Leicesters flagship music festival Summer Sundae Weekender celebrated its 11th anniversary last weekend, but whilst it has built a hard-earned reputation for its eclectic and diverse line-up in the previous decade there still remained a slight concern about this years billing on the main stage.
Headlined last year by Seasick Steve, Tinchy Strider and Mumford & Sons, after The Streets, The Charlatans and Bon Iver played top-fiddle in 2009, the announcement of Newton Faulkner, Example and McFly was a little underwhelming to say the very least. Unless you happen to be a 15-year-old girl, that is.
Furthermore, campers were left outraged just days before the festival when event organisers decided to implement alcohol restrictions, which limited festival-goers to just 12 cans of alcohol per weekend, or four cans for day-ticket holders in an apparent attempt to combat underage drinking. Even for a lightweight like me, thats not enough lager beers.
However, the decision was soon revoked following widespread social networking panic and in spite of the wannabe looters threatening to cancel the festival, Summer Sundae Weekender went ahead as originally planned, meaning that underage drinking was once again permitted and the very best upcoming and local musical talent was on offer in the idyllic and picturesque setting of Leicesters De Montfort Hall and Gardens.
The Orange Tree returned by popular demand and there was also the introduction of the Wagamama Lounge, which saw noodles by day and live DJs by night. Thursday evenings newly-revamped Leicester Fringe Festival kicked off proceedings across eight of the citys venues, although performances from Polarsets, P Money, Fenech-Soler and Jaymo & Andy George at the o2 Academy were all cancelled.
Contrary to last year, Friday swept around without the expected deluge and after relentless tweeting, I was persuaded to give 21-year-old acoustic folk artist Elliott Morris the privilege of opening my festival on the Indoor Stage. The Lincoln-based youngster is now in his third gap-year and has carved out an industrious reputation in the industry after persistent gigging and support from the BBCs The Beat campaign. Elliott has supported Frank Turner, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly and legendary Philadelphia soul group The Stylistics and has also featured at the Cambridge Folk Festival for the previous three years.
His set was short, but sweet with tracks such as A Matter of Time and Man On Wire showcasing his unique guitar-playing style, which saw him perfectly execute drum beats on the body of the instrument with unnerving precision, although in spite of his quirkiness it may remain difficult for him to crack an already over-populated acoustic genre. There was still time for a rendition of Michael Jacksons Billie Jean though, before making the short journey to the Musician Stage for Bedfordshire rock-band, The Whybirds. The alt-country rock n roll quartet captivated a modest crowd with their thrilling 70s-style musicianship, but in truth they were seldom more than a warm-up for one of the festivals pleasant surprises, By The Rivers.
Leicesters very own reggae band impressed last year and the six-piece, fronted by Jordan Birtles and Nile Barrow, returned to a packed tent, which oozed the stench of cannabis and Special Brew. But right from curtain-raiser Vulture they completely encapsulated the party-atmosphere of the festival, in spite of the now falling drizzle outside, with their positive vibes. Other notable tracks included Rocksteady, Run Around and Take Control, which were greeted with delight by the cult following that the band have acquired courtesy of their energetic and upbeat live shows.
However, the mood was suitably lowered back on the Indoor Stage as the duo of Fence Collective maverick Kenny King Creosote Anderson and ambient guru Jon Hopkins took to the stage for a rendition of their Mercury Prize nominated Diamond Mine. Inspired by the East Neuk of Fife, the album took a staggering seven years to complete and it demonstrates a gentle and engaging mix of Andersons tender song writing and Hopkins sedate atmospherics and recordings. The album was described as the, soundtrack to a romanticised version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village by Anderson and it transferred well to a live audience, too.
His affectionate and gentle vocals lulled softly across the intimate venue, with Bats In The Attic and then the heart-rending Your Young Voice proving to be the highlights, or indeed lowlights, of a moving performance. However, it was back outside to the tiny Musician Stage for another of Leicesters homegrown talents soon after, in the form of former Fun Lovin Criminals drummer Frank Benbini under his alias of Uncle Frank. But after a promising introduction, which saw his group enter the fray from the side of the tent with a romping rendition of When The Saints Go Marching In and the gimmickry of umpteen inflatable flowers, (which my girlfriend apparently just couldnt live without) it was soon back to the Indoor Stage to catch a glimpse of London psych-jazz four-piece, Portico Quartet.
The groups first album, Knee-Deep In The North Sea was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize, whilst their second instalment, Isla attracted the legendary producer John Leckie and they have carved out a niche for themselves blending together elements of sax, double bass, drums and most notably the hang, a 21st century percussive instrument shaped rather mysteriously like a UFO. Their set was entirely captivating, too, as the hangs hypnotic texture intricately weaved a fusion of instrumental psych-jazz mostly evident in set highlight, Line, before the zeitgeist moment of the opening day arrived as London-cum-Brighton quintet The Maccabees graced the Main Stage for their first ever festival headline slot.
Disappointingly though, their set was severely hampered by an unusual decision to give several new tracks an airing in front of easily the festivals biggest crowd of the day, in addition to an unseasonal and frankly a nonsensical cover of Walking In The Air from The Snowman. Their annoyingly handsome front-man Orlando Weeks thanked the adoring crowd for their patience, but unsurprisingly it was old favourites and sing-alongs First Love, Precious Time, Love You Better, No Kind Words, and set-highlight Can You Give It that received the most rapturous applause. There was, however, no room for fan favourites X-Ray and Latchmere before Weeks concluded with, Grew Up At Midnight which is set to be the final track of the new record.
The sun returned over Leicester in the early hours of Saturday, brightening up what was otherwise on paper the festivals weakest line-up of the three days, but 21-year-old singer/songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich kicked off proceedings with another acoustic set on the Indoor Stage. His debut album, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm was released in July of this year and received critical acclaim, though whilst his performance had teenage girls hearts swooning the venue over his distinct lack in variation of pace and repetitive nature meant that after having already witnessed him perform at Nottinghams Dot to Dot earlier this year, I wasnt missing out on too much.
Atlas Hands and Pictures both remain his most radio-friendly hits, but you cant help but feel they will both soon become soundtracks to a romantic campfire scene in the latest in an already over-crowded melange of melodramatic teenage dramas on E4, think Hollyoaks, The O.C, Skins, One Tree Hill, Glee, Misfits, 90210, Made In Chelsea and Beaver Falls amongst others. And thats bloody nine off the top of my head.
Eastbourne dance-punk quintet Yaaks were next up, for our first trip to the Last.fm Rising Stage and their guitar-laden hooks provided a short, but danceable set nonetheless particularly on the curiously named HRHRHYTHM before Newcastle-Upon-Tyne quartet Little Comets graced the stage. First emerging in 2009 with the thrilling early singles One Night In October and Adultery, the foursome received support from the likes of Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe and after having a brief chat with them beforehand, it is clear to see that this charming group have a bright future ahead. Their energetic debut album, In Search Of Elusive Little Comets was released at the start of this year and provided the backbone for an enthralling set, which reached its peak with the anthemic Joanna.
Glastonbury favourites Reef entertained the Main Stage soon after, with classics such as Naked and predictably, Place Your Hands proving to be the perfect foil to a wonderful summers evening before it was back indoors for charming indie band, Chapel Club. The band released their much-anticipated debut album, Palace in January of this year to a rapturous reception, but that record fared less impressively live as the previous two days (drinking) caught up with me, causing me to drop off and drool everywhere. Three times. Named after the bands original moniker, Palace formed the main source of their set with tracks Surfacing, O Maybe I, and The Shore, which were all named the Hottest Record in the World by Zane Lowe, given a suitable airing.
The incredibly named Sam Newton Battenberg Faulkner was next up on the Main Stage, as a near capacity crowd gathered under a quilt of stars on De Montforts beautiful gardens for a good ol sing-along. The dreadlocked guitarists cover of Massive Attacks Teardrop isnt, and wasnt a patch on the original though and his tea-drinking and, moreover, rambling between songs soon grew weary and tiresome, prompting many to depart before the expected finale of Dream Catch Me and Queens Bohemian Rhapsody.
Manchester trio I Am Kloot triumphantly returned to a packed Indoor Stage as the evening drew to a close, following the success of their superb fifth album Sky At Night. The plaudits began to pour in following their Mercury Prize nomination in 2010, finally giving the group the recognition that many have argued they have deserved for so long. Advised by a certain someone to see them for the first time, John Bramwells song-writing and tranquil live vocals were impressive with a beautiful rendition of fans favourite Proof effectively proving the most enjoyable track of their set.
Brooklyn-based rock group The Antlers and post-industrial revolutionists Factory Floor briefly entertained the Indoor Stage on Sunday afternoon and then it was time for free Sailor Jerrys mojitos and sponge and Nutella muffins from those kind people at Bitsys Cupcakery in the Press Reception before the loveable Californian all-female quartet, Warpaint.
Fronted by the angelic vocals and guitars of Emily Kokal and the beautiful Theresa Wayman, the swirling bass of Jenny Lee Lindberg and the relentless drum beats of Aussie Stella Mozgawa, the four-piece have gained numerous fans from both sides of the Atlantic with their charmingly hypnotic slowcore music and debut album The Fool was met with critical acclaim for the press, prompting the band to be named on the BBCs Sound of 2011 Poll. They continued to impress on my second viewing of them this year, too, opening with their oldest and eponymous track, Warpaint which the band named themselves after (having been formerly called World War Four).
The hypnotic vocals of Kokal and Wayman spiralled around the bass of Lindberg and Mozgawas rhythm section, which drove the song towards an incredible and luscious guitar-riff, serving to completely mesmerize the spell-bound swarm. Crowd favourite Undertow emerged soon after, with its already synonymous opening before 'Composure broke the meandering pace with all-four on vocals, before the brooding Elephants and unfortunately not the Kokal solo of the heart-rending album-track Baby.
And following the arsenal of sounds from California was an equally as impressive array of sound from Manchester trio Everything Everything, either side of Example. The Fulham rapper may not be everyones cup of tea (including mine) and after a summer of partying hard in Ibiza and rapping about Nandos with Ed Sheeran, he is certainly a little more plump, but there is no denying that his catchy electro transfers well to an energetic festival audience.
Dance-infused When The Sun Come Up was undoubtedly the highlight of his set, (particularly as it reminded me of my trip to Ibiza in 2009) as he rollicked through a host of hits including Wont Go Quietly, Kickstarts and Changed The Way You Kissed Me. Back indoors though, the recently Mercury Prize nominated Everything Everything performed a rip-roaring rendition of debut album Man Alive, with My KZ Ur Bf proving a suitable finale after previously Tin (The Manhole) and new track 'Kimosabe' had impressed.
And so, after a wonderful three days it finally came down to a showdown between pop pretenders McFly and Blood Red Shoes to draw the curtain on an otherwise successful weekend and after little deliberation, we opted inside for the Brighton rock duo who opened their set with favourites Its Getting Boring By The Sea and Light It Up. But unfortunately, after that it was just plainly getting boring so for another year at least, our Summer Sundae came to a close.
Photos by Benjamin Richard Harris