Summer Sundae Weekender 2011 review

Chris Eustace checks out the laidback Leicester bash

Summer Sundae Weekender 2011 review

Photographer: Peter CorkhillChris Eustace on 15 August 2011

There are fetching top hats, a hastily-assembled festival-goers’ choir who, by Sunday, are tackling big harmonies and you can even charge your phone by pedal power. But the thing that sets Leicester’s Summer Sundae apart? Space.

If you’ve only ever been to the enormo-festivals, the relatively small the main stage area looks may puzzle you at first, but this festival is perfectly sized. There are five stages, all within a five-minute walk of a campsite where you won’t unzip your tent in the morning to find someone else’s right outside. Plus, with the main stage right next to De Montford Hall, which doubles as the Indoor Stage, clever scheduling means it’s entirely possible to see at least a bit of every band on both.

There are families here too, not just in the kids’ area, but running around while bands are on and with good, but not overbearing, security, it’s obviously deemed safe enough to be a lot of people’s first festival.

While 5,000 people to entertain still remains a big deal, perhaps it’s the laidback atmosphere that means that many bands this weekend feel able to play new material.

None more so than The Maccabees (7.5/10), whose Friday night headline set sees new nearly outnumber old. Even Orlando Weekes admits it could all go “horribly wrong”, but with the likes of ‘Precious Time’ and ‘Love You Better’ still included, they win through, with ‘Grew Up At Midnight’ the pick of those new songs.

Graham Coxon (8/10) also unveils newies, plus a hitherto hidden talent for gymnastics, pulling off a backward roll during a rollicking ‘Freaking Out’. Perky Vampire Weekend-style pop from Givers (7/10) and the soaring voice of Raghu Dixit (7/10) also help to get the festival flying, while the intricate Portico Quartet (7/10) fascinate indoors and Toots & The Maytals (8/10) cement their ‘festival institution’ status afterwards.

Flashguns’ (8/10) blues-driven indie kick-starts Saturday, and Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s (7.5/10) hazy, summery strums draws an appreciative indoor crowd, with the energetic Bhangra-rock of Kissmet (7/10) and Bellowhead’s (7/10) folk stomps getting the Main Stage dancing.

The kids in the audience also now have an instant comeback when a parent/grandparent claims chart music was better “in the old days” – Showaddywaddy (4/10) and their dubious 70’s hits. Reef (6/10) are another band out of time, but it’d take a very cynical soul not to at least grin when ‘Place Your Hands’ starts up.

Meanwhile, Saturday bill-topper Newton Faulkner (6.5/10) is much more enjoyable when viewed as a demented children’s entertainer, with “silly songs” about “professional dog food tasters” and audience games involving Spongebob amongst the earnest MOR. Indoors, Chapel Club (6.5/10) may well have the song that takes them chartwards with new falsetto-led song ‘Shy’, while I am Kloot (7.5/10) round the day off with a stately set.

Much of Sunday’s best is to be found on the Indoor Stage. Fans of Jeff Buckley, Death Cab or The National should check out The Antlers (8/10), and give The Phantom Band’s (7/10) quirky take on the latter a go too. Warpaint (8.5/10) drop jaws with the killer harmonies of ‘Undertow’, while Everything Everything (8.5/10) whirl through brilliant, idiosyncratic sing-alongs and Blood Red Shoes (7/10) snarl through their last UK gig for a while.

The Rising Stage gives us Tom Williams and The Boat’s folk bite (7/10) and the sharply crafted indie pop of the much-underrated Dutch Uncles (8.5/10).

Sundae then brings out the big guns. Example (7.5/10) wheels out the club-pop hits, getting the site pogo-ing like no-one else does all weekend. There are murmurs that he should have headlined, but McFly (7/10) then draw an even bigger, if slightly less animated, crowd. They appear to be morphing into Bon Jovi, but they’re undeniably fun, with ‘5 Colours In Her Hair’ and a closing ‘Shine A Light’ the highlights.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that there’s not much to do once the bands have finished, save for a Silent Disco, but perhaps that’s the trade-off for the central location. It would be so tempting for a festival such as this to try to expand, but to do so would be at the expense of what makes it work. It’s safe to say some people caught the festival bug this weekend, and no doubt a few had theirs rekindled too.

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