London Pop Fest, well the all-day aspect of it, approached with a mixture of the usual anticipation that beer, fun and fab music promises to deliver, tinged with the sad knowledge that it would be the final trip out for the Standard Fare bus. More of them later.
Big Wave, quite possibly the only band able to claim the honour of being named after a line from the film ‘Flushed Away’, got the day’s events underway. Their seven-hour journey from Devon proved to be time very well spent and their light, jangly tunes were well received by the day’s early risers. They soon had me scuttling off to the merch stand to get something to listen to later but it ultimately proved to be a futile trip.
With the bar of expectation set at an appropriately decent level, local trio The Tuts picked up the challenge of maintaining the momentum, if that’s not too much of a a mixed metaphor. A female-three piece, they enable me to tick off another entry on my personal I-Spy book of gig going: a drummer in a dress.
Their new single ‘Tut, Tut, Tut’ was good and singer/guitarist Nadir was in full flow from then on she confidently led her charges through the rest of the set. When they made use of bassist Harriet’s backing vocals they were are their best; their cover of ‘Rudi can’t fail’ was firmly at the unhappy end of that spectrum. ‘Dump your boyfriend’ sounded like a heavier version of The Housemartin’s ‘Happy hour’ but, ultimately though, I wanted to enjoy them more than I did. I’ve heard them described somewhere as a ‘female Libertines’ (a band for the phrase ‘don’t believe the hype’ was never more appropriate) and, while the comparison is there to be drawn, they probably have enough about them to move on and find their own, better identity.
Sweden’s The Garlands, a 5-piece who appeared to be taking things very seriously, with ne’er a flicker of enjoyment daring to creep across a Scandinavian feature at any point, were next to offer their services for our enjoyment. I did particularly enjoy the tambourine work – the only appearance of an instrument outside of the usual suspects of drums, bass, guitar and keyboards all day: what’s happened to indie pop lately? At Indietracks you couldn’t turn a corner without falling over a trumpet, a glockenspiel or several interesting pieces of percussion, and that was just The School.
Their chorus-laden guitar sound, not a million miles from Language of Flowers, and pleasant melodies were quite acceptable and would undoubtedly bear repeated listening as they worm their way into your head. The last one they did was a belter but they didn’t announce it – anyone catch the title of it, please, as I’d like to hear it again?
Following the mellow and subdued Swedes departure, the mood changed dramatically as the North’s newest noisies arrived on the scene, in the form of Durham’s Martha who then proceeded to give the audience’s ears a good seeing to. I’ve no idea what was in the communal flask they were passing round before they started but I’ll have pint, please.
They may wear their influences loud and proud on their collective sleeve but the power and confidence of their performance made them the best band on so far. Blasting through their songs with barely enough time for another shared swig (Oxo? Lucozade Lite? Red Bull and Night Nurse?) their punky, new-wave sound had the place rocking like it ought to. With all four of them sharing singing duties and the energy and enthusiasm of a band that knows its strengths and plays straight to them all the time, they come across like a supercharged Duracell bunny with a point to prove. ‘1978, smiling politely’ was even more fab than the recorded version – no mean achievement.
Stunning, and a great way to end the first half. Do come back and see us soon, please.
Owing to an enforced change of plan on the grub front (we’d arrived early and scouted out a suitable place nearby that wasn’t a corporate giant, served something we wanted to eat and, even more importantly, looked like it could get the stuff on a plate sharpish so we could get back without missing much – when we got back there the bloody place was shut), we missed most of September Girls. Having also missed them at Indietracks, I promise to try to make them a priority next time our paths cross. Providing of course that they’ve ditched their matching One Direction t-shirts…
Fresh from supporting Kaiser Chiefs at Brixton Academy, and a year after they sadly pulled out of the same slot in last year’s bill, it was time to behold This Many Boyfriends. They were highly enjoyable last time I saw them and they picked up where they left off. There wasn’t a huge amount wrong with their self-titled debut album of last year, but the songs just come across much better in front of a bunch of enthusiastic people who are starting to feel the effects of a few hours drinking and who’ve just been Martha’d. I always find a good bit of crowd interaction can make any performance better and they covered that angle admirably as well. They were obviously 100% match-fit from their recent experiences of larger venues and gave a tip-top performance.
‘Number one’, ‘Tina Weymouth’ and ‘How is this even a job’ were delivered expertly. However, for me it was during the shoutiest of their shoutalong songs that they peaked as ‘I don’t like you ‘cos you don’t like the Pastels’, ‘That’s what diaries are for’ and then, best of all, the utterly irresistible ‘Young lovers go pop’ - a moment to make the hairs on your neck stand up. Plenty of leaping around and people screaming along confirmed it wasn’t only me that thought so. Hugely enjoyable and just about eclipsing Martha. Just.
By now it was all getting a bit hot and sweaty in the 100 Club and more of the same would have been great. However, the second Swedish band of the night, Speedmarket Avenue, brought the mood down a few notches (at least) with their more reflective euro-power-pop. Some people were nodding along; some looked closer to nodding off. Although I did warm to them more towards the end of their set, it was all a bit too self-indulgent prog-rock-esque for me. On the plus side, it gave most of us without Swedish passports the chance to gather ourselves before the night’s main attraction.
This was the fourth time I’d been to the all-day part of the Pop Fest and each year the attendance has increased, culminating in this year’s sell-out. And deservedly so as Standard Fare must have boosted the sales figures somewhat by announcing a while back that this was to be their final performance.
I’ve been lucky enough to see them a number of times since they entered my world, stumbling across them as I did on the same stage three years previously, accompanied by Allo Darlin, ballboy and Shrag, for a night that will live long in my memory (not least because of Plouf!), and they have always come up with the goods since. Two mighty fine albums and a ‘final’ hurrah with a single as part of WIAIWYA’s fantastic 7×7 series last year contribute to a canon of work that anyone would be rightly proud to have achieved. Incidentally, John Jervis described to me Darren Hayman’s effort for this year’s series as “like the very, very best of Hefner – but crossed with Prince” – I still can’t quite get my head around what that might sound like but can’t wait to hear it. Subscriptions available from the WIAIWYA website.
They took to the stage and promised to play ‘all the hits’, which they did to a riotous reception from the totally supportive crowd who were clearly determined to make the most of what little time we had left with them. All killer, no filler here, as you’d expect, but personal faves were ‘Love doesn’t just stop’, ‘Suitcase’, ‘Fifteen’, ‘Dancing’ (during which I couldn’t help thinking that the words “don’t give up, don’t quit, don’t do it” were rather ironic, given that that’s exactly what they were doing) and the wonderful, mad, bouncing, sweaty mess that was ‘Philadelphia’, before they wrapped it all up with an amazing ‘Wow!’
Drummer Andy then was persuaded to the mike to give a us a few words but before he could say anything a shout of ‘sit down and play’ rang out and, after a hastily muffled ‘thanks’ he duly obliged and we were off again on the run in.
The pick of the final four songs was easily the surprise inclusion of Allo Darlin’s ‘Silver dollars’ – one of those glorious ‘did I really just see that’ moments. It was made all the more enjoyable for the fluffed first take on the intro, something that Bill and Paul from Allo Darlin found even more entertaining than the rest of us, judging by the width of their smiles.
For the record, the last ever song was ‘Crystal palatial’, at the end of which there was a mass outpouring of collective joy and sadness. There was no doubt more than one or two damp eyes in the place at the end of a superb performances from a band who seldom if ever put a plectrum out of place.
There was time for a group hug, a final smile and wave to the still-cheering crowd and the Fab Fare were gone. They will be sorely missed.
It’s days like this that remind why I go to gigs. It was something very special and I feel lucky to have been there. Thanks to everyone who helped to make it so.