Sunday

It's a sell-out weekend at Leeds 2004 and the crowds start to gather in anticipation for Sunday's main stage programme. I bet if someone had told all-girl Japanese garage band The 5.6.7.8.s two years ago that they'd be plucked from obscurity by Quentin Tarantino and propelled on to the main stage at Leeds they would have choked on their sushi. But sure enough here they are, three slightly kooky Japanese girls belting out their infectious take on surf rock, twist & shout, and go-go - all clad in matching white rah-rah skirts and big beehive hair. It's a sight to behold and Yoshiko "Ronnie" Fujiyama, the band's guitarist/singer, is clearly enjoying herself. With titles like 'Bomb the Twist' and 'Horror Rocker' you get the picture. But it's that song, you know the one ('Woo Hoo') that really gets the crowd going. And okay, they may sound a little shaky at times but that's hardly the point - this is what festivals are supposed to be about....F.U.N!

Perhaps they ought to pass on a few tips to the earnest young men from Bloc Party. Despite being only the second act on it's already barely possible to squeeze into the Radio One tent. A situation no doubt exacerbated by NME's recent hyping of London's guerrilla gigging band fraternity. Things start out promisingly enough - tight industrial rhythms and sharp staccato guitars hit the right spots indicating they've been tapping into today's de rigour influences i.e. the Gang of Four. The likes of Hot Hot Heat and the Rapture, however, have also grasped the importance of the second R (rhyme). On this showing it would appear Bloc Party haven't. For a moment 'She's Hearing Voices' promises something more than a good intro. Sadly it's an isolated moment and I'm left feeling distinctively cold as the rain starts to teem down outside.

We trek back over to the Main Stage and catch Thursday cranking up. Apparently they've just been on the Stateside Curiosa tour with Uncle Bob Smith..... pity he didn't give them a few tips on penning three minute pop songs. Sadly all we get is second rate riffing from a third rate metal band. At least they appear to be enjoying themselves. Their increasingly annoying lead singer keeps telling us how much of a privilege it is for them to be here and how much he loves us all. Quite frankly the feeling is not mutual and how they made third on the main stage bill is anyone's guess.

Surely things must improve? Well, like it or not, here come Razorlight. They've put out a fairly decent debut LP and 'Golden Touch' has to be up there as one of the tunes of the year. And while the Strokes/Clash/ Libertines/Cure influenced racket they kick up is inoffensive, in a live setting Razorlight rise or fall in your estimation depending on your attitude to their, erm what shall we say, rather self-confident singer/guitarist Johnny Borrell. On a personal note I think he comes across as a bit of a wanker. His off-mike banter with the band (which he knows we can all hear), the rather melodramatic removal of his tee-shirt and the jumping off the stage and running over to the crowd is all a little contrived and it seems as if he's trying too hard. Shame, 'Stumble and Fall' and 'Rip It Up' really rocked out. I think I'll stick to listening to them on CD.

We shuffle off to the Radio One tent once again, this time to see Har Mar Superstar. But it's a pointless trip - it's so rammed we turn immediately around and return to whence we came. Every cloud has a silver lining though and as we arrive back at the main stage the New York Dolls are just starting up. Replacing Oz-rockers the Vines, due Craig Nicholl's reported mental exhaustion, the Dolls have had their own problems to contend with. The tragic death of bassist Arthur Kane from leukaemia last month means the influential 70's glam new wavers are now down to two original members - Jaggeresque frontman David
Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain on guitar. Despite all this they more than do justice to some carefully chosen covers and classic Dolls' songs including 'Jet Boy' and 'Trash', bringing a little bit of East Coast cool to proceedings. Johansen now looks a little long in the tooth and his voice sounds a little ragged in places, but he still knows how to walk the walk and talk the talk. As they rap up with a raucous 'Personality Crisis' you can't help but think that you've just witnessed a bit of rock'n'roll history, possibly for the last time.

Third time of asking we manage to get inside the Radio One tent to check out the hotly tipped Ordinary Boys. The four Brighton lads take in two quintessentially English musical influences: namely Blur circa 'Park Life' and the Jam. Comparisons to the latter are inescapable. Their bassist certainly owes a few dues to Bruce Foxton. They even slip in a couple of drum-riser leaps for good measure. While all this brings a potential danger of them being written of as Brit-pop has-beens, they manage not to live up to their (Morrissey inspired) name. Their ear for a catchy ditto (debut single 'Week In, Week Out') coupled with their ability to pen intelligent lyrics ("Too much small talk leads to a small mind" from second single 'Talk, Talk, Talk') allows them to forge familiar influences into what can best be described as their own sound. A cover of the Specials' 'Little Bitch' is spot on - set closer, Eddie Cochran's 'Summertime Blues', is, however, perhaps a little too obvious. Expect to be hearing a lot more about this band.

And so on to the band of the day, Franz Ferdinand. You've spent the last year on Mars if you've missed the meteoric rise of the Scottish indie-rockers. With a sold out UK tour to follow and a Mercury prize nomination can it get any better? The key to the Ferds success? Being clever without being too clever and their subtle mix of indie guitars and dance floor rhythms, in a similar vein to what Joy Division did back in the early 80's. They ooze panache as they swish on stage with black with red-trimmed suits as sharp as their music. Alex Kapranos is confidently relaxed between songs as he wows the crowd. They play the lion's share of their self-titled debut LP, each song sounding like a single, apart from, ironically, the distinctively B-side-esque 'Michael'. They even slip in three couple new songs, the previously unplayed 'Your Diary' and 'This Boy' plus potential new single 'Can't Stop Feeling'. Finishing off with 'Darts of Pleasure' Kapranos coos the line "we'll have fantastic passion" as a thousand indie girls melt in his eye-linered eyes. If you haven't seen this band live yet you'd better get onto the touts.

It was always going to be mission impossible for the Libertines. Having to follow Franz Ferdinand is one thing. To do so stripped of the electric chemistry between Carl Barat and musical sparing partner Pete Doherty is another. In the case of the Libs it's the difference between being a great band and one of the best live bands around at the moment. With Barat taking over vocal duties they soldier on, resolutely aided by stand-in guitarist Anthony Rossamondo, making a decent fist of it. 'What a Waster', 'Time for Heroes' and 'Boys in the Band' still exude the same old energy and magnificent edginess, complementing nicely the more mellow tracks from their newly released second album. But for all of Barat's popstar looks he is a reluctant front man - his occasional dialogue with the crowd low key and generally inaudible. But give Barat his dues. No one more than he knows the failure of Doherty to return to the fray would probably spell the end of the band. The alternative? Something along the lines of a Mick Jones-less Clash. Now that would be unforgivable. As song after song documenting their torrid love/hate relationship rushes by they leave us with the highly poignant 'Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads ?' as we wonder just where the Libertines soap opera will lurch next.

Expectations soar as stage time approaches for Morrissey, Manchester's King of Maudlin. Giant Elvis-style light-bulb letters spelling his name are wheeled out and, as they start to glow with a purple haze, Moz dashes on with his rockabilly equivalent of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds in support. They immediately start-up with a turbo-charged version of 'How Soon is Now' - a song Morrissey vowed he would never play live again. Things have certainly changed in Morrissey land. Well...some things. The events since his self-imposed hiatus in the US ended must have even taken him by surprise. No longer branded a truculent, devious, pseudo-racist, Moz is now hailed as a much loved national institution. Tonight he is in his element as he works the crowd like the old pro that he his. Introducing the band he jokes "I met them in the girls' changing rooms of the nearby Armley swimming baths." Wherever he met them they've served him well over the last few years. Tonight they sound fantastic and very tight as Morrissey takes us through a less obvious trawl of his back catalogue. The success of the recent LP 'You are the Quarry' is born out in the set list. 'First in the Gang to Die' is now up there with the best of his solo stuff while 'Irish Blood, English Heart' finds him at his lyrically ascorbic best. He even has the confidence to throw in obscure B-sides like 'Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big difference'. "You didn't like that did you? Well it's too late, it's done now" he mischievously quips. And just as the set threatens to peter out he throws in the scathing 'You Know It Couldn't Last' and a glorious 'Shoplifters of the World Unite'. And then he us leaves like an old friend, left to wonder when we'll see him again. Hopefully it won't be too long.

And to the night's crowning glory, Detroit's' the White Stripes. They've made it back after last year's false start and look how they've shot up the bill. Predictably the lighting is predominantly red although Jack White rather uncharacteristically opts for a black tee-shirt. It all starts pretty well, Meg does what Meg does best, bashing her way round the kit in fits and starts. Jack attacks his guitar with gusto, punctuated by short spells at the adjacent keyboard, while he howls and hollers like a man possessed. Out come the hits, 'The Hardest Button to Button', 'I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself', 'Fell in Love with a Girl' to name a few ; obscure B-sides ('Let's Shake Hands') and a smattering of well chosen covers. But after a while it all starts to get a little repetitive. And then the penny drops. No matter how wonderfully clever the Stripes' take on the blues, folk, country and punk is, there are limits to just what two people can do. I'm starting, dare I say it, to get a little bored. People around me seem to be getting it. Is it just me? Guiltily, I head off into the Leeds' night before they've finished their set. Just as I'm too far to trudge back I hear the intro to their best song, 'Seven Army Nation' ringing out. Doesn't that just serve me right? But there's no turning back, Jack. It's back to the car and the end of another Leeds festival. A festival where we saw the young pretenders to the indie throne (Franz Ferdinand) come face to face with King Morrissey himself.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Denzil Watson and Richard Mather



















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