Mention the words 'V Festival' on the boards of DiS and you're likely to get a torrent of verbal abuse from all and sundry. Despite the fact it's still one of the biggest festivals on the UK circuit (whilst remaining one of the few that actually sells out every year regardless of who's playing), it would be fair to say there isn't much love for the festival on Drowned In Sound. And yet one glance through past line-ups reveals a plethora of artists who've graced the stages of Hylands Park, Temple Newsam (the original site of the "northern leg") and Weston Park. Say what you like about it being a corporate event overcrowded with sponsorship but where else would you expect to see such a diverse range of artists as Kylie Minogue rubbing shoulders with Grandaddy (2001), Killing Joke rocking out with Amy Winehouse (2003) or Frightened Rabbit 'avin' it large with Example and Chipmunk (last year)? Yep, we can all be music snobs when it suits but the sneering doom-mongers that write off V as a no-go area tend to be people that A) have never actually been to the festival; or B) wouldn't know the meaning of fun if it bit them on the backside and inserted a £50 tip for every subsequent smile.
Sure, this year's line-up won't have ATP's organisers quaking in their boots and it's fair to say hardly any of the hundred or so acts on the bill will feature that highly, if at all, in this or any other end of year "Best Of" poll. BUT. There's still something about V where it's gradually become a "must do" on the annual festival calendar as far as yours truly is concerned. Before anyone calls the local asylum to check if I've lost my mind completely - yes, I still worship the ground Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine walk on, would rather listen to a self-indulgent hour of Thurston Moore than spend sixty seconds in the presence of Olly Murs any day, and find having my ears bludgeoned senseless by A Place To Bury Strangers more enjoyable than having what brain cells still remain lubricated and poisoned by Bruno Mars general insipidness. However, there's enough happening here to keep even the most discerning music fan contented for its (quite durable as it happens) 48 hours, whatever your bag. No really, come back...
Indeed, if I were to offer any criticisms here they'd be equally applicable to any other festival you'd care to mention. Extortionate beer and food prices, annoying queuing systems for tokens then refreshments, scheduling clashes between artists on stages where the organisers must surely know the likelihood of both sharing the same fanbase is very high. Worst of all though is the fact that pretty much everything seems to shut down by eleven o'clock after the last bands have finished, bar the tiny (as in one-in, one-out after 9pm) Strongbow Tent, which can be a minor irritant with 80,000 punters walking around looking for something to do and somewhere to go.
So, without further ado, let's focus on the music. Saturday proved something of a mixed bag at Weston Park. Max McElligott's Wolf Gang may have been given the unenviable witching hour slot of midday, but their incisive eighties themed pop contained more than enough guilt-edged gems to fill the measly twenty-five minute slot they were allocated, and judging by the response given to closer 'The King And All Of His Men', their fanbase undoubtedly increased as a result. Across on the 4Music Stage, Eminem's backing band D12 (waits intently for some random pedant to comment below that they weren't strictly Marshall Mathers backing band) throw up a boisterous half hour's worth of entertainment themselves. They play 'Purple Pills' for its first airing of the day, which seems to go down well with the crowd, many of whom are in fancy dress, another facet of V that adds to the party-like atmosphere.
As 'Another Nail In My Heart' and 'Tempted' float by like the mid-afternoon Heart FM staples that they are, Squeeze's status as the acceptable face of retrospective MOR radio is assured. Not that we'd expect anything different. Instead we're off on the trail of a group of Amy Winehouses' intrepid march to the front of The Arena where the late lamented singer's god-daughter Dionne Bromfield currently holds court. Playing a set that mirrors the one she brought Summer Sundae to its knees with a fortnight ago, the fifteen-year-old chanteuse oozes potential particularly if she employs a producer that can transcend her soulful voice and effortless charisma to the recording studio.
For some unknown reason there's an almighty crowd gathering in The Arena which leaves DiS and its associates struggling for space and gasping for air. Fifteen minutes later everything becomes clear. Someone comments that it's like the second coming of Beatlemania. While that may be stretching the hyperbole a tad too fair, it's fair to say The Wanted have one of the most rabid, devoted and downright insane fanbases we've ever encountered. As the tent shakes with excitement and condensation drops off its ceiling like a torrential downpour of rain, it's safe to say this is one experience you wouldn't get at ATP - 6,000 teenage girls literally wetting themselves while screaming themselves hoarse for a half hour set. What's more, say you what you like about the Manchester boy-band but technically they're one of the most proficient acts DiS witnesses all weekend. Honestly, we're glad we came.
In urgent need of some form of normality, the familiar, DiS-friendly strains of the Manic Street Preachers bring the rock to Weston Park, even if the rain clouds seemingly don't approve. Playing a set that mixes the odd dose of their more controversial past ('You Love Us', 'Motorcycle Emptiness', 'Motown Junk') with those the more Radio 1 friendly among the audience will be aware of ('If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next', 'Your Love Alone Is Not Enough', 'A Design For Life'), they're a welcome bundle of energy packed into a measly - by their standards - forty-five minutes that simply reinforces their position as the UK's most consistent band of the past twenty-five years.
Hurts too are something of a quandary. On record they're about as enriching as a fart in a crowded lift. Live however, Theo Hutchcraft and co. come into their own, and as with Bestival last year, their ABC-meets-Tears For Fears borrowing set is a minor revelation, none more so than their excellent ubergoth rendition of Kylie Minogue's 'Confide In Me'. From the sublime to the ridiculous, although hardly unexpected, is The Courteeners set on the 4Music Stage where we're met with the good ('Cavorting', still their best and some would say "only" song), the bad (everything else, including an excruciating and unnecessary cover of The Strokes 'Someday') and the ugly (Shirtless beer-bellied "lads" throwing pints of yellow liquid over people's heads). Wisely, DiS removes itself at once, desperately in search of the cast of Hollyoaks, some of whom we later spot watching Rihanna.
Which brings us onto the aforementioned Ms Fenty. While one or two eyebrows were raised, not least because of her propensity to lip-sync during several "live" performances of yore, she at least managed to do something Beyonce Knowles failed miserably with at Glastonbury - play the hits and nothing else! There isn't an ill-advised Kings Of Leon or Alanis Morissette cover in sight as 'Don't Stop The Music', 'Only Girl In The World', 'Pon De Replay', 'Rude Boy', 'What's My Name?', and of course, 'Umbrella' are all here, larger than life and impeccably performed as ever. Sure, Rihanna's interaction with the crowd in between songs was minimal but then did we really want to sing happy birthday to "Steve" as Ms Knowles implored us to do at Glastonbury in June? Exactly. One-nil to Rihanna it is.
Not that Eminem is going to shirk his responsibility as a headliner either. While his more recent material has seen a dip in standards only restored on last year's Recovery, live he's still an engrossing proposition. Ripping through a ninety minute set that takes in approximately thirty numbers encompassing his entire career, there's little wonder DiS finds its eyes transfixed on the stage for the entire duration. D12 rejoin him for 'Fight Music' and a second helping of 'Purple Pills' while Royce Da comes on for 'Fast Lane' and 'Lighters', and of course Rihanna for the sublime 'Love The Way You Lie'. Indeed the only disappointment is that a backing singer contributes Dido and Hayley Williams parts to 'Stan' and 'Airplanes' rather than the girls themselves, but overall, throughout a performance that reels off hit after hit after hit, Saturday at V really was The Eminem Show.
Onto Sunday then, and DiS plans to see eighties outfit Big Country make guitars sound like bagpipes fall by the wayside as we're in dire need to recharge our phone batteries instead. Damn. Indeed the first part of the day's musical fare isn't the best. Some bloke called Maverick Sabre is doing a risible impersonation of Plan B on the Undercover Stage while the execrable 'Lazy Song' by Bruno Mars on the Main Stage has us running for our lives to the safer confines of the bar. Things can't get any worse and before Jessie J is given the opportunity to make a claim to do so, a well-earned food break refuels our energy levels in time to catch the last few minutes of The Airborne Toxic Event, who give us goosebumps, as per usual.
More importantly, Katy B's incredible rise has been one of the highpoints for British music in 2011 and while all the plaudits have rightly landed at the feet of debut long player On A Mission, her live show has also steadily become one of the most exciting around at this present moment in time. With songs that ooze imagination, sassiness and an uncanny ability to cause dancefloor mayhem like it's a scene from Amnesia circa 1992 unlike fellow Britschool proteges Adele and Jessie J, the sky's undoubtedly the limit for Ms Brien. From the breathtaking opener that is 'Louder' to the devilish 'Easy Please Me' and euphoric finale of 'Perfect Stranger' and 'Lights On', she's a flame-haired pocket dynamo that could just be the UK's finest pop export in donkey's years.
With rumours of bottling incidents the previous evening causing their set at Chelmsford to be cut short after twenty minutes, the imminent arrival of Glasvegas is met with little more than a few shrugged shoulders here. Fortunately, the band deliver an impeccable performance reminiscent of their earlier shows from way back when that got DiS all hot under the collar once upon a time. Currently label-less having recently parted company with Columbia, the likes of 'Go Square Go', 'Daddy's Gone' and 'It's My Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry' still take some beating in the rabble rousing stakes, and even though their six-song set is again relatively short by their recent standards, any lost love for James Allan and co. is unduly rekindled here.
Which brings us to the final curtain of the weekend. Again, as with the previous night's headliner, the organisers have pulled out all the stops to obtain a worthy bill topper, and although recent fourth album Suck It And See perhaps didn't match the giddy heights of its predecessors, there's still something quite inspiring about an Arctic Monkeys live show. Indeed, there aren't many bands at their level of commercial and critical acclaim whose sound has constantly changed and developed with every passing record, and even though it's fair to say a fair few of those packed in front of the Main Stage would like to hear a 'Mardy Bum' (they get their wish during the encore) or 'Riot Van' for good measure, the newer songs are just as equally well received as the ones that brought them widespread attention in the first place. Alex Turner, sporting a new brylcreemed barnet that makes him look like a cross between Eddie Cochran and former Leeds United legend Allan Clarke kickstarts their set into action with the incendiary 'Library Pictures', and while the more familiar tones of 'Brianstorm' and 'Still Take You Home' appease those wanting a sing-song, 'She's Thunderstorms' and 'Do Me A Favour' showcase Suck It And See's charms gracefully. 'View From The Afternoon' still swoops and divebombs like an overactive swallow while a flawless reading of '505' closes the set and this year's V Festival in idyllic fashion.
And that's your lot for this year. Now I'm off to make a few unexpected purchases. What one called again? "The sun goes down, the stars come out..."
Photos by Shirlaine Forrest