By Jon Milton
The inaugural Wide Awake festival finally happened last week, and what a fantastic day it was.
Despite delayed by over a year due to COVID restrictions and beset by artists having to withdraw due to infection up until a week before the actual, the Wide Awake team managed to deliver an immaculately organised event with an amazing line up.
James Cox, Crows
The event boasted 6 different stages across the breadth of London’s Brockwell Park, and first up for us was Lazarus Kane who played at a packed Moth Club stage. With Idles performing an early set the crowd already seemed well up for the day, and LK were clearly a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people in the tent. That all told, they played a lively set that got everyone moving.
Next up were Idles, who found themselves in the unique position of headlining the festival on the main Windmill Stage at 1.30 in the afternoon, as they had another engagement later that date. That didn’t hold them back though, as they made their way through a high-octane performance that the enormous crowd lapped up. Frontman Joe Talbot naturally led the performance, but his supporting cast certainly played their part, including guitarist Bowen, who managed to find his way into the audience toward the end of the set drenched in sweat and grinning ear to ear.
Talbot’s interplay with the crowd was so refreshing to see, and something that you wish all bands would incorporate into their performance. It was brilliant to see a crowd finally thrashing about too, its been so long since a mosh-pit of this magnitude was able to happen and it really added to the overall experience, although those that emerged from the front of the set looked a little worse for wear at 2.30!
Squid had the unenviable task of following on from Idles and they took the stage with another packed audience in attendance. Maybe it was the fact that they had to follow on from Idles, or maybe because they were pitched alongside so many exciting artists on the day, but they just seemed a bit underwhelming to me, and distinctly lacking in entertainment factor. Incredible musicians and wonderful music, but visually a bit dull. Their set didn’t really get going until ‘The Cleaner’ kicked in and seemed to be attempting to build slowly from the off. If they were headlining and able to full explore their set this approach would no doubt work a treat, but it fell a little flat on this occasion.
We caught a couple of Los Bitchos numbers at the Moth Club stage but moved on quickly as it was so packed, and settled down to watch Mandrake Handshake, who were playing at the Bad Vibrations stage next door. The band’s eclectic psychedelia was a real mid-afternoon tonic in the sunshine and they clearly looked delighted to be part of the day, all ten of them full of energy and enthusiasm on stage, which you couldn’t help but warm to.
Then came Crows…unbelievably loud and unbelievably good, Crows were one of the highlights of the day. Frontman James Cox was electric throughout, commanding the stage and commanding the mosh pit with whom he joined on several songs. Cox clearly couldn’t wait to be at one with the crowd, as though he’d been waiting for the moment for 18 months, and in doing so immediately created a bond with all on-lookers who were hooked into the performance from then on in. Having held the singer aloft, the mosh pit duly obliged any others that fancied a go to, much to the displeasure of the security team, who steadily grew as the gig progressed fearing that things might have got out of hand. Unsurprisingly there was no trouble though, enabling Crows to blow us away with their set. A truly excellent, and engaging performance from a great band.
After all that excitement Kikagaru Moyo took the stage, but as with Squid chose a slow burner start to the set which prompted us to seek more immediate thrills with Snapped Ankles, who didn’t disappoint (do they ever?). Snapped Ankles dance oriented grooves had everyone at the Moth Club stage moving about as they treated us to some of the highlights from their new album ‘Forest of your problems’ as well as older favourites ‘Tailpipe’, ‘Jonny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin’ and of course ‘I want my minutes back’. Given the early start to the day we were flagging at this point however, despite the bands’ infectious energy.
Next up was the Murder Capital, who took seconds to remind us of what a powerhouse live performer they are. They kicked off proceedings with ‘For Everything’ the opener from their 2019 debut ‘When I have Fears’ with all eyes fixed on mesmeric frontman James McGovern, before running through other highlights from the album including ‘Green and Blue’, More is Less’ and ‘Slow Dance I and II’, the latter of which got a little interference from Crack Cloud on the neighbouring stage. When I last saw them play at the Dome in Tufnell Park I had wondered if that was all that they had in the locker, but there is new material on the way apparently. There was an impromptu end to proceedings as the sound started going on ‘Don’t Cling To Life’, which saw McGovern chuck a massive hissy fit and the rest of the band contemptuously walk off, but they certainly made their mark on the day.
We quickly hot footed over to the So Young stage to grab the end of Slift’s set which sounded wonderful, before waiting for Yard Act to take the stage. For some reason the tallest photographers in London had all decided to get in everyone’s view in front of the barriers, but that didn’t take away from an enjoyable performance from the band. James Smith made his entrance on the second song and then walked off mid-way through the last, with a bit of banter in between tracks playing out that quirky persona that he’s set out to create.
In ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ Shame have made the album of 2021 and possibly one of the albums of the decade. Live they are equally impressive, with frontman Charlie vying for attention with their bassist Josh, who strutted about endlessly (and was that a back flip too?). The bands older tracks washed over a bit and felt overshadowed by their newer material, although undoubtedly tiredness from the early start played a part in that view.
Shame’s performance capped off a brilliant day, and a festival that must surely now be a must-attend in the future for any self-respecting alternative music fan. The Wide Awake organisers’ choice of artist line up was impeccable, organisation on the day spot-on, and their attention to detail exemplary, right down to the choice of DJ’s in between artists. Get those early bird tickets for next year as soon you can!