Pearly Gate Music
Discovering that uber-special record label Bella Union are curating a stage at the bloated spectacle that is Hard Rock Calling – a two day festival primarily sponsored by the burger joint of the same name – is akin to finding a lost Klimt buried away between the frozen pizzas in ASDA.
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh – there is some credit to a line up that includes Elvis Costello, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (shame about the rest of the main stage line up. One word: Jamiroquoi). Nevertheless, it’s a testament to both the prestige that Bella Union have attained as well as the initiative and intelligence of the festival organisers.
The challenge presented is an interesting one: can such a relatively left-field line up of bands draw the audience away from what is primarily a very commercial and mainly MOR-focused event?
Saturday kicks off with Camden quintet My Sad Captains showcasing their strong but stable brand of Brit-Americana and Bella Union’s own Lone Wolf pushing their ambitious melancholic sound. Ostensibly a vehicle for frontman and chief songwriter Paul Marshall, Lone Wolf’s introspective songs really do benefit from a full band unit and provide the first highlight of the day.
Labelmates Mountain Man follow, bravely challenging the noise from the main stage crowd to some success. Although it’s difficult to focus on the beauty of their harmonies they still sound incredible, if a touch compromised by the setting.
The Morning Benders
I’ve reviewed Summer Camp before for this website and today is the first time I’ve seen them since then. The good news is they’re shaping up magnificently, with Elizabeth Sankey coming across every inch an indie-popstar in the making – she’s incredibly confident and charmingly playful with both the crowd and co-Camper Jeremy Warmsley. Best of all, their current body of work to date sounds warm, elegant and tight – an exciting taste of what their debut album is bound to deliver, leaving smiles on everyone’s faces.
As the sun begins to set, it’s almost time for Stevie Wonder’s headlining slot on the main stage and Zun Zun Egui – potentially the most challenging of Saturday’s line up – end up capitalising on the mildly-inebriated early-evening crowd. There’s much for them to dance to the Bristolians’ crazy yelping take on Beefheart-meets-Nusrat.
Onto Sunday and I’m wondering how The Morning Benders will compete with the England-Germany game, showing a couple of hundred metres across the park. Elvis Costello faces a similar challenge nearby too. There are enough of us, however, who don’t give enough of a shit about the football to show these Californian sons a decent welcome. While closer ‘Excuses’ is their trump card – a sweeping anthem for the summer – it sadly serves to emphasise the weaknesses elsewhere in their set, which doesn’t hit the same standards.
Pearly Gate Music up the game with a glorious bastardised take on Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’ with singer Zac Tillman (brother of J.) writhing near-epiletic as he wrings every frustration out of the lyric. There’s a proficient but low-key set from Here We Go Magic to follow but the afternoon’s biggest treat is John Grant.
Playing much of debut record Queen of Denmark, Grant’s acerbicity and pathos, dispelled into lines like “Jesus he hates faggots, son”, “I regret the day your lovely carcass caught my eye” and “I casually mentioned that I pissed in your coffee” is received warmly by an audience who largely appear not to know a thing about Grant. A honeyed capabilty to his vocal draws many to his set but it’s the strength of his songwriting and performance that keeps them there. Ending his set with ‘JC hates Faggots’ and ‘Queen of Denmark’, there’s a palpable sense that many watching have just found their new favourite singer.
It’s left to Beach House to close procedings on the bandstage and fluff up the crowd for Paul McCartney’s headline set nearby. They tear through an efficient set that takes in much of the excellent Teen Dream and sees a glut of swoon boys and girls swaying to Victoria Legrand’s captivating vocal.