V Festival 2009 - Weston Park, Staffordshire
My memories of V are consistently wet. While many an act I've caught there have excited me, the moistness I'm referring to is in relation to the weather conditions that have continually assaulted the Weston Park leg of Richard Branson's moneymaker. 2005 was a dream in comparison but, every year since, the rain has been consistently worse until last year's event rivalled Glasto in the mudbath stakes. You can imagine my restraint upon hearing this year's line-up then, which featured amongst others Pixie Lott, Tinchy Stryder, Alesha Dixon and Taylor Swift; paired with the surefire inevitability of downpours, I was one Big Fat No. And then, four weeks from the festival and with nay a summer plan in sight, I thought 'heck it, I'm sure I'll entertain myself somehow'. End result? Probably the best V Festival I've ever been to, even if it may have turned me into one of these...
That's a Pop Tart, just in case you didn't know. It's pretty much expected that this most corporate of festivals will feature chart-riding Big Name Acts, both good and bad, and yet this year I almost went totally overboard into bubblegum. Soaking up the sunshine with beer in one hand and cider in the other, Saturday began with not The Saturdays (they followed on the Sunday) but with Moseley's finest - there's not much competition - Ocean Colour Scene. Early hits like The Riverboat Song fared well but it wasn't long before I traipsed off to The Arena tent to catch Daniel Merriweather. With his fine soul voice and Mark Ronson-crafted songs, he comes off as a tougher Will Young (again, another Sunday player) and turned the tent into one big crowd chorus with the soaring Red.
While Merriweather's crowd largely consisted of 14 year-old female swooners, it was my inner 12 year-old that brought me back to The Arena for a set from none other than Beth from Neighbours. Yup, apparently that eccentric Mr Martin has been penning songs with Natalie Imbruglia, just in time for her to fill the late '90s nostalgia slot that belonged to Alanis Morissette last year. Although the dancier direction of new material is questionable, hearing tracks like Wishing I Was There and Big Mistake took me back to a time before I knew PJ Harvey existed and Imbruglia was the coolest chick on the planet. Shame she played Torn three songs in and inspired a mass haul-out. Ladyhawke made no such mistake, leaving big-hitters like Back of the Van and Paris is Burning to pack a punch towards the end of a smash-packed set that climaxed spectacularly with My Delerium.
Trashier pop thrills came in the form of Katy Perry over on the 4Music stage; egged on by a friend who's a big fan, I was expecting a sonic-induced migraine worse than the consequences of sniffing an entire bottle of poppers. Although a cover of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now was simply hideous, the rest of her show was made bearable by the very thing that makes me dislike her music - sure, it's the definition of 'vapid' but Perry plays her vixen role well and the ditzy choruses transform into perfect crowd karaoke fodder. Saying that, I could quite happily not hear I Kissed a Girl ever again but the sun was shining, I'd snuck in a bottle of whiskey in my underoos, and she had what appeared to be strawberries on her boobies - V2009 had landed!
Next up was my mommy's fave Paolo Nutini, and somehow I ended up on the front bar stood next to what appeared to be the same girls crushing on Daniel Merriweather earlier. I was quite happy to be there though, having thoroughly enjoyed Nutini's second album, and a set that showcased his rich vocal evolution was the perfect main meal to Perry's tasty yet sickly starter course. We would eventually escape the scorching sun, having long departed from sobriety, to enjoy a dance to Mystery Jets in the most intimate tent, the Virgin Media Union. Looking sharp in dapper threads, the Eel Pie Island boys played to a crowd that went wild for cheesy but class finale Two Doors Down.
Although my teeth were already aching from all the sugar I'd consumed that day, my next stop would be the jam-packed Arena tent for bona fide pop playgirl Lady Gaga. Impatient booing was the initial reaction to a 15-minute delay to her arrival onstage but, as soon as the VT rolled and the lights dimmed, the hype kicked in and there were cheers once again. It was a ballsy performance (and I don't meant that literally, rumour mill lovers), in turns titillating and ridiculous but never quite crossing the line into sublime. She still rocked it though, all eyes glued to the slick choreography, dodgy outfit and general mammoth stage presence, while pop perfection like Paparazzi and Beautiful, Dirty, Rich (my #1 Guilty Pleasure Track of 2009) had hands raised and feet moving at all times. However, her tardiness meant all we got to hear of closer Poker Face was its piano intro before she was forced offstage, leaving most fans undoubtedly unfulfilled. After watching three tracks from MGMT, my pop bubble burst and I decided I couldn't be arsed to wait for Kids so I trecked back to the campsite - past perhaps the final ever Oasis performance? - for snores before tomorrow's take two.
Although early morning clouds matched the hazy state of my head, by noon the sun was once again blazing and the music kicked off all over again. While I may have flirted big time with my inner Smash Hits! fan, my friends and I draw the line at McFly and so we chilled with some cans at the tent before strolling over to the 4Music stage. While myself and many punters were sprawled on the grass catching rays, Shinga from Noisettes was bouncing around the stage like a Duracell bunny gone postal - although I miss the punkier edge of their Scratch My Name days, there's no denying that set closer Don't Upset the Rhythm couldn't have suited the summery vibe any better.
Next up was a turgid Jet, whose only saving grace was a playthrough of their Iggy Pop rip-off Are You Gonna Be My Girl?. At least it meant I got time to run to the loos (the less said, the better) before catching VV Brown over at the Virgin Media Union. Her doo-wop pop hasn't performed as well as the early hype suggested it would, but Crying Blood - complete with reggae coda - was fab and she certainly looks the part. Not sure about the cover of King of Leon's Use Somebody, though, and we missed Shark in the Water because we had bigger fish to catch. Dizzee Rascal drew a huge crowd at the 4Music stage but an uninspiring opening ten minutes, complete with some crowd trouble down at the front, caused my friends to opt out and head over to the Main Stage.
Sure, I would have quite liked to wait around for his greatest hits, but who can complain when second choice is Lily Allen? Parading around the Main Stage wearing a revealing bra/top thingy, she delivered hit after hit while amusing all with her frequent Ashes updates. The crowd stretched back to the burger vans and, by the time Smile popped up, young and old were beaming. The primary colours of her pallette whet my appetite for something a bit darker afterwards though, and I did a ska past an Amy Winehouse-free set from The Specials towards the disgustingly good-looking Howling Bells. During a short set, they thankfully played the highlights from their superior debut album but sprinkled black magick on the new tracks, set closer Radio Wars transformed into a behemoth that saw ever-charismatic frontwoman Juanita Stein banging a drum with poise - that's hard to do, surely? Extra points for a sweet false start, where Juanita had to pause after a waft of Ghost Town from over the way made her go all wide-eyed and trembly.
After twisting my melon very briefly to Happy Mondays, it was - but of course! - time for an alcohol top-up. After swigging on some cocktails from the Bacardi B-Live tent, we were suitably fizzed up for the wonky pop of Alphabeat. With Scissor Sisters laying low lately, the high-energy live show from the Danish six-piece fills a gap in the market and ensured everyone who chose them over The Killers and Fatboy Slim left with grins as Cheshire Cat wide as the one worn by lead male vocalist, Anders SG. His female counterpart, Stine Bramsen, drew attention with a new flame-red bob but it was the glittery choruses to What is Happening and Fascination that had everyone hooked and dancing like your drunk aunty at Christmas. While my friends were pooped after, my dancing shoes were still antsy and so I waltzed to the Bowtime Bar for a disc-spinning sesh from Kissy Sell Out. Although the perma-grinning Radio 1 jockey recently released an album of original songs, his DJ set was all about slick beats and worked its wonders on a crowd who had perhaps been too liberal in their application of face paint and glowsticks. In short, it was the perfect nightcap to a weekend that was non-stop fun and restored my faith in V. Let's hope I don't get burned alive (by twats, as I'd quite like more sun please) at this weekend's Reading Festival so I can enjoy another one...