Roundhay Park in Leeds as a venue has hosted The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Madonna and U2 to name just a handful of the top artists in the last 35 years.
However, it hasn’t been used for live music for at least 10 years, that is until Harvey Goldsmith decided to twin the location with his successful South London ‘On Blackheath’ festival.
2016 sees the inaugural ‘On Roundhay’, a one-day festival aimed at families (kids are free entry) with a mixture of live music, child friendly activities and main sponsorship from John Lewis – who brought with them a cookery school, masterchef demonstrations and their exclusive VIP area. By coincidence a John Lewis store in Leeds will open later in the year so what better way to schmooze with a few key local people. Cynic? Who? Me?
Having attended the massive concerts here in the 80’s and 90’s (most promoted by Goldsmith) I was surprised on many accounts, firstly there was free parking and acres of it, I arrived at around 13:00, the first band had been and gone (Sorry Caro) and yet I still felt like I was one of the first ones at the site as hardly anyone was towards the front of the stage, many choosing instead to sit on picnic blankets at the back enjoying a relaxed position. The site was so much smaller than anticipated with 3 key areas (minus the exclusive John Lewis VIP bit which was screened off for the general public).
The top field was split into a kids paradise of large book character statues, huge flowers, flags, a handful of stalls to create stuff including a peculiar game which consisted of seeing how long you can spin on a chair. There was a second stage at this location and filled with book and tv character story telling performances from the Clangers, Wimpy Kid, Peter Rabbit etc. Great fun for families – the kids were happy, and the parents were happy because the Real Ale bar was there alongside a wine kiosk. The 3rd area had the cookery school and chef demonstrations and a handful of food vendors. I’m saying a handful because this became a big issue for a lot of families – it’s tea time, Primal Scream are about to take the stage in 15 minutes and you have a choice of about 5 vendors, who all have at least a 40min queue of people wanting to be served. One even ran out of chips which is a capital offence in Yorkshire.
There was an underlying feeling of a lack of organisation and planning, which is really surprising considering the pedigree of the promoter (ever heard of Live Aid – quite a big show in the mid 80’s). However, finding out later that Harvey Goldsmith was only actually given 10 weeks to put on this festival, I can forgive all the niggles, it’s still great to see live music in some leafy surroundings. The sun shone all day, and this makes a massive difference to any festival atmosphere – just ask anyone that went to Leeds Festival less than a month ago.
So let’s talk music, a grand total of 7 artists (not counting the legendary Dave Beer, Back to Basics DJ) which isn’t enough for a day festival in my opinion. No second music stage, so long waits in-between sets which was challenging for the adults let alone parents with kids under 12.
The first artist I saw was Actor, and this is the 3rd time in as many months that I have witnessed Louisa Osborn own a stage, strikingly beautiful features, smartly suited and a voice to match, she charms the picnic blanket seated punters with tracks like ‘Girls Do’ and ‘Kisses’. Sitting somewhere between Anna Calvi, Florence and Daughter with electro synth pulses and some more psychedelic guitar work towards the end of the set. It’s a gritty emotional delivery in difficult circumstances, so early in the day, but turns out to be a key highlight of the festival.
The Haggis Horns are on for an hour, that’s a whole hour of instrumental brassy soul funk, which if I was slightly drunk in a sweaty late night club I could probably deal with. Sadly, I’m very much sober, the sun is blazing and the band are badly in need of a lead singer, a James Brown, a Ruby Turner…..anyone!! Just something to take away the feeling of the same song being played 10 times over. I went to watch the Clangers instead and their penny whistle voices were more pleasing to my ears.
Max Jury followed, this is someone I know nothing about, a 21 yr old from Iowa who proceeded to play some of the melancholiest and very bland music I’d heard in a long while. I almost fell asleep lying on the grass, maybe that was the point, if only there was an alternative stage with some great local Yorkshire bands playing, or maybe a great ska/reggae band to play some sunshine music, an opportunity missed I feel.
Finally, at 17:15 Wolf Alice arrive with a force unseen in the arena all day, an unusual booking considering the other acts, but they deliver at times some quite brutal noise much needed to awaken the crowd. ‘Bros’ gets an early airing and ‘You’re a Germ’ with its “one to seven” count up chant, stirs several hundred punters at the front to even dance and singalong. It is all over far too quickly for my liking considering the previous endurance of an hour of soulless acid jazz funk. Ellie Rowsell and her band had made their mark though, and whilst they didn’t jump into the crowd as I’ve seen at other gigs, Joff Oddie ran down the stairs to give his plectrum to a young lad who had sat on his dads shoulders waving throughout the set, a nice touch!
Bobby Gillespie takes about 10 seconds to get the crowd exactly where he wants them, ‘Movin On Up’ as an opening track is about as perfect as it gets, the piano keys pounding, maracas shaking, and Gillespie with his Jagger like stance, arms aloft, conducting proceedings with professional ease. Hit after hit followed and particular they drew many from ‘Screamadelica’ a much lauded album from 1991. ‘Jailbird’ shortly follows and ‘Rocks Off’ which still sounds like a Stones Honky Tonk/Brown Sugar mashup is a highlight, and then topped with the clapalong ‘Country Girl’. Gillespie trading vocals with backing singer singer Hannah Marsden.
“Just what is it that you want?” is blasted over the speakers and a giant screen with the words ‘LOADED’ gave the reply, hypnotic pulsating drums, keys, brass and guitar come together and everyone is dancing, Gillespie is off the stage deep in the crowd shaking hands and his maracas. The finale was ‘Come Together’ and whilst it took several hours to get to that point, the festival had finally achieved greatness. Primal Scream could have headlined here and maybe if it were a two-day festival then that’s exactly what would have happened.
One band left, and their final festival in their 2016 season – James, they clearly were the main draw as the crowd tightened up at the front of the stage much more than ever before and Tim Booth is greeted like some kind of indie music god. ‘Getting Away with It’ is the opener, not quite the Primals ‘Movin’, but Booth wastes no time in losing his hat and doing his crazy trademark ‘I’m Possessed’ dance moves. They haven’t been playing all their hits on the tour this year, but at Leeds they pull out ‘Sit Down’ for the second song. Booth admits “When you are following that performance from the Primals, you have to put out some of your big guns early”. He’s right, but then they also have over 30 years of experience to draw from to produce another mesmerising live performance for On Roundhay. ‘Laid’, ‘Sound’ and ‘She’s a Star’ all resonate deeply and it’s amazing how many songs you remember as they are trotted out one after the other, almost a greatest hits set. ‘Sometimes’ and the brilliant ‘Come Home’ with it’s synth siren beginning gets the audience bouncing and for an encore a rousing ‘Say Something’. A great ending and had it not been for the bookings of two experienced and amazing live bands, this could have been a whole different review.
On Roundhay – if it is to be a future success for the area, which I believe it can be, needs not only quality bookings like James and Primal Scream next year, but a good look at other amenities too, an increase in vendors and stages are a must for 2017!