Thursday, 1 September 2011

Reading Festival 2011

Reading Festival 2011

My plan of action for Reading was always going to be; day 1, complete my allotted 3 interviews as originally planned, day 2 and 3 try not to abuse the hospitality of the ‘guest’ section to such an extent that the velvet rope is never lowered again for a man such as me. I believe I have lived up to my end of the bargain (well 2 out of 3 ain’t bad I guess). I also managed to fit some time in to watch some of the acts that would be appearing on the nearby stages. This year the line up had been controversial due to the fact that it was such a mixed bag of acts and styles. Following on from Glastonbury’s Michael Eavis who’d made a similar decision to mix his own line up’s and genres rather than just sticking whole heartedly to the rock and rock/indie bands as previous years had offered. Reading in 2011 had bands such as My Chemical Romance along side 80’s Ska pop band Madness (to the horror of many the self harming Emo boys in the audience that didn’t know what to make of the crowds ‘dancing’ during ‘Baggy Trousers’) as well as comedians and dance orientated groups. One of the highlights of the entire festival was the ‘guest’ appearances that seemed to happen on a daily occurrence from the amazing; John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin handling bass guitar and mandolin duties during Seasick Steve’s set, to the strange i.e. Jarvis Cocker appearing on stage after Pulp’s storming set (only just previously concluded) with the drab Strokes to duet with singer Julian Casablancas with the misguided and head scratching performance of The Cars 1978 hit ‘Take It Or Leave It’. In fact I would go as far as to say that the biggest shock of the festival was the lackluster ‘by numbers’ performance by The Strokes. A band that I’ve been looking forward to seeing since it was first announced. On paper the set list and choices were exemplary with favorites from their catalogue such as ‘Reptilia’, ‘New York City Cops’, ‘Last Night’ mixed in with tracks from their recent offering. Although the playing was technically all correct and the sound was fine the performances themselves were so obviously phoned in and running on auto pilot you’re surprised they bothered turning up at all. I don’t think the slot would have suffered if the band had simply played the chosen songs on a spotify playlist over the PA. Never the most talkative of bands at the best of times it seems that the division between the band and singer Julian Casablancas is very apparent and if they are still together as a band this time next year with the original 5 piece it will be a pleasant surprise for me as from this slot it seems like a band walking their last mile towards the abyss.

Pulp were criminally added as the support slot here at Reading while being pushed to the headliner and more deserving slot at the Leeds show (as if the audience would be so petty that they need a northern band up there but in Reading need a big named American band headlining). After seeing them recently at Wireless I was expecting more of the same and was happy with that ideal. The band once again blew me away by not doing the same set as before, instead adding some more obscure tracks along with the gold. Jarvis Cocker seems to have had a physical and musical re-birth and has the energy and stage performance of a man of 18, slipping between guitars, synth while taking care of each syllable of the vocals while dressed like a 1978 geography teacher. Songs like ‘Disco 2000’ went down a storm while tracks from ‘This is Hardcore’ including the title track (which featured guest performances by Sheffield luminary Richard Hawley on slide guitar) took the crowd on a musical journey through their back catalogue and incorporated a mind swirling light show which I personally liked but could picture a hoard of epileptics being lead towards the medical tent a few flickers later. ‘Common People’ was introduced by Cocker explaining that if Pulp are only ever remembered for this song that he’d still be more than happy with that as “it’s a great song” showed the power of music in it’s purest form.

Peter Doherty was on the same time has headliners Muse and due to the fact that a little Buckley-esque falsetto screeching goes a long way with me, after the opening ‘New Born’ I was happy to wander over to Doherty, although kudos for the use of Tom Waits ‘What’s He Building?’ as the opening gambit. In my dry shampooed opinion one of the highlights of the festival was the lucidness and on point set by Peter who simply armed with an acoustic guitar (more on that later) and flanked by some celestial and ethereal ballet dancers managed to bash through Libertines and Babyshambles classics as well as his own solo material and didn’t falter once. The only downside of the set was the aforementioned guitar being thrown from the stage into the crowd with such a limp wristed effort that the poor guy 3-4 rows in probably didn’t even see the teeth bound Gibson until it was too late, although they have a memento of a great set, even if they whistled all the way back to their tent and now drink their steak sandwiches through a straw.

It wasn’t all Champagne and Skittles though, sets by Beady Eye saw the tents slowly empty out as the minutes ticked by as although Liam Gallagher has enough swagger and self confidence to run a small country he has forgotten to bother bringing any tunes to the table and by simply trying the hypnosis and reverse psychology of "this is an amazing tune" comments before the intro kicks in didn’t actually convince anyone that Beady Eye are any successor to Oasis and deserve the billing they got. There were moments that showed their potential such as the singles ‘Four Letter Word’ and the ‘Instant Karma’ template ‘The Roller’. It is hard for a band with a single album to make a headline slot great from start to finish although adding some of Liam’s previous bands hits wouldn’t be a bad thing either to help steady the ship. ‘Songbird’, ‘Soldier On’ and ‘Born on a Different Cloud’ spring immediately to mind.

Another plus point with Reading 2011 is the volume of great bands playing each day. I barely managed to see an entire set before being rushed to a new stage to see another act. The View performed a professional up beat set but it was Madness that really had the first rays of sunshine on their side and brought the momentum and overall good time feeling up a notch. The set wasn’t a complete surprise from the first intro to ‘One Step Beyond’ to the closing ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ with each hit and fan favorite in between touched on. They were never going to be a band to play obscure b-sides and ignore the material that put them there in the first place and more fool the bands that do in this type of sunny afternoon environment.

I managed to catch up with a few bands/artists while at Reading including Miles Kane who had performed shortly before racing through songs from his debut album as well as trying out newer tracks on a festival audience that went down extremely well. Here is the transcription of our conversation regarding his current plans, recent tour with Beady Eye and the future of The Last Shadow Puppets…


How was the tour with Beady Eye? Did it go exactly how you’d imagined?

Miles: Yeah, it was a while ago now; it was definitely a very exciting time especially as it was their first gigs as well. It was an honor to get asked really. We picked up a lot of mod fellas, you know, good fans; I think it's a similar world really. It was great, really buzzed off that tour…we'll be watching them tonight for sure.

The singles ‘Inhaler’, ‘Come Closer’ and ‘Rearrange’ have all become pretty much essentials in most indie DJ’s bag ever since they first come out. When you wrote them did you envisage them being played in stadiums?

Miles: Well...(laughs) its nice of you to say (laughs)I think I may have even said before, when we last spoke, that when we made this record I had a very clear idea that I wanted to keep it simple and I still feel like that now really. Quit the bullshit and keep it grooving, don't have it more than 3 minutes, have great choruses, that's the music I love.

You mentioned 'Plastic Ono Band' being an influence on the overall sound of the record?

Miles: Yeah definitely, simple, good melodies, good lyrics and really just let the music do the talking.

When we spoke previously you mentioned that after the album was released and toured and the Arctic Monkeys had done the same there would be some time penciled in for the next ‘Last Shadow Puppets’ Album, is this still on the cards, there are many, many fans waiting with bated breath.

Miles: Right, (laughs) well. We’re really going to see what happens, I saw him last week at V Festival, looking good, good vibe... *Miles and Alex just completed a new song for a new Arctic Monkeys b-side 'Little Illusion Machine (Wirral Riddler)*

I’ve seen at some shows ‘Hey Bulldog’ making an appearance in your set, any other left field choices looking to make their way into the running order live? – I thought a good choice for your style would be ‘Nobody But Me’ by the Human Beinz, old garage rocker, previously an old Isley Brothers song I believe.

Miles: Well we would have done it today but we run out of time ('Hey Bulldog'), we still do that one, and there is a french one as well, I don't know if I mentioned it before that we are doing one by Jacques Dutronc and a new one called 'Kaka Boom' which we played today… Whats's that one? Beas? Beings? oh Beinz…I love Beans. (Laughs) F*cking hell, I'm gonna add that on my phone.

On the album you have a duet with Clemence Poesy on ‘Happenstance’, how did that come about? Did you think it helped give the album more scope rather than just straight ahead rockers, having this almost sexy Serge Gainsbourg type track?

Miles: Yes, I love that style of music, moving forward I'd love to do more of that style of playing, I love it all, Gainsbourg and that. I like to have a swagger and that on the album, but at the same time I like that sexy and French thing as well (laughs)

In the Little Flames you were the guitarist, in the Rascals although you were the front man and guitarist, you were still one of the band, and with the Last Shadow Puppets you are part of a duo, was there any apprehension on your behalf about going the whole hog and being a front man solo artist.

Miles: I think, I love it, being the front man, I love the photos, playing live, I'm lucky to have such a great band, it's me, it’s my style of music that I love, so it's great really. Nobody is really doing it either at the moment, solo artists especially.

And after that the Wirral Riddler himself disappeared. Kaka boom!

Still armed with my trusty Dictaphone I also managed to speak to Nick Brown, lead vocalist and guitarist of the newly MTV awarded upstarts MONA.

MONA interview with Lead Vocalist/Guitarist Nick Brown

I’ve seen from your bio that although you’re from Dayton, Ohio originally you’re now based in Nashville, what is it with Nashville and bands at the moment? Kings of Leon, Jack White all seem to have a base there now. For an outsider it would seem country music and fiddles rather than skinny jeans and Arctic Monkeys gigs, is there a indie/rock scene building there?

Nick: No, nothing, it's cheap to live there. It’s the land of studios and has the best musicians in the world really, there's no scene as such. Its like if you've never been to London and you arrive, you're saying 'Where's the scene? You know? Where's Harry Potter hanging out? (Laughs) Like anyone who has been to London will tell you the idea of 'the scene' is very different from the reality, same with Nashville. Like you said…Kings of Leon, Jack White it’s very good to meet people in the industry and other musicians. It's still predominantly a country and gospel town really; anyone that has ever done anything in Nashville had to leave to make it.

How do you compare UK festivals to those in the US?

Nick: You know in someway we started here in the UK, we travelled Europe, Japan, then back to the USA, we just love anywhere they speak English, anyone who speaks English on the road is family to us (laughs). With the festivals over here, you (the crowd) have a lot more 'give', you let yourself go much more than the crowds in the states. You have Glastonbury, Leading… (Laughs) Leading and Reeds… (Laughs) you know what I mean. Reading, READING. At Glastonbury its so historical, we were on the John Peel Stage, I think Reading is really only second to T-in the Park for me, and the reason I say that is because I was so hammered at that gig, you know when the crowd is almost challenging you drink by drink. Some crowds are against it and get angry, but in Scotland they are throwing more drinks up (laughs)

Would you say that your influences are mainly British?

Nick: Not at all, I have human influences. I don't claim America or Britain; I think it's limiting to do that. Whether it's Bob Dylan or Joe Strummer I don't care where you're from, it's really just something that resonates about ambition, the second you label is the second you limit what it can do to you. It's the same with girls, are you in love with a black girl? An Asian girl? You're in love with a girl you know? That’s the power there, when you start putting labels and limits on things then we build ceilings and I don't like ceilings and limits…under a blood red sky (laughs).

Is there any other bands/artist here on the bill today at Reading that you are looking forward to seeing?

Nick: Well, I don't really come to festivals to watch other people, I come here to play and see my friends backstage, The Vaccines, Miles Kane, we're off to Leeds in a couple of hours so there isn't really much time in all honesty. At times we are let go and have more time to go and see other bands, like in Australia we had a chance to go get involved and hung out for a couple of days, but here? We're kind of coming in and coming straight out. Most of the bands I've seen anyway at one point or another on the circuit.

I've noticed on your MySpace page there wasn't a lot of your album showing on there. Was this intentional as a stand against the fast food culture of the immediate availability of music?

Nick: Yeah, well we didn't really go that far, we try and do things that feel ok to us really. We're not trying to out-market ourselves or anything.

Congratulations on your recent MTV award for ‘brand new for 2011’, apart from the acclaim you are getting for your work and your art, do you worry that getting awards so early on can sometimes lead to pressure on the group to deliver a massive commercial hit in response?

Nick: Big time, the hype blew up in our face. We were given so much hype that when the album was released, it was never going to be good enough to compete with that. A lot of the people hadn't even heard the record and the music and just went ‘Oh’; they didn't even give it a fair chance. If I could go back and change it would I? No, it is what it is really, although I would have preferred to wind back the buzz and let it be released without anything so people just respond to the music. It resonates. It's the industry we are in though, you can't really know if something is going to be successful or not. I'm happy with how it went all in all. We are still here, still with our middle finger up and when eventually everyone comes around to it and says 'Oh wow' it'll be us that hasn't changed. We've been here all along. There is nothing 'hype' about our performance. It's just us playing, no extra instruments or anything; you can't really say that about a lot of bands out there. We're not afraid, we're not going anywhere and we don't give a shit.

Album chart positions? Do they really matter in 2011 with downloads and fans almost choosing their own singles?

Nick: Well yeah, half the time the song that didn't make it as a single or get released as one is the track that everyone likes the most and this only comes out in our live shows. I mean we're doing ok, we're doing blah…we're decent. Live we're selling out every show, every festival we play its either full stage or full tent completely, you can't chase all these business ideals when you're talking about art, its rock and roll. I always joke that rock and roll is dead…and yet we are right here, it'll bounce back. (Laughs)

Nick, you’ve been vocal in your dislike of ‘side projects’, is this because you think that if a bassist is working on his own stuff he’s not giving 100% to the band? What do you think about artists like Jack White and Josh Homme that seem to be in about 5 bands at any one time?

Nick: Well this is how I look at it, do you want your girlfriend thinking about other guys when she's f*cking you? I mean it could work I guess (laughs) but traditionally I see it like that, you're here…so be here. We are all talented enough so have plenty of time for other stuff later on, just focus on this.

What about Jack White? He manages to keep afloat The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, formally The White Stripes?

Nick: Yeah, he didn't do it at the same time though, he focused on The White Stripes, then when he moved on he gave his complete attention to The Raconteurs, nothing ever seems confused with him, there's definitely a strategy there, with recording and releases, there has never been an over-lap. Smart guy.

With that the clouds parted, the sun shone momentarily and the cocktails we on special offer, only the nightmare of the campsite and toilets could put a dampener on this weekend. What a stroke of luck.

Many thanks to Andy Bell at DawBell, Alex Fordham at Authority Communications and Steph for all her help.

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