T IN THE PARK
There are these two cannibals, you understand. And they are eating a clown. Suddenly one cannibal turns to the other and says, “Don’t know about you, pal. But I think this tastes a bit funny.” Ouch. But in a nutshell: this is T In The Park.
Thirty miles from Edinburgh in the by-now traditional ‘former military installation as venue for youthful larks’ location, a mood of levity rarely spotted at recent festivals fills the air. Gone, the rheumatic creaks and porous groundsheets of Glastonbury. Seldom, the phlegmy rumble of torrential coughing and pitiful wails of those who have seen their belongings washed to another county on a wave of rain, lager and cow flop. People are enjoying themselves. People are even sitting down. Just look around. Here’s Gruff Rhys, from Super Furry Animals, cross-legged and grinning. Gruff? “Just spent a lot of time in an enclosed space,” he says, puzzlingly. “And now…” he gestures, his arms open wide, “…this!”
Then there’s Stuart from Mogwai. Stuart has just attempted to smuggle a consciousness-enhancing ‘thing’ into the site in his sock, a task he has successfully accomplished. With one minor drawback. “I’ve got athlete’s foot,” he says ruefully. “Still,” he says, brightening, “got it down my socket anyway.” The vibes, you see, are up. The grass dry. No-one taking themselves at all seriously. Outside among the people, poor-quality cannibal humour circulates from the roving street theatre entertainers. Faces are painted with the ubiquitous ‘T’. Grown men wear Loch Ness monster hats that stretch halfway down their backs and attempt to converse with the aliens walking inexplicably by the dance tent. There seems to have been a supply drop of inflatable furniture. Meanwhile, perhaps unmindful of his fate, a lone clown walks among the people.
But perhaps he’s not truly alone. If Glastonbury was periodically home of the grave, it’s pestilential climatic visitations a mirror for what was occurring onstage (Pulp: Sou’westers. Embrace: I’ll get me brolly), here, the mood of having farcically lucked out in the sun is matched by the relentlessly cabaret feel of the performance. Here, you don’t just play the tunes. Here, you play the crowd. So anyway, a wig walks into a bar. Barman says, “I’m not serving you. You’re off your head.”
Which is where we find Travis, maybe best equipped to show exactly what is going off here. A year-and-a-half ago, the first version of their ‘All I Wanna Do Is Rock’ single appeared to be riding the very gravest of waves, rendering them a surrogate Radiohead. But the change that has come upon them (Purge the indie introspection! Think lager! Think gurls! Think Oasis if Oasis were Bonehead genetically replicated five times!) is what is happening to the way in which musicians increasingly behave. They’re not just bands any more. Like Bruce Forsyth: they’re entertainers. Tie your scarf to your wrist, then, here they come. And 1-2-3-4, it’s ‘Tied To The ’90s’ (sing along!), ‘The Line Is Fine’ (I can’t hear you!) and ‘U16 Girls’ (I still can’t hear you!), all storming vindications of the fact that it is possible to say nothing at all and still say it very loud indeed.
Fran Healy has, however, got the mood down. “Heard everywhere about how it was gonna rain!” he bellows, to his exalting homecoming throng. “And it hasn’t! BRILLIANT!” It’s a theme that runs roundly through the day.
These bands aren’t just here to play some songs. They’re like the indie wing of the meteorological office, here to bring the strangely good news. “It’s better than Glastonbury!” yells Sophie from Theaudience, to prove a point. She is inside the NME Tent, and is standing in a manner best described as ‘teapot-like’, while the slightly superficial cool of ‘If You Can’t Do It When You’re Young (When Can You Do It?)’ falls politely around her.
Ironically though, Theaudience’s proclivity for parentheses in song titles only serves to remind how they are essentially an afterthought to the relative might of Catatonia. Indie makeover? Indie Duckling to Pop Princess? If Travis have dumbed down, then Catatonia have brassed up: Cerys shimmies and sways onstage, half Shirley Bassey, half inebriated housewife and basically belts it out. Belting it out is the new Catatonia way. Less mumbling, less plangent twanging, the Welsh Bjvrk may still sound like she was repeatedly dropped on her head as an infant (“Oooooh,” she sighs, “look at the Ferris wheel!”), but the voice is bingo-hall siren, hammering out their songwriting by soundbite (‘I Am The Mob’, ‘Road Rage’) until you are beaten into submission. The thing is, you don’t even have to try to like it: you are being entertained.
Inside the Radio 1 Tent, even ARAB STRAP are at it. Guest chanteuse Adele swishes up to gorgeous, pouting Aidan Moffat and presents him with a bunch of flowers before the two duet on ‘Afterwards’ – a kind of lo-fi ‘Fairytale Of New York’, if ‘Fairytale Of New York’ had included the sentence, “I think your pants are by the door”. The two fleetingly hold hands, but then, this being Arab Strap’s world, they soon part.
Still, enough pathos. Bring on the knobheads. ROBBIE WILLIAMS makes you wonder, he really does. He’s got a T-shirt on that says ‘The Second Album’s Even Better’. He’s had his hair cut in to a nasty crusty mohican, and he covers himself in the toilet paper that someone’s thrown at him. For God’s sake man! Get some self-respect! Be calm. It will pass. Robbie is the gradual vanishment of cool into the ether. For sure he is unpretentious (he puts on a guitar for his version of ‘There She Goes’, then admits he’s just miming) and certainly he pulls the biggest crowd of the day, but ‘Let Me Entertain You’? No, Williams. I’d rather let you kick my head in.
The day begins to descend into farce. It could just be down to THE SEAHORSES, infuriating not only because they are a Good-Time Band but would probably rather renounce their desert boots forever than admit it, but chiefly because of their turgid incessant blues mangling. At the back of the crowd, a man winces, puts down his pot of beer and solemnly deflates his inflatable chair. But there is no escape from The Good Time! Oh no! In the Radio 1 Tent, there is BENTLEY RHYTHM ACE! Strangely in a comparatively solemn mood (no wigs, no hats, precious little record flinging), they remain the approachable and friendly face of the big-beat fraternity. But this is probably because approachable and friendly faces are those which never change and do the same thing over and over again.
PRODIGY of course, wrote the stadium techno book. Yet as they close proceedings – Keith and Leeroy evidently operating a tag-team formation by which only one is allowed onstage at the same time, Maxim looming in an impressively Vader-like leather coat – it seems the more they try to simultaneously incorporate death metal (note the ‘scary mutated foetus’ backdrop) and be in some nebulous way punk rock, the more ridiculous they become. Less Alfred Hitchcock, more Wes Craven.
That’s entertainment? Sort of… What’s real entertainment occurs earlier. The band have timpani and a drummer who somehow manages to batter them in a highly humorous way. They have trumpeters. They have songs where ballads meet wild thrashings, and drones meet techno. It’s the SUPER FURRY ANIMALS, and it’s their personality which wins out. Yes, you can talk about the weather. Yes, you can work the crowd. But what you’ve got to admire most is a band having the backbone to say that, really, they don’t give a fuck. They’re saying it now. And it’s repeating, but not fading.