Queuing for the box office as rain lashed across the exposed High Peak in Derbyshire with scenery obliterated by cloud; not the most auspicious of starts to a weekend. Thankfully, within an hour the rain had gone and didn't return. Now in it's 11th year Y- Not has grown steadily and organically from its indie guitar based roots but this year saw a significant rise in capacity by several thousand, selling out 25,000 tickets in advance. It would be intriguing to see how the event fared.
Friday afternoon / early evening delivered music that was eclectic, entertaining but lacking inspiration and spark. Samm Henshaw's pleasing soulful voice engaged a meagre crowd in the main arena which swelled significantly for "northern delicacy," The Lancashire Hotpots; a band for those who appreciate comedy folk complete with broad Lancastrian accents and clichéd costumes. Clearly thousands at Y Not did judging by the level of audience participation and "dad" dancing. On The Quarry stage troubadour Beans on Toast offered a more current take on the world today to a surprisingly sparse crowd, while Glasgow band, White provided electro funk reminiscent of something from the 1980's. A trek back to the main arena proved pointless as Kelis failed to show; no reason given – just an empty stage. The bar proved a suitable alternative.
My previous encounters with Everything Everything have not always proved enjoyable but this time their melodic arty guitar pop seems to please, as the band perform a really focused set. They are the first to lift proceedings above the average. The Cribs can never be accused of lacking enthusiasm on stage and Friday night proved no exception. Live, they are the antithesis of Everything Everything's smooth polish, rough around the edges but packed with charisma. The swelling audience feed off the energy with devotees at the front bringing the first genuine singalongs of the day as atmosphere builds.
Friday night headliners, Editors deliver a set at times dark, occasionally plaintive but always powerful. Clearly at home in front of a large audience this is a stunning performance complimented by simple but hugely effective white lighting and occasional pyrotechnics. Drawing greatly on, "An end has a start" and current album "In Dream," Tom Smith's impassioned vocals evoke the spirit of Joy Division while the band's performance has an intensity that the weekend's other headliners never come close to matching.
Saturday morning brought sunshine, Mr. Motivator, and the astonishing sight of thousands gyrating to the at times tongue in cheek, lewd moves of the fluorescent lycra clad sexagenarian. Maybe we should all begin Saturday by, "riding our horse!"
Musically, Ngod impress early in the afternoon. Indie but angular with a sense of urgency, they are difficult to really categorise but have an edge that sets them apart from the smooth melodic indie pop of contemporaries like The Amazons and Eliza and The Bear who follow them onto the main stage. Later we are treated to the demise of Rat Boy. Mixing melodies and hip hop, Jordan Cardy is quite engaging but seems more interested in whipping up the audience and does so with some success. Reluctant to depart after his 30 minute set he is eventually "persuaded" to leave the stage by his manager. Backstage he apparently vented his frustration by biting a member of security staff; has the world seen the end of Rat Boy and the arrival of his alter ego, The Cannibal Kid?
Saturday afternoon on The Quarry stage brought a variety of guitar based delights. Following a great set last year, RedFaces were invited back by BBC introducing. Delivering straight ahead retro rock and r n'b in the vein of The Strypes and Dr Feelgood these youngsters (who now look at least 15) once again impress. Later, energy levels are maintained by the powerful punk guitar, but ultimately rather one dimensional sound of Pretty Vicious. Biggest surprise of the day was undoubtedly Lucy Spraggan as your reviewer is clearly out of touch regarding her popularity. The audience outside the tent was at least 20 deep and once I fought my way inside discovered a largely female crowd singing every word of her songs of everyday life. Continuing the "out of touch" theme, Sundara Karma have received lots of positive press in recent months but their appeal failed to register here; 3 songs was enough.
Catfish & The Bottlemen were Saturday night's headliners. Okay, they may not have played last but they drew the largest audience, received the most euphoric response and delivered the most assured set of the day. Mixing material from their two albums, the band delivered a faultless performance as their trajectory continues to soar. Mayhem spread among the burgeoning crowd, awash with flares and numerous gigantic inflatables as alligator surfing became the latest festival sport.
As the miasma of multi-coloured flares cleared one wondered how Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds would follow such an awesome performance. What followed was a set of plodding predictability buoyed by typical Mancunian arrogance. He began well enough with, "Everybody's on the Run" followed by "Lock all the Doors," but six of the fifteen tracks played were Oasis songs and it was these that engendered mass singing rather than his solo material. A few songs in he asked, "Who's the best act you've seen today?" Pausing briefly before he responded to himself with, "Right fucking answer; me." Sheer arrogance, delusional, or tongue in cheek? It was difficult to tell but he surely must have realised that he'd been upstaged. There was nothing wrong with his performance, it was professional if predictable, but it just couldn't compete with what had gone before. A recent quote from our ex-prime minister comes to mind; "I was the future once."
Sunday on the main stage opened with Kagoule,. Competent but lacking in originality, they were reminiscent of Placebo. Will Joseph Cook followed, provided a pleasant listen but he was hardly inspiring. It took the arrival of Vant to bring things to life and attract an audience. Their grungy guitar rock has moved up a notch in the past 12 months and brought with it a more confident stage presence; this is a band who look destined for further success. King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys seem to have become a Y Not Sunday afternoon fixture. Their self-depreciative take on jazz, swing and rockabilly is an aural and visual treat and brings smiles and outbreaks rock n' roll jiving.
Late afternoon saw the large appreciative audience lapping up successive laid back grooves. The Germanic, folky reggae of Milky Chance was a delight (I can't get opening track Down by the River out of my head) and Fun Lovin' Criminals rolled back the years with a succession of 1990's hits. Huey seemed genuinely taken aback by the audience response.
The Hives are a force of nature and on Sunday night they are unstoppable. From the first notes of opening track, "Come on" the band are on fire and the audience erupts. Pausing for breath three songs in, vocalist Howlin Pelle Allqvist tells the audience, "It's a pleasure for you to have us." He isn't wrong. As the blistering mix of punkish rock n' roll continues, self-effacing Allqvist has cause to tell us, "We're one of the best live acts around . . . but tonight we're special; the best you'll ever see." Is he serious? It's hard to tell (he also tells us he's rock's greatest arsehole) but tonight he may just be right. The Hives never fail to impress but Sunday's performance really was special; the best of the weekend.
Could Madness follow that? Clearly not, but Madness inhabit their own house of baggy trousers with their own legion of fans. They begin brightly with Embarrassment and proceed through a selection of well-crafted favorites mixed with ska covers but there is a sense of marking time. Forty minutes in they and the audience finally come to life. Paying tribute to The Hives they launch into an appalling cover of AC/DC's 'Highway to Hell'. It really is woeful but it brings the first mass singalong of the set. From there on they're in the home straight. One step beyond, Baggy Trousers, Our House, House of Fun and more, elicit mass daft dancing and singing, bringing the festival to a close with real style.
Making significant changes creates opportunities but also presents challenges, so how did Y Not fare by increasing capacity by either 7,000 or 10,000 depending on which source you read. It certainly had the feel of a larger festival in the enlarged main arena, attracting bigger, more expensive names and generated a great atmosphere on all three nights. With hindsight, organisers should probably have thought more about the smaller venues, which remained mostly unchanged. The Quarry (2nd stage) could not cope with audience numbers for DJ Fresh, Lucy Spraggan, and Blossoms. Similarly, the venue for Craig Charles had to be moved to try to accommodate huge numbers. There were still plenty of open spaces that could be utilised to achieve this. Other small venues like The Giant Squid, and Allotment thrive on intimacy but were always rammed and justify larger tents. It was difficult to get into these venues unless you took up residence and stayed (as many seemed to do.)
Personally, I found the event peaceful, with a chilled pleasing atmosphere but was aware of tales of aggression, violence and theft in some of the more boisterous camping areas. It's difficult to judge how prevalent these issues were but could believe concerns over limited security presence. This was certainly an issue at times in the main stage pit and on entrances to the main arena where checks on bottles and cans seemed minimal. I wouldn't describe myself as a hygene obsessive but after being engulfed in Saturday afternoon's paint fight I was in need of a shower. Having searched without success, several stewards informed me that they were only available in family camping which I couldn't access, or by paying £35 for some kind of weekend pamper pass, I remained dirty until a cold tap was found. More people equates to more drinking and a need for more toilets. For most of the weekend facilities seemed to cope well but there was clearly an issue with those in the main arena by the time Madness hit the stage on Sunday night; to say more would be to give too much detail! Driving to the event I had worried about traffic congestion but arriving early on Friday afternoon I encountered no difficulties. Whether this was the case at peak times I don't know.
Most of the above are issues that could be resolved with a little thought and financial outlay. Any project involving significant change is likely to have teething problems. This was another successful Y Not; the festival seems to have made a successful jump in terms of size and stature with the potential for further improvements.
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