What with being a bunch of self-absorbed Sassenachs and the press pass being organised a bit last minute, we didn't get around to running Simon Jay Catling's review of T In The Park in any sort of timeframe likely to make anybody involved look professional. Sorry Simon! Sorry Scotland! Please don't hurt us.
Take a good look at the surroundings of Balado, Kinross. The foothills of the Highlands are a beautiful place indeed; the landscape is a patchwork of beige, yellow and green agricultural fields. Thick pine forests rise gracefully to the hill tops, forebodingly still in the unexpected Scottish sun. A bird of prey hovers hundreds, maybe thousands of feet in the cloudless blue sky and for a brief moment, it’s tempting to sit and contemplate the great idiosyncrasies of life; the possibility that maybe there is a unique, all-knowing creator without which these hills; nature’s guards to the Highlands themselves, would not have been possible… and then a man clad in a Scotland football shirt lumbers past me carrying a crate of Tennent’s Lager stoically behind him with already-bleary eyes courtesy of a solid day’s drinking. Ah right, we’re here for T In The Park aren’t we?
Or we would be if this greenhorn reviewer hadn’t replaced his brains with cloth and misread a weekend pass as a weekend camping pass. Most of Friday is spent orienteering around the local area begging for a campsite, somewhat self-aware of our non-rhotic English tones. Finally, with hope all but gone, I find salvation in the form of Lethangie campsite. The upward trajectory continues when, with tiredness in my heart and sweat in my hair, I see that glimmer at the end of the tunnel; and it’s Paul Smith from Maximo Park on the main stage. Because Paul puts in the energy so that I don’t have to; he’s on his knees, up in the air, arms spread wide as though he were Jesus preaching to the masses. If only the music behind him could quite live up to it; Maximo Park remain a fucking excellent live act, but, shorn of their on-stage theatrics, you always feel that the songs are ultimately limited, despite their absolutely best intentions.
Franz Ferdinand, in contrast, probably could have turned up promising an a capella set of Enya covers and they’d still be rapturously embraced by this very partisan crowd. In the break between albums two and three, one might’ve thought that Franz’ time had gone in this every-changing whirlwind of music faddery; but from the jumpstart opening of ‘Do You Really Want To?’ its clear that a Franz-less world would be a slightly darker one - at least for the tens of thousands of pogo-ing Scots, who react to every flick of Alex Kapranos’ hips with a one armed salute and a hearty roar. Good to be home, eh boys?
Which might explain Kings Of Leon’s relatively muted reception. Poor Caleb looks in trouble by the midway point. He angles for cheap pops by praising the Scots reputation for enjoying the odd tipple, and at one point even asks “are there any fans out there?” It’s an odd one; I’m quite near the front and there are stoney faces all around me; anything pre-last album is met with guarded enthusiasm rather than the fabled Scottish fervour. Maybe we’re stuck in some post-locals-playing-affirming-set afterworld, but I didn’t think Franz were that good. I’d say it’s more that Kings Of Leon, gradually, are being found out a little. Only By The Night was a tepid affair, an unsubtle stab at gaining stadium rock glory, and live the brothers Followhill don’t really have the charisma, or maybe even the choons, to back that will up. It’s a bad call playing your best early album stuff and sure-fire pacesetters like ‘Molly’s Chamber’s’ a good few BPM slower than on record. Equally, it’s a bad call opening up a headlining festival slot with an average cut from said-tepid album in ‘Be Somebody’. On the other hand it could be that the audience is, (and throw your indie-snob barbs at me if you must) so mainstream that they’ve simply not heard some of the older stuff; this would be why ‘Sex On Fire’ gets the largest response all night, whilst choice cuts from the sparkling Because Of The Times gain little momentum. I give up in the end and go and watch the final 15 minutes of Nick Cave; a man who I should’ve chosen in the first place, and a man that puts more into his performance in that quarter of an hour than I see in the entire ninety minutes of a Kings Of Leon gig.
It’s Saturday when things really get going; the place is rammed! Right in the middle of the Balado site between the Main Stage and King Tut’s Wah Wah Tent (a sweltering cavern of a place), there are lines of gigantic flags, of their purpose I’m uncertain; but it takes ruddy ages to get through the masses that are sat around there drinking, tanning and smoking (and in a couple of places mating: lo’ this festival truly brings the worst out in some people), and another good few minutes to trudge to the Futures Stage and walk in on a listless smattering of people ready to absorb Leeds grungers Dinosaur Pile-Up. And 'absorb' is the right word here because ground-splitting chords and skull searing hooks are de rigeur for this remarkably self-assured three-piece. Throughout their 25 minute onslaught you can sense the turning of heads, and by the end of ‘My Summertime’- poptastic riffs bouncing upon a bed of primal drumming - heads are bobbing and the emptiness has been sucked right out of the tent.
A stumble back towards the Main Stage is rewarded by one of the most unexpected highlights of the weekend. James - that most off-kilter of Manchester bands that rose from the late Eighties/early Nineties - play a blinder. Oh for sure its cheesy, for sure it’s supposed to be little more than a mass sing along (but then isn’t that what most people are here for tomorrow night as well?); but Tim Booth and co. bloody well know how to do it. ‘Born Of Frustration’, ‘Out To Get You’, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Sit Down’, ‘Laid’. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. If you had to paint a representation of a main stage mid-afternoon festival slot then it’d be this: a string of hits, a crowd singing back every word, and a lead singer genuinely loving every minute of his moment back in the sun.
Enough of that though, because Foals are about to hold court in that sweltering cavern I’ve previously told you of. The King Tut’s Tent is huuuge, but the Oxford four-piece have managed to fill most of it, (with quite a few English people it has to be said, does that mean we have better taste? Eh? Eh?) as previous fans and curious birdwatchers await to see the manner in which they’ll break their cover following a few months away. It’s brilliant; gone is the proggy wankery that seeped into last year’s festival season, to be replaced with thrilling directness, coupled with some of the fun that they were loved for in the first place. The two new songs are decent, one tight and punchy the other slightly more drawn out, but both indicative that Foals could be about to see their old friend hype once again.
I’ve never seen a country dance pit break out at a gig, but an attempt’s made during the course of Broken Records' set on the BBC Introducing Stage. As was the case with Dinosaur Pile-Up, the crowd attracted to see the Edinburgh conglomerate are more inquisitive than anticipative; but by the time the gypsy-stomp of ‘If The News Make You Sad..’ kicks in there’s some mano-a-mano traditional dancing breaking out around me. I’d be doing the same but I’m too busy working out whether singer James Sutherland swallowed a megaphone as a child; his neck shape suggests not, but his almost overbearing vocal volume suggests otherwise. In any case, live it just about works, whereas on record it just about doesn’t.
There’s an air of discontent around the Radio 1/NME Stage. The few metal fans that are part of the 85,000 T In The Park crowd appear to have had to share some of their carefully designated alone time with masses of ditzy, glo-stick wielding 16-year-olds “raving” to the overrunning sounds of The Ting Tings. To make matters worse, it means that when their time does come to fully escape a day of walking around staring disdainfully at endless Topshop indie (and in some traumatised cases, Lady Ga Ga), their first redemption, Jane’s Addiction, have to play a shorter set. Grumbles all around. So when second redemption Nine Inch Nails appear twenty minutes late, you can almost feel the charge flowing between them and the audience. They howl in vitriolic delight to opener ‘Somewhat Damaged’, whilst Downward Spiral trio ‘Heresy’, ‘March Of The Pigs’ and ‘Piggy’ send the moshing faithful - those die-hard to the cause of creating a human destruction derby in the name of fun - into overdrive. It helps that NIN are playing a stormer; for while tonight’s show may not always brim with the uninhibited rage that characterised performances of old, Trent Reznor performs with the steely-eyed determination of a man about to set his legacy off into the distance, yet is unflinching in his desire to see it through its final stages. The couplet of ‘Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Head Like A Hole’ are merciless and complete; the encore of ‘Hurt’ almost shocking in its juxtaposed calm. Nine Inch Nails’ light be fading in the eye of its creator, but in their fans it burns brighter than ever.
Oh look, it’s raining. My tent (best before 1979) collapses in the middle of the night amongst the shadow of the Taj Mahal that my neighbours are rattling about in (there’s only four of them! Four! They’ve got bloody guest rooms in there!) But, don’t you know? At T In The Park 2009 the rain never lasts. By 2pm that familiar blue sky is draped over Kinross again, and all is well with the world. Well that is until a piano line horribly reminiscent of Freddy Mercury’s ‘Living On My Own’ is beamed out across a slightly befuddled looking Main Stage crowd. Yes its Bloc Party’s new song ‘One More Chance’ and it’s feckin’ rubbish. Those fabled 'up for it' crowds have disappeared again too, although an increase in wind seems to have whipped most of Kele’s vocals away, and I can’t really hear an awful lot, so maybe you can’t fault them. It’s a familiar tale for the clan Bloc - a front man full of enthusiasm, but the band as a whole only coming to life on the increasingly rarer visits to ‘Silent Alarm’ material. Come on Kells; let the others have a chance to show off their stuff eh?
The next band on are set for big things; Lily Allen-standing-watching-and-shouting-things-at-your-lead-singer-whilst-you-play big things. To be fair, Robbie Furze handles it well, even if The Big Pink vocalist’s demeanour is now of a man keenly eyeing any possible exits. In fact the whole aesthetic of the band describes pretty accurately what it is that they’re pedalling: Miles Cordell works away on one side of Furze, energetically twiddling samplers and synthesizers; meanwhile, a female vocalist stands stock still on the other side, gazing right at, you’ve guessed it, her shoes. It’s a winning combination though, this mix of My Bloody Valentine-esque walls of noise and Eighties revivalist beats; I’m sure someone’s coined the term electro-gaze but if they haven’t then I’ve just invented a sub-genre.
Back at the Main Stage Elbow are doing pretty much what they’ve been doing since they were given that lovely Mercury Music Award: namely, looking slightly overawed at facing such a legion of fans, before casually blowing those fans out of the water with effortless grace. Stop looking so unassuming Garvey, you must know you’re good by now! But that’s just it with Salford’s recent finest; you almost feel like they’re a Noughties Pulp - everyone wanted them to make it; now they finally have, and we can all bask in the resulting celebrations. Wonderful chaps, just wonderful.
If only such a reception were waiting for TV On The Radio at King Tut’s; it all feels a bit quiet in here. At least though that means that few of the Pete(r) Doherty fans have stuck around to stare nonplussed at Sitek, Adipumbe et al fizzing through a set that says a big 'fuck you' to the many not watching and a 'come, enjoy the show' to the few that are. You get the feeling that TVOTR would approach a rehearsal with just the same amount of intensity as a headlining gig, and it shows in a set of startling consistency. The closing trio of ‘Shout Me Out’, ‘DLZ’ and ‘Staring At The Sun’ are enough on their own to paint pictures of regret on the faces of those who pop their heads in at the end to see what all the fuss is about.
And then the atmosphere gets strange. Snow Patrol, due on at 7:30pm, are moved to 8. “Hmm, interesting” the vast amount of people already waiting for Blur murmur. Blur are due on at 8:50 by the way, but by 9 Lightbody’s still on stage mooing about how “T’s the best festival around”, before launching into another middle of the road stadium-indie by-numbers effort. Then the bomb drops; Coxon’s ill! (or 'ill' if you believe some of the more angry Blur fans, convinced he’s had a strop). Shit! 9:30 and Snow Patrol are still on! Curiosity turns to despair, people down the front are trying their best to have fun, but it must be dawning even on them: 'Christ, Snow Patrol are going to close the festival!' There’s panic, rage even; people didn’t spend all weekend drinking their insides dry to sing along to ‘Chasing Cars’!
It’s edgy I tell you, but then, like a message from the Almighty himself, it’s announced that BLUR ARE HERE! A ridiculous crush ensues at the turnstiles of the front circle, but I’ll take a couple of broken ribs to get in there. It’s Blur! They’re here! Look there’s Damon, looking hammered. Alex! Looking cool as fuck still. There’s Graham! Looking... erm quite healthy actually (oh and Dave’s kicking about too). “Our last gig” Damon claims after ‘She’s So High’ and ‘Girls & Boys’ have turned Balado into Mile End. Surely not? You’re only just back lads! We need you! Because Oasis are still here and it looks like they’ll be the first band to play on the moon! National anthems come and go: ‘Country House’, ‘Parklife’, ‘Song 2’; this is electric! And when it’s all over, after what seems like far too brief a rendezvous, there’s people hugging, still singing the words to ‘Tender’, laughing in euphoria. This weekend may on occasion get a reputation for louts, hooligans and thieves, but just for a bit there it really felt as though we - the 16 year-olds away from home for the first time, the hot pant and day-glo top wearing girls, the embittered metal fans, the football fans out to find a similar atmosphere - were as one. A community feel; exactly how a festival should be.