Ten reasons to LOVE Leeds Fest

1. Pulp

The standout band of the weekend for me. Jarvis and co rolled back the years and delivered a set of poise and wit that was unmatched across the entire weekend. It seemed like they’d never been away and closing the set with ‘Common People’ was pure genius. Oh, and Richard Hawley played with them too. Marvellous.


2. Endurance

It takes a lot of effort to get through a festival. Especially in the rain and the mud. Then there’s the lack of sleep, proper food and too much alcohol. At times it feels like an endurance test and by Sunday, there’s definitely less enthusiasm for the hardcore dance band in the Lockdown tent when you’re at the opposite end of the site. The wristband for the festival becomes a badge of honour, proudly worn and reluctantly discarded.


3. Madness

On a sunny Sunday afternoon after a relentlessly wet weekend, the nutty boys delivered a nostalgic set of danceable tunes that had us older types dancing like it was 1980 again. All the tunes were there and it was a joy to behold the befuddled faces of the teenagers around us – old folk, dancing? And what’s that crazy jogging dance they’re doing? Priceless.


4. Young bands with nothing to lose

These guys are usually to be found in the smaller tents in the early afternoon. They have nothing to lose and take their opportunity lustily to impress. There’s real joy in these performances and often there’s a knot of loyal fans at the barrier, singing along. It’s not often bands graduate from these stages to the main stages but when you do see it, it’s special. Special mention this year goes to The Computers with their all white attire and crowd-based singing.


5. Elbow

Is there a better band to draw the afternoon to a close the afternoon and herald in the headliner? I don’t think so. Elbow is the consummate festival band – warm and considerate, worried that the audience might be too cold and wet and getting the crowd engaged. It was a shame it wasn’t a beautiful evening as that would have been a perfect combination: sunset and Elbow.


6. Disappointing headliners

I’ve lost count over the years how many headline acts have been disappointing. Other than Pulp, it was the same again this year. I think it must be me but the headliners just don’t excite the way that the smaller acts do in the more intimate stages. It’s a really difficult task pulling off a headline spot at any Festival and especially at Leeds where it’s usually cold, windy and wet.


7. Festival Goers

Going about their business in the most extreme of circumstances and always a smile on the face. Admittedly this is usually assisted in some way by alcohol or other substances, but nonetheless they’re a rare breed in this day and age. If it’s not trench foot, it’s sunstroke and if it’s not frostbite, it’s windburn – and that’s just on the Friday. And on top of all that, there’s the state of the toilets.


8. Organisers

I happen to believe that Leeds is a particularly well-organised festival. Admittedly in the early days they had their teething problems, but they seem to have ironed all of this out and it is pretty good. The staff are friendly and helpful in the gruff Yorkshire fashion and everything from the signposting to helping people to put up their tents points to good recruitment and training.


9. Ridiculous band names

This year’s winner: Cerebral Ballzy


10. The first hot shower when you get home

Some people choose to shower at the festival, patiently queuing with a towel and wash bag for hours on end. Not me. I like to get the full festival experience by building up the outdoor grime over three days to wash it all away with a piping hot shower. Delicious.

The future according to Sci Fi films

This is brilliant…

Old enough to know better, but…

It’s that time of year again.

The fag end of summer where all the great sunshiny things seem far behind us and early summer is a lifetime away. For me, the end of summer is always signposted by Leeds Festival and it’s one of the highlights of the year.

I’ve been going to Leeds since it started and before that, the one off Virgin Festival and before that, Roundhay park one dayers. When the kids were little we’d do a day at the festival and then head off home and as they got older and more adventurous, we’d camp. Our weekend without mum (who couldn’t bring herself to brave the toilets and who would blame her) has grown into a dad, kids and mates weekend that is so much fun.

Anyway, I thought I’d preview this year’s festival because a) if you’re going it might be vaguely useful and b) if you’re not attending you may derive some vicarious pleasure from my ludicrous enthusiasm.

I believe one of the basic principles of music festivals is that the festival is never about the main stages, it’s about the small tents where the joy of discovery is to be had. I discovered my favourite band British Sea Power this way, so it’s copper-bottomed as far as I’m concerned.

This year the headliners look a little dull: Muse, who I’m sure will deliver bombastic rock nonsense, will definitely be worth a look; My Chemical Romance will have teenage girls 760 deep at the front will be deeply tedious and finally joint headliners Pulp and The Strokes will be definitely worth a dibble especially given the last time I saw Jarvis et al was about 15 years ago.

Other highlights in no particular order have to be:

Elbow – bloke rock for men of a certain age, choking back the beer fuelled emotion.

Frank Turner – singer songwriter protest rock a la Billy Bragg.

Anna Calvi – fresh and arresting female vocalist.

Madness – sure to be the hit fuelled pinnacle of Sunday.

Discopolis – bright new indie things.

The National – lulling audiences into a false sense of security.

Seasick Steve – delivering his loveable hobo schtick for the umpteenth time.

Leeds’ own Pigeons – local heroes railing agains the fading light.

Finally it’s impossible to resist the throbbing dance tunes of Simian Mobile Disco.

Plus there’s lots, lots more.

One of the beauties of a festival like this is that there’s loads of new stuff I’ve never heard of. Thankfully I’m of an age where it’s not my job anymore to seek out new talent – I leave that to the young folk. But it IS my job to enjoy the full on punk, the laid back trance, the jangling indie and the awesome new thing that’s going to shake it all up.

But every year I have to remind myself that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

Leeds Festival rewards the careful festival goer – go at it too hard on Friday and Sunday can be just too much like hard work. It’s hard not to give it all a good bash…but what is interesting someone said to me today that festivals turn them in to ADD freaks and it’s true: if a band fails to nail your attention then we’re off in search of something else. The bands that deliver the ultimate festival set are the ones that keep the crowds – it’s an art, that’s all I can tell you.

As I write this I’m getting a little bit giddy with excitement and there’s not many things that do that these days.

Creating friendships, 140 characters at a time

I love Twitter sometimes.

This will be a controversial statement for some people and the world is definitely divided into people that get it and people that don’t.

For some it’s the epitomy of mindless social media: for people who can’t keep their own trivial nonsense to themselves and the territory of self-regarding narcissists. For others it’s endlessly interesting, a doorway into countless lives and a non-stop snapshot of every walk of life.

But that’s the attraction for me: the banal and the epoch-making, side by side. Revolutions and riots, gossip and tedium…Twitter has it all.

I realised from looking at my Twitter profile that I’ve been doing ‘it’ since late 2008, which in Twitter terms is probably a lifetime. One of the first people I ‘met’ on Twitter (we rarely meet our fellow tweeters) was a lady who lives in Santa Monica called Nancy. Looking back I have no idea how we connected – we have very little in common and didn’t have any shared connections at the time – it was just one of those serendipitous connections that has developed over the months into a Twitter friendship.

So when we were planning a summer holiday in California this summer, I thought it would be a cool idea to hook up with her. I’ve been in the mood for doing new things recently and whilst this didn’t feel entire reckless it felt like an interesting experiment, meeting up with a person who I’d only ever met through the frankly bizarre medium of social media.

One other thing – I would have the family in tow and once I’d sold in the fact that we were meeting up with a complete stranger over 3,000 miles away (which was remarkably easy) we were on for a seriously long distance ‘tweet up’.

Nancy was up for meeting and in that typically open American way, she couldn’t wait to meet up with us and ‘hang out together’. I on the other hand took a more typically British reserved approach: what happens if we don’t get on, what are the protocols on meeting, do we hug, shake hands…the list of reasons not to do it were endless, at least in my over-cautious mind.

But it stayed in the diary.

We’d arranged to call Nancy when we got closer to LA. She lives near the ocean and we planned to stay nearby and the plan was to call her a couple of days before we met to make the final arrangements. We booked into a cool hotel on Venice Beach and I called her. ‘You sound English’ she said and I confirmed that she sounded American. It’s odd when you talk to someone who you’ve written to so many times – they become real.

Nancy picked us up from the hotel and we proceeded to have one of the best days of our holiday. She took us to a local restaurant that we wouldn’t have found otherwise, we strolled in Santa Monica and gawped at OJ Simpson’s murder house and the conspicuous wealth of Beverly Hills. Turned out that we all got on like we knew each other for years. We laughed and joked and although we’d never met before this day, it seemed like we were old friends.

It’s then you realise that the people who follow you on Twitter know more about you than you actually think. If, like me, you use Twitter to share a wide range of things from work to personal life, it acts as a window into your life that in some ways can be more informing than a face-to-face relationship can be.

This might seem weird and a damning indictment on the way we live our lives (or mine in particular), it’s just the way it is. My wife jokes that if she followed me on Twitter she’d find out more about what I’m doing than I currently tell her – which isn’t actually true, but she likes to think so .

Twitter did something very cool indeed. Firstly it introduced me to a person that I would never, ever have met and secondly it pre qualified our meeting whereby we’d both had the chance to work out whether our day would work out.

And in the end it did. But we kind of knew that anyway, thanks to Twitter.

The Great California Chardonnay Secret

When in Rome…

No trip to Napa Valley is complete without a guided tour of a few of the local wineries. We opted for a personal bus tour affair given I’m really rubbish at spitting wine out and the drink drive statistics in this part of California are off the scale. The biggest danger driving around these parts is getting bumped by a lubricated wine tourist.

Glenn was our affable tour guide for the day and in true Californian style he knew his stuff and delivered it with real knowledge and enthusiasm. Although Napa is famous for it’s wine production, it only accounts for 9% of US wine production (see I was taking notice), although it’s fair to say some of the best wines come from this beauiful part of Northern California. These tours are clearly a huge part of the local economy and it’s quite a mature market – it’s incredibly slick and European pretensions apart, it’s very much a Californian thing: laid back, oozing wealth and investment, informative and huge fun. Above all, there are some great wines too.

We visited a great range of wineries and if you’ve seen the movie Sideways, you’ll be familiar with the vibe.

First up was Jessup Vineyards – a cross between an art gallery, wine bar and winery. It was early in the morning it we soon felt the wine buzz creeping over us even though we didn’t drink that much. Second was the hugely impressive Rubicon – Francis Ford Coppola‘s winery which looked like it had been transplanted from the Loire. Instead of tasting we opted for a glass of their deeply buttery Chardonnay on the terrace. Next up was the quirky and small scale Andretti winery (he of Formula 1 fame) where we enjoyed a picnic with our party in a dappled courtyard overlooking vineyards.

The penultimate visit was the only kosher vineyard in Napa – Hagafen Cellars which was a lovely low fi contrast to the previous wineries, with the most appealing Rose of the day. Last up was the unpromising-looking Dominari metal shed where we met the founder – an elderly german who’d studied in England in the sixties – and the owner of the first appellation in Napa. It could have been the best til last…

It’s worth saying that Julie’s search for the perfect buttery, oakey, heavy Chardonnay was nailed this day and continued to be exceeded almost on a daily basis. This deeply unfashionable style of wine in Europe is almost impossible to find thanks to horrible Aussie imports and cheap Gallo vinegar that’s put us off in Europe. Now I love a minerally Chablis-esque white or a super clean, grassy sauvignon Blanc…but a dreamily amber Chardonnay made with precision and care? Yes please.

Rest assured, there’s plenty in California, they’re keeping it for themselves and just not shipping it to our country (and who can blame them).

Real tales of San Francisco

San Francisco has always held a fascination for me.

Brought up on american movies and TV in the seventies, I was continually exposed to the city.  Karl Malden in The Streets of San Francisco, Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force, Kim Novak in Vertigo, Steve McQueen in Bullitt, The Towering Inferno, The Rock….the list is endless and all used to city to maxim effect.

It’s not surprising then when visiting the city that it feels a little bit like a movie set. That’s my abiding memory of New York: I’ve been here before, not in the flesh but in a multitude of celluloid experiences.

San Francisco is a delight of a city. It’s kind of an ideal american city – it delivers the big city skyscraper vibe that NYC does so well but on a smaller more consumable scale. It sits on the impossibly beautiful bay and has vistas to die for and it’s unmistakably Californian in its outlook: relaxed and confident in its own skin.

Every time we’ve visited California, we’ve always started our trip in San Francisco and it provides the perfect springboard for immersion in the american microcosm that is California. Small enough to get around on foot, the city rewards the steep hills with stunning views. Impossibly photogenic, the compact city centre is safe and well kept making it the perfect introduction to the US.

Like every city it is constantly evolving and it exudes a lofty air. Unusually for California, its cool weather and fog in the height of summer sets it apart from other cities in the state and there’s a real sense that the locals are quite proud of this. And this makes us Brits feel quite at home too.

It does edgy quite well too and of course it has been the hotbed of radical thinking since the sixties and it sets the agenda for gay rights in the US. Of all the big american cities I’ve visited, it’s the one city I’ve thought closest to where I’d like to live although this time we noticed an awful lot of homeless people on the streets in pretty bad shape.

It’s a reminder that California really is all about living the american dream, this is a state (and country for that matter) that does very little for the people at the bottom of the chain.When you’re doing well in California, you’re doing really well but when you’re struggling there seems no hope for you.

It’s hard for us Brits to comprehend as the NHS and the welfare state is so fundamental to the way we live our lives and whilst we struggle to fund these things in the current difficult climate it reminds me how important they are to our national psyche.

San Francisco: A city that plays out the american dream and nightmare in equal measures, but I still love it.

California: Hopper Lives

This is the first of a series of posts inspired by my recent visit to California. It’s one of the most incredible destinations if you like all things American. I hope to share some of the sublime and ridiculous that caught my eye and imagination.

A little over a year before Dennis Hopper died earlier this year, the iconic actor started working on a collection for US brand Vans. Apparently Hopper grew up wearing the classic sneakers and he double checked with his son to make sure they were still cool before agreeing to collaborate with the California-based brand.  When he got the go ahead, he started working some of his most famous photographs onto t-shirts and the lining of hats and military jackets.

When Hopper died, his daughter Marin took over the design duties, putting the final touches on the product before its launch this month. I saw the posters on a street wall in Venice Beach and it caught my eye immediately.

Hopper’s melancholic gaze across a parking lot in one of the more edgier districts in Los Angeles was unforgettable. Apparently he used to take heroin to sober up in order to keep drinking. I read one quote that said “Hopper Lives – he just doesn’t know he’s dead’.