Guildford Stoke Park

Saturday is "indie day" and after the horrors of [a]Jools Holland[/a]and friends on Friday's bill and with [B]The Saw Doctors[/B] to follow on Sunday, it's the only day that won't make you contemplat

If [a]Glastonbury[/a] brings the madness and soul to the festival calendar, and Reading the rock grime, then Guildford brings a hamper of posh food, boxes of wine and collapsible garden furniture. You’re more likely to emerge from the crowd with a bulging investment portfolio than the spirit of rock, but one glimpse at the horrors lurking on the bill – Afro Celt Sound System, Donovan, Lindisfarne – and perhaps a picnic is the only sane response.

Saturday is “indie day” and after the horrors of Jools Holland and friends on Friday’s bill and with The Saw Doctors to follow on Sunday, it’s the only day that won’t make you contemplate euthanasia. For starters, there’s Mishka muttering [I]”Jah! Rastafari!”[/I] to the complete bemusement of some of the whitest people ever gathered. They soon get into it, not because ‘Give You All The Love’ is amiable enough, but because this is the kind of sub-Marley reggae that all-inclusive resorts play to their cosseted guests to remind them they are in the Caribbean.

Causing similar bafflement with their dizzy pop and Steps-inspired dance moves are Younger Younger 28’s. Grins widen accordingly, only to be snuffed out by Hooky‘s bass-heavy Monaco and the dawning realisation that, with every gig they play, this becomes an ever more excruciating exercise in prolonging a career way beyond its shelf life.

Luckily Shack, filling in for the disintegrating Ultrasound, provide a masterclass in how to still sound relevant after more than a decade. They’re ominously late arriving, but when the Head brothers appear, they bring a fistful of songs – ‘Cornish Town’, ‘Streets Of Kenny’ – that ring with timeless melody, and do their status as a great lost band no harm at all.

But this is what we’re here for – James. They’re playing a greatest hits set, and ‘Laid’, ‘Sound’ and ‘Tomorrow’ sound fine. True, none of them is a patch on a dusted-down and frenzied ‘Johnny Yen’, but at least they haven’t been subjected to the torture they dish out to ‘Sit Down’ – their one true moment of communal resonance. Slowed down and speeded up in all the wrong places, it suggests they have come to detest the golden albatross.

But it’s what they’ve done since the heady days of Madchester that presents the real problems. ‘Destiny Calling’ and ‘She’s A Star’ play coy with a few nods towards dance rhythms, but mainly they just allow Tim Booth a pulpit from which to spin his morally superior sermons and fatuous home truths. Namely, we’re all stars at heart, underneath everyone’s a little bit weird, going home is nice once in a while, and we all like a good sit down now and again. If you’re looking for any greater insight, you’d be better off staying in and consulting your feng shui manuals.

It gets no better with a smattering of new songs unveiled from forthcoming album ‘Millionaires’. ‘Crash’ and ‘Fred Astaire’ (if it’s still called that after the singer’s estate get through with them) are just further bland excuses to allow Booth to dance like a wriggly worm. But they’re nothing compared with the incredibly obnoxious new song introduced as “a victim song – because everybody’s got a victim inside them”. It’s self-help manual rock, a mewling dilution of Radiohead‘s bedrock, and quite possibly the worst thing they’ve ever done. Tellingly, Booth announces “we’re very proud of it”.

Towards the end, they throw a mild tantrum over a lack of wine onstage, yet remain as polite as the festival they’re headlining. Their mission to mollify, not challenge their audience, is complete. They know what they’re here for all right, and nothing as coarse as excitement is going to get in their way.

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