Ant music and Whale songs at Apple Cart Festival
While Diamond Jubilee celebrations carried on elsewhere, Victoria Park, London, was the host of the mini festival Apple Cart, on 3rd June 2012. A comfortably compact and family-friendly event (that is, if you excuse the “comedy tent”). Featuring a main stage, a stage for more under-the-radar bands, the aforementioned comedy tent which became the dance tent later in the night and a handful of smaller events including cabaret, acoustic and magic stages; the event catered to eclectic tastes and all ages. Despite the rain, the atmosphere was upbeat and laid back, and it was a nice alternative to the sunburn, knee-deep mud and other horrors normally associated with music festivals.
There was a brief moment at the start of the Apple Cart festival where it seemed the damp weather might clear and things would brighten up. It wasn’t to be, though, and all those in attendance were practically soaked to the bone by lunchtime.
Former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes took to the stage with a humble wave to the audience before launching into a blistering performance. Playing songs from his recently released debut solo album, his vocals soared over his hook-laden indie rock — which isn’t a million miles away from that of his former band — however some subtle synth effects and a more experimental approach brought a nice twist to the retro Supergrass sound. Tracks such as Simulator showcased some red-hot fret work from Coombes as well as the powerful and sharp playing of his backing band. Closing song Fanfare was a noisy and delirious affair and a standout moment and along with W***r, demonstrated that Coombes’ uncanny knack for punchy, infectious and intelligent song-crafting has clearly not waned. As his set concluded, it felt as if one great song after another had flown by, providing just a taster of some killer pop-rock gems waiting to be discovered on his solo album. Free of a single dull moment, his performance was easily one of the highlights of the day and along with Adam Ant, he stole the show.
Billy Bragg delivered a memorable and inspiring set with his unique brand of cockney folk-punk. Performing alone and alternating between an electric guitar doused in ragged distortion and an acoustic, his politically driven songs and between-song banter were rapturously received by the audience. He bashed Margaret Thatcher, the monarchy and bigotry, and shared his thoughts on British identity, all to great applause. Towards the end of his set red, green and yellow balloons were released from the front of the stage, in keeping with the colour scheme of Apple Cart, to which Bragg quipped: “The red balloons are for the Labour party, the yellow for the rotten old Lib Dems, the green balloons are for the Green party and the burst balloons are for the Conservatives.” He delivered his songs with a conviction that was taken up wholeheartedly by the crowd and of all the acts that performed on the day it was perhaps Bragg whose audience was most involved and sung along with most fervour.
The quirky alt-folk of Stornoway made for a nice change of pace. Their bouncy, off-kilter tales made for an interesting journey and additional trumpets and violins brought vibrancy and colour to their songs. As enjoyable as it was, it waned somewhat towards the middle of the set and the most interesting parts of their performance ended up being the dry, witty anecdotes their lead singer delivered between songs.
Adam Ant took to the stage with theatricality and pomp. The thunderous stomp of dual drum-kits opened the set as the band launched into Dog Eat Dog, Ant appearing as the song’s sinister, crunching guitar riff erupted. Adorned in a variation of his classic buccaneer costume he delivered a bombastic greatest hits set, his voice ringing out with surprising power and clarity. The crowd were treated to raucous, heavily distorted versions of classics such as Stand and Deliver as Ant marched and swung about the stage in full character as it were. The audience was jubilant as the opening notes for Goody Two Shoes, the highlight of the set, chimed out and Vive Le Rock was, somewhat unexpectedly, also a high point.
After Adam Ant’s fun and energetic set, the festival sadly concluded with Noah and the Whale’s dull wash of meandering, lifeless indie dirge. Perhaps the likes of Coombes, Bragg and Ant had set the bar too high throughout the day but Noah and the Whale were so lacking in charisma and vitality that they were instantly forgettable.
Comedian Rich Hall, however, deserves a mention for two particularly funny sets during the day in which he insisted on picking on an audience member named Adrian throughout for his love of IT and neglect of his wife.
Ridiculous amounts of rain there may have been, but a well selected roster of artists and events attracted an audience of all ages and kept spirits high throughout the day.
Photos: Jess Thompson