With the UK festival market reaching saturation, a festival needs to have a unique selling point. Summer Sundae, based in Leicester has several. The events compact city centre location means that the four stages are all very close to each other, and with a staggered running order that enables you to watch (if you chose to) every act on the main stage as well as full sets by artists appearing on the other stages in between, it is a music lovers paradise. In theory in one day you could watch about sixteen full sets by different bands, although you would need to fit in food, drink and toilet breaks somewhere as well.
Another unique factor of Summer Sundae is the ‘Indoor Stage’, more commonly known as the De Montfort Hall. The De Montfort Hall is a typical purpose built concert hall complete with balcony, comfy seats and proper toilets. No danger of trudging around in the mud here, although for Summer Sundae 2009 it was gloriously sunny, so entering the darkness of the indoor stage felt a little improper for such good weather, but where there was music to be discovered, needs must. Many punters seemed to enjoy staying sitting outside on the grass at the main stage, giving that area a very relaxed wine glass and picnic type atmosphere, which seemed somewhat incongruous with the often hip roster of bands that graced the Summer Sundae line up.
The first early afternoon stop of the first day for Breaking More was in the Phrased and Confused poetry tent where four artists were commissioned to produce new and exclusive works for this festival. We caught three piece Sound Of Rum who produce a piece of work combining ambient atmospherics that build into an almost jazzy, dubby flowing groove whilst Strongbow drinking, ladette look a like Kate Tempest delivers one hundred mile an hour poetry about the way that patterns in life unfold. Her rap may be charged and forceful but combined with the music its extremely effective and potent.
The Pencil Stringhorn Project crack on with the music and words groove although to a lesser influence than Sound Of Rum. With midnight sax riffs and creaky rhythmic cello backing, poet Joshua Idehen croons a piece about gang enlistment and the BNP entitled You're Strolling With Us Dogs Now; “There’s no one to turn to - we’ll sort you out,” he raps. Its menacing and dark. Elsewhere other tracks are of a more personal nature, with a piece about Idehens arguing neighbours.
The newly relocated Rising Stage is our next stop , where once again Summer Sundae have teamed up with Drowned In Sound who curate the stage. BLK JKS from Johannesburg start their set with a few minutes of moody muso noodling which slowly grows into what could at best be described as a sky touching anthem, and at worst, a song constructed of more moody muso noodling. Not everything is like this though. In fact one of BLK JKS qualities is the variety in their songs. There are twitchy funky guitars, complicated pace changing rhythms, whistling and a few rather nasty prog rock moments. All this variety means that we soon need a musical map as BLK JKS loose us in their hazy blend of sounds, as well as a significant number of the crowd who leave the marquee early. It’s all a little bit like a TV On The Radio practice session. A look what they can do with a guitar type experience. Competent musicianship but not nothing to engage an audience with.
The Qemists fusion of rock and drum and bass in the De Montfort Hall seems to be a little bit misplaced on the bill, being far more suited to late night hedonism. The Brighton bands energised sound under a strobe light frenzy is just a little too derivative for Breaking More Waves tastes, taking the electronic fireworks of The Prodigy and Pendulum as their starting point, but without the character or style of either of these two bands, although the youthful crowd surfers in the audience would probably disagree.
Oi Va Voi on the main stage continue the musically diverse spectrum of groups at Summer Sundae. With a mixture of clarinet, drums, violin, trumpet and guitar their sound is gypsy pop dancing with Shirley Bassey at the circus. With lead singer Bridgette Amofah parading around the stage in a blue mini skirt and red heels, and the very orange looking violin player Anna Phoebe diving on her knees and arching her back as she plays, they create a visual playfulness which balances neatly against their perfectly contained sound.
Unfortunately Fridays headliners The Streets had to pull out of the days proceedings due a bout of swine flu which means that Idlewild were bumped up the bill as emergency last minute headliner. This leaves Beardyman to fill the Idlewild early evening slot on the main stage. “Make some noise Leicester,” he shouts and finally gets the crowd off their cosy picnic blankets. Beardyman is a stunning and often hilarious beat boxer, but these days his set has evolved to incorporate electronic sampling and mashing his own voice to create live dance tracks, as well as the addition of a live guitarist for part of his set. This is highly technically impressive, but nothing can match the rawness of just his pure beat boxing particularly when he drops in The White Stripes Seven Nation Army into the mix.
Just a few weeks ago we witnessed Dan Black play probably his most surreal gig ever at the Camp Bestival bandstand to an audience of heckling four year olds and their parents. He’s back on more usual ground at Summer Sundae with the front row full of screaming teens and a mix of curious twenty to forties behind them. “I feel like Boyzone,” he announces. “It’s early, so give us a moment to let the juices fully come to the boil,” he states before ripping through a set of gleaming electro pop, roaming the stage in power drill circles, dancing awkwardly in his pointy shoes; toes pointed inwards. Alone is once again the highlight, spitting funky bass lines whilst whooshing synth sounds attack with shabby tongue out lustfulness. The juices were flowing for sure.
Taking the main stage to the sound of air horns Mystery Jets demonstrate just how many good songs they have written in a relatively short space of time. Half In Love With Elizabeth, Young Love and Two Doors Down are all deliciously sweet, showing the band can pen quirky summery euphoric pop songs, although their sound occasionally suffers from being a little sleight and the band lack that indefinable stage presence to give them extra muscle. This lack of robust might leads to the back section of the audience virtually ignoring the band. A new song This Girl Is Gone shows the band progressing on the route to more mature singer songwriter type tunes that bodes well for the future, if they can master the art of holding everyone’s attention, rather than just half the crowd.
And so following on from their previous headlining slot at Summer Sundae in 2005, Idlewild step into the breach left by The Streets. Roddy Woomble apologises to the relatively small crowd (for a headliner) for not being Mike Skinner but nobody seems to mind. Idlewild deliver the goods, playing it straight and racing through a set of crowd pleasers including Everyone Says You’re So Fragile, When I Argue I See Shapes, You Held The World In Your Arms and Roseability. Idlewild are just five boys making a lovely noise. Their edgy guitar sound is pleasingly powerful, the vocals having just enough sneer and dourness to be affecting. It’s a fine end to the first day Of Summer Sundae 2009, but Saturday gets even better...