I had a small amount of difficulty rising from the dead this morning, so unfortunately missed first act of the day, Owl and Mouse, who played in the cafe of The Gate.
Today was unofficially designated hangover day, and the Wales Goes Pop curators had done a good job of compiling bands that would suit sore heads. In the main, it was gentle and soothing, with a little bit of experimentation thrown in to teasingly further confuse those who may have been present in body only. Today was for people wearing their hangovers on their sleeves.
First up in the main hall were Haiku Salut who posted an ethereal mix of unusual sounds and whacky beats upon the walls of listeners’ consciousnesses.
Next were Hail! The Planes who have come far since I saw their very first gig in a little Cardiff coffee shop. There is a feel of experimental jazz, perfect listening while reading the Sunday papers, as some in the hall were. It was all very cultured. Hearing them again evoked memories of that first time, when wet Autumn leaves fluttered around the window outside, as darkness descended. All very cosy and wholesome.
I caught little more than a glimpse of Tender Prey in the cafe. Another two-piece outfit, looking a little eccentric, but eager, I felt, and with some amount of passion. Anyone saying their prayers today was no doubt feeling tender.
Woodpigeon had a dreamy kind of sound with a backdrop of a tube ride of what I think was Berlin, which emphasised the feel of being taken to some distant place. There is a slightly confusing mix of the familiar with the unfamiliar. There is a warm, nostalgic feel to the music, like a Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. Very nice, and to bring things up to date, the solo performer uses a loop pedal to good effect (as all solo acts should, in my view).
Sandwiching Sweet Baboo on the mainstage was a double helping of Rozi Plain in the cafe. She brought some nice sounds out of her guitar, but her voice was so soothing that boozy bods around her were starting to nod off. She must have realised that trying to encourage some audience participation was always going to require some amount of optimism. She encouraged listeners to believe that “loolooloo”ing along to one part of one of her songs might inspire a spiritual feeling. Be that as it may, to get a crowd of half-asleep strangers to join in means having to really force the issue, or you might as well not bother at all. Not to say I didn’t attempt it myself, but not sure if too many others did.
Is Sweet Baboo famous? Does anyone know? He’s been treading Cardiff’s boards for many a year now, and you can even hear him on Radio 6, but quantifying an artist’s popularity seems so much more difficult these days with no charts of any meaning, and no Top of the Pops. Has he been on Jools Holland? Well, after all these years, I think I might finally have become accustomed to his purposefully off-kilter vocal. He is a singer who lays himself more bare than most, imploring his desire to dance and make love. But there is still an undoubted humour, as he sings about another singer who doesn’t write about himself, “something I can never do.” The phrase “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” is used in indiepop circles, but flying in the face of that, he says most of his new songs have no chorus at all, instead being all verse, verse, verse. He plays us a new song, which he says he intends to release next year to try and make money, a la Travis. It’s something to do with rain. This, I suspect, is also not serious, as before long there is a verse about Cardiff’s once famous Billy the Seal, which I somehow think may limit the song’s overall commercial viability. Very next song is “Swimming Wild” which probably has been his biggest commercial success. Rendered well, though he sings the chorus perhaps an octave lower than the version released as a single.
I’ve seen Stereolab perhaps 3 or 4 times. One of these times was at a converted church, supporting Spiritualised, which was quite a spiritual experience, as you might expect. It seems fitting then to be watching singer, Laetitia Sadier in a converted church once more. Stereolab have a very broad appeal – house music fans like them for their experimental sounds as much as the most hardcore indie fans. Their sound is perhaps the most perfect Sunday afternoon coffee kulture music of all. They must be tired of being known as hangover music.
Solo, Laetitia Sadier is not too much different as you might expect, the same dreamy sounds and vocals. I swear I heard the guitar part to “Pinball Wizard” at one point though, with a loud drum roll to finish to rouse people from their slumbers. A new song was tried out “like new shoes”, but fitted in fine. Sadier spoke of people being lobotomised under capitalism. I suppose Stereolab have always been political in a way. It seems like the perfect time to catch people unawares, ie. when they’re drunk, and to allow softly spoken words of empowerment to gently seep in. The song that followed had echoes of Pink Floyd, and in fact you would definitely want Stereolab or Laetitia Sadier on the bill following some kind of European Revolution, as the walls, palaces and stadiums crumble and burn.
A very polished performance all round, and encapsulating from start to finish, Laetitia Sadier was definitely one of my favourite acts of the weekend.
And so it came to final band of the festival, Withered Hand. It was a slightly surprising choice of headliner for me, although apparently their album has charted recently. Withered Hand did not quite fit into the theme of the day, being not so sombre, experimental and chilled out, but perhaps this was wise – better to end on an upbeat note. Relatively standard indie folk fare it may have been, but better suited for the closing shindig.
Overall, Wales Goes Pop was an excellent festival – you won’t get a much better value one-venue festival than this. Good variety throughout, with something for everyone – a very well selected line-up, with not one act that did not appeal in some way or other, and some really outstanding performances each day. Well done, Wales Goes Pop!
This review first appeared on Louderthanwar.com