One Big Weekend - Heaton Park - 4.5.03

It's very telling of the current musical climate that as the rock goes on, the previous days dodgy white boy dance day gets rained out spectacularly. Of all the people to put on a bill Radio 1 chose Judge Jules, Fergie and Eddie Halliwell as a shining example of cutting edge dance music. When you consider they could simply have made the Saturday an Urban Summer Splash featuring Westwood, Nelson and The Dreem Team and maybe a touch of bhangra it shows that sometimes they can get it so wrong.

Dirty Vegas and Aqualung kick off the day of live music and at their best get an indifferent reaction from the crowd. Dirty Vegas are improved with a stripped back acoustic set-up which allows them to lose the limp beats and actually let the songs breathe. They've always had that middle of the road David Gray influence within them and today it's even more apparent, yet it still manages to sound better than their pitiful attempts at dance music. Aqualung start off with an beautiful version of the Beach Boys "God Only Knows" and then steadily lose the interest of the audience as the set goes on.

You can imagine the conversation between Radio 1 and the Coral. "Right guys, you know this is going live to the nation so keep it tight and just play the singles". At which point the Coral's frontman James Skelly rounds up the band and declares war on the f**king meffs at the BBC who think the Coral are just going to nod dutifully. The result is that half way through "Goodbye" they head straight into a 20 minute jam which baffles a few members of the audience while we stare in amazement and remember that the true essence of rock & roll is the unpredictable streak of genius. It this unpredictability which Badly Drawn Boy used to have - the fact you simply didn't know whether you were going to get a 3 hour show, a set of B-sides or a greatest hits set - and sadly lost along the way and turned into a lumpen AOR blot of Hugh Grant Joan Collins smoozing pish. Sure, "Silent Sigh" is still great, Andy Rourke's on top form and Damon mentions Joe Strummer countless times but you still can't help looking at your watch for most of the set.

The White Stripes are a band who just keep getting better and better. This our fourth experience of Jack and Meg in the flesh and the memories of the Manchester Apollo gig last month still haven't faded. With just 30 minutes to do their thang what we get is everything condensed to it's purest form - "Seven Nation Army", "Hotel Yorba", "You're Pretty Good Looking For A Girl" - with Jack asking the audience to give a big hello to (his sister) Meg who takes centre stage for "In The Cold Cold Night". It's an absolute travesty that these guys weren't headlining the bill and when Jack and Meg leave the stage guarded by a 7ft Bodyguard dressed in Black, Red and White much of the audience leave with them.

We could actually lie and said we stuck around for Feeder, but instead we took time out to grab a beer for the plain and simple fact there are few bands in the world who irritate us as much as Grant Nichols and co.

The Stereophonics are a band which in our eyes have perched precariously on the fence tiptoeing between bland and lumpen and good time rock band. Back in the old days when we saw them in the Manchester Roadhouse they were a breath of fresh air and actually offered intelligent lyrics with the sort of tunes Oasis wished they could write. And then something changed for us when we saw them at the MEN in December 2001 - the Stereophonics had become a stadium rock band who simply didn't have the personality or charisma to fill stadiums. If it wasn't for the new single "Madame Helga" we simply wouldn't be hear, but as the band hit the stage the first thing we notice is how small Kelly Jones actually is. We always had our suspicions, but up close in the photo pit we actually realise that if you were to place Kylie and Kelly next to each other then it's highly likely that Kelly's head would be hovering somewhere near Kylie's ass - he really is that tiny and his new haircut doesn't do him any favours.

After the rush of "Madame Helga" things take a turn for the worst with possible the worst Stereophonics single ever - "Mr Writer". If you're going to write a song about your detractors at least do it with some style like So Solid Crew did on "Haterz" otherwise don't bother because the moment you start writing self indulgent crap about music reviews (or even worse songs about actually writing songs) then the people stop listening. "Maybe Tomorrow" is the Stereophonics move into white soul music and it really does place Kelly's gravely vocals in the spotlight. It's definitely a step in the right direction and coupled with the other newie and classic ballad "Since I Told You It's Over" it looks like "You've Gotta Go There To Come Back" will bring back the fans who walked with "J.E.E.P". With "Traffic" and "Local Boy In The Photograph" added for good measure it's seem that bad haircuts excepted the Stereophonics are in for a renaissance.

One Big Weekend delivered on all counts and with the exception of the heavily inflated food and drinks prices and Metrolink problems on the way home it was a bank holiday to remember. Roll on the next one!!!

Alex McCann

NB: Full pictures and One Big Weekend gallery coming soon!!!

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