Splendour Festival - Wollaton Park, Nottingham, July 20, 2019 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 17th, 2019  

Manic Street Preachers

Ash, Manic Street Preachers, The Specials

Splendour Festival Wollaton Park, Nottingham, July 20, 2019,

Jul 26, 2019 Photography by Dom Gourlay Web Exclusive
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Splendour has gradually established itself as one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the East Midlands of England since first opening its doors in 2008. Now in its eleventh year, the 2019 edition hosted the festival's most mouth-watering line-up to date while breaking local records along the way.  

Not only was this year's event the fastest selling since its inception, it also boasted the largest ever gathering for an outdoor music festival in Nottingham as 25,000 people basked in the glorious sunshine that engulfed Wollaton Park throughout most of the day.

The festival is situated on the grounds of the park adjacent to historic Wollaton Hall, which is perhaps best known in recent times for being the setting for Wayne Manor in 2011's Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. It's become one of the most idyllic settings on the festival calendar and rightly so, adding a touch of natural beauty to the broad church of entertainment taking place within its salubrious confines.

Splendour is spread across five stagesthe Main, Confetti, Courtyard, Fringe and Funhouse Comedy stages. This year's bill contained just the right mix of established international artists and nostalgia acts enjoying a second lease of life alongside a wealth of up and coming potential, mainly drawn from the surrounding areas in and around the East Midlands. While Splendour classes itself as a family orientated festival, there's an array of talent here encompassing almost every genre to suit all demographics. What's more, none of the stages are too far apart, making it possible to catch at least half of every set if one wishes to do so.

Indeed it's difficult to find anything to complain about other than the predictable downpour that greets us as we arrive onsite (and thankfully only lasts intermittently for an hour or so) and the unnecessary deluge of camping chairs that litter public walkways and areas in front of the stages, particularly the Main one, creating an avoidable health and safety hazard if said items were prohibited in the first place.

Minor irritations aside, Under the Radar is here to focus on the music and we're immediately blown away by Camille Christel's ambient folk and Laurie Illingworth's soothing fusion of textured pop, rock, and jazz. If the former reminds us of Feist then the latter bares all the hallmarks of a less frazzled Bon Iver. Both locally born and bred, which suggests the city of Nottingham might be on the verge of another musical resurgence.

Fellow East Midlanders Do Nothing are equally as impressive, justifying their current status as the region's "next most likely to break." Musically their laconic post-punk shifts between confrontational rages similar to those of Ice Age coupled with the melodic nous of Franz Ferdinand or The Strokes. Frontman Chris Bailey owns the Confetti stage as if it were his own.

Mancunian four-piece The Slow Readers Club are a shining example to any struggling young band out there. They are arguably THE homegrown, word of mouth UK success story this century, having been playing together in one form or another for the best part of two decades. That they draw a huge crowd on the Main Stage is testament to the band's relentless work ethic, and although there's only time for seven songs this afternoon, singer Aaron Starkie and his band hold the Splendour audience in the palms of their hands for the next 30 minutes. Exclusively drawing on material from their last two albums Build a Tower and Cavalcade, the band's atmospheric and occasionally dancey post-punk goes down a treat in the sunshine before teatime.

Irish trio Ash might be considered veterans by some having been playing together for three decades themselves. Yet their youth-like exuberance and enthusiasm on stage belied the band's years as Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton, and Rick McMurray turned in a career spanning, greatest hits set of some aplomb. The likes of "Kung Fu" and "Girl From Mars" off debut album 1977 rolled back the years while more recent material such as "Confessions in the Pool" from last year's excellent Islands long player suggests their creative spark is nowhere near burning out just yet.

Drawing arguably the biggest crowd of the day, Brighton's Rag'n'Bone Man might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he sure has a way of engaging an audience. "Human" and "Grace" elicit a mass singalong which makes for an impressive spectacle, even watching from afar making it immeasurably more enjoyable than Barns Courtney's overly staged syncrock a few hours earlier.

With the rise of right wing politics and racism still all too prevalent in today's society, The Specials are as relevant in 2019 as they ever were. Although only three of the original line-up remains, it doesn't take anything away from a performance that expertly fuses the best of their Two Tone heyday with the stand out tracks from this year's Encore. Playing in front of a backdrop emblazoned with politically charged slogans, Terry Hall's deadpan vocal delivery on the likes of "Doesn't Make It Alright" and "Do Nothing" are at odds with Lynval Golding's more upbeat proliferations that punctuate "Man At C&A" and "Stereotype." Saffiyah Khan, best known as the Birmingham teenager that stood up to the EDL earlier this year makes a guest appearance to sing vocals on "10 Commandments," clambering into the audience mid-song. By the time "Too Much Too Young" brings the set to a close, it's clear no hate fuelled divide exists here.

Which brings us onto the headline act. It's 12 years since Manic Street Preachers last graced a Nottingham stage, evidently falling into that familiar trap of being far too big for its largest club venue, the 2100 capacity Rock City, but also not quite at their commercial peak to fill 12,000 spaces in the vast confines of Nottingham Motorpoint Arena either. Nevertheless, it's clear they have unfinished business with a city that was a regular staple of their tour schedule throughout the early '90s. "You Love Us" is introduced by Nicky Wire as being a song that takes us all back to Rock City in 1992 before being dedicated to missing guitarist Richey Edwards, while "Suicide Is Painless" also makes a rare but welcome appearance during James Dean Bradfield's solo acoustic set at the show's midpoint.

Elsewhere, it's a career spanning set that mainly focuses on the hits, occasionally delivering the odd This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours album track in celebration of its 20th anniversary. "Ready For Drowning" proves particularly rousing, as does the trio's cover of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" which has featured regularly in this year's live sets. Closing with customary set finisher "A Design For Life," tonight once again highlighting why the Manics are considered something of a national treasure and still one of the most exciting live bands on the planet. 

As for Splendour, its organizers should give themselves a pat on the back for delivering one of the finest festivals of music this city has witnessed in years.

www.splendourfestival.com

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