Reading Festival Review – Sunday with the Maccabees, Hippo Campus, Years & Years and Frank Turner (of course)!

Commiserations to all the young folk packing up their tents in the rain this morning at Reading Festival, and the parents heading off through the traffic to pick up soaked, shivering and “fragrant” offspring. A valet will be needed for the vehicle later...

The rain held off for most of the day yesterday, but let’s start with an apology; the Libertines and Kendrick Lamar are not favourites of ours, so no comments on either of those headliners. Our personal headliner was Frank Turner, who did a solo acoustic set that drew a huge crowd for a late evening sing-a-long. This is his ninth consecutive Reading appearance, a record apparently for an artist, and we think we have seen every one of those performances. He is simply a legend.

On paper, this looked for us like the weakest day, but Reading always throws up positive surprises and this was one of those days. The Festival Republic stage showcased band after band who were enjoyable or better – the Sherlocks, the Last Internationals, Gengahr, Black Honey, Little Comets, Mini Mansions (dressed in dinner jackets), and the better known We Are The Ocean (plus Frank of course) meant you would have had an excellent gig if you had simply sat in that tent all day. (See picture - we were pretty much the first people in the tent, before 11am amazingly!)

Coasts were a real highlight – they bring real energy to tuneful dance-pop and they got a great reception from a pretty full tent. Who knew “Oceans” was quite such an anthem? Their album is out soon and will be worth checking out. Also on that stage, local boys Sundara Karma from Reading itself played a strong set of big songs that may well reach a biggest stage one day; there are touches of Arcade Fire and U2 in there as well as more indie moments. They’re only 19 years old-ish but a big future should await.

On other stages though, Petite Meller drew a disappointingly small crowd in the Dance tent for her bright, catchy, clever pop, although her sexualised Lolita image frankly makes any man over about 18 feel uncomfortable watching. I can’t believe it is doing her any good, now the bit of initial publicity has died down; she is making 50% of her potential audience feel weird and she doesn’t need it either, she has real talent.

We caught a few minutes of several new British bands on the BBC Introducing Stage who deserve more investigation – the first being the tight, retro, psychedelic blues rock of the White Room (bad name guys, hard to find you on Google!) Kit Trigg is an excellent rock guitarist, who performs with drummer Nic Sleight and has a Royal Blood vibe going on. But he can switch into a Ed Sheeran-like mode too, which bodes well for him. The Big Moon are four young women doing a pop-grunge thing very well; and Hyena from Telford do pretty heavy, Nirvana-like material with real energy and verve.

But what, I hear you ask, were your favourites? Of the more established bands, Years and Years were a bit of a revelation for me. Their big hit singles (King, Desire etc), have washed over me, all a bit lightweight synth dance-pop really. But live, their short but tight set really worked, with great lights and a humble but engaging Olly Alexander, who can really sing live, and a packed NME tent with 10,000 people having a great time... it all made perfect festival sense. A lovely 40 minutes and some evidence there of a shelf-life for the band longer than I might have expected.

Could the Maccabees handle the Main Stage? Yes, they jolly well could. Despite the band as individuals lacking individual arrogance and charisma compared to many bands, the songs worked really well, and their body of work now gives them the chance to really vary the pace and mood, even in a relatively short set. Pelican, which closed the set, was a great moment – has there ever been a song that is more simultaneously fatalistic yet uplifting? One of the best songs of the last decade.

Back to the Festival Republic though for my two artists of the day. Hippo Campus (great name) are a young band from Minnesota who make joyous indie pop, melodic and highly danceable (a touch of Afro-beat in there), but with an added, subtle element of emotion and complexity in the songs that raise them above the norm. At times, the comparators are bands like Two Door Cinema Club, but there are touches of Vampire Weekend and something deeper there too. Their playing yesterday was tight, lead and harmony vocals are top quality, the sound was crisp and vibrant – just a brilliant 30 minutes. Music success is a lottery, but look out for this bunch in the future.


Then we have the amazing Jack Garratt. Keyboard virtuoso, guitar hero, electronics whizz, an incredible voice that can do tough and tender, a brilliant songwriter – and he seems like a really genuine, humble guy too. His new single Weathered was a highlight of the Festival and is likely to move him rightly into the big league. Just great.

And that’s it from Reading for this year – although we may come back and do something on it next weekend. Now excuse me, I need to a) have a lie down and then b) write some more blogs for this week!

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