It’s the final day of Bluedot 2019 and we have a late-night date with hometown heroes New Order to keep on our toes for, but only after a brilliant set from She Drew the Gun, a gloriously sweary John Grant and a simply remarkable Anna Calvi…
The ground has finally dried as we head into the main arena in time to catch The Lucid Dream deliver one of their typically brilliant shows on the Lovell Stage. For years, the Cumbrian outfit have been one of the finest purveyors of melodic intelligent shoegaze/drone and today they are no different. It’s a less scabrous and more floaty set than they normally do but one that perfectly matches their midday slot and to those just waking up, their lysergic chemistry brings the casualties of last night to their feet. How they are not massive by now is beyond me, but whilst they remain one of Britain’s best kept secrets, seek them out wherever you can.
Whilst we’re on the subject of brilliant, yet still underrated British bands, can I once again bang on about how absolutely magnificent She Drew the Gun are. I have spent all summer shouting from the rafters about this glorious, articulate, intelligent and melodically-sublime band and I will not stop until they are playing the biggest of stages. Today on the Lovell Stage, they pass their audition with flying colours. From the urgent call to arms of ‘Resister’, to the 60s pop of ‘Something for the Pain’ and beyond, there is not a moment of their set that is not fully-formed and impeccably constructed and delivered. ‘Paradise’ stomps and shakes with urgency and the magnificent, simple flow of ‘Poem’ is the gig-economy generation’s ‘Desolation Row’. They even manage to do a superb version of The Beloved’s ‘Sweet Harmony’ which somehow suits them perfectly. They are a magnificent band – a political voice and a melodic heart, with the soul of every young and angry person in Britain today who sees through the blackness and the bleakness. We need heroes and bands to believe in at this moment in time – Louisa Roach and her friends are exactly that band, for the here and now. And I will not shut up about them until people realise it as well.
We take a stroll through the various fields by the Lovell telescope where in the space of two hours we are trained as Jedi (a bit long in the tooth for that as it transpires), witness the most extraordinary performance from Aoife and Maria at the Strongwomen Science show at the Space Pavillion (the science of hula-hooping, handstands and Non-Newtonian fluids with custard fights – you have to see them) and also a completely mind-flipping animatronic performance from Titan the Robot, who charms, insults, does Paddy McGuinness impressions and sings Frank Sinatra to a flabbergasted audience whilst looking like something off the set of Terminator 2. I think it’s a man in a suit – boy, am I wrong. But whilst the science and the entertainment is intoxicating, time is not on our side today. So after we pack the tent up and get set for the evening, we head across to Anna Calvi at the Lovell Stage. Who quite simply, is a force of nature.
Clad in a black jumpsuit against a bright-red screen, holding a battered sunburst Telecaster, she gives absolutely everything in a storm of a performance that leaves you dizzy. Her voice soars, her guitar lines screech and crash and every song is punctuated by drums and deep beats that serve to both pull you in and push you upwards and outwards. The opening ‘Hunter’ leads us into a world where we can be torn by desire and longing whilst also celebrating ourselves and the closest to us, without labels or preconditions.
There is a stunning, ten-minute ‘Wish’ where the space, dynamics and the shrieks of the fretboard and her larynx take us somewhere truly beyond the heavens. She ends with a stomping, celebratory ‘Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy’ and we are absolutely convinced. Having heard her records but having never seen her live, this was an utter revelation. There is something of Janis Joplin in there, there is something of Jeff Buckley in there. But Anna Calvi is Anna Calvi. And she is one of the most unique live acts I have seen this year. Absolutely stunning.
John Grant is clearly a fan too. “Man, that Anna Calvi. What a fucking voice” he exclaims after the opening ‘Tempest’, clearly confusing and horrifying the multiple parents sat there with their children expecting a family-friendly and emotive set. Of course, this is John Bloody Grant and everyone knows that every other song is punctuated by multiple uses of “fuck” and other expletives. Earplugs quickly come out but they are doing their kids no favours at all, as Grant is genuinely one of the most singular talents around today. ‘Preppy Boy’ clatters and vibrates with chemical energy, ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’ remains the best song James Murphy never wrote and the spellbinding ‘Metamorphosis’ turns repeatedly in on itself like Regina Spektor on acid having the comments section of The Daily Mail force-fed into her head. But the beauty of Grant is how he can bring these opposing sides of his head together, such as the gorgeous and peerless ‘GMF’ – the sweetest and most beautiful song to ever contain the Samuel L. Jackson Pulp Fiction expletive.
It’s a short set – maybe shorter than planned (Grant alludes to “having wanted more time with you guys”) but the closing ‘Blackbelt’ is an utter joy. He takes a bow with his whole band at the end to rapturous applause and you can’t help feeling there are a couple of families out there wishing they had just let their kids listen anyway. He is an utter joy, and utter treasure and he might just be right when he says that he is the greatest “Melonfarmer” in the world. Or something like that…
And so it is over to the local boys New Order to bring Bluedot 2019 home. Though not entirely, as in typically curmudgeonly fashion, Bernard Sumner begins to wind the crowd up after the opening ‘Singularity’ wishing that they would do a festival closer to Salford instead. The banter continues with him then claiming they aren’t going to play any Joy Division songs tonight “well, except these two” before superb versions of ‘She’s Lost Control’ and ‘Transmission’. But joking aside, this is a different beast to the usual New Order live show tonight. For one, they are much more confident (correctly) in playing a sizeable selection of tracks from their excellent 2015 record Music Complete, with the likes of ‘Tutti Frutti’, ‘Restless’ and ‘Singularity’ being included in favour of tried-and-tested tracks such as ‘Crystal’ and ‘Regret’. And it works perfectly. Bu tonight is an old-school New Order set drawn from their classic 80s era – much more ravey, much more dancey and willing to settle back into the comfort of their pioneering heyday.
We get a glorious ‘Your Silent Face’ – complete with Grand Theft Auto-style video echoing out melancholic yet crystalline across the field as the skies finally relent and the rain begins to fall. ‘Subculture’ is given a more groove-oriented sheen and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ remains one of the finest British singles of the last 30 years. And when they drop the colossal, timeless, evergreen triptych of ‘True Faith’ Blue Monday’ and a simply magical ‘Temptation’, the partisan crowd explodes with utter joy – tired limbs and tired throats going for one more moment of sheer joy.
Yet there is one final encore to the encore. As the stage goes black, the band return as the unmistakable images of Anton Corbjin’s video to ‘Atmosphere’ starts on the screen. There has always been something of an issue with New Order playing Joy Division songs and in the past 10-15 times I’ve seen them, it hasn’t quite worked. But whether it is the crowd tonight, or the 40th anniversary of Unknown Pleasures still fresh in our mind, or the fact that we are only a few minutes from Ian Curtis’s former town of Macclesfield, something clicks into place tonight. The song carries all the weight without mass that it ever did, with the sound of despair and wonder trapped within the staves. And as a picture of Ian Curtis’s iconic, drawn, endlessly-gazing face appears on screen, the crowd burst into applause and then into tears at the sight. And then we end as only we can with every single soul singing along to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Fists in the air, lungs screaming, hugging and tears running down cheeks – it is the perfect end to a truly magnificent weekend of music. It takes many years for a festival to normally put itself on the map. Changes in direction, new ideas, overhauls. Yet somehow, in a remarkably short space of time, Bluedot Festival has struck out as one of the must-do festivals in the calendar of the discerning music fan. Rain cannot stop us, mud cannot stop us. Put on a weekend such as this with such a unique blend of entertainment, and there is no way you cannot succeed. Same time next year, right?
Photos: Another Sky, Yang, New Order, Anna Calvi, The Orielles, Golden Dawn Arkestra, John Grant and Cosmos.
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Words by David Edwards, you can read more of David’s writing for Louder Than War in his archive