Given that Harvey Goldsmith had little more than ten weeks in which to organise this inaugural edition of his family friendly-festival in LS8, music lovers could have been forgiven for wondering if this year’s event might have had a slightly tentative feel.
But that’s to overlook the fact that this is the promoter who helped stage Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, not to mention major concerts by Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones in the leafy surroundings of Roundhay Park in the 1980s.
With a line-up that balanced experienced headliners, in 80s veterans Primal Scream and James, and breakthrough acts from the last year or so, in Wolf Alice and Max Jury, plus sets from seasoned acid jazz group The Haggis Horns, Back To Basics legend Dave Beer, and BBC Introducing newcomers Caro and Actor, OnRoundhay had something to suit a broad range of tastes.
Stir in a field full of events for younger children, including story telling and arts and crafts, as well as a food stage organised by John Lewis and catering by the Leeds Indie Food collective, an audience of around 10,000 people and some beautiful late summer sunshine, and you had the recipe for an event that has the potential to run and run.
The Haggis Horns’ clubbable jazz funk certainly suited the the early afternoon mood, tailored as every song seemed to be for swaying in a summer breeze.
Max Jury undoubtedly has a smattering of good songs, such as The Great American Novel and Princess, together with a mellow 70s singer songwriter vibe, but at 45 minutes his set didn’t always captivate with one electric piano number after another. A change of pace with a country song, Ella’s Moonshine, wasn’t quite enough to stir the crowd into dancing along.
Wolf Alice, on the other hand, are fast becoming a must-see band. There’s a pleasing angularity as well as poppy tendencies to songs such as Lisbon (“Feel like smashing windows”) and 90 Mile Beach (“Look at you you’re all grown up/Don’t look at me ’cause I gave up”) while Blush could even appeal to the shoegazing crowd. Ellie Rowsell and co have energy to burn too.
But it’s Primal Scream that steal the show for us with a brilliant set that draws heavily on their past – and in particular their landmark album Screamadelica – while indicating that their latest album, Chaosmosis, is a worthy addition to their sizable catalogue.
Movin’ On Up is an instant crowd pleaser, allowing the band an early opportunity to slip in a new song, Where The Light Gets In, in which Bobby Gillespie duets impressively with Hannah Marsden, before a run of hit after hit, from Jailbreak to Accelerator to Damaged then Higher Than The Sun.
Two more new songs, Trippin’ On Your Love and 100% or Nothing, don’t sound out of place – particularly the latter with its Giorgio Moroder-meets-krautrock electric throb – but it’s an epic rendition of Loaded, during which Gillespie ventures down to the front of the stage to shake a few hands, when the Primals truly come into their own.
If his sweary introduction to Rocks might have had a few parents in the audience covering their offsprings’ ears, the song itself certainly rocked with a Stones-like swagger. As they round off with a magnificent 10-minute rendition of Come Together, complete with communal singalong, the Primals show they’re still one of Britain’s most outstanding live acts.
Long may they – and indeed OnRoundhay – continue.
DAVID HODGSON’S ONROUNDHAY
In some respects, the UK’s North South divide is more of a yawning gap. Property prices, commuter congestion and the continual discussion about what to call a breadcake. There are numerous areas of conciliation however, two of the most obvious being the current proliferation of music festivals and high end food shopping, both of which came together in Leeds when Harvey Goldsmith brought his London based OnBlackheath concept to the city at OnRoundhay.
Sponsored by John Lewis and with a significant emphasis on street food, cookery, literature and families as well as putting on an impressive musical line-up, OnRoundhay took something of a gamble being later in the season than other festivals but it was a gamble that paid dividends when the sun glared down on the Leeds park for the entire day.
And then there was the music. And what an impressive line-up it was.
A nice touch was the BBC Introducing stage which gave two specially selected unsigned bands the opportunity to gain some exposure. At OnRoundhay this honour fell to Leeds-based band Actor and alt-rock trio Caro.
Next up were The Haggis Horns, hailing, surprisingly given their name, from Leeds the seven-piece band has a horn section as their centrepiece. The relatively still sparse and sitting crowd started to move. Impossible not to given their particular brand of ‘deep funk’.
Max Jury is 21 years old, originally from Des Moines, Iowa but now decamped to London who has gained profile through a supporting slot with Lana Del Ray with his mix of American soul and country. Part way through his impressive set, Jury himself noted that he should increase the tempo and stop playing ‘so many miserable tunes’. Doing so produced a number of songs that were much more akin to lifting a festival crowd.
Wolf Alice’s profile has only gone in one direction over the past year and can pretty much be described as stratospheric. Fronted by Ellie Rowsell, the band are swan like. The beautiful and serene Rowsell fronts with strong vocals and energy but behind her the rest of the band are a frenetic mix of rock and screaming guitar noise. The strength of the songs are undeniable, set opener Your Love’s Whore thundered through a set including Lisbon and Giant Peach. This was the point at which most of the OnRoundhay crowd found themselves involuntarily standing.
Primal Scream clearly have the pedigree and faithful following to lift any crowd of 10,000. OnRoundhay was no different. Emerging to chants of ‘Bobby, Bobby’, lead protagonist Bobby Gillespie emerged and plundered a back catalogue rich in songs that every age of person in the crowd was familiar with. Opening with perennial favourite Movin’ On Up, songs from every phase in the bands history received an airing. Highlights were difficult to carve out but Swastika Eyes, Loaded and Higher than the Sun all stood out.
Inevitably closing the set with Rocks and Come Together, the Primal’s acted as the perfect foil for set headliners, James.
After a perhaps too long hour wait, James came out to a rapturous crowed, lead singer Tim Booth belying the still warm evening with a winter coat and woolly hat on. They were discarded soon after set opener Getting Away With It with Booth then noting that having had to follow a band as great as Primal Scream, he needed to ‘play his aces’, hence the reintroduction of Sit Down early into the James set.
James are one of those bands where their songs have over the past 34 years sunk into many a conscience, meaning that without even knowing how, Roundhay Park sang his songs and held onto Booth as he performed from the front row for much of the 90 minutes.
All the hits received an airing. Laid, She’s a Star and Sometimes all high points, until closing with Say Something when a very happy, slightly sunburnt and in all likelihood dehydrated crowd could head home.
Goldsmith was proclaiming from the stage that OnRoundhay would return next year. It should do more than that, it should become a staple of the festival scene. Perhaps a second stage could be introduced to paper over the gaps between the bands and more food outlets provided but as an introduction and something to build upon, OnRoundhay was pretty much perfect.