Summer Sundae is an eclectic little festival, part party in the park, part city festival, part proper potential mudfest. It’s drawn several comparisons over the years, but the one I like best is as one of Latitude’s baby brothers. If I say that one of the highlights of Sunday morning was watching as two 11 year old boys walked past our tent carrying a brushed chrome cafetiere, it probably tells you all you need to know.
But it’s not just about the civilised vibe – there’s also a line up that’s as eclectic as Latitude’s, which includes cabaret, comedy and spoken word as well as big name classics (Public Image Ltd, Billy Bragg, Adam Ant) alongside a tasty contemporary line-up (Ghostpoet, tUnE-yArDs, Her Name is Calla, Dog is Dead, Bastille, Friends – the list is impressive). The odd bit of hardcore’s thrown in for good measure in the shape of the wonderful Buenos Aires, an awe-some hybrid of ¡Forward Russia! and Biffy Clyro and a fearless antidote to a diet of “accessible pop”, and Maybeshewill’s riveting, lyric-eschewing, art-house metal.
If all that sounds like too much for you, then Lucy Rose’s delicate yet piercing crystalline voice should delight. Her sounds is full of colour, warm but powerful, her guitar imaginative, and nicest of all she is informal enough that you feel like she’s playing to you sitting next to you on your sofa. Taking enjoyment in performing music to another level later in the festival was the legendary Jonathan Richman. Richman is a nothing but a delight to watch – his joy in performing infectious, his understated cheekiness conspiratorial, his impromptu jazz dancing inspired in a world that takes itself far too seriously. He talks to us between songs, explaining the synaesthetic qualities of his guitars, gently celebrating self expression and mocking conformity; and during his songs, his mellow yet bell-clear voice holds the audience in total thrall, theatrically troubadour-like, while he with hints of Hawaii and Spanish flourishes.An unexpected tent-filler was Grace Petrie, a Leicester folk singer-songwriter – which means she has, in her own words “two settings – angry and sad”. At once, she is intelligently modest and adorably funny, with an arsenal of both rousing protests rants (angry) and off-beat love songs (sad). She is a wonderful storyteller, wise and witty, and it’s no surprise to learn she will be playing with Billy Bragg in London in September in his Woody Guthrie show. Bragg’s Woody Guthrie 100th birthday tribute at Summer Sundae in fact, one of a handful he’s playing in the UK, is like watching history unfold before your eyes. Bragg is so passionate, so enigmatic a speaker as he explains the story behind each of Guthrie’s songs that he’s lovingly rescored, that you don’t want the hour-long set to finish – and when it does, you feel honoured to have been a part of it.
But it’s not all outspoken folk, although there is a good chunk of it. Over at the indoor stage (with proper toilets, festival fans!) Death in Vegas demand our attention, teasing us before exploding into melody, and Django Django who delight and bemuse with their old-school percussion infused rhythms of joy. There is Team Me on the main stage, a Norwegian Scando-pop bands whose summery melodies are perfect for the balmy weather. In the smallest tent I have ever seen him play is King Charles, and his effortlessly flamboyant lovepop, and next door is 2009’s Mercury Prize winner Speech Debelle, showing off her rhymes and banter, and an impressive ability to get a wary, mostly-white-middle-class-rap-naive audience off their feet and joining in. And not forgetting festival headliners Public Image Ltd, fronted by the unique John Lydon, who seems so at home on stage it’s like he’s performing for you in his bedroom, his idiosyncratic theatrics totally uninhibited, his primordial screams and Jah Wobble’s cyclical beats drawing you deep into their seminal world.
If we’re talking groundbreaking we have to finish with tUnE-yArDs’ set. Merrill Garbus skips on stage, and warms up with a vocal versatility and openness that’s nothing short of jaw-dropping tribal ululations. We watch her build layers of melody and rhythm, using bits of drumkit and her loop pedal, that are so complex it’s hard to tell where it’s going till it’s finished, by which time you are whisked away with its power. Garbus is a raw and organic performer – she yells, she pushes and plays with her voice as if it belongs to someone else, as she stands poised like a flamingo to loop her next beat, creating deeply expressive rhythms and cycles, snarling, yowling, then grinning from ear to ear as the beat takes its shape. It’s clear very soon that you can’t just watch tUnE-yArDs, they reach deep into your soul with their joyful and triumphant melodies, their life-affirming beats, their sheer ingenuity, creativity and raw power. Summer Sundae promise of “A Musical Treat” has more than delivered.