This weekend, Gunnersbury Park, a large park close to the A4 and the North Circular as they meet at Chiswick roundabout in West London, played host to the Lovebox and Citadel festivals. Put simply, Lovebox is rap, soul and dance, while Citadel caters largely for indie tastes, including the mild-mannered millennial sounds. There’s a bit of dance thrown in via the DJ sets, but Lovebox is the one if that’s your main interest. Both shows have mostly taken place in North and East London, but they made their way to Gunnersbury last year, and returned this weekend. It’s all down to local authority attitudes and finances. Anyway the new location suited me just fine, as I could walk to the site in 15-20 minutes. Citadel was my selection, as you could predict if you follow this blog. I couldn’t go last year, as the festival coincided with Latitude; but Latitude is next week, so a line up that included Honeyblood, Fontaines DC, Murder Capital, Dream Wife, Squid and Tiniwaren seemed too good to resist. Headliners on the main stage were Catfish and the Bottlemen and Bastille. Both highly popular bands, who attracted large crowds and ecstatic support. But neither are really my thing, so don’t read on if that is what you are hoping to read about. There’s nothing more about them! Oh, OK, here’s a photo of the Catfish and the Bottlemen show, from a distance. I stayed for three songs, before I decided to go home to catch the highlights of the World Cup cricket and the Wimbledon men’s tennis final. Both amazing events.
So let’s now go back to the beginning. I’m just writing about the bands I watched all or a decent chunk of. I caught bits and pieces of others, but nothing to spend time writing about here. And there’s one band I can’t feature, because of a really annoying clash. Honeyblood and Fontaines DC were on at the same time. They were the two bands I most wanted to see. I’ve never seen Fontaines DC, but love their debut album “Dogrel”. Definitely a contender for my 2019 top ten. But I couldn’t bring myself to miss Honeyblood, even though I’ll be seeing them again at Latitude in a few days time. My favourite band, simple as that. I’ll catch Fontaines DC at End of the Road later this summer.
At the start I was there with Jon G, his daughter Connie and son Louis, and Louis’ friend Gabrielle. We got there early, to catch Inhaler on the Main Stage at 12.30. One of three Dublin bands to feature – the others being Fontaines DC and Murder Capital. Inhaler are a young band, playing lively rock which reminded me a little of early U2. And the singer resembled the young Bono too, as I remarked to Louis. I sent a photo to a few friends on WhatsApp, and DC replied that Bono’s son was in the band, and was in fact the singer. So, there you go – I had no idea! Anyway, they were pretty good, and have a promising future, as long as they don’t fall foul of the anti-U2 brigade in the media. Being in the pro-U2 brigade, I wish them luck!
Next up for me was Banfi, in one of the two tented stages, the Communion stage. I think all the bands on the stage may have been part of the same music label, or promotional organisation. I didn’t know anything about the band, but the blurb on the Citadel talked about off-kilter indie, which sounded interesting. I enjoyed their sound – a melodic indie, with bursts of guitar, which sounded very much as if they might be from the Liverpool area. A little post-event research tells me that the singer guitarist is Joe Banfi and he is from Chester. So, another correct hunch! I’ll definitely give their recorded music a listen.
Then it was over to the DIY tent (aka the Big Top) for Squid. They have been creating a bit of a stir on 6 Music recently. The music is pretty bonkers – a mixture of riffing, noodly bits and a fair bit of screaming. Their song “Houseplants” is, in a bizarre way, really catchy. And the show confirmed all of these elements. The drummer, Ollie Judge, is also the main singer, though a couple of others do some semi-spoken bits. I guess if you wanted to categorise the sound, it’s an updated 80s post-punk. The spirit of the Fall and the Gang of Four is in there, but maybe Talking Heads too, especially lyrically. And they are there in with Pom Poko in spirit, amongst up-and-coming bands. I have to say the performance made me smile a lot, too. It combines the daft and the brilliant. What is really going on there, I don’t really know. But it is a hoot.
We stayed in the DIY tent for the next act, the Murder Capital. Another Dublin “punk” band, but not really punk. There’s rather more to them. Their debut album is out soon, and, to be honest, I’d heard more about their reputation than their music. But I was impressed, as soon as they appeared on stage. They were dressed as if they could be in Reservoir Dogs, and had a real stage presence. The music had a real power. Think of Shame, to take a recent band, and add a bit more melody and a bit more threat. I didn’t stay for the whole show, as I needed to catch Dream Wife; but I shall certainly be back to see them again at some of the other music festivals I’m going to over the summer.
Dream Wife were on the Main Stage. That meant their effect was diluted a bit – the perennial problem of playing in the sunshine in mid-afternoon – but they did a good job of engaging the crowd and getting people to sing along to the choruses of songs like “Somebody”: I am not my body, I am somebody! Singer Rakel Mjoll was her usual ebullient self, and the riffs were sparky. I’d have preferred to see them in one of the tents, but, in fairness, they got to engage with a lot more people being on the Main Stage, and the reaction was enthusiastic. Good for future sales.
Then it was time for the one I cared about most. Honeyblood in the Communion tent. I got there with about 15 minutes to go, with the sound checks still going on. There weren’t many people around at that point, and I just hoped that plenty would turn up. They did – the place was pretty full as the show got going. It was only half an hour, and Stina obviously decided to go for broke and play the rock’n’roll. Makes sense, and it went down really well. What was good to see was a lot of young people down the front dancing and singing the words. Like they do for all popular bands; but this was one of those occasions where I really wanted the band to do well, and not be relying on plaudits from oldies like me. It’s an issue for any indie band that draws its inspiration from the music of many decades – you might end up with an audience a fair bit older than you are. I always wonder how that feels. Grateful for the money and the support, I’m sure, but wondering what happened to your own generation. Anyway, it was the perfect short set: the singles from the new album “In Plain Sight” and the no-nonsense classics from the first two albums. Real high energy, and Stina and her band looking like they were enjoying themselves. For anyone who loves Honeyblood, this was the setlist as I recall it: The Third Degree – Super Rat – Glimmer – Killer Bangs – Sea Hearts – Babes Never Die – She’s a Nightmare – Ready for the Magic. You can’t get much better than that!
I milled around a bit after Honeyblood. Bought myself a bratwurst and another tinny lager and basked in the sun, listening to the techno sounds belting out from the Blu Stage for a bit. Watched a little bit of Jade Bird then wandered back to the DIY tent to catch the Korean indie band Hyukoh. The blurb claimed they were the hottest band in Asia right now – in the indie world, I assume, given that there are K-Pop bands selling out Wembley Stadium. There was a decent crowd, and a very enthusiastic core of fans upfront, shrieking with glee at the start of every song. The music was pretty good – jagged riffs and guitar workouts combined with some incongruous melodies that came from a more traditional pop base. The band were deliberately low profile with no histrionics. A deliberate indie insouciance. Interesting.
I’d had a fair bit of ear-bashing by this point, so thought I’d try out something a bit more mellow, in what had been the Sunday Papers Live tent, featuring comedy in an enclave in between the main stage and DIY tent. It was a Sofar Sounds production, featuring a band called Montrell. Sofar Sounds put on informal gigs around London in all sorts of different spaces. You can sign up to their mailing list and get wind of what is going on. I’ve not been to one yet, but friends who have been have loved them. The nature of the shows is that they are acoustic or electric with the sound kept at a subtle level. A bit like those guest appearances they have at the BBC base camp during Glastonbury. Montrell were just right for the vibe. Tuneful, a little bit jazzy, gently rolling beats. Perfect for chilling out. Interrupted at first by the excitement across the way in a bar with a TV showing the cricket, but it was a lovely way to wind down a little.
I stayed longer than planned at Montrell, so I missed the first half of Tiniwaren, headlining the DIY stage. But the second half: wow! I know the band, have listened to a bit of their music, but had never seen them live. They were extraordinary. They look extraordinary, for a start. Dressed for the Sahara – they are Tuaregs from Northern Mali. But the thing that really hooked me was the sound of the guitars. There’s a kind of drone in the background, and the guitars – there are a few – jangle and soar over that. Sometimes with a heavy distortion that Jimmy Page would have been happy to emulate. The desert blues. Some years ago, I really liked the music of Ali Farka Toure, also from Mali. Tiniwaren are following in his footsteps, but with a bit more of a rock feel. I felt a shiver down the spine at one point listening to those guitars and the insistent chants that accompanied them. It was the revelation of the festival for me.
And that was it. I watched a couple of Catfish songs, marvelling at their popularity, and how everyone seemed to know the words. I briefly halted on the way out to watch a DJ set putting dance beats over pop classics in the Sweet Spot tent, with loads of people dancing – refugees from the indie guitar on the main stage, I guess. Everything else was finished. And I got home in time to watch England winning the cricket World Cup against New Zealand in the most bizarre way, and Roger Federer losing the men’s tennis final to Novak Djokovic in an epic five set struggle.
Quite a day. Latitude next!