Music fans are used to going to battle to get a good vantage point or a spot at the bar, but this weekend at the V Festival in Staffordshire campers were pitted against wind, rain and mud more akin to local Tough Guy competitions. Emma Brady reports from the scene.
It had all started so well. The line-up for 2008’s annual shindig at the Earl of Bradford’s ancestral home was stellar, and so along with 100,000 others, I was looking forward to seeing Amy Winehouse atone for last year’s no show, whether Girls Aloud could convert the crowd, and if there was any truth in the tabloid rumours that The Verve were on the verge of splitting – again.
With tents up and beer flowing, all seemed to be going exactly to plan.
After The Strangers began proceedings on Saturday, Glen Tilbrook and Squeeze more than picked up the gauntlet with perfect sing-a-long versions of their back catalogue, including Slap and Tickle, Up The Junction and Tempted.
As throngs of girls flocked into the arena, wearing little more than shorts and a smile, onlookers would be forgiven for thinking this was a festival staged at the height of summer - forgetting that August in Britain is not exactly scorchio.
But a little ray of sunshine was waiting in the wings to watch Girls Aloud and The Feeling. The rain held off for both sets, but whether that had anything to do with comedian Peter Kay watching from the wings is hard to say.
Wearing skin-tight black outfits, the girls received a better-than-expected response from the crowd, rattling through a string of hits including Sounds of the Underground and Love Machine before covering Robyn’s Heartbeat and the Salt’n’Pepa classic Push It.
Irish popsters The Feeling were definitely feeling the heat on stage, their front man swiftly stripping to a white vest top as the crowd began to don parkas and cagoules as rainclouds began to gather.
Their versions of A-Ha’s Take On Me and Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star brought a smile to many faces, albeit a brief distraction from the impending storm.
Then at 4.41pm the rain came. Gentle at first, bearable and light, but despite his best effort, there was nothing US rocker Lenny Kravitz could do to lighten the crowd’s mood, determined as he was that everyone must know the words to Fly Away and Are You Gonna Go My Way.
But by the time troubled diva Amy Winehouse had bothered to grace the V Stage for her lacklustre performance, arriving 26 minutes late onstage, people were beginning to take cover in the JJB Arena and other music tents.
While Amy’s performance at Glastonbury in June had been hailed as a return to form, she had a mountain to climb here and fans booed her tardiness with one stating in a very fed-up manner: “Well if she can’t be bothered to show up, I’m going home. I’m not getting wet for nothing.”
Slow-hand claps finally enticed the diminutive madam out of hiding but she appeared somewhat disorientated – words were forgotten, the performance was erratic, receiving a barely tepid reception despite playing popular hits including Tears Dry On Their Own, Back To Black, and I’m No Good. Ironically it was only Rehab that saved her set from being a complete washout.
Thankfully the Charlatans were playing in the JJB Arena. As much of this year’s line-up had a distinct 90s flavour, it seemed appropriate that lead singer Tim Burgess should return to his Blackadder bowl haircut as he performed early hits including Weirdo, Sproston Green, and How High, along with barnstorming versions of The Only One I Know, The End, and One To Another.
Ironically as V celebrates its 10th birthday on the Staffordshire site, headliners The Verve took a similar trip down Memory Lane, plundering their two biggest albums A Northern Soul and Urban Hymns for an impassioned if somewhat tense set which Richard Ashcroft kicked off with the anthemic This Is Music.
After closing the set with Bitter Sweet Symphony – which is to The Verve what Angels is to Robbie Williams, a communal sing-a-long anthem – and new track Love Is Noise, the masses made for the exits in a vain attempt to find somewhere dry for shelter.
But the journey to base camp was treacherous as thousands of not-so-happy campers attempted to negotiate crowded rivers of mud, by now soaked to the skin and fearing the worst for whatever kit they had stashed there.
As the rain persisted throughout Saturday night, I did entertain thoughts of throwing everything into my friend’s 4x4 to beat a hasty retreat, and watch the rest of the festival from the comfort of my warm, dry living room.
However, when I awoke the sun was shining and parts of the sky were definitely blue. Although the sun was bright, Sunday's events were delayed as security and health and safety bosses surveyed the site, now a quagmire more commonly associated with Glastonbury, forcing organisers to ditch the first acts on all stages.
Meanwhile resurgent 90s acts including Shed Seven and Alanis Morrisette were among those bathed in sunlit glory.
And as the sun continued to shine, so the pac-a-macs and ponchos made way for mini-skirts and sunglasses with the promise of magic moments from acts like Will Young, The Pogues, Lostprophets, Stereophonics, Muse and The Prodigy.