Virgin Mobile Union Tent Chelmsford. Saturday 19 August
Britain is currently under attack from a plague of singer/songwriters whose path has been paved by the bland stylings of such ‘seminal’ artists as James Blunt and Katie Melua. Unfortunately, Paolo Nutini must suffer the ignominy of being lumped in with them. The boy from the Scottish chip shop receives a rapturous reception from the packed tent before launching into a technically tight set.
Boasting an amazing voice, he mixes gravelly rock'n'roll growls with swooning funk-style high vocals. Less saccharine than James Blunt, but unfortunately erring on the side of Jamie Cullum at times, he’s obviously already popular with the public, but sadly lacks originality.
Name checked by The Subways as ones to watch this year, The Upper Room are a clean-shaven quartet who play a set of uplifting indie pop which ends with Xfm play list favourite ‘Black and White’. Worth keeping an eye on.
Geek-rock three piece The Young Knives are riding the crest of a wave since ‘Weekends and Bleak Days (Hot Summer)’ was released in time for the UK’s craziest heat wave this year. Performing in their staple tweed suits, shirts and ties, lead singer Henry and bassist House of Lords keep the crowd entertained between numbers with their deadpan banter. Their joint operatic vocals and Henry’s scratchy guitar blend to create angular, artrock precision with lovely harmonies. Ending brilliantly with the thundering bass-led ‘She’s Attracted To’ and breakthrough single ‘Here Comes the Rumour Mill’, it’s obvious that they are enjoying the performance as much as the crowd are as Henry expresses reluctance to leave.
Having achieved both Radio 1 and Radio 2 playlist status recently, Captain are sitting relatively pretty. It’s consequently surprising that only three-quarters of the tent is full as the group wash it with their oh-so-eighties yet oh-so-now harmonies, synths and soundscapes. All five look dapper in their carefully styled outfits. Technically great, but lacking the soul expected from a live performance, even set highlight ‘Frontline’ feels somewhat flat.
Opening with AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ riff which then segues into ‘Formed a Band’, Art Brut are exciting yet brilliantly shambolic. A slightly heavier looking Eddie Argos is obviously raring to go as he stands preaching on the virtues of being in a band at the front of the stage as if it’s the pulpit of rock'n'roll while the rest of the group freak out behind him. Art Brut rip through a brilliant 25 minute set which takes in other cult classics ‘Bang Bang Rock n Roll’, ‘My Little Brother’ and ‘Emily Kane’.
Unveiling two new songs, it seems the band have developed as songwriters as the material maintains the angular guitar riffs yet taps a mainstream melody that their early songs lack at times.
Solo troubadour for the Thamesbeat movement Jamie T is greeted with an enthusiastic cheer as he saunters onto the stage in his chav-esque outfit. The sound really lets Jamie and his band down, as the vocals are turned painfully high in contrast to the music. On top of this, his Southwest London ‘patois’ is a novelty, but even that fails to mask the lack of a melody at times. One punter accurately describes it as “Plan B with a band”, which can either be amazing or disappointing depending on your taste. Unfortunately it leaves VF feeling bored and cold.
Tiny American songstress Regina Spektor steps out to wrap the tent in an ethereal glow as her voice captivates everyone. Initially struggling to beat the noise drifting from the neighbouring Channel 4 stage, she soon finds her step with her opening a cappella number. Regina cuts a lonely figure onstage with her Yamaha keyboard and microphone. However, her virtuoso-style playing, percussive self-stylings - which includes hitting a drumstick against a chair and tapping her fingers on the mic for a bassbeat - and distinctive vocals mix to provide one of the more original and memorable performances of the festival.
Since releasing latest album ‘Z’, weirdy beardies My Morning Jacket have been enjoying a greater level of recognition in the UK. Two new band members joining has reflected positively on the group as the previous long-haired stoner rock gives way to a new blend of reggae and dance thrown into the melting pot. An inspired choice to wake the crowd from Regina Spektor’s spell.
Danish band Mew are often cited as one of the most underrated bands around, however their set, like recent album 'Mew And The Glass Handed Kites', is fairly nondescript in our book.
Responsible for cursing the UK with annoying hit ‘I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker’, Sandi Thom is a disappointing choice to headline a stage that has otherwise had an exciting and interesting mix of new and fairly unknown music. Yet another singer/songwriter to be added to the V Festival bill, everything about her folk rock shtick fails to interest VF, and puts a slight downer on an otherwise great, interesting and challenging bill. The Virgin Mobile Union tent is otherwise the perfect retreat from most of the more mainstream performers.