Kendal Calling 2014: Day 2 Roundup

By on Monday, 1st September 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Martin’s Day 1 roundup from
Kendal Calling 2014 is here.

There’s no doubting the scale of The Ramona Flowers‘ ambition – theirs is all big reverb and hanging guitar notes, large-scale emoting and words like “bittersweet”. There’s a common comparison with U2, which is fair enough, but in comparison the Flowers seem a touch lightweight: at least U2 managed to write about politics before moving on to songs which can be played at weddings. ‘Brighter’ is a spacey affair which manages to tick all the boxes of swirly, effected guitar, emo-pained yet meaningless vocal meanderings and a stadium-friendly drum track. Does the world need another bunch of U2 wannabes? Probably not, but the experience is pretty exhilarating while it lasts. Steve Bird is a strong frontman – which basically means he knows how good he looks and plays up to it – and the rest of the band bang out the massive tunes with competence and enthusiasm. If, like Professor Peach, you “like ’em big”, then The Ramona Flowers are where it’s at.

Amber Run (another set, another meaningless two-word band name) belong to that most dreary of genres: Quiet-Loud-Folksy-Rock-With-Big-Crescendos-And-Wide-Eyed-Faux-Innocent-Vocals. Even if this was your very first introduction to the wonders of live rock music, you’d still be forgiven for thinking “is that really it?”. ‘Spark’ has a pointless refrain of “let the light in”, repeated ad nauseum – a defining feature of the QLFRWBCAWEFIV genre. ‘Noah’ has all the other tropes – mildly ironic orchestral baubles (in this case, xylophone) and vowels stretched to the very limits of decency. They’re not as irritating as Eliza and the Bear, although that’s like saying syphilis is preferable to AIDS. Both to be avoided as much as practically possible.

We Were Evergreen do their thing, which is to be very funky and French indeed. We’ve covered them before at Deer Shed Festival (read about this year’s appearance here), so there’s no need to go into detail about their virtues again here, except to say that TGTF had a chat with them afterwards, so watch this space for that.

Thank goodness for Findlay, who can be relied upon to be a proper rock star. There’s more attitude in her slight frame than any number of mopey, reverbed boy bands. ‘Your Sister’ is even more acerbic live, the minimal band (another example of the current superfluosity of bassists) rocking hard to an ancient blues riff over lyrics heavy with innuendo. She breaks out the overdrive microphone for ‘Greasy Love’, which is still a very naughty piece of music, its references to sweaty sex just about as raunchy as rock gets right now, and its music is as dirty as its lyrical content. A new track called ‘Stoned and Alone’ is unleashed with the order, “if you’ve got a spliff, smoke it now!” to the raised eyebrows of security staff; what a rebel. If there’s a girl doing better blues-rock than Findlay right now, call the Guinness Book of Records.

Catfish and the Bottlemen pack the Calling Out tent, punters squelching around in boggy puddles on its periphery, desperate to catch a glimpse of a band that are shaping up to be the next big thing in mainstream rock. The stars were all aligning for their Kendal performance – their album about to drop, it was frontman Van McCann’s birthday, and he’d just exclusively revealed to TGTF that he’d like CATB to be bigger than Oasis. Fair enough. And on the evidence of today, their trajectory is indeed inexorably upwards. Their songs are adventurous yet simple: big choruses, hooky melodies, modestly sweary of lyric yet innocent of eye. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, no novel song arrangements, no obscure instrumentation, just a wall of guitars and an endearing mixture of humility and genuine cool from McCann. Back in March last year, TGTF declared “anyone pondering the future of British guitar music should add Catfish and the Bottlemen to the list”. Come 2014, not only are they on the list, they’re fighting hard to be at the top. Care to bet against them?

With their run of festival performances this summer, Suede have pulled off one of the most profound comebacks in recent memory. Not only are they generally regarded as being, if not quite the inventors of Britpop, then certainly the trailblazers, they have managed to resurrect a career that was in danger of becoming a footnote in pop music history – a blazing start followed by a long tail of increasing mediocrity. No longer. Following their superb comeback 2013 album ‘Bloodsports’, Suede have crafted a live show utterly worthy of a headline slot at any event in the world. Even (whisper it…) Glastonbury. Mumford and Sons? Give me a break.

After an appropriately long wait, a shadowy figure emerged from the depths of the stage to the mournful piano strains of ‘The Next Life’, a hugely brave move in front of a Northern festival crowd known for its rowdy enthusiasm. Impressively, the crowd was hushed and reverent as Brett Anderson knelt, almost foetus-like, his cracked falsetto hypnotising them into silence. A beautiful moment of Kendal history. But in a blink it was gone, replaced by a romp through 20 years of Suede history. They played more than half their debut album but just a single track from opus ‘Dog Man Star’, perhaps reinforcing this author’s opinion that, good though ‘Dog Man Star’ is, it’s ‘Suede’ that is a true pop-rock masterpiece, with the perfect combination of punk, pomp and peroxide, and much more relevant in the live arena.

There’s four tracks from ‘Coming Up,’ demonstrating just how valuable the first Oakes-written Suede album is to their back catalogue. The move to single-word song titles (‘Filmstar’, ‘Lazy’, ‘Trash’) neatly summarises the fresh, efficient, to-the-point Suede 2.0 which emerged from the ashes of the ‘Dog Man Star’ sessions – such songs are remarkably fizzy, electronically-enhanced shocks of guitar pop that still sound fresh and vital today. We also get this writer’s favourite ever Suede song, ‘Killing of a Flash Boy’, never released on a non-compilation album, but a perennial live favourite, a dystopian singalong with a similarly worrying video.

There really isn’t a comparable story in pop to that of Richard Oakes. Plucked from nowhere as a schoolboy with a penchant for playing Suede songs in his bedroom, his mimicry of Bernard Butler was astonishing then, and his ability to write original guitar parts in the true Suede style is nothing short of a musical miracle even now. His recent portliness may not be true to the skinny Suede style of old (Anderson, however, remains as sticklike as ever), but is at least a visual reminder of the years that have passed since his joining. Despite what many longstanding fans may want to believe, Oakes has been in the band almost three times as long as his predecessor, and is the true sound of modern Suede.

The high-water mark for Britpop reunions is arguably Blur’s performance at Glastonbury in 2009, with perhaps an honourable mention for Pulp at Primavera in 2011. The difference here is that Suede aren’t just doing a one-off gig or two, this tour has been going for the best part of a year, featuring several festival appearances. This a proper career reboot, and with a new album slated for 2015, Suede are proving that they’re not happy simply with inventing Britpop. They want to reinvent it too.

More from Martin on Kendall Calling 2014 will be on TGTF soon.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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