The only “festival “I am attending this summer (well apart from “Wonkfest” on 28th July) was Citadel in Gunnersbury park. Obviously choose the hottest day of the year so far which of course is good and bad. No rain but many of the revellers were seeking any square inch of shade throughout the afternoon, and sidling up against the hoardings and any structure that cast a shadow.
As usual arrived fairly early to see the support bands. Because of this we only lasted until 7 missing the two main acts of” Chvrches” and “Tame Impala”, both of whom I have seen previously. What was quite interesting was the number of people coming in as we were leaving, clearly only interested in “Tame Impala‘s” first headliner since 2016 at Alexandra Palace.
First band, were unknown to me. “Another Sky”, had very Celtic undertones to my ear. Strong vocals, very ethereal. Nice performance in the summer sunshine with a band that were clearly very proficient musically and have tried to maintain an aura of mystery around their origins to heighten the allure.
Next band were the mighty “Shame”. Still in my favourites category they haven’t outgrown their swagger and enthusiasm despite constant touring and promotion. Managed to get up front so it felt quite intimate still and they powered through 30 minutes of big tunes, a bit of crowd surfing and a lot of thanking of the crowd for showing up early. The PA was good and it must be luxury for a frontman if he can rely on solid backing from his colleagues.
These South London boys are still very much on the ascendant and sound hungry. Like any band might be difficult to understand what the end game is, or if there is one. They played most of the standards, such as “The Lick”, “Concrete” and finished with “Gold Hole”. No new songs as far as I could work out
On the main stage next on were the “Horrors”. A band I’ve always really wanted to like, they bravely took a massive departure from their original musical manifesto laid out in “Strange House” in 2007. This risk has probably stalled their career trajectory one could hypothesis as they really alienated their base going from post punk gothic to prog rock in a single bound. Farris was in suitably grumpy mood having been to Victoria Park rather than Gunnersbury Park, which despite the obvious amusement may speak volumes about the bands relationships. He also mentioned they had been professional for 12 years. Now this shows in the polished performance but apart from the frontman they all increasingly look like a bunch of session musicians pulled together as a backing band.
They did sound a bit rockier than when I’ve seen them over the last couple of years but Farris’s frustration with his day meant they cut the set five minutes short. They opened with “Sea within a Sea”, which is possibly my favourite track of theirs and finished with some synthpop in the shape of “Something to remember me by” from the last album V. The audience were quite into it at this point and again on a sunny day it was easy listening.
At this point I went for a walk but returned as not much going on elsewhere to see “La Femme” from a distance. Very French in musical feel they mixed synthesisers, male /female lead vocals, rock/ rockabilly and plenty of stage energy, including second crowd surfing episode of the day. I think it was all sung in French but there was lots of dancing and grooving within small pockets of revellers separated from the main crowd as the sound echoed around the park.
My headliner as it turned out were “The Fat White Family.” Arguably my favourite band of the last decade, on first seeing those four years ago I thought either these guys are genius or shit.
This is their first outing since they took a hiatus with singer Lias and other members going off to form the” Moonlandingz” with the “Eccentronic Research Foundation”. They are a no compromise band in terms of always exhibiting a total lack of reverence. Putting them on at 5.55 was probably taking a risk as they had plenty of time for pre-drinks etc.
And there they were on stage ,with the addition of a saxophonist and a change of bass player ,both of whom provided strong backing ,as the “looser “members of the group seemingly struggled on occasion to remember the songs or the parts they played in them. Second guitarist in particular, who seems to be very much into the heroin chic look, fiddled and adjusted his pedals during each song. I actually think that they may have turned off monitors or disconnected him completely as he was meandering around for most of the set when he wasn’t adjusting.
Lias sings more tunefully and powerfully these days and swaps lead vocalist duties with Saul Adamczewski, who looks much healthier nowadays(on viewing from a distance the dark deep set eyes seem to have gone) and his contributions to the songs and his reference to the performance of “Shame” earlier in the event was respectful and sober.
They played disproportionately from their first album was my impression, Lias crowd surfing in Guinness stained vest and what possibly were girls khaki shorts (viva diversity) he cut a suitably dishevelled leader of this disparate bunch. The set teetered on the brink of chaos at points whilst the aforementioned bassist and to be fair the drummer kept the songs chugging along.
They certainly don’t deliver a polished but mechanical set. They play on the edge of tunefulness .They are in my opinion what a band should be about- edgy, haphazard, nihilistic and ultimately fun. What toll it takes on them personally is another story. It reminds me of a documentary I once saw about Iggy Pop where after he had parted from the Stooges to try and clean up his addictions he regained control but a subsequent re-union raised all of the previously unleashed demons again. It was a question of personal chemistry that generated a large streak of nihilism and you see that again with these guys and the historic tensions between Lias and Saul.
As they sing “I am Mark E Smith “you don’t get the impression that they will be still here singing said song in 30 years’ time. But surely that’s the point of “popular “music.