There actually aren't that many festivals bigger than Summer Sundae, especially with the bill they've attracted this year - Glasto, Reading & Leeds, T In The Park & Oxegen (virtually the same, aren't they?), V, possibly that mobile-flogging Wireless thing in London, then you're stretching a bit with the definition of the term. There certainly aren't that many in all inclusive surroundings as well heeled as this - when you go to Somerset House Summer Set gigs they're just big events outside an old house, whereas this is a proper near-arena venue plus a big stage and two stage-housing marquees in the garden.
We knew it'd rain throughout the weekend all along, but we thought the gods of meterology would give it some leeway rather than starting the heavy shower just as we made it through the gates. People either braved the conditions or ran for appropriate wear stalls, avoiding the likes of the tarpaulin around the electrics on the ground that in such conditions could easily be slipped over on by people wearing inappropriate footwear.
Luckily, there were washbasins.
And there is a keen public ready to watch bands, as local boys Post War Years played to a packed Rising Stage as the first proper band of the event. And we really did think we'd hit on something here as their opener, an organ-driven post-punk exploration that veered into New Prog territory accompanied by dub echo vocals, was followed by Departure-level snappy angularity with harmonies. As almost expected the set mostly followed the latter path and as such you do get the thought this is already a well trodden road here in August 2005. But, while it's not all together quite yet, even if allowing for monitor problems, but there's definitely something in the ideas of interplay and the like that could in time become something bigger.
Popping inside for a sitdown and read of the £3 programme the flat size of a blank video box, an announcement was heard from outside about Acoustic Ladyland. We hadn't intended to catch them having filed them under beyond the limit after their Jools appearance, but curiosity got the better of us, as well as there actually being music on. It did seem a lot more palatable in terms of groove and song structure as opposed to whacking instruments as fast as possible, but it's still loose jazz. Top drumming, though, and top hair on the bloke too (the one who formed Mercury nominated Polar Bear in his spare time, we know). For no good reason four men in a cow outfit made their way across the floor at one point.
It had stopped raining by this point, ten minutes before the first big outdoor stage band, and it didn't return all night, which was nice. Being on a big stage is never going to be the right venue for Sons And Daughters' malevolent hoedown, though, or at least as much as a sweatbox of a small venue. There's definitely something of the PJ Harvey about Adele Bethel's strutting and all out vocal assaults on the mike coupled with Scott Paterson's arrythmic guitar which makes them hypnotic viewing, but the sound lets them down, starting with Adele virtually inaudible and about halfway through turning Scott down.
Malcolm Middleton is nervous. Well, forgetting what chord his third song started with is a good indication of either extreme drunkenness, and that was Aidan Moffatt's job, or mild stage fright. Not that it showed during the songs, his dark material playing out beautifully with a couple of ex-Delgados in support, and had I not wanted to catch Sons & Daughters in the signing tent I'd have stopped for more than four songs. I'm certain 6 Music's Jane Gazzo, who is apparently there, walked past me on the way out after the first song.
Marc Riley, who I later spot in the second hand record stall with a stack of 12"s in one hand and a pint in the other, thus defining his raison d'etre perfectly, introduces British Sea Power, most of whose fanbase seem to have turned up with T-shirts proud and branches in tow. Whatever you know about their live show doesn't prepare you for when Yan takes the stage in red stained near-jodhpurs playing a tambourine with a plastic heron, which he throws into the crowd, sparking an actually unseemly rolling around incident between two women, followed by Hamilton with leaves in his hair, to a backdrop of Marshall stacks covered in foliage. They're a band of few words but lots of action for just eight songs, Noble an underrated guitarist, Yan a disturbing focus of attention even when swapping instruments so Hamilton can have a go singing. Lately lasts 18 minutes and doesn't feel like it, and we're pleased to report the eight foot bear is back, receiving the biggest cheer of the set, as they come to their usual chaotic end. They're in the signing tent later, notable for two things: a man I assume to be the bear is signing with them, and the bloke in the queue behind me has the actual heron to be signed. Needless to say, this and the scarf he also offered somewhat takes the wind out of the sails of the amusing badinage I was about to partake in with Yan.
The Infadels weren't a band I'd heard of before, possibly because they're fairly difficult to define. The best I can come up with is one of those punk-funk bands from when the DFA were first making their name - the Rapture, Radio 4, that lot - but having grown up on rave culture. There's a scrap metal percussion jam to start before guitars stab, bass probes, beats break, what might well be a home made electronic drum kit is thrown in and a bald man in a suit leaps about the place. Actually, it works, the sheer enthusiasm of all playing - the guitarist breaks into some spectacularly ill-advised moves upon the dropping of an acid house backing - and relentlessness of the riffage mixed with club beats getting everyone downstairs moving. God knows what it sounds like on record, though.
It's Roddy Woomble of Idlewild's birthday tomorrow but he's celebrating with us, Steve Lamacq informs us. Maybe the advancing years are playing on his mind as there seems to be that certain spark lacking from their performance, even if everyone bar the drummer (obviously) and once hyperactive Roddy are throwing themselves around the stage, Rod taking a leap off the band's packing cases at one point. Tellingly it's the older songs that get the biggest cheers, the encore notably consisting of a reworked Self Healer, I'm A Message and Film For The Future. There are people asleep at the top of the field, which shouldn't be happening with Idlewild a few yards away. We wander off to the Scratch Perverts - just blokes playing soul for all I saw - and Four Tet, who we catch at the start in one of those phases of playing random bleeps in the hope they'll turn into something rhythmic the longer they go on - they don't - and later when he's actually got his twisted breaks going and people are dancing together outside the tent. The community spirit's off to a flyer.
Tomorrow, alea iacta est, or 'I'm not bloody watching Circulus'.