OnRoundhay Festival: Roundhay Park, Leeds

There are few things more satisfying in life than sitting on the grass in the sun, pint in hand, in front of a stage. I was fortunate enough to find myself in this exact situation on the weekend as I, among thousands of others, made my way to Leeds’ Roundhay Park for the first ever OnRoundhay festival.

Roundhay’s first music event in a decade was headlined by James, alongside Primal Scream and Wolf Alice. However, OnRoundhay was more than your regular music festival, featuring celebrity chef demonstrations, the John Lewis food village, and an abundance of children’s entertainment, including the ‘Puffin World of Stories’ stage.

Holding a festival in mid-September doesn’t assume the warmest of weathers it is fair to say. However, very fortunately this September, with the weekend being no exception has been extraordinarily sunny.

With the sun shining, the beers flowing, and family’s with picnic blankets as far as the eye could see, it was the perfect entrance for Leeds band The Haggis Horns. The British funk band took to the stage, with their wonderful horn section fooling everyone into believing it was the middle of summer. The band created a really good feel throughout the park, they got people up on their feet dancing, granted these people were mostly over middle aged women who’d possibly had a little too much wine by this point, but they were the perfect opening to the first OnRoundhay festival, filling the park with excitement for what would follow later in the day.

The Haggis Horns were followed by 21-year-old Max Jury, from Iowa, USA. Whilst the young musician had a talent and seemed to be a nice guy, and had also clearly caught the eye of every young teenage girl in the park who were now stood at the front barrier, dreamily looking up at the stage, he wasn’t the best following act for the Haggis Horns. His fairly acoustic set was very slow, and quite frankly miserable. There were no issues with him as a musician, however the crowd went from dancing in the sun to sitting down awkwardly resulting in them taking the opportunity to explore the John Lewis food village, myself included.

The festival presented a very large array of food options, from Ox Club’s fire pit barbequing whole lambs; Sela bar’s grilled cheese van; to the very well loved Los Churros Amigos stall for which the queue for their Churros with Belgian chocolate dip was spectacular right up until close.

In anticipation for the arrival of Wolf Alice, a crowd started to gather at the front of the stage for the first time in the day so far. The band came on stage to applauses and cheers from an audience made up of predominantly teenagers, amongst a few curious parents hoping to see what the fuss was about. The band seemed to have a pretty loyal following despite the age of the fans in attendance, there were moments when it felt like a Wolf Alice headline gig. It’s easy to see why their fans like them, melodic pop choruses made indie and grunge, something that transfers into the bands image also. I think it would be fair to say the band have probably left OnRoundhay with a few more fans than they came with.

As the evening fell slightly darker and a lot colder, I had imagined the families with their children would have removed themselves from the crowd at the front where they had been sat throughout the day, to retreat further back and allow Primal Scream and James fans to come forward ready for the bands to come on stage. However, this was not the case, the crowd stayed as it had been, meaning the atmosphere in front of the stage suffered a little. Primal Scream front man Bobby Gillespie tried his best to get the crowd going and was struggling to hide his agitation at the fact that it was quieter than you would have expected in front of him, despite opening with ‘Movin’ on up’ and going on to play old classics such as ‘Jailbird’, ‘Country Girl’ and ‘Rocks’. The further back the crowd went, the better the atmosphere it seemed, as the band played big hit ‘Loaded’ and the crowd on the brow of the hill danced and sang along.

It was a good set from Primal Scream, a lot of old hits and the songs from their new album “Chaosmosis” sounded good and got a generally good reception despite the dampening of the atmosphere due to a combination of the age of the audience and a lack of loyal Primal Scream following in the crowd.

James were to follow Primal Scream and to close the evening, and despite being a notoriously good live band, there were concerns about the upcoming performance following Primal Scream. Thankfully, whilst there was still a considerable amount of children in the crowd, there was also a large James following at the festival, meaning the atmosphere picked up significantly for the closing set.

Opening with ‘Getting Away With It’ followed by biggest hit ‘Sit Down’ was a very energetic start to the set, which front man Tim Booth claimed was because they had to “pull out the big hits” when you’re following Primal Scream! The band certainly did just that, as they went on to play “Laid”; “She’s A Star”; “Sometimes”; “Come Home”; and an encore of “Say Something”. The crowd definitely appreciated the appearances of such big hits after the band had left a few out of their shows over the summer period. Unlike Primal Scream the atmosphere was bouncing, as Tim Booth did his usual gig of standing on the front barriers singing to the crowd before crowd surfing, which he admitted was difficult with the amount of kids in the audience! He laughed with the crowd as he accidentally dedicated ‘Moving On’ – a song about breaking up, to a couple who’d got married last week instead of newest single ‘Nothing But Love’… an easy mistake.

As expected, James had a great live presence, their repertoire of songs sounded fantastic live and they were the perfect headliners for what had been a great festival. It was a festival dedicated to families and children which I was potentially naïve about due to the nature of the musician line up, but it was a very well set up event which provided plenty to do and see throughout the day, and I would very much like to see the festival back next year.

(Main image and James photos courtesy of Andrew Benge for OnRoundhay).