What was a brown gloop yesterday turned into properly slippery, adhesive stuff on the Saturday, as a series of early afternoon light showers - three seperate outbreaks in fifteen minutes at one stage - turned just after 5 into one heavy passing storm. What that also meant was a headache for De Montfort Hall's cleaners, with mud up the stairs, in the hall and a particularly slippery patch on the carpet at the egress between garden and bar.
Therefore, starting the main stage with a band carrying a large standard reading "this is merely a distraction from the inevitable" seemed rather too prescient. What actually seemed out of place was starting the main stage with a band like Gaggle, the 22 strong (and thus shattering Danny & The Champions Of The World's all-comers most people on the main stage record) multi-coloured tribal choir of Hades plus drummer and laptop with Deborah Coughlin 'conducting' things out front. There's definitely something about the confrontational unlikeliness of the venture that draws us in, not that, oddly enough, everyone is entirely keen on a be-robed glitch choir channelling the Slits being the ideal festival crowd-pleaser. But we're intrigued, and that's what matters here.
Dog Is Dead
Unbridled hype alert. Having seen the Nottingham teenagers fill downstairs at the Rescue Rooms at Dot To Dot in April we knew that their local cult potential is unbound. What we now see from catching a whole set is they're genuinely one of Britain's most exciting prospects, galvanised with energy, sometimes misleading joy and invention. There's certainly a pop-mathematical equation you could put together to describe them - Vampire Weekend high fret guitars, first album Futureheads multi-part close harmonies (five part, in fact) over twisty post-punk jerkiness, the stop-start-rush guitars of endless American bands - but it feels entirely of their own doing rather than reflective of their influences. They have a saxophonist and don't sound at all cheesy. That takes some doing. We shy away from claiming anyone is going to be huge because we've been burnt too many times like that, that everyone doesn't sing along to the choral breakdown of Glockenspiel Song is a state of affairs that needs rectifying.
Over the border, Leicester doesn't seem capable of launching a proper inventive alternative band. What that city deals in is a steady stream of post-hardcore leaning towards math/post-rock bands, of which more on Sunday, or synth-aided guitar pop like Autohype (there's also the steady wave of youngsters for whom landfill indie never died but let's pretend they'll grow out of that). There's not much wrong with Autohype in truth, and there's very little wrong with Seb Twigden as showman when he's spending most of the set in front of the monitors, clambering all over the place and eventually over the barrier and onto someone's shoulders some way back while keeping the singing going.
We Show Up On Radar
Somewhat less engaging, you can't help feel others have already done the sort of winsome hushed acoustic folk twee pop WSUOR specialise in much better.
Playing one of his last gigs before jacking it in to form a band, Frost for the second time at the festival has brought a coterie of fervent fans with him as he plays solo, the better to let his dark honesty shine through. Closing The Mourners Of St Paul's gets the understandable biggest reaction.
Parlayed onto the bill after a star turn at the Big Session folk roots festival in June, but in a muddy garden this is not the time or place for their theatrical, rangy Balkanised bassoon-featuring trad folk. Most people, in truth, seem to be looking on nonplussed.
The Leisure Society
We thought it would prove an error to stick a twice Novello nominated band with some wider interest in the smallest tent at 3.30, and so the full tent proved. They were at least treated to a standout set from the now ten-strong outfit, one which didn't so much as suffer for the lack of The Last Of The Melting Snow. While Christian Hardy dealt with the banter side, rehearsing synchronised single clapping for the last song, Nick Hemming and co's live arrangements, adding meat and an upbeat warmth to the very carefully arranged nature of their records, so that something like Save It For Someone Who Cares sounds almost like an anthem. And then they pull out their woodwind enabled slow crawl cover of Gary Numan's Cars and all bets are off. Perhaps the quiet surprise set of the weekend.
No sooner do they appear on stage then the rain returns with a proper vengeance. It doesn't do much for their power acousticity, let alone their crowd numbers.
It had dried out by the time they came on, but Stornoway are a band we cannot get into at all, much less when the devil in their detail gets overpowered on the big stages.
Indoors, on the other hand, where it can get dark and enveloping despite the size (at least downstairs), the four piece live incarnation of Dan Snaith's evolving beast thrived. Packed into a much smaller space in centre stage than the room available would suggest, the pulsing acid electro that never quite makes it to disco made more sense live, pulsating and rhythmically undulating as Dan Snaith sets off another glitched loop or takes to the second drumkit the better to add the motorik element reaching back to the Manitoba days, organically building to a psychedelically inclined peak. Odessa in particular takes off like nobody's business. The crowd seem slow to get into it, but the projective enthusiasm gets through eventually.
The Go! Team
Their first UK gig in two years, they claim (not true, they played Wickerman a couple of weeks ago as late replacements), there's a couple of new songs that sound much like versions of the old songs, but by and large it's as much a hits set as the Go! Team can ever claim to. Ninja, now sporting a tremendous afro, bounds about and commands as MC with boundless energy, while behind her the usual electro-hip hop/sample/cop show theme/Sonic Youth guitar/double drumming primary coloured explosion takes place. They're back alright.
Frankie & The Heartstrings
F&TH's early press releases called them a "brand new old fashioned pop band", and you really don't need cogent criticism when that nails it so readily. We tweeted at the time that they're a post-millennial Orange Juice, in that they know the original primal instinct of rock'n'roll and latter day guitar hooks but clearly infuse a lot of other music. They could just as easily be a commercially minded Yummy Fur. What they also have is Frankie Francis, a compelling frontman of the type you don't see a lot of these days with all the moves who never loses eye contact with the front rows, up on the monitors, backwards into the crowd in the full Musician tent at one stage. Not every song works, but given people are joining in on Hunger already there's something going on here.
Tinchy Stryder was headlining outside, but the action was never going to be there. Having never seen the Fall live but read a lot about it we were pleased that, fighting and walking off early apart, everything we expected to happen happened - Mark E Smith twiddling with the amps, wandering with vague purpose around the stage, singing with his back to the audience, getting out his scraps of A4 for lyric advice, having a go at Eleni's keyboard during Blindness before slinging one of the four mikes he tried out (sound engineering the Fall must be a high pressured job in itself) into the front row. Oh, and also that the current Fall are a shit-hot proposition, garage Krautrock with menace, tight as you like and blessed with great sound helping them thunder through. Of course the hardcore filled the first few rows and the sixteen year old girls decided on unilateral early exits, and of course there were no Fall originals from before the last ten years (Frankie & the Heartstrings had played a snatch of How I Wrote Elastic Man between songs after Frankie told how one of them had bumped into Mark E), but you wouldn't have it any other way.