What's in that dark cloud overhead...?
Well, if it's August, it must be time for the Chelmsford festival of
all things pop, and V98 held for this undiscerning punter the
following mixed bag...
Saturday - A nice fluffy summer's day
- Iggy Pop - 8/10 Dinosaurs live longer these days (Main stage)
'Lust For Life' isn't just a song title you know. It's as much
information as you need about Iggy Pop. For he's still larging it,
bouncing around and whipping the audience into a frenzy in a way that
puts to shame many of the 'new' stars on parade. Iggy opted for a bit
of crowd diving and was nearly sucked under, his microphone
momentarily giving some karaoke quality time to an able and
appreciative fan. The Popster must have Inspector Gadget sprung heels,
as with more energy than Calvin & Hobbes he bounces and twists his way
across the stage and back, leaving the appreciative audience short of
breath and frankly wondering quite how he manages it. Exhausting
- Gomez - 7/10 Interesting in a different sort of way (NME stage)
Spinning out of some unnoticed field, neither left nor right, Gomez
fills a a musical snack gap that you hadn't realised existed. It's
not Oasis, nor Kula Shaker. It's not one of the many thing that I
shan't bore you by listing. They play good music well. There's light
and shade, pace and emotion in there too. On stage the band enjoyed
it, and so did we. Keep an ear open for Gomez, I don't quite know
where they're going, or what they're up to, but it's going to be fun
- Saint Etienne - 4/10 Too cool, too uninvolved (NME stage)
The two backing singers where great. No really, they were. Playing
percussion, dancing to every track, goading the audience along, and
generally busy having a whale of a time. It's a bit of a shame
therefore that the rest of the band didn't look behind them to see how
it should be done. Whilst the the Saint's threw out their carefully
controlled and constructed pop with precision, there was too little
passion, too little committed involvement - the attitude seemed to be
'oh yes I'm a pop star' and to shrug in some 'it's just something I do'
way. Now, where did I put that dry ham role and my can of warm, flat
- Catatonia - 9/10 Oooh, there's lovely isn't it (NME stage)
'Oi listen, you know the best thing about playin' festivals in
Britain?' she called out, swigging the last drop from a bottle of
wine, 'The audience's more pissed than I am!' Cue fit of rolling
laughter. Pumping the audience into life they kicked off, we
responded and Catatonia rocked their way through a tight and varied
selection that delighted all and when they strode into 'Road Rage' the
audience went ballistic. For full-fat contrast during a slower
number, when the power went on the accompanying guitar, she just sang
on, and we all loved her for it. 'Thanks very much for your help.'
afterwards she waved happily to us. Brilliant.
- The Jesus and Mary Chain - 4/10 No singer, no style (NME stage)
Having been barely audibly as he mumbled and moaned his way through the
opening numbers, when the lead 'singer' sat down, to be hidden by the
monitors and played his guitar it pretty much summed the whole gig up.
Oh sure they play tight, slick, pumping guitar rock, but they've all
the stage presence of recent road-kill and absolutely no singer at all.
I advise them to watch any number of the other bands on display for
that essential 'how to perform and project' guide, because we deserved
better. What a waste, what a shame, what's next?
- The Verve - 7/10 Did they lip sync? (NME stage)
I'll be honest, I don't much like The Verve. I'll be more honest, I
am not a fan of any of the Smiths-stylie navel retentive toss. And
before you ask, I didn't like the Smiths either, so stop pulling that
face. Never the less, the Verve played well and keenly, the fans
seemed by and large contented if not fantastically happy, it's just
that they don't hold (for me) broad appeal enough to headline at a big
festival. Sorry boys, but I expected better.
- Underworld - 7/10 Play sequence 1, 2, 3 and 5, and repeat, fat boy
Lager lager lager lager. Lacking any particular visual appeal other
than that of the average nightclub they kicked out enough hippy trippy
techno to get a good 80% of the audience dancing like loons. Nothing
Sunday - Noah would have looked worried
To sum up V98, the site was well organised, the stages set in natural
amphitheatres and each far enough apart to make them (almost)
unintrusive for the other. For me the Sunday line-up was always going
to be better, and so it proved. I missed Moloko, James Brown and All
Saints to name but a very few, but that's the way it goes. There was
plenty of food available, almost too much choice to be honest, whereas
the queues at the beer tents on (sunny) Saturday were bad enough to
discourage casual drinkers - beer oddly enough wasn't much in demand on
Sunday, or rather Rainday.
- Rialto - 7/10 Is John Lennon your dad? (Main stage)
In that nothing-to-lose early afternoon slot Rialto managed to involve
and excite a sizeable portion of an audience that, in all honesty,
probably just happened to be milling about when they fired up. Good
varied, toe tappers rolled out and soon the audience numbers standing
and paying active attention were on the increase. To be honest whilst
I can't recall any song particularly, what there was of their classic
style guitar, MOR rock worked admirably.
- Feeder - 5/10 Fun, if you go that way (Main stage)
Although their first three tuneless little ditties blurred into one,
the surging jumping (not terribly large) crowd down at the front
didn't seem to care. Their heavy rock, nearing Korn territory, didn't
seem to be bringing many (or any) intrigued passer's by and I didn't
- Heather Nova - 8/10 Ooh she's gorgeous and BLIMEY can she sing!
Carol King, erm, no, Cheryl Crow, erm no, that one who sings to the
Lord for a Mercedes, no. Look she reminds me of someone (and someone
damn good) but I can't work out who, or indeed why. Obviously it
doesn't matter. Heather's voice is strong, clear and effortlessly
ethereal when needed. But this chick rocks, and is ably supported by
a damn fine band - special mention goes to the lead guitarist, and the
girl with the electric skeletal oboe: wired weirdness. No one-riff
tricks here, it was a good set that seemed well balanced and drew a
warm response from a curious and growing audience. Good stuff and
here's to the next time because I suspect her name went into many a
- Stereophonics - 7/10 I remember thinking they were good (Main Stage)
There's nothing else to say really. I remember thinking at the time
that they were good, it's just that I cannot recall a single thing
about them now. And yes, I'm worried.
- James - 9/10 Good value (Main stage)
I think that every lead singer should watch James, and particularly
(obviously) the lead singer of The Jesus and Mary Chain. File the
experience under 'on stage charisma and audience involvement'. That
they managed to elicit the response they richly deserved from a rain
beaten crowd said a lot. Lively and entertaining they didn't falter
not even when one guitarist got caught full face with a bottle
(plastic but full) and went down - this dangerous practice really is
NOT part of the 'festival experience'. As welcome as a hot meal on
this cold, wet and windy day, James were excellent festival fare.
- Republica - 10/10 Oh, just leave them on stage (NME stage)
'Let's be facking 'avin' ya then!' screamed the hi-energy pocket
rocket with the two tone red/black mop top. Like some demented Toyah
Wilcox pumped high on adrenaline, Red Bull and life she ripped through
the songs with lusty gusto and would have kicked the ever living
daylights out of the surging, bouncing, ecstatic audience -
fortunately the man-mountain security crew protected us. Tight, sharp
and DeFiNiTeLy UP for it, the band rocked, the audience bayed for
more, and the Essex Girl kicked ass. Hook her up to the national
grid, we could all do with some of that sort of energy. Fackin'
- Morcheeba - 8/10 Lovely (NME stage)
'Let me see all those heads nodding.' she sweetly mocked with a
Cheshire's grin, 'Come on, bend your knees, it's not difficult.' For
this is 'Black Music' for the 'Middle English', and we all duly and
politely assembled to applaud and, yes dammit, nod gently along in
time. Beguiling us with their warm charm the 'cheebas took a stroll
through their excellent two albums, the only vague disappointment was
that they didn't (noticeably) choose to put a spin on any of their
numbers. Still, pretty much everyone in the audience had and knew the
discs - albeit unable to sing along when requested. We all shrugged,
their lyrics aren't really sing-a-longy. We didn't care, and I don't
think they did too much, for we were all too busy having fun.
- PJ Harvey - 9/10 Darkly intense like rich Colombian coffee
And like heady and bitingly strong coffee you either love it or don't.
The worryingly quiet crowd loved it, every little drop. Delayed by
interminable setting up problems some disgruntled shouting was soon
rubbed away when Polly Jean arrived, as in a rapt silence we drank
deeply from her well of dark songs sung strongly. The thin drizzle
swirled diamond glinting about her where smoke, spotlights and raven
hair combined to frame her pale pale skin and ruby ruby lips, as out
powered out a deep-set rhythm that savaged the psyche's soft
underbelly. The talented band threw the métier of their medium around
with slick precise ease. Not enough, never enough. not when it's
this good. Disturbingly brilliant or brilliantly disturbing, take
- Texas - 5/10 Nothing here to cause offence. (Main stage)
Now I have to be careful here, because a) I'm not a fan and b) I was
huddled under a tree whilst it rained - did I mention the rain yet?
But then again this is where I watched James from, so here goes. With
a nice sensible bob cut, big-message tee shirt, the lead singer seems
crinkle cut from self-rolling dough, the perfect icon for middle
management thirty somethings to come home to after a hard day at the
office and relax with - just like the music, the band and the whole
thing. When in a fulsome Scottish accent she declared that, in answer
to some never heard question, she could rock, I kind of dreaded what
would follow. So whilst intoning slightly some saucy lyrics she
touched her groin, I and the rest of the audience seemed quietly
embarrassed rather than excited. All in all, pretty pointless.
- Ian Brown - 1/10 Oh, just GO AWAY! (NME stage)
What musical creature is Ian Brown? I asked myself this question many
times during his set. He's got the personal charm of a verucca, the
dance technique of a hill-walking rambler and an obvious fetish for
wanting to be mistaken for 'one of those naughty boys from Oasis'.
Seeming to plagiarise everything current thirty months ago down to its
lowest common denominator, this was 'brit pop' for the tone deaf. Out
of the large audience a low percentage seemed to be actively enjoying
it and a lot voted with their feet. I quite liked (aka felt sorry
for) the band right up to the point the lead guitarist used his teeth
to play a riff - well if they want to flush their obvious talents down
the toilet this way, then that is their business. Rubbish.
- Fun Lovin' Criminals - 10/10 Super smooth, as cool as a Latin nights,
How to explain this. I've been trying to find the right words. How
about these ones: cool, fun, sophisticated, energetic, Latin, smooth,
rocking, beaty, involving, entertaining, slick, talented, funny, punk,
controlled. Well there are enough words to be getting on with, so,
without irony or use of negatives, construct as many sentences as you
need containing these (or similar) words for that
build-your-own-review experience. For the record they passed through
Scooby Snacks, Smoke 'Em, Fun Lovin' Criminals and King of New York on
their way to completing a top quality show. What was new sounded
good, what we knew sounded great. Me, I'm still speechless - wow!
100% Pure Colombian bros!
To be frank, if I'd been camping, I would have hated Sunday, because
it rained or drizzled pretty much the whole day. Any decamping would
have left you with sacks of wet (not damp) gear and rain up to your
elbows, although the previously bone dry ground took the rain pretty
well and didn't get anything more than slippery/slimy.
So was V98 better than V97? I'd say so, although it is a close call.
Lacking the likes of the truly world class crowd-pleasers Blur and the
likes of Kula Shaker, the '98 vintage pulled ahead by virtue of its
full bodied appeal - particularly on Sunday. That said, this year's
dance tent looked very slim - Bjorn Again (98) vs Sneaker Pimps (97)
anyone? I'll also confess to thinking that the running order looked
questionable at times, as did the content - witness Catatonia, who I
would prequalify as almost sure-fire crowd-pleasers on the alternate
stage and lowish on the running order. Is that sensible in any
language? I am left wondering how much influence the record or
management companies have on the scheduling of the stages.
Well, that's all in my humble opinion. I wonder what brew they'll
cook up for next year, and what delightful 'Heather Nova' style
surprises will be in store? I can't wait.
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