkey (ie. No real sense of rhythm but highly entertaining nonetheless). To put it simply The Kaiser Chiefs were fucking marvellous and definitely one of the highlights of the festival. These guys are so good, they have the potential to be the new Blur and I mean that in a good way. They were also the first band of the festival to receive an impromptu sing-a-long, with the entire crowd singing "Oh My God I can’t believe it" before the band had played a single note. Marvellous.
And the best thing that can be said about Nada Surf is that they brought the sun out. As soon as Ira hit his first snare the clouds off to the left of the stage cracked open and there, for the first time that day, a ray of sunshine beamed onto the Haldern Festival site. The sun was greeted by the loudest cheer of the weekend, but nada Surf received a few welcome rounds of applause themselves.
Their set was mainly built around their last couple of albums, interspersed with a few tracks from their forthcoming album, The Weight Is A Gift; including the catchy new single Always Love. They put on a good show, but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed as I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few weeks listening to their new album, which is a very fine piece of work indeed, and I was aching to hear some more of the new stuff. Despite my grumblings though, the band were on good form and I think it’s fair to say that they went down very well indeed.
Things carried on being good with Kaiser’s Orchestra, who put in (to paraphrase another Norwegian) "one hell of a performance". Somewhat bafflingly though, Kaiser’s singer almost immediately began to show a penchant for taking all his clothes off and going for a swim in the lake that bordered the festival grounds. Speaking here for all of Incendiary on this matter, we wanted to keep our clothes on thank you very much. Still, no matter, the band were great, their eclectic, savage, perverse barn dance rock and roll was strangely in tune with the crowd who had been so morose under the rain and now wanted to let rip. And believe you me, with Kaiser’s Orchestra, there was no room for foppery. Metallic pipes and oil drums were banged with abandon, a guy wearing a First World War gasmask played the keyboards and the two guitarists, when they were introduced to the crowd, goose-stepped (yes, that’s right, goose-stepped) across the stage in unison. The crowd went wild with delight and gleefully chanted ‘Kaiser, Kaiser, Kaiser!’ whenever prompted.
Well, we all thought, Franz Ferdinand will have to be pretty good to top that.
Richard: We who write for this magazine are firm believers in the concept of the Luck of the Draw. How, apart from Divine Intervention could the rain permanently cease for Franz Ferdinand‘s show? Well, cease it did. An uneasy pact was made in the heavens, and a dying sun sullenly crept out from beneath the thick grey carpet of cloud. Obviously the four huge portraits of the band members that now adorned the backdrop (images, doubtless, that had 1930s style communist posters in mind.) had scared away the rain. Excitement mounted and a crowd, often so dispirited by the day’s rain visibly cheered up. The ubiquitous orange carpet received it’s final hoovering and on stalked Franz, resplendent in tailor-made suits. The crowd went ape and your correpsondents did not feel entirely safe. It is one thing to watch a band nearing the peak of it’s powers at close quarters. It is another thing to be crushed by 3000 ardent German teenagers (none of them wall-flowers let me tell you). A band on rombustuous form didn’t help matters either.
As Franz stormed through Michael and Auf Asche, we fled to the back and the relative safety of the sausage stall, where we refreshed ourselves whilst using our new vantage point to review the rest of the gig. We both agreed that the new material showcased was excellent especially the snarling Evil and a Heathen, the slobbering behemoth that is the new single Do You Want To? and the brilliant I’m Your Villain. The band seemed to have gained even more confidence and assurance live. They certainly don’t seem as self-consciously angular and haughty in their delivery on stage, rather they allow their music to "do the talking". And it is their music that is (of course) their trump card. Big, thumping, affirmative pop songs, all packed with enough wit, verve and intelligence (not to say deliberately rough edges) to carry the most obvious sentiment. It was nice to see them so relaxed after last years whirlwind. Nick took the opportunity to wisecrack in his native tongue and the audience bayed in delight and jumped around. I shudder to think of the molecular structure of the mud at the front…
Even when Alex’s voice cracked halfway through Matinee it didn’t seem to matter. In fact, the encore, This Fire saw the band give it an extra charge as if to compensate for the earlier misfortune. All in all, marvellous stuff. Greatness, seemingly, awaits.
Damian: After Franz, the BSP loving Incendiary faction (well we all love them, but some of us more rabidly than others) hurried off to the Mirror Tent to get into a queue which would become impossible to navigate later in the evening.
Those more dutifully minded stayed and watched Saybia, who were very good at what they did, which was play nice, gentle, rock music. You know the type, with lots of extended notes and drum fills. Unfortunately for them, it became more interesting for us to watch the hundreds of people trying to walk away. There was a lot of slipping, a lot of sliding and a hell of a lot of falling on one’s arse involved in navigating the couple of hundred yards from the stage to the exit. Watching the whole thing was even funnier. Nevertheless, those who stuck around seemed reasonably entertained, especially the fat bearded bloke stood next to the Incendiary team who decided to play a rather aggressive game of Dizzy Ducks, spinning on his Para booted feet, swinging his hairy arms around like a Whirling Dirvish and causing absolute havoc. We counted four unlucky victims of this human hurricane until some huge bloke in a canary yellow jacket swung out an arm, connected with a fat, bearded jaw and sent him crashing to the ground with a splosh. Marvellous stuff.
If we’re totally honest, Saybia weren’t exactly brilliant, but that’s not to say that they were bad. They were what fat jazz fans like to call, amiable. In person, they’re absolutely lovely, we have to say, because they let certain members of the Incendiary team shelter in their tent backstage during one of the many downpours that day and drink from their crate of Becks. Lovely people. All of them. But we’d like to think they were short-changed somewhat here, not only with the stage time, but also with the audience who, let’s face it, preferred to spend their time being Whirling Dirvishes rather than giving the band some attention.
Richard: Once we got into the Mirror tent, the evening had two acts further in store before Bedfordshire called. One was Zita Swoon, who, through their artful jazz-rock, nearly succeeded in sending our lot off to sleep. To whittle away the time (and fight off the dropping eyelids) we stroked the plush horse head we had brought with us for British Sea Power, and talked in ridiculously high pitched voices. Yes, I know that this sounds incredibly childish; we were by no means drunk either, it’s just that Zita Swoon’s immaculately crafted funk reminded us of nothing more than an incredibly competent school music lesson ("remember children and ignorants, this is a key change coming up" (cue minor key change accompanied by lots of nodding and smiling)). Just when we thought they had finished, they came back and did an encore and, infinitely worse, an encore mourning the passing of Jeff Buckley. Oh, Lordy, would it ever end? Thankfully, all things come to pass and Zita Swoon cleared off, leaving the stage clear for the mighty British Sea Power.
Damian: Now then, we’ve allowed Richard his own space to rant on about the British Sea Power gig, which you can find here. If you are lazy, however, and want to have a quick summary of the event, then let me (Damian) tell you that sometimes the sound isn’t what matters. Whenever we go to a gig, we’re hoping for a story to tell. Yes, we all like superb performances. We love to enthuse about them too but if we’re honest, every time we go to a gig, we’re after a little piece of history. You can own an album, you can own a record, you can get a poster signed if you’re lucky so that you can show off to your friends. But nothing sounds better than being a part of rock and roll folklore. There’s nothing better than coming home from a gig where something special happened and being able to say, "I was there."
For instance, saying you own every Beatles album won’t get you much street cred, but being able to say you were there when they played on the roof of the Apple building will. Having a Sex Pistols t-shirt won’t get you as many brownie points as being able to say you were there when they got nicked whilst playing that gig on a boat in the Thames. Saying you can recite every single one of Bob Dylan’s lyrics off by heart isn’t anywhere near as impressive as being able to say you were in the crowd the night he plugged an electric guitar in and was heckled as "Judas!"
Well, for the couple of hundred of us that were allowed into the Mirror Tent to witness the British Sea Power set, our dreams came true. 300 tulip bulbs, laurel wreaths, Busby hats, a fake horse’s head, the massacre of said tulip bulbs, the destruction of a few grands worth of equipment, the sight of two punters fighting each other out of sheer happiness and much, much more. The music was great, although the sound was sloppy, but that didn’t matter. We were there. To put it simply, gigs don’t come any better than this.
A bona fide classic that sent Incendiary traipsing tentward at dawn smiling broadly, carrying bottles full of BSP’s rider back in order to carry on celebrating the gig of the year. Richard said to me at one point, "That was so good, I don’t want to see anybody else this year. What’s the point?" The point was, there was always tomorrow. It was time for some sleep.
You can read the next installment of this review Here.
Words : Damian Leslie and Richard Foster