Before going to the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival (at Pontin's Holiday Camp) I wasn't sure what to expect - and leaving a few days later I'm still not sure what I made of it all. Staying in a chalet as opposed to a tent had it's obvious benefits, especially as the rain was fairly relentless the entire weekend - making those swimming trunks I packed optimistic at best. But the constant grey skies and rundown look to the place gave it an Apocalypse Now feel - a surrealness not lightened by having to negotiate 'Funland' to get to the bar (my funland). The winner of ATP however, is that it truly is all about the music. Each headlining act allowed to choose their favourite bands to play bill - so the opportunities to discover something new were high.
So heading to stage 2 (downstairs) on the Friday and lifted by the news that Guinness was coming in at a reasonable £2.70 a pint, The Magik Markers were a good place to kick things off. I'd read a bit about this Hungarian/American three piece and was definitely loving the fact they only played two songs in their 40 minute set (I preferred track 1) allowing me to catch up with mates, whilst dipping in and out of their (at-times) fairly rocking jam sessions. I was told however, that Dead Meadow upstairs (stage 1 of 2) were awesome, with a particularly excellent drummer -a vital ingredient for any self-respecting rock band. So upstairs we went -happy with the fact you could walk to a fairly good spec in the crowd relatively hassle free. Broken Social Scene were excellent -the surprise package of the weekend. I'd heard the name, but didn't really know their sound - they reminded me a bit of Mercury Rev - how they would allow a euphoric brass section to creep up and get you grinning by the end of each song. Also, it's the sign of a great band when you are thinking 'There's no way they can top that tune' then halfway through the next you've already forgotten the previous one (if you know what I mean). We were also treated to an early glimpse of Friday's curator J. Mascis - with long grey hair, shades and adidas shell suit. The man is a hero. He came out for a bit of a guitar duel with Broken Social Scene. Odds were stacked heavily against BSS though, as J's guitar sounded like it was turned up to 14, drowning out allcomers. Still, that whetted the appetite for Dinosaur Jr. later. Next up, indie stalwarts Teenage Fanclub. Although they opened up with personal favourite 'Mudhoney' I thought I'd go and check out The Brian Jonestown Massacre instead. Shouldn't have bothered. I liked their music in Dig!, but they were a bit boring really. I guess I was as guilty as many others, down there for the 'Car Crash' effect - waiting to see if Anton Newcombe was going to crack and kick anyone in the head (he didn't). I was told that Teenage Fanclub were great though - fair play to those lads.
A drum kit flanked by 10 Marshall Stacks; Dinosaur Jr made their intentions clear from the off. They were extremely loud, but equally awesome. What happened to Lou Barlow? From nerdy Sebadoh boy, to some sort of pumped up uber-bassist - he easily promoted himself to Lead Bass in my fantasy super group. A fairly healthy split between Lou's and J's songs - with all the 'hits' in there, they are certainly a band I'd make every effort to see whenever they are in town. A blinding set to round off day one.
The day started with a hair of the dog in the pub at twelve and ended 17 hours later being kicked out of the ATP disco. As a result, my memories of Saturday's bands are sketchy at best. The Fiery Furnaces were pretty good. Spoon reminded me of Wilco, but didn't really do enough to lift me out of my stuper. Main act Sleater Kinney were really good though (I think). They certainly rocked the house, with some powerful drumming being a prominent recollection. Worth checking out more of their stuff to plug those holes. Highlight of the day though has to be R Kelly's bizarre Hip-Hopera 'Trapped in the Closet' - showing on the ATP TV Channel (each headliner also gets to create a days schedule of TV). A 40 minute epic with R. Kelly lending his golden tones to the story of various dudes getting caught with each other's girlfriends and threatening to blow everyone away and shit. Was it for real? Who knows - but he did rhyme Bridget with Midget (the midget in question, was uncovered hiding in a cupboard by a policeman returning home early to his wife - bizarre indeed, but try and check it out).
With the rain still coming down and the hangover a large one Sunday was always going to be about re-grouping. So, finding a spot on the back wall to nurse some beers was the order of the day (although this is obviously much more pleasant on a sunny last day of an outdoors festival, as opposed to an airtight bingo hall after a three day rock festival). To be fair to the bands, it was going to take something special to rouse me from that position. Aussie band The Drones had a good stab with their better than average pub-rock. The Decemberists were clearly a crowd favourite, reminding me a bit The Levellers, Placebo and the Polyphonic Spree - but not at all as bad as that sounds. They did manage to get the whole crowd to sit down for a quiet number (no problems for me) then getting them back up for a rousing finale. The lead singer of 70's style rock Dungen also played a flute. Then the highlight of the weekend, The Black Keys. Two songs in and I was up off my ass and into the crowd. The drum and guitar two piece played heavy blues and once again made me wonder what all the fuss is with the White Stripes. Following them was going to be extremely tough and so it proved for biggest disappointments The Shins. The band I was most looking forward to seeing, as I'm a great fan of both their albums, were let down by a number of circumstances. Following Black Keys, early sound troubles, being shy and too quiet. They almost lifted it a couple of times but not enough. Maybe I hit a wall, but I never thought I'd be walking out of The Shins early. That was that - some serious drinking and some damn fine bands. The music-first policy is clearly a winner, could do with a bit of sunshine though.
Probably worth a 4, but the rain and my own laziness in not checking out other bands knocks it down a half.
1. The Black Keys
2. Dinosaur Jr.
3. Broken Social Scene
4. R. Kelley
5. The Chappelle Show
3. Eating too many crisps
4. The smell of the main room Sunday night
5. The disappointing Shins.