DOT-TO-DOT FESTIVAL ’08, Nottingham City Centre, 24-25th May (c. £30)


Thirty quid well spent!

It was a slow start, the Saturday. The night before, Tomo had been working the Bless, so he’d not got home til god knows what time – and I’d run into some of the Plans & Apologies’ lot, ending up in Mosh and then… beyond. So I was slightly disorientated and somewhat sleep-deprived when I boarded the Red Arrow opposite Derby Town Hall, with the aforementioned Tomo, John Deegan and Wolves Ed. Leanne was meant to be meeting us, but no word from her as yet.

The band I’d bought the ticket for, Blitzen Trapper
, had cancelled, their name mysteriously disappearing from the line-up a week or so before the gig. So I was pretty much resigned to just mooching around with the chaps and seeing what happened. What was happening when we got to Notts was that the Coca-Cola Championship Play Off Final was just about to kick off, so we went to Walkabout to watch it, over burgers. I had a Kangaroo Burger, which I quite enjoyed. Nottingham Walkabout is a vast cavern, with many television screens in lieu of atmosphere.

Windass - provided pre-gig entertainment with terrific volley

Dean Windass - no Blitzen Trapper, but he did score a great goal at Wembley that day.

So, no music until a bit later in the afternoon. We started to get into Saul Williams at Rock City, but we’d already made the decision to catch a bit of his set, then go to see The Little Ones at The Rescue Rooms. I thought it might be worth giving The Little Ones a go, even though they annoyed me with their album cover – you know, the one that looks like a bad colour copy of The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow. I could never understand that. Why? By all means, get the same guy to do something for you, but don’t let him repeat himself.

As we left, Williams was delivering a between-song harangue on race as a construct. He had already illustrated the intellectual divide between himself and sections of the audience by initiating a prank call and response routine, which hinged on the fact that he was asking the crowd to say nothing … ‘NOTHING!’ roared the front few rows. This went round a couple of times, before he finally started to say ‘Shut up’, before initiating the routine again. Still people chanted.

What are you listening to? What are you looking at?

So we left Saul and his earnest, jazzer musicians (they were such, although the cyberpunk dress sense did its best to cover the fact) to operate on the minds of a white crowd intrigued by hip-hop whilst we went off to see The Little Ones play to a white crowd who like indie. Only trouble being, The Little Ones had pulled out at very short notice, which meant we got a group called The Hosts, I think, instead. The Hosts come on in black shirts and white ties. We’ve seen this before, I think. The group play competently. I look at them. They look like local lads. Hard working lads. Committed lads. Dedicated lads. Grafters, they generate the odd gem, mining their talent earnestly. There’s a touch of glory about one song with a chorus, ‘don’t waste your time on me anymore / cos I’ll never be yours and you’ll never / no, you’ll never be mine’. I have respect for them as working musicians. But the sound is just that – workmanlike. The singer aims for that Lennon ‘a nod and a wink and your missus has creamed herself’ charm and I’m sure it goes down well in the smaller towns. As would the music. But Dot to Dot is aimed at people with a bit more savvy.

So we walk away from The Rescue Rooms. I am enjoying the air. Wrighty is drinking water, at this stage. I have tried to choke down beer… really, I’ve tried, but it has been awfully difficult. I’d been hoping Leanne would turn up with fags, but she is nowhere to be seen, god damnit. I complain to the lads about The Hosts. “The Vines, The Hives, The Strokes, The Fours, The Fives, The Nightjars…”.

See? That’s why we win. We have an extra syllable.

The Nightjars - so good, they've got an extra syllable...

The Nightjars - so good, they've got an extra syllable...

We are off to see a band randomly at The Bodega. My mind is cabbage and the band is called Dag For Dag, I think. A Swedish combo, bass, guitar and drums, female guitarist and singer. She sings rather well. The guys get a round in. I do battle with a bottle of lager, quickly followed by half a coke. The guys aren’t impressed, either with me, or Dag For Dag. Contrarily, I start to quite enjoy them and mooch up to the front. There’s something glamorous about the rudimentary nature of their gear. The bass player is good, really solid. The guitarist can hardly play. The drums are dead simple – it’s like Joy Division, the needling riffs that can’t go very far. The tension that causes. The bass and the guitar spar – I’m drawn in further, but the lads have quickly seen enough. Amateurish. They’re right. We move on.

Woop-de-do, it’s the fucking Dirty Pretty Things at Rock City. These will have tempted a fair few Nottingham teenyboppers to part with their hard earned (‘dad, can I go to a concert please?). Great. On comes Barat. He has a certain musical style. One of the guitarists is wearing a Primal Scream T-shirt. Cool, man.

Barat takes regular vocal ‘holidays’, the bassist and guitarist covering for him as and when necessary. One or two of the songs are alright. I really don’t know what else to say about them.

I’m more excited about The Mae Shi at Stealth and have talked the lads into coming along. These were a Denny recommendation, way back. I remembered listening to the myspace, hearing a load of scratchy noise and not finding a way in. That was a year ago, perhaps. Wolves Ed buys a round, apologising for the fact that it’s Strongbow. I tell him not to be daft and thank him. I still haven’t smoked all day, although I did plenty of that the night before.

The Mae Shi are the highlight of a pretty uninspiring day of music by a country mile. They scream, they rock, they play intelligently. They send a white flag into the audience. The audience bear it aloft, they are under the flag. Then the guitarist is out in the crowd. He has a wireless transmitter, damn him. This means he can do things like jump on an audience member’s shoulders and be carried around, whilst still ‘playing’. The band are wrestling with some insanely good stuff. I can’t remember… just being faced by such an intense and singular group was refreshing after a bunch of British mulch, some mildly diverting pantomime, some Swedish amateurs and 39 year old Dean Windass volleying Hull City into the Promised Land, for Christ’s sake. This was more like it.

A guy jumps on stage. Security are lurking. The band wave security away. He’s OK. He’s one of them.

The Mae Shi - good messy, raucous fun and the highlight of Day One

The Mae Shi - good messy, raucous fun and the highlight of Day One

A decision is taken to go back to Derby. I decide to eat a doner kebab first – from some dirty old Nottingham fast food joint. It’s great. Sometimes, you can’t beat a doner and I find that if I’m back in the East Midlands, it’s got to be done.

Then the Red Arrow arrives. Me and Ed chew the fat on the ride back. We get back to Derby and then it’s absolutely, irrevocably bedtime for me, much to Tommo’s disgust. I leave him in the doorway of the reopened Vaults, hurling abuse at me. “Too busy off taking MDMA with your real mates…” I know, I know, I’ve been bad. It was just.

I tell him I want to get to Nottingham for 2pm tomorrow, to catch Lovvers. He shouts that we will meet at the Standing Order at midday for breakfast. I nod. I tell him there’s no need for him to shout, I’m not that far away from him.

Walk home.

Blessed sleep.


Wake up at about half ten, having slept solidly for about eleven hours. Brilliant. Mooch around mum’s house. Watch TV for a bit. Postpone breakfast. Phone call from Tommo half elevenish, he’s just woken up. He sounds spangled. Turns out it was double vodkas in The Vaults until kick out time. Breakfast put back to 1pm. Too late for me, that, I tell him. I’ll miss Lovvers. Agree that I’ll head onto Nottingham in advance and the guys can catch me up later.

I get to Rock City at about half one and am pretty much the first person there. Buy an orange juice from the bar and stand about waiting for something to happen. Prowl around the auditorium. Vague memories of being here at tender age of 15, with Phil, The Prodigy on the soundsystem. Hoping we might, you know, meet chicks. But I don’t remember it well enough to feel nostalgic. It doesn’t feel as big as it did then, of course. Back then, it seemed like an enormous cavern of noise and exciting gothic rock menace.

Nottingham's Rock City - A place where I looked for teenage kicks in the 90s...

Nottingham's Rock City - A place where I looked for teenage kicks in the 90s...

Lovvers take the stage, by which time, about 60 people have arrived to bear witness. Singer has bleached blond long hair and leather jacket, but reminds me more of one of the geezers who works in Johnny Roadhouse than a rock icon. Fast-forward fifteen years…. Guitarist has Fender amps set up on either side of the stage. They remind me of a baby Nirvana, they remind me of a baby Stooges. They remind me of the Vic Inn in 1998. They make me happy for 20 minutes. They please me my playing ‘Ex-Lion Tamer’ by Wire. I guess this also shows their naivety a little. They’re a good little garage proto-rock band, who would probably have been happier at The Rescue Rooms than on the Rock City main stage.

Downstairs, X-Box have set up a Rock Band stage. I object hugely to Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I played Guitar Hero and it has to go down as the biggest waste of human time and potential since I started working as an admin assistant. You play Guitar Hero, you sit there, pressing buttons in time with a track you like, or maybe don’t even like, on a plastic fretboard. If you get it right, the crowd start to wave their arms in the air and your avatar starts to ‘rock out’. Mistime your key hits and the crowd start to boo. Your avatar starts to look somewhat confused. Panic sets in.

After the Lovvers set, I come across the lads, playing some X-Box in The Rig. Wolves Ed and Deegan are head to head on the new incarnation of Tony Hawk. A Rock Band employee is coaxing teenage kids to get up and have a go on the plastic computer instruments.

Rock Band – for fuck’s sake. Learn a real instrument! Join a real band! Get some exercise! Use your brain! Try!

On second thoughts, what am I talking about? I wouldn’t actually recommend starting a band to anybody. Rock Band is a great idea. You don’t have to deal with egos, move amplifiers, bother practising, read the considered thoughts of prissy wanker-bitches who really, really, ought to show me their record before delivering a verdict on mine. Don’t have to deal with incompetent soundmen and promoters, or bullshit members of other bands who you secretly hate (and who secretly hate you, too). You don’t have to stare jealously at the myspace pages of talentless bastards who don’t even like music and who are getting ahead whilst you languish in an obscure office job, seething day in and day out, brooding, staring blankly out of the window, mind full of regret – working out where it went wrong. Play computer games instead. There is no pain. Tony Hawk, not skating (you could break your ankle). ISS, not football (you might break your leg). Rock Band, not real music (you might break your – )

Play computer games instead of living. The parameters are a lot easier to deal with. You have a lot more control. The implications of defeat are nowhere near as serious. At least you’re not chasing chimaeras. You finish the game and you don’t have to drive back home from the other end of the country. There’s always a crowd in Rock Band. If you play well, they always cheer. You get Bonus Points and move onto the Next Level.

Have you any idea how many bands there are out there looking to move on to the Next Level? Some of them even email me. They say, we are looking to move on to the Next Level and we wondered if you knew anybody who could help us. I tell them, lads, just write songs. Write fucking songs. The rest of it is bullshit. I doubt they like that advice, because they want shortcuts. Also, there are no guarantees even if you do write a great song. It’s cheeky of them to email, actually, because they don’t know me. They just see that we’ve had a modicum of success and say ‘that’s what we want’ and email me, demanding the keys.

Anyway, Lovvers are doing the right things and I hope to get to see them in some sweaty little whites of the eyes club one night. But I’m not sure I will. I’m not cool anymore, see?

Lovvers - the band for whom the word 'proto' was invented

Lovvers - the band for whom the word 'proto' was invented

Finally, I meet up with Leanne, at the Rescue Rooms. It is hammering it down with rain. Finally, fags! Yesssss. We drink Sol, despite the weather. The nice young man behind the bar gives us lime. We don’t bother with the bands for an hour or so, just have a bit of a natter. Watch about twelve seconds of a female-fronted band before deciding noooooo. Back to the bar. Consider going to the Trent Uni but the rain says noooooo. Rescue Rooms buzzing with people. Tommo, Deegan and Wolves Ed out there, somewhere. For the first time since I was in the club in Derby on Friday night, the beer starts to flow.

Leanne and I walk up to the Sir John Borlaise Warren and have an excellent Sunday Lunch. Is this rock’n’roll enough for you? Well, I’d rather spend a tenner on a nice, slow IPA and a good plate of food than on three cans of Red Stripe. Think of the profit margins. Festivals are a license to print money for somebody. Makes yer sick.

Then back into Nottingham, to the Trent Poly (as it was when I wor’ a lad and went to my first ever gigs there) to catch Caribou. Thank God for that, finally a band to really get into. Pastoral psychedelics, gentle burring melodies, bits of Stone Roses, Spiritualized, melodic quality – two-drumset rhythm patterns, instrument swapping. Slow building architectural music, not spectacular, but solid and becoming more impressive in gradations. I semi-dance, gradually drawn forward through the crowd. Really pleased with Caribou.

Then back to Rescue Rooms for Wild Beasts. Again, I don’t really know what to expect, but I’ve had enough good references (Domino Recs, Marc Riley approved, interesting artwork) to have a punt and persuade everybody to come. They’re intriguing. The look is deliberately, wilfully wrong (bumfluff moustaches, purple trousers, rollnecks), which is the first thing I like about them. Second thing is the musical competence – they’re sort of jazzers, I think. Rollneck guitar chap certainly plays jazz chords. Bumfluff ‘tache singer sits down and plays piano. Really uncool. Good. They finally win by delivering the moment of the festival. Bumfluffer sings, in a highly fruity, histrionic falsetto the line ‘take these chips with cheese / as an offering of peace’… Well done, sir. Lyric of the year. Everyone is well pleased with Wild Beasts.

Cheers, chaps! The Wild Beasts prove to be just the tonic.

Cheers, chaps! The Wild Beasts prove to be just the tonic.

Next is Spiritualized at the Trent. Beers are flowing. By this time, Gilly has joined the throng – it’s great to see him. He’s come all the way from Brighton.

Spiritualized are playing a bunch of new stuff which says little to me. Pierce has a new young band who play perfectly well. Then they do ‘Let It Flow’ from Pure Phase, replete with ‘wooaahhh wooaahhh woah’ backing harmonies and everything. I am reminded of how important this music was / is. The new stuff, with its lazy lyrics mining the gospel cliché seam for all its worth, is not really fit to share a name with the material from Lazer Guided Melodies, Pure Phase and Ladies and Gentlemen We leave about half way through, by which time, my Spiritualized yearning has been more than slaked by the magisterial ‘Shine a Light’, one of my favourite ever songs anyway.

Then what?

More beer. Tommo and all want to catch Glasvegas, so we go back to the Rescue Rooms and install ourselves on the balcony, before it gets too full (Leanne’s already missed Santogold, because by the time we got there, she couldn’t get into the room). I buy a sandwich from a stand. It’s a chicken sub roll. I stand there holding the sandwich for about five minutes before any bar staff come near, I fight off the temptation to steal the chicken sub. Then I go up to the balcony to wait for the band. On they come, to face an expectant throng. They are dressed all in black and have a female stand up drummer. They look a bit like The Clash, though, not The Velvet Underground. Then they start playing and I am bored shitless within about 8 seconds. Is this dour Scottish plodrock not just Simple Minds in brand (bland) new drag? He certainly sings with all the panache and style, adventure and range of Jim Kerr. Fuck this. We look down on the heaving mass of people. I move my foot and inadvertently kick a girl who is sat underneath me. The guy can’t sing. There are no songs. I decide to leave.

We consider going to Stealth to see about Tim Goldsworthy, who is DJing, but there are two different rooms and we don’t even know which one he’s in, or what time he’s on. I am offered a lift to Ilkeston (rather spicily rechristened Cracktown UK by the Independent on one of their sensaltional front pages last year) by Leanne’s mate Claire. This appeals more than the Red Arrow home, so I take it. End up on sofa cushions, listening to the denizens of Ilkeston’s superclub going home after another Saturday night of Woo Woo, Wkd, Stella, speed and fags. Who fucked who? Did Gaz, Baz or Daz go home with Shaz, Kez, or even Stella (Stez)? If I listened close enough, I would find out.

Thousands of nights out like this in hundreds of towns, every weekend. Spannered. Nothing else for it. Seeking community, seeking pleasure, seeking connection. My heart hurts.

Ilkeston High Street is a conservation area, would you believe, which means that back of the shops, there are tons of wonderful old flats that have never been messed about with. Apart from the noise from the superclub and the kids nicking the petrol out of your car, it must be a really nice place to live. Claire explains to me that the ‘Cracktown’ label is unfair and was more ‘lazy journalism’ than anything else. The statistics including crack usage figures in outlying villages without even taking their populations into account, artificially increasing the per capita crack abuse figure.

It’s still a bit cracky, though.

Leanne drives the hungover, sleep-deprived me back to Derby, where I loiter at mum’s, waiting for my sister to turn up with Carl and the kids. Ellie is a dancer and an ice skater now. Mason is a tank. Baby Reilly grabs my glasses, arms, fingers and locks onto them with a surprisingly strong grip for a baby. He must be in the grabbing phase.

And then it’s time to get the train back to Manchester after a whirlwind, whistle-stop weekend.