Only four years ago, the BBC’s alternative radio station 6 Music was threatened with closure and a petition was launched to save it. Today, audiences have doubled and if it’s not quite “the nation’s favourite”, it’s certainly one of it’s best-loved. Taking itself into the live arena – with a two-day, live-broadcast, mud-free indoor festival with an alternative-ish line-up over two beautifully-lit stages – is another clear progression. However, on the first day, the labyrinth-like Victoria Warehouse felt like a maze of music, the puzzle being how to see or hear any of it clearly. Kelis was unmistakable in a gold lamé dress and with enough hair to house a family of small animals, but her slinky, brass-sectioned pop soul sounded as if it was being rendered through a sock. Scheduling acts at exactly the same time meant difficult decisions abounded for festival-goers. The lucky few who made it into Metronomy‘s set on the minuscule second stage before it was closed to further entrants missed John Grant‘s guest appearance with Midlake, whose earnest, heartfelt, beautifully crafted, dull acoustic flute rock was enlivened by an echoey boom that sounded like a unlikely dub remix.
Securing Damon Albarn to debut his forthcoming solo album Everyday Robots with his new band the Heavy Seas as Friday headline was a coup. The songs are up there with his best: haunting personal reminiscences and beautifully wistful reflections on how technology has changed our lives. Alas, the pesky machinery of an inadequate speaker system let him down, and it was a struggle to hear the sublime melancholy of Hollow Ponds over the chattering crowd. The Blur man-turned-cultural-polymath soon realised he had a rare tough gig on his hands and confessed to unlikely nerves. “I should be used to it after all these years,” he sighed. It didn’t help that many in the Friday night crowd wanted to party. “Is he going to do Song 2? Whoo-hoo,” someone asked, although Albarn’s solitary dip into the Blur back catalogue was a B-side, All Your Life. The lovely pop Mr Tembo – about an orphaned baby elephant he met in Tanzania – upped the tempo, but his Everyday Robots material will fare much better in a different setting. One bloke was having a rare old time: the chap who’d wobbled in from the silent disco and was still punching the air with headphones on. Otherwise, it probably all sounded better on the radio.
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