The sort of sustained sunny warmth that will lead more than one frontman to remark "so the summer's arrived at last", a kneejerk reaction to a bit of sunlight that ignores how probably half the festival season weekends have been warm, deserves as appropriate an main stage opener as Sunny Day Sets Fire. In name, obviously, but also in deed as the multinational, instrument-swapping outfit find the unwieldly middle ground between the Polyphonic Spree's middle-aged symphonies to mammon and the Arcade Fire's choral marches towards valhalla. Partly due to the weather and partly as a result of the advertised Big Top surprise guest proving to be so much of a surprise nobody turns up to perform there they get a very decent audience for midday on the second day of a festival and promise much for future recordings.
The Local has taken the lead on the impressive initiative of holding weekend morning open mic sessions in The Local. Most of those we catch are fairly uninspiring, but we were taken by a band who, inevitably, we didn't catch the name of (they were a female-male Brighton duo apparently called Das something - do get in touch if you're reading) but impressed with some modern indie-folk storytelling not too far removed from STN favourite Emmy The Great. Who, by the way, we spot on two seperate occasions later on despite not being on the bill, but that's another matter.
Is live Loney, Dear usually this much louder and harder than on record? The harmonies remain intact but Emil Svanängen's bedroom yearnings lose something in translation with a full band, eroding their winningly wistful sheen with what seems like trying too hard to make up for playing to a field. It's in the Bimble Inn that we find a more successful translation of joy-filled wistful whimsy in the scrappy acoustic pop of Slow Club - Charles on guitar, Rebecca standing up behind an occasionally employed drumkit, both singing and harmonising on their off-kilter stories and city shanties. Nobody dances despite Charles' invitation, although it's fairly hard not to be moved when they're at full pelt, but it's just what the occasion and the ambience required.
Speaking of pop fun factories, here come I'm From Barcelona. And here comes Emanuel Lundgren, bounding on in mafia chic black and white to an electro version of Treehouse which he sings most of before producing an inflatable lilo to literally crowdsurf on as the rest of the band, down to a manageable thirteen for this trip, emerge. Having played all over the site last year you can tell Lundgren means it when he commends the festival as their favourite, and however much it resembles a microbudget Flaming Lips show the people love it back, joyfully partaking in a never ending supply of confetti and balloons, increasing throughout to Prisoner beach scene size, a couple of which get stuck in surrounding trees. Most aren't going to let a little thing like little new material dissuade them, although we do get a new song taking up possibly ironic cudgels for Britney Spears alongside the singalong favourites. They're a band made for the moment such as this and repay in kind, culminating in Lundgren's flying leap off the front of the stage from which you fear he might never return. It's alright, he does eventually.
A lot of people enthused about My Brightest Diamond's Big Top set afterwards but despite having made a mental note we went and missed it, following up with 9 Bach in the Bimble Inn, frontwoman Lisa Jen (Gruff Rhys' solo album sidekick) flanked by two different glockenspiels as if this could be no more twee. In fact it's sumptuous Welsh language folk-pop, like Rhys' own work unhindered by the language barrier in taking on mystical qualities while not forgetting the pleasing tunes.
Like the mass-handed Swedes, Darren Hayman is already an End Of The Road favourite, back for a second year with a new album on the way. In fact it's the same set, give or take a few for timeslot purposes, as we saw him play at Indietracks, right down to the fiddle/ukelele faceoff with Hayman suggesting we shouldn't just go on musical ability ("also take into account effort and comic timing") and the early Hefner Hello Kitten/Pull Yourself Together closing run played out to similar joy among the knowing throng. Any Hayman is great Hayman, of course, the lovelorn poet laureate, wise, warm (almost despite his common subject matter) and self-deprecating, showing the Arctic Monkeys and their acolytes what realistic songwriting really is.
Joan As Police Woman, alone at piano and guitar, seems in as fine form, The Ride coming to life, and brokenly daffy banter form as ever. We've already seen her solo show in full this year so don't stop for the whole thing but her vocal force of nature belies the space issues of the Garden Stage. Over in the Local former Dream City Film Club leader Michael J Sheehy raked through the old Costello traits of guilt, particularly of the Catholic kind, and revenge with a garnish of death blues and the voice of someone you wouldn't mess with in a darkened bar. Comparisons might well be odious but just after Joan Wasser's been on Swede Frida Hyvonen can't help but come across as an own brand version, her own all too personal stories, grandiosely skyscraping piano balladry and oddball between song banter decent enough in its own right but lacking that extra something that sets JAPW apart.
The RG Morrison, who stops halfway through his first song through worry about the smoke machine being placed directly behind his amp, shares a label with Thirty Pounds Of Bone and deals in a less seafaring but otherwise not dissimilar acoustic ballpark, elements of Nick Drake and Daniel Johnston secreted within his stories and finding an original way to escape the morass of such singer-songwriters, both bruised and strong. Over in the Big Top the programme says David Vandervelde but circumstances say Port O'Brien, over from California and providing a diverting Americana take on the West Coast rock tradition, like a blissed out early Bright Eyes.
Over in the garden, as somewhat telegraphed by the frontman earlier, Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee have gathered to play at the piano for a very decent turnout of loyalists. Darren Hayman's bluegrass project, also featuring two of his The Secondary Modern band and The Wave Pictures' Dave Tattersall, is as much messy fun as you'd expect, with only mildly embarrassed requests for audience participation and covers of Jonathan Richman, Wreckless Eric and the gospel standard Nobody Knows, as once covered in a Hefner Peel session. It's certainly more entertaining than the highly disappointing Devastations, whose new album promises much but here their sequenced sheen is replaced by fumbling channelling of Galaxie 500 to little effect.
On the other hand, Fireworks Night's subtle intimacy in The Local has an aura all of its own, their slow-burning string-aided minimal folk noir acting as a siren towards tales of hope and loss. Highly charming stuff. Also, almost completely lost when Brakes are raging away a hundred yards away or so. As long time readers will know we keep seeing Brakes at festivals but they remain a live joy, still working their set of minimalist wild-eyed country-punk plus Camper Van Beethoven covers into crowd-pleasing intensity, even if they only do Cheney twice, and mess one of those up. On the plus side, during a gorgeous No Return in the autumnal night air Eamon's head starts steaming like Dion Dublin's used to do.
Monkey Swallows The Universe also have problems with noises off, but this time it's not of the bill's doing but of festival circumstance, firstly through the sort of in-tent crush rarely experienced by us outside The Great Camera Obscura Logjam Of Summer Sundae 2006 and then by idiots talking loudly next to the bar which make a Nat Johnson solo acoustic song virtually inaudible. Once they're out of the way our bad mood is alleviated by some dulcet music. The smartly playful nature of the British nu-folk scene, as some arse will eventually christen it so it might as well be us, has fine Sheffield representatives here, taking slivers of the confident charm also found in Pulp and the Long Blondes in various ways and using it to construct gorgeously melodic songs with heart and soul, and the odd nod to antifolk's origins and Sarah Records. They're not too precious about it either, throwing a snatch of Take On Me into a version of Jimmy Down The Well that's already getting handclaps and singalongs from the faithful and closing with the day's second Richman cover, Ice Cream Man with French bits included and a few multilingual chorus repetitions to fill out the time. They've had a fair bit of attention, and on this evidence deserve it.
Realising we have no chance of taking in Benjamin Wetherill's romantic hushed folkiness when The Bees are doing their increasingly wearisome retro thing nearby, we're in the process of wandering back through the forest when we remember Architecture In Helsinki are on. Instantly the Big Top is transported into the weekend's only real dance party as the Australian sextet belie the cool reception for current album Places Like These the only way you imagine they know how - with truckloads of energy, a desire to use everything in sight as percussion and a keenness to see the crowd having as good a time as they are on stage. Like once and future kings of the party atmosphere !!!, they jig about constantly, swap instruments and keep momentum levels high, seemingly intent solely on making everyone dance at their command, coming across as natural rather than trying too hard. More percussive and angular then on record, it makes sense of their variable recorded material insomuch as to show that it can hardly convey the controlled mayhem of what they're making this music for, even during a nearly straight cover of Mental As Anything's Live It Up. Points off, though, for being the only band we saw over the three days to lapse into a stab at Boyz II Men's End Of The Road. Far too cheap.
With time to kill we venture back forestwards and, in an area so dark we can't so much as pick anything up on the camera, we chance across Frida Hyvonen on the forest piano pretty much picking up where she left off on stage to a small group including Emanuel Lundgren and a man who turns out to be Everett True, before returning to The Local for Congregation. It would probably be churlish to mention that there's already been a band called Congregation (early/mid-90s, led by Billy Reeves, later of Theaudience and now BBC London radio reporter, Friends Of The Bride manager and general man about town). It'd certainly be churlish to mention that their sound has been done before as well, but we'll let them off as such rough-house female-fronted blues is rarely as effective, raw slide guitar backing occasional Television Personalities sidewoman Victoria Yeulet sounding like Karen O as a Stars In Their Eyes Anglicised version of Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays.
The big clash of the weekend came with the two Saturday headliners, Super Furry Animals on the Garden Stage, British Sea Power in the Big Top. With start times of 10.30 and 10.45 respectively we thought we'd at least know where to start; in the end both came on at about 11. Even despite the wait, Super Furry Animals seem somewhat distracted. Opening with the not immediately obvious Slow Life, they cherrypick from all eight albums but don't really achieve a level of consistency, especially not when they're persisting with the new straight-up rockout version of Northern Lites, when surely the last thing anyone wants of the Super Furries there is the dumbing down into standard indie of any of their songs. It sounds great enough, and Bunf gets presented with a cake for his birthday ("it's got Clangers on it!"), but it's not happening tonight, and it seems as time passes that they're aware of it. Meanwhile...
"How fucking wasted?" is Noble's succinct verdict (and the most we've ever heard a member of the band say in one sentence onstage, for what it's worth) as Yan falls to the floor again after, ironically, Please Stand Up. It's not like you could ever confuse the live British Sea Power visual experience for anyone else, but tonight, as well as the towering branches, enormous flagpoles and between song tapes of atmosphere, birdsong and, erm, military aircraft, there's a sense of urgency and intensity around them. Not that we've ever doubted their greatness, but at the moment BSP stand on the precipice dividing them from cementing their place as post-post-punk national treasures and merely being that funny band from 2002 with the foliage. Tonight it's as if they've taken that disparity to heart and power through their set, Yan theatrically crowdsurfing during The Spirit Of St Louis, while the new songs taking up more where The Decline Of... left off than continuing Open Season's streamlining in that refried washing machine-mangled Pixies sense. We didn't make it through to Rock In A. Suffice to say we were surprised the Big Top tent was still standing the following morning.