Paul Clarke dodges gangs of kids collecting empties for cash as Sam Fender comes back up north to headline Day Two of Leeds Festival. Trev Eales gets in the pit to take the photos.
Litter is always a problem at any festival as some people are dragged up, so the organisers at Leeds have joined the push to reduce the mess. Every empty disposable beer container is worth 10p if returned to the bar, so there are gangs of young kids running round with bin bags full of swag as they grab pint pots almost the moment they are discarded. It’s fun watching the festival’s artful dodgers protecting the environment as they earn some cash, and enjoy the music as a bonus.
The other odd thing is today feels like we’re St James’ Park with seas of Newcastle United shirts around, until it dawns on me that Geordie superfan Sam Fender is headlining the East Stage later on.
After watching grumpy British rapper Tion Wayne battle technical problems on East Stage, I’m off to the Festival Republic tent on our photographer’s recommendation to watch The Last Dinner Party, who recently supported Florence on her tour. It proves to be a good tip, as singer Abigail Morris whirls around the stage in a Regency style dress like a demented Jane Eyre as her tight bandmates knock out some smart tunes. Their debut single, Nothing Matters, is an absolute banger as Morris sings ‘and I will fuck you like nothing matters’, much to the delight of a packed tent.
One of the great joys Leeds Festival is its lack of snobbery, so pop and dance acts that might not be cool at enough other festivals are always welcome. Through sheer hard work, Mimi Webb has graduated to an early slot on East Stage, and she makes the most of it with a confident set of quality pop tunes including her top 10 hit Good Without, and a great version of Dumb Love that speaks to the experiences of a decent crowd. Webb has a strong voice, and needs to work a little on her stage presence, but she does enough to suggest she will get later and bigger slots
You Me At Six play a vanilla dad rock set on the West Stage.
Wet Leg are one of those rare bands where one song massively accelerates their career, so the ubiquitous success of Chaise Longue means that instead of playing one of the smaller tents, they’ve got a high profile afternoon slot on East Stage. The excitement gets so much for charismatic lead singer Rhian Teasdale that her trendy crocheted bonnet falls off her head as the biggest mosh pit of the weekend kicks off.
Despite all the all hype, and winning two Grammys, they’ve only got one album so that gets pretty much played in its entirety. Their relentless touring off the back of it has made them a tight outfit as they get the crowd going with Wet Dream, the caustic Piece Of Shit and the simmering rage of Ur Mum. Live, it’s interesting to see how integral vocalist/guitarist Hester Chambers is to their at times quite psychedelic sound, and they seem a bit overwhelmed by the crowd’s response. The opening chords of the saucy, but so catchy, Chaise Longue sends the mosh pit into a frenzy and, despite their relative inexperience, Wet Leg justify their slot.
On West Stage Bicep are stretching the concept of live to breaking point as two blokes hunch over desks mixing tunes with some graphics playing. Luckily Russell Kane in the comedy tent is far more entertaining as this highly skilled stand up runs round the stage urging young people to think for themselves and mocking us oldies too. No subject is taboo for Kane, even teasing a young couple that first love never lasts, but he cheekily pulls it off though his fearlessness and hard earned comedy chops, so people walk away thinking rather than just being offended.
Loyle Carner is one of those acts 6 Music dads get excited about so they have bit of urban cred despite being a million miles away from his reality, but previously he’d sort of passed me by a bit. More fool me as he is a top class live performer who has lot to say about modern Britain and the tension in communities across the UK. For some reason there is a scrap car on stage, but it doesn’t distract too much as his well-drilled band hammer through Hate, reflecting honesty on his own experiences as a young black man and that of his community. The likeable Carner really engages with the audience, telling them to ‘Fuck that toxic masculinity bullshit’ that blighted his early years. He talksabout the joys of being a dad as he does a bit freestyling on Homerton, noting his son was born at the local hospital, during a set that only enhances his reputation.
I first came across Foals years ago in a small club, and I thought their clever art rock was ok, but the subsequent rise to headlining big stages remains a bit incomprehensible to me. And so it proves today as there’s not much of a show here, with some blokes playing clever songs not really suited to an big outdoor area like West Stage, with some pretty average graphics on the big screens. Frontman Yannis Philippakis has a strong voice, but his stagecraft seems to be dropping the F bomb like a cool uncle trying a bit too hard, and it doesn’t really get a passive crowd going. 2am and Olympic Airwaves are highlights in what is for me a stilted set that would have been much better suited to the indoors.
As Sam Fender comes home from the Reading leg of this festival to play for a home crowd he shouts ‘it’s good to be back north, it’s party night now.’ And so it proves, as the poor lad makes frequent stops throughput the set so the festival’s really switched on security teams can help overawed or wasted people out of the rammed front pit.
Let’s take a moment to knock the idea that he is the ‘Geordie Springsteen’ firmly on the head. It seems to be based on some of his songs featuring a sax, but with all due respect to this likeable young singer he is no Bruce, and the lazy comparison does him a massive disservice. In reality, Fender is a decent songwriter and performer in his own right, beloved by the teenage boys and girls crammed into the front pit who he speaks to as a slightly older brother.
An opening salvo of The Kitchen and Will We Talk? as fireworks shoot into the night sky sets out his template of guitar driven tunes with a big chorus and added brass. Fender pauses for a moment to tell the audience: “I came to Leeds when I was 18 and got blackout drunk to Kasabian” before he was rescued by his mates, which is probably a familiar tale for some revellers.
There’s a lovely moment during Get You Down as a dad and his teenage daughter sing and dance together, proving Fender’s musical brand transcends generations. Away from the big numbers, working class lad Fender is a sensitive songwriter, and none more so than on Spit Of You, which is part confessional and part love letter to his dad as he sings “I can’t talk to you/I can’t talk to anyone” as family photographs pop up on the big screens. Like all headliners Fender saves his best number to last, blasting out Seventeen Going Under as the crowd gleefully join in as a mass chorus on his punchy tale of teen angst.
At one point Fender tells the crowd: “We will always feel like the underdogs…thank you so much for letting me be your headliner for once”. From anyone else it would come across as a humble brag, but Fender is a sincere guy, and judging by this confident performance this everyman star will deservedly continue to be a headline act for the foreseeable future.
As the artful dodgers head home to spend their hard-earned loot, the older kids wander back to their tents for more partying after seeing one of their own deliver a career defining set. Some of them will no doubt been thinking if Sam can do it then we can too, which is exactly how it should be as the performing torch gets passed down from generation to generation.
Words by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here.
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