Bingley Music Live has a reputation for being one of the best summer music festivals in the North of England and it’s certainly one of the best values. Thanks to the support of Bradford City Council prices remain incredibly cheap at £45 for a weekend ticket, which works out at around a pound a band, pretty impressive when the bands include the likes of The Human League, Primal Scream and Chic with Nile Rodgers, Friday through Sunday, August 30th to September 1st.
Held in a wooded natural amphitheatre at Myrtle Park, there are a few stalls and some fancy dress but Bingley has no pretensions to being a festival of arts or culture – it’s all about the music, and this year’s event maintained its reputation for big names, interesting up-and-coming performers and great value. It doesn’t have that rough and ready feel of some festivals either. Although there is camping it’s situated a couple of miles away, most people attending go home in the evenings to have proper food, wash and get clean clothes. It’s very civilized.
In keeping with the festival’s family-friendly ethos, there’s a wide range of music on offer including Britain’s Got Talent favourites The Lovable Rogues, pop performers Nina Nesbitt and Man Can’t Fly, and some karaoke from Katy B. Tinchy Stryder delivers a set of rapid-fire grime and whips up the enthusiasm of the crowd with some call and response and an ultimately unfulfilled promise to bestow his shirt upon a member of the audience. He is assisted, as is Katy B, by a DJ acting as fluffer, whose task is to keep the audience excited and ready for action at times when their attention wanes by shouting, “Make some fucking noise,” or words to that effect. The biggest crowd at the second stage is for X Factor singer Lucy Spraggan, whose Sunday night set is witty and funny, and a small revelation to anyone present who has never seen her on television and had assumed that she must be rubbish simply because of her association with Simon Cowell (That would be me then…)
In fact many of the highlights of the weekend come from the smaller stage, including a fabulous display of Hendrix influenced guitar virtuosity from JJ Rosa, some high energy folk stomp from perennial festival favourites Blackbeard’s Tea Party and the wild gypsy styled jazz pop of The Electric Swing Circus. The current revival of interest in acoustic music and singer-songwriters is reflected in the appearance of John Lennon McCullagh (what kind of parent names their child after an airport?) who has the delivery and guitar style of early Bob Dylan and a nice line in angry young mannishness, and of Dave McPherson, sometimes of Essex alt-metal outfit InMe, who switches to affecting folk pop as a solo artist.
There are also some excellent local bands on show including Halifax based Small Words, who bring plenty of supporters and a rubber duck for their set of riffy Britpop influenced songs about Britishness and independence, jazz tinged rock ‘n’ rollers Rose & The Howling North from Leeds, Born Thief from Bradford, and from Derbyshire (which is local-ish) Gary Barlow’s favourite flamboyant prog and psych revivalists The Struts. Promoted to the main stage as a result of the late arrival of Kat Men, the Dirty Rivers grab their chance by the scruff of the neck and deliver a high quality set of bluesy garage rock that puts to shame one or two of the bigger names on that stage, who give the impression that they feel that just turning up is enough.
Top performances on the second stage are from Leeds folk rockers The Dunwells, closing out the Friday night, and Chris Helme (formerly of The Seahorses), whose set on the Saturday night tempts a large number of people to duck out on Primal Scream.
Down on the main stage (possibly the highest anyone had ever encountered, with the performers set so far back that the front rows can only see heads and shoulders and have to rely on the big screens for a view of the drummers) there’s plenty of variety on offer including eighties influenced pop stylists Frankie & The Heartstrings, who combine great rhythmic sounds with echoes of Bowie and Talking Heads, some echo-y feedback heavy rock from The Virginmarys, southern tinged blues rock from The Temperance Movement and synth driven electro pop from Summer Camp.
Among the big names The Fratellis and The Wonderstuff both deliver sets that offer career overviews, before delivering the big hits that everybody is really waiting for. Chelsea Dagger and Size of a Cow both have everyone in the arena dancing and singing along and waving inflatable cows when appropriate (this is in fact almost the only time in one’s life when the waving of inflatable cows is even nearly appropriate) as does Neville Staple, formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three and now leading his own band, with hits like “Ghost Town”, “Message To You Rudy” and “Gangsters”.
Friday night closes with The Human League and a set packed with hits, from “Fascination” and “The Lebanon”, through “Don’t You Want Me” to their closer “Electric Dreams”. It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about musicians as having provided ‘the soundtrack to our lives’ (in fact The Human League said something similar themselves in a minor single) and usually all it means is that we like them and we played them a lot, which is illogical because a soundtrack in a film mostly consists of music played in the background that adds to the atmosphere but that nobody really listens to.
What’s striking about The Human League’s set (and Chic’s set on Sunday for that matter) is just how many of their songs have embedded themselves firmly in the consciousness and sing along repertoire even of people who do not consider themselves to be ardent fans. (That would be me again.) If I had been asked before the show (or before I had done my extensive and through pre show research) to name Human League hits I’d have been hard pressed to go beyond two or three. In fact it turns out that with the exception of one track (their first ever recording – played in front of a baffling video montage of erotic nuns and meat processing), not only do I know them all, I know all the words too. If the idea of a soundtrack to our lives means anything then this is it – songs with hooks so sharp we learn them subconsciously, almost without hearing them – and learn to love them too.
Saturday night is Primal Scream night, much anticipated and they don’t disappoint, with a set that mixes established crowd pleasers like “Loaded”, “Country Girl” and “Moving On Up”, with several songs from their 2013 release More Light all played in front of an impressive light show. It’s high energy stuff with Bobby Gillespie roaming the stage, impossibly long limbed and gangly, dancing like a broken albatross and exhorting the crowd to join in and dedicating “Shoot Speed/Kill Light” to Wilko Johnson.
Wilko’s performance earlier that day is one that will live long in many people’s memories – possibly his last and full of his trademark guitar work, good humour, duck walking and of course the death stare. After a set including “Dr Dupree” and “Don’t Let Your Daddy Know”, he closes with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Bye, Bye Johnny” – an emotional moment for many present.
Sunday night brings the festival to a close with an extraordinary performance from the kings and queens of disco, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. The rediscovery of Rodgers and of disco itself has been one of the musical stories of the year, and Chic have played the U.K. festival circuit to acclaim, buoyed up by the success of Daft Punk’s “Up All Night”, in the production of which Rodgers played a major part.
Dressed all in white and looking one hundred percent show business, Rodgers and his eight-piece band play a string of hits that, as with The Human League on Friday, make you realize just how much a part of your life he and they have been for years, possibly without you ever really noticing. Their set list takes in elements from his entire career, as a performer, songwriter and producer from the openers “Everybody Dance” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”, via “We Are Family” and “The Greatest Dancer” to “Let’s Dance”, “Le Freak” and of course “Get Lucky”. In the somewhat damp Bingley night everyone dances and sings and waves, many of them from the stage as Rodgers invites crew and festival friends up to join him. It’s a moment to cherish, when even the most die hard of the I hate disco brigade (that’s’s three times I’ve been in this) cheers and dances like an idiot in the dark. That’s real pop music for you.