The rise of the middle-class semi-festival is confusing for the hardened gig-goer. I’d been made explicitly aware that denim cut-offs with ‘Motorhead’ stenciled on the back and the usual gallon container of home-brew would not be required, so was at something of a loss regarding to how to prepare. Undaunted, I strapped on my finest gig-going hat (a stetson) and approached Clapham Common with trepidation, with initial misgivings amplified on the way by the presence of hoards of sundress-clad children and a large helter-skelter (being used by staff from the ‘unsigned bands review’)
Fortunately, there was free ice cream on offer and three cones later I was feeling the sugar rush and confidentially pick my way through the Pimms jugs and picnic hampers toward the stage.
Red Light Company were the first port of call and it was nice to see them giving it their all, although for whose benefit was anyone’s guess. The boys were dressed in that post-Libertines style and the music carried echoes of a VHS or Beta on a bad day. Hot Hot Heat style choruses jutted badly against a U2 obsession that provided indulgent soundscapes, forcibly shoehorned into three minute pop workouts. The effect is lacklustre, with tunes feeling like they cut off half way through, or as though the entire thing is a collection of choruses with nowhere to go. Frontman Richard Frenneaux plays the rock star to the hilt, throwing himself off the stage, while Paul Mellon has obviously pored over Jimi videos for hours. A spirited performance, but not one that impresses any of the eight year olds hanging around at the front.
After a few drinks I’m relaxing into the country-fete style proceedings and actually quite enjoying the coconut shy, when I realise Camera Obscura have taken the stage. Luckily it’s easy enough to squeeze close but, unfortunately, it’s not even really worth the bother. C.O play what I’d define as headphone music – perfectly fine for a long train journey or lazing at home, but hardly built for the live environment. Battling a dodgy sound not improved by rain and winds hurrying in from the river, they do manage to win over an initially nonplussed crowd, the West Coast pop melodies fitting in perfectly with the picnic atmosphere.
After a massage and a visit to a psychic cow, I finally succumb to ice-cream coma and thankfully miss most of Futureheads’ banging, aimless racket. So just the headliners to go then.
A sparse stage setup in black, white and silver hints at the 80s futurism that’s to come and a surprising amount of teenagers are huddling closer, apparently looking forward to some miserable Goth synth. They’re disappointed, as Phil n the girls from The Human League bound onto the stage looking like the most embarrassing aunties and uncle visitors you could imagine. Susan dances like a huge praying mantis, Jo is squeezed into a silver cocktail dress and the rest of the band look like aging pirates cast adrift on a synthesizer sea.
It doesn’t matter.
The short running time means it’s out with the noodling and time for a short sharp 80s hit injection. Nearly all of 81’s massive Dare got an outing, with the predictable climax of Don’t You Want Me Baby getting the mums and dads singing along. There was also time for a couple of tracks from Reproduction giving the ladies a chance to slip into even more embarrassing, magician’s assistant costumes. Despite this, The ever effusive Oakey is clearly genuinely enjoying himself, thanking the crowd for braving the early evening rain and grinning like a loon. He shows his age climbing to the top of the mixers on encore Electric Dreams, but engenders a ton of good will from a laidback, sugar-stuffed crowd.
File under Lazy Sunday Afternoon instead of Festival, and you can’t go wrong.