V Festival 2006 - Weston Park, Staffordshire, Saturday
There's nothing quite like the first morning-after-the-night-before at any festival, and the Saturday of V2006 at Staffs was no exception. After a night of heavy drinking at the Friday night indie disco, most people (my friends included) were blaming their blinding hangovers on 'dodgy burgers' and terrified to venture to the portaloos to attend to their morning business. Despite this and the gloomy weather conditions, the mood was not one of pessimism but sheer anticipation for the day ahead.
Unlike my friends, who decided to swig cans at the tent while the less reputable bands kicked off proceedings, I put on my wellies and headed towards the Virgin Mobile Union tent to catch The Grates. Having seen them support The Go! Team and The Zutons previously, I knew I was in for a good show and I certainly wasn't wrong. Opener Trampoline is a happy and bouncier cousin to Yeah Yeah Yeah's art rock, and frontwoman Patience never seemed to run out of energy as the band sped through a set of fun and catchy songs. Even the more mid-tempo moment of Sukkafish was performed with an enthusiasm and fervour that more mainstream bands lack. Oh, and one more thing: any band who decorate their stage with balloons adorned with their name deserve to be seen by more people!
After such a fantastic start to the day, I was smiling all the way to the JJB/Puma Arena. Star of the moment Lily Allen played a short set of her skewed pop songs to a rammed tent, a crowd so big in fact that it may have made more sense to have her be the opening act on one of the outdoor stages. Nevertheless, she was entertaining throughout, clad in one of her trademark puffy dresses and pulling off her ska-tinged rocksteady anthems LDN and Smile.
After this double dose of oestrogen-fuelled pop, it was time to trek to the main stage where The Dandy Warhols were in the midst of entertaining the crowd with their brand of guitar-driven American rawk. The likes of Get Off and, of course, a Mousse-T-free Bohemian Like You were the perfect 'two fingers up' to the rain that was now pelting down upon the waterproof-clad punters. However, even a classic anthem like Bohemian couldn't hold a candle to what, embarassingly, turned out to be one of my favourite performances of the weekend. Maybe they truly are a glum bunch and the rain inspired them to kick arse because the Sugababes well and truly ripped it up. Opening with a storming Freak Like Me, they delivered a set of great pop song upon great pop song and I don't think I was the only one who found themselves singing (and dancing) along in spite of themselves.
Push the Button apparently closed the trio's set but, unfortunately, I didn't catch it due to leaving ten minutes early to head back towards the JJB/Puma Arena. Or maybe fortunately. In fact, I would opt for Imogen Heap over my new favourite girl band any day of the week as she proved to be one of my weekend's highlights. Her live show is all the more impressive considering she employs her piano, a vocoder and all manner of musical computer gadgetry with the seeming ease of a seasoned pro. The hushed crowd seemed in awe during both Hide and Seek and Speeding Cars, the former being the acapella masterpiece that wowed fans of The O.C. and the latter being a truly moving piano ballad. The kooky singer could certainly up the tempo though, the electro-pop of new single Headlock and the roof-raising Daylight Robbery being truly impressive. Personally, I can't wait for album number three and, on the basis of this performance, will almost certainly be getting tickets for her autumn tour. I'd advise anyone interested in innovative pop music to do the same.
At this point, the day was getting on and a couple of friends and I decided to have a short break from the music. After spotting an information poster informing us Rufus Wainwright would be in attendance, we near-ran to the signing tent. Unfortunately, the organisation was something of a shambles, the queue being quite lengthy and full of people waiting to meet Razorlight who were making an appearance after Rufus. We soon realised it was a lost cause and, after sneaking a few snaps from behind the gathered crowd, we headed back to the tent in what was now torrential rain. On the way, we had the misfortune to hear Hard-Fi massacring The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army and so we were all the more grateful when we finally reached our destination.
A bite to eat and a quick rest was just what one needed to prepare for the co-headliner appearance of Faithless. Althought I would have preferred them to be playing later in the night to up the atmospherics, they (and their light show) still managed to astonish. Insomnia and God Is a DJ were truly exhilarating but it was a shame I couldn't catch We Come 1 and other hits from their back catalogue. One of the few people who could sway me to leave a Faithless set early, the aforementioned Rufus Wainwright was my most eagerly anticipated act of the entire weekend. I have been a fan for a good long while and had never caught him live before, and so I'm glad to say he didn't disappoint. Although a nine-song set only served to whet my appetite, his choices suited a festival audience, his performance of the much-covered Hallelujah embraced most of all by those gathered to see him. My particular favourites, however, were a gorgeous version of The Art Teacher on his piano and the guitar-based Gay Messiah. This song, which closed the set, did not involve any of the performance aspects that it did during his own tour - Rufus being crucified on a cross, a good few months before Madonna ripped him off - but was just as affecting with one of his three sisters (no, not Martha) accompanying him on backing vocals. It was a shame when his brief set was over and done with but there was no time to mope; the night was still young, and I had to choose which headliner to see...
My intentions prior to the day had been to catch the majority of Morrissey's set. However, after having witnessed the entirety of Wainwright's showing, I wasn't really in the mood for another helping of male-fronted soul-searching ballads. In short, I wanted to dance! Therefore, it was to the Strongbow Ciderhouse and a DJ set from Lazy-boys X-Press 2. The tent was quite crammed but that didn't stop me and my friends pulling off some grooves, drinks in hand. I'd never really dabbled with the dance tents at prior V festivals I've attended but, after going to this year's Global Gathering, I felt the need for an injection of beats and I'm so glad I opted for a boogie over Mozza. It did mean I missed Panic but, in a stroke of unforeseen luck, we left the Ciderhouse to catch his final song and it turned out to be a blinding rendition of How Soon Is Now, easily the song I was happiest to hear all day. I could have been spared the sight on the big screens of the main man taking his shirt off during this Smiths number but, alas, it was the perfect finale to the first day.
And so the first day was done and dusted. One of the only drawbacks of the V Festival is that, once the bands finish, your only option of entertainment is catching a film in the JJB/Puma Arena. Needless to say, it was back to our tents and our own forms of recreation - including getting some sleep, of course. I couldn't help but think, counting sheep while the (many) sounds of the campsite were ringing in my ears, that day two would have to be exceptional to trump what had been an amazing day. I could only wait and see...