Ben & Jerry’s Summer Sundae 2011 – Clapham Common 24th July

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When Carling pulled out their sponsorship deal with the Reading and Leeds Festivals, the gigs gloated about being unsponsored, and it was generally considered that such a move was a “good thing”. So why does the Summer Sundae festival, a clearly and overwhelmingly branded event, seem to be such a carefree, uncynical place? Maybe it was the free ice cream, maybe it was heatstroke from the seriously sizzling weather, but I left the Ben & Jerry’s Summer Sundae festival feeling very positive.

The sideshows which accompanied the music were brilliantly done, pitched at entertaining the many children who attended the festival and making the adults forget we were adults at all. The helter skelter seemed like a slight mis-step, as an inordinately long queue rendered it a no-go area. However, one could easily step onto the merry-go-round, or see cows, ponies and alpacas at the city farm. Such activities created a nice diversion from the tried-and-tested gig ritual of watching bands and drinking booze.

The main stage saw action from 80s superstar Gary Numan, who gave a set comprising of a mix of his later, heavy rock-infused electronica, with his earlier hits. Stirling renditions of ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’ in particular got the crowd moving. He still has the power to control a crowd, and judging by his evergreen appearance, he either has a good surgeon or a hell of a portrait in his attic. In some lights he even resembles John Barrowman.

Minnows of the line up Sound Of Rum were forced to deliver their set to an insultingly small crowd, but frontwoman Kate Tempest took the opportunity to deliver a very personal set. Kitted out in tracksuit bottoms, her lack of pretence was refreshing, even selling copies of the band’s new album by the stage after their performance was over. Sound Of Rum’s mixture of hip-hop drumming, intricate guitar pedal play and the compelling spoken words of Kate Tempest was a joy to behold.

Finally, Maxïmo Park proved themselves worthy of headlining, starting their set with ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’. Singer Paul Smith ran on to join the rest of the band when the vocals came in, and the level of energy didn’t drop once from that point onwards. The group were visceral, note-perfect and charming, particularly during a raucous rendition of ‘Graffiti’, which saw Smith relinquish the vocals and let the audience take his place. The behatted frontman was a delight throughout, delivering his trademark high-kicks and regularly conversing with the audience. He’s the kind of guy that makes you love a band. Maxïmo Park even gave a sneak preview of a new song intended for their fourth album, before ending their set with the crowd-pleasing ‘Apply Some Pressure’.

The Ben & Jerry’s Summer Sundae festival is a great place to spend a weekend. Even if the music is not your cup of ice cream, there remain plenty of things to do and see. If one goes expecting several stages, or a headliner with the fame of Coldplay, then one would be disappointed. This festival is highly recommended, and at £17 per day, it is one of the cheapest events of its kind.

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