Last week we took a trip down to Preston Park and joined in the fun, as this local festival returns for its second year promising some big names for a relatively small event of around 5,000 capacity. Headliners Brian Wilson and Suede were big draws with consummate showmanship and the BIMM tent was alight with young talent, with Penelope Isles and Egyptian Blue being especially good.
We turn up just in time for Gaz Coombes of Supergrass, downing stubbies on the way. The weather is moody and dull but shows no sign of slowing down the flow of people into the arena. He avoids obvious old hits and energetically launches into new solo material with tints of Britpop and psychedelia. In the edge of my vision a weird bloke does sit-ups by a tree. I’m not sure if he’s meant to be here. The set is mostly acoustic and stripped down, and in the second half he plays keyboard accompanied with sultry beats, finishing with his electric and a rendition of ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ for a crowd pleasing end.
Hiatus Kaiyote begin in a swampy ethereal blast of organ, moving a jaunty dislocated beat with swirling synth. It begins to absolutely hail down but my mate and I stay nonetheless, soaked to the bone standing next to lots of forty-somethings donning their portable ponchos. Dancing from style to style in the blink of an eye, they are a musician’s delight – skittering time signatures, jazzy harmony and good songs to boot.
Later on we get backstage to watch Brian Wilson and his band perform Pet Sounds in its entirety, celebrating its 50th anniversary, the 10 piece play it perfectly detailed, without losing the original Beach Boy spark or sounding too reverential. Brian himself seemed in fine fettle, warm and friendly with the crowd. The show wasn’t quite true to the tracklisting, with ‘Surfin USA’ and early 60’s classics thrown in for a singalong. Despite getting to see his angry little manager and burble a few drunken words at the Hiatus Kaiyote drummer, I really wished I was at the front, singing along to ‘God Only Knows’. Pet Sounds held up well: the musicians reassembled well for the live stage, the innocence and the orchestral pop textures that made the album so groundbreaking stood firmly. There’s something still very magical about these songs and they were executed perfectly.
Sunday afternoon, feeling rotten. We grab a ‘bier’ and head back for round two. Thinking I had missed Peter Hook & The Light but instead arriving in time for a rather late Songhoy Blues who perform an energetic, bluesy set. The Malian four-piece weave sounds influenced by traditional West African blues artists and also electric American blues, Garba Touré channelling Jimi Hendrix and Robert Cray with fast, taut lead playing. They’re great fun and are totally in the moment, almost achieving a kind of spiritual quality in their music.We wander off to see what else the festival has on offer. Charlie buys a fur coat and we see a sweet marching band dressed as skeletons.
Next on is Peter Hook. The crowd is beginning to fill up again, ready for the bands Motorik beats and swimming guitar lines. The new original material is quite good with some alternative tendencies. It’s only really spoilt by occasional moments where Peter himself slims into some funny dad rock poses: he looked very happy to not be playing bass. There were a few inevitable Joy Division and New Order covers – ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’ being best received. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is however, butchered.
The Horrors come on as dusk settles and drop a tight, focused set with big atmospheric sounds, dipping into Kraut and Berlin-era Bowie influences. The performance is confident and masterly: they sound like a band hitting their prime if they hadn’t already. Skying’s material goes down a treat – throughout the set, the sounds seem geared for a wider arena with some 80’s reverb and synthy arpeggios that almost struck me as reminiscent to Simple Minds. The lighting in the dark is great and theatrical and we’re primed up for 90’s legends Suede.
I was expecting a lot from these guys and I have a big love for Dog Man Star. But this was not the same band: instead of androgynous and experimental Britpop, we got a campy Oasis. Vocalist Brett Anderson switched from shouting “Can’t f*cking hear ya!” to laying on the floor talking about his dead mother. ‘We Are the Animals’ and a few other songs were good but the set had a bit of a weird vibe. At one point the band leave him on stage with just a keyboard and it was getting a bit much. They’ve gotten along fine without Bernard Butler but the current line up seems uninspired musically.
There was a pretty good turnout over the weekend, and some cool things to do. Pretty liberal security, big names, local talent, artisan stalls and kooky small businesses made it a pleasant time indeed with a definite Brighton flavour. For £100, not a bad festival on your doorstep.
Words by Toby Redgrave