I've been to nearly every V Festival since it started in 1996.  Most of the negative criticism is valid (bland, unimaginative lineups, over commercialisation and general chaviness) but I still like it.   This year I thought the lineup was particularly uninspiring and the lack of a 5th stage for the more obscure / new bands didn't bode well but in the end I loved it.

However, there remains the problem of the main stage.  As last year, this has been moved at Chelmsford to an open field rather than the natural sloped and tree lined amphitheatre of old.  Whilst giving more room the sound is awful, often lost in the wind and so damn quiet.  Even up the front near the speakers something is lost.  It seemed to be less of a problem on the Sunday but Saturday's headliners The Killers suffered most.   I've seen them a few times but apart from my first experience in 2005 when they stole the show at Glastonbury they always seem blighted by these problems (at Glastonbury in 2007 the crowd kept shouting 'turn it up' between every song it was that bad).

At V this year it was much the same, with the crowd singalong almost drowning out the stage sound, like attending a mass karaoke session played out with ipod speakers.  Brandon seemed to be in the mood but the atmosphere was dull.  A shame because I've grown to like the Day & Age album far more in recent months.

My highlight of the day was Howling Bells.  I love both their albums which have an old school indie feel to them.  The crowd in the Union tent was a little sparse to begin with but grew by the end. Cities Burning Down, Setting Sun, Blessed Night were fine and the band defied their stage time curfew to finish with a rousing version of Radio Wars.

Howling Bells, V Festival, Chelmsford 22 August 2009

Saturday's other highlight were fellow Aussies Pendulum. A bizarre hybrid of drum n bass, rave and nu metal they should sound awful and from a musical snob's point of view they are rubbish. But somehow a more intense Faithless but less incendiary Prodigy works.  A perfect festival band and enormous fun.  They could headline this festival one day.


The rest of Saturday was pretty weak but special mention to Lily Allen, who I have warmed to a lot recently (her second album is far more interesting than the ska reggae dirge of her debut) and who kept the crowd up to date with The Ashes at The Oval.

Sunday was all about Natalie Imbruglia for me, and I found it difficult to convince people that my admiration for her was more about her talent and music than her (undeniable) gorgeousness.   Rattling off an encyclopaedic list of her full discography didn't help my case - it just made me seem like a stalker.  

i've written here about my 'disappointment' with the abomination that is Wild About It.  Thankfully she didn't even play it in her set (it seems to be curious phenomenon of a 'pre-single' rather than a lead single from the new album).  She came on to Wishing I Was There and enough years have passed for it to sound fresh and less like the Alanis-esque tribute it was in 1997.  Two other songs from Left Of The Middle (Big Mistake and the requirement that is Torn) plus 4 brand spanking newies. 

Now I'm really looking forward to the new album.  More electronic and dreamy poppy than before but it all seems to work.  The new single proper, Want, is wonderful.

Lightning Seeds festival pop set was fine in the early afternoon.   The Mystery Jets were ok and the kids seem to like them a lot. I caught more of The Proclaimers than I planned but only as my voyeur magnet was keeping me there - Katy Perry was being interviewed next to me at the side of the stage. 

Perry's set later on in the day was, like Pendulum the day before, rubbish yet good.  She cannot hold a note very well and her singing 'style' is more shouting than controlled yet she's great bubblegum pop fun.  The high number of young girls who seem to adore her was surprising, if not a little disturbing. Oh and she's rather fit too, which is always a winner for me.

I had planned to finish the weekend with a couple of songs from Snow Patrol before heading off to British Sea Power but there was something about the moment that Snow Patrol took to the stage that something special was happening.

I like them but have become a little tired of their music in recent years but that is all reevaluated now. Bumped to headliners due to Oasis pulling out earlier in the day, they seized the moment (and threw a couple of Oasis covers into the set too).   Something about festival crowds, singalong anthems and a frontman who is genuinely moved by the atmosphere always hits the spot.  They were a joy that Sunday night and matched the three Australian acts as my highlights from the weekend.