Festivals 2009: a year in review

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Daniel Fahey | 01 December 2009

But, as Britain enjoyed what other countries have known as a ‘summer’ for decades, the festival world again showed its strength in depth with nearly 400 events pitching up for a year of memorable movements, magical twists and many, many unforgettable performances. Here we retrace the steps that made 2009 the best festival year ever…


Pontins and Butlins continued to do a roaring off-season trade, swapping the usual bustle of families and the elderly for dance behemoths Atomik Weekender and BLOC Weekend. The former invited the likes of Tidy Boys, Lisa Lashes and Anne Savage to split atoms and eardrums in equal measure, while BLOC replaced the red coats with the Future Sound Of London, who played their first live set in 12 years. Beamed, erm, from their studio in Somerset.


A month on and, quite wisely, festival organisers still didn’t want to run the risk of rain by hosting an outdoor event. Camden Crawl – in glorious sunshine – rounded up a herd of indie kids into the skinny-jeaned mile of the London borough for the UK festival return of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It was also a chance for Kasabian to show their live intention for the year as well as singer Tom Meighan’s questionable taste in shirts. Grey, star emblazoned number anyone? The Enemy finished bottom of the class though, as the band withdrew at the very last minute due to illness.


For those hoping for a seaside getaway, The Great Escape was a little more sun chasing than sunbathing as blustery winds and lashings of rain battered Brighton. It was good news then that only a Babyshambles secret show was played outdoors. And, boy, were the band the tabloid car crash people have come to know and love. Flashbulbs were at the ready for Doherty who, disappointingly sensibly, performed in a long coat but – wait – he also fell off of a speaker: bam! There’s the headlines. Elsewhere The Maccabees and Kasabian were the big draws of the long weekend, with unlucky fans turned away at the doors. It was up to the likes of Gang Of Four and British Sea Power to pick up the stragglers.

Under similar one-wristband-for-all-shows guises were Liverpool Sound City and Dot To Dot. White Lies, Animal Collective and local lads The Zutons were among the names for the Merseyside bash which also held a football competition in memory of John Peel, while the ever growing Dot To Dot connected Nottingham and Bristol by sharing the line-up over both cities. Ladyhawke, The Hold Steady and Patrick Wolf were among the indie action for the Puzzler’s favourite party.

2009 also saw a restored and re-housed Sunrise Celebration return following the disappointment of a washout 12 months earlier. The four-day bohemian experience allowed fans to free their mind, body and souls in rural Somerset – something festival-goers have done in the county for decades. Wychwood Festival proved equally as relaxing as scorching heat gave the ideal excuse to do little more than relax. It was a weekend of firsts as well with Little Boots scoring her first number one just hours after walking off stage and Carol Ann Duffy making her first ever festival performance as the Poet Laureate.


A modestly dry (those rose-tinted glasses can come off now) Glastonbury Festival went back to ‘traditional’ headliners with organisers managing to finally bag Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young after years of trying. In return The Boss went all out: breaking curfews, covering Joe Strummer and generally causing a riot, while a more understated Young was magnificent in his own right. Blur were the band plastered over the press on the Monday morning though, with Damon Albarn so overwhelmed by the Worthy Farm response that he broke down in tears. Who said Modern Life Is Rubbish?

Not any of the 80,000 ecstatic Download Festival fans that welcomed the return of Faith No More, that’s for sure. A smooth Mike Patton and Co wowed the pants off of the Donington crowd after a decade away before things got all nostalgic on the Sunday with Def Leppard, Whitesnake and ZZ Top all playing back to back. Slipknot celebrated ten years since their debut release at the festival too, which meant even The Prodigy had to make do with a second stage slot.

Not that the Firestarters minded, they had two other festival shows over the same weekend, playing the Isle of Wight Festival and Scotland’s Rock Ness respectively. It was an old rave reunion north of the border with Orbital and Basement Jaxx smashing up the shores of Loch Ness, while down at the other end of the UK, Stereophonics and Razorlight shared top billing at the legendary IOW Festival, though both were outshone by a formidable Neil Young who destroyed his guitar in a sea of feedback during a rendition of The Beatles' ‘A Day In The Life’.

A day in the life of the Beach Break Live organisers must’ve been a very stressful experience this year, especially a week before the festival when the event was refused planning permission for their Cornwall site. Undeterred they moved to Kent and bought a chunk of the sand with them before 10,000 students went bonkers for the likes of Dizzee Rascal and bosses wiped their brow with relief.

There was no need for sweat mopping at Big Session, except perhaps from Billy Bragg and The Levellers fans who were a little giddy at seeing their favourite stars, while Hard Rock Calling allowed those without a Glastonbury ticket to catch Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young over the same weekend and still get home from Hyde Park to sleep in their own beds.


Still in Hyde Park, Kanye West returned to the UK for his only headline show of the summer at Wireless Festival alongside Basement Jaxx. But a lot of the buzz was about Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity who danced their way into reviews for being that group off the telly. Up in Scotland Blur left question marks over their future, declaring that their T In The Park headline show was their “last gig,” but the performance will go down in history for much different reasons – Graham Coxon’s illness. The band were an hour and 20 minutes late due to Coxon being treated in hospital and it meant they only had time to limit their show to a greatest hits parade. Cue flares, manic crowd reaction and Damon Albarn labelling the version of ‘Song 2’ as “the best ever.” Kings Of Leon and The Killers also performed but they’re destined not to be remembered in the same light.

Another triumphant return in 2009 was for Blissfields, the former Best Small Festival that found itself cancelled after moving to the Matterly Bowl in 2008. This year it returned to Bradley Farm with Super Furry Animals and Laura Marling headlining and organisers giving one lucky festival-goer the weekend of their life by naming them President Of Blissfields, which meant free accommodation, food and drink. Glade Festival had a much more successful re-housing at Matterley Bowl, selling out and going on ‘Louder, Later, Longer’. Underworld headed up the dance festival, which spread its wings to include more live music including Nitin Sawhney, Femi Kuti and Finley Quaye.

Happy Mondays
Bez had a geographical lapse during the final day of Guilfest shouting, “Chelmsford, how you doing out there?” to hardcore revellers who’d made it through a weekend of rain. Up at London’s Lovebox Weekender, the capital’s fans also needed their waterproofs as the heavens opened, leaving it to a Mark Ronson cameo with Duran Duran to provide a glimmer of sunshine quality at the top of the bill.

The biggest name at the foot of a bill all summer must’ve been Radiohead’s Thom Yorke at Latitude Festival. The frontman went solo around midday on the Sunday, wowing a huge crowd with tracks from his native band and his own LP ‘The Eraser’. Grace Jones and Pet Shop Boys were much more flamboyant names at the event which, sadly, coughed up one of the last ever festival sets for Chas And Dave who split up soon after.

Secret Garden Party
and Camp Bestival both gave Guy Fawkes a run for his money with impressive firework displays. The former destroyed a floating stage called the Tower of Babel to the soundtrack of Rodrigo Y Gabriella, while the latter left it to Rob da Bank and the English National Ballet to accompany the dazzling explosions.

There was more fire at The Wickerman Festival with the traditional torching of its infamous effigy, while the likes of soul legend Candi Staton and The Zutons wowed the Scottish crowds. Visual spectacles seemed to be the talking point at Global Gathering too, with the giant, LED-lit Godskitchen Boombox shining as bright as headliners The Prodigy and Orbital.

The contrasting British weather saw Larmer Tree Festival sadly turn into a mud bath down in Dorset while Ben And Jerry’s Sundae On The Common had perfect sunshine weather for the lashings of free ice cream given away. Standon Calling proved to be out of this world as well, celebrating 40 years since the moon landing with a space theme, but it was indie band KASMS that were landing on their arses after being thrown out of the sold out Kendal Calling because singer Rachel Mary Callaghan damaged a hired drum kit by jumping into it at the end of their set.


Festivals rarely make a debut as big as heavy metal bash Sonisphere, which in the first weekend of August took Metallica, Linkin Park and eventually (under a different guise) Machine Head to Knebworth House in the UK leg of the festival’s European tour.

Not to be outdone by the grandeur of Knebworth, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival returned to the beautiful setting of the Italian Gardens and welcomed Ocean Colour Scene and Seth Lakeman to enjoy the atmosphere at Scotland's quaintest event, whilst Alabama 3's Larry Love seemingly welcomed schizophrenia. "Don't let them cheat you! Everyone has a right to as many brains as they want," declared the singer.

Over-thinking wasn't on the bill at The Big Chill, which this year celebrated it's 15th birthday with thousands of revellers dressing up as zombies for the occasion. Norman Jay accepted thanks for the good weather - "see I told you I'd bring the sunshine" - and Orbital accepted the invitation to make a live return at the Dorset event, alongside Basement Jaxx and David Byrne.
There weren’t any zombies, but one festival-goer was clearly brain dead at Bloodstock Open Air. "One selfish ticketholder," said the organisers, "soured an amazing day and a stunning performance by the closing headliners," by launching a cricket-sized gobstopper at Cradle of Filth, injuring their guitarist.

For those with a sweet-tooth Summer Sundae Weekender organisers overcame headliners falling ill to bring Leicester another classic year. The Streets were undone by a bout of Swine Flu so up stepped Idlewild in a weekend where indie acts prevailed. Wild Beasts continued to make a name for themselves on the festival circuit with a rousing performance, but the real plaudits were left for the mesmerising Bon Iver who closed proceedings on the Sunday evening.

The Levellers
returned with their Beautiful Days festival in Devon and still managed the energy for two sets over the weekend, but the party organisers weren't the only ones orchestrating fun with The Pogues’ performance highlighting the strength of the local cider.

The Friday morning wake-up call of drizzle on canvas must have sunk the hearts of those who had made their way to the Brecon Beacons for Green Man Festival. But, to much delight, the only goose bumps were courtesy of the glorious Bon Iver and Roky Erickson rather than the damp weather.

The big story at V Festival was Oasis 'playing' the Staffordshire event, "[with] seemingly no desire to be on stage at all," and then not actually taking to the stage in Chelmsford. But brushing aside those headline stealing Gallagher brothers, Snow Patrol filled their boots to all round plaudits and The Specials featured a rejuvenated Amy Winehouse making sure that V still ended on a high.

August's other double header, Reading and Leeds, had splashed the cash and booked big. The weekend included a greatest hits set from Radiohead who started with 'Creep' in Reading and took off from there, a UK exclusive from Arctic Monkeys and The Prodigy furiously proving to organisers that they're still in contention for any headline slot. Luckily, for punters, they had the Bank Holiday Monday to recover.

A sold out Creamfields got everyone dancing from punters to the Police (Basement Jaxx being their sound of choice apparently). Friendly Fires proved again that they're a great festival attraction, Dizzee Rascal pulled in a favour and got Calvin Harris to join him onstage for 'Dance Wiv Me', but it was 2manyDJs who's eclectic mix really got Creamfields dancing. See, the rain on Sunday is already forgotten.


As summer wound down in September, the weather was among some of the finest of the year. A sweltering Bestival was hotted up with their new Afterburner arena as well as some very special performances from Kraftwerk and Carl Cox, while End Of The Road closed the curtain on a fantastic festival year with shows from Fleet Foxes and Explosions In The Sky.
But, of course, hundreds more events in the UK and thousands more around the globe brought smiles, laughter, tears and hangovers to millions of people. We could sleep happy with the success of 2009, but we’re too excited about 2010 to even try and close our eyes…

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