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Magnetic North Pole
Peeps Into Fairyland
T in the Park, 8-9th July 2000, Babado by Kinross
Remember the Gong Show? An American programme where hopeful
and hapless contestants performed until they were 'gonged' off
by an unsympathetic audience. And that's what T in the Park is
like. With 6 simultaneous stages hosting more than 100 acts over
2 days, sometimes it's necessary to up and move on, particularly
when things get a bit Ocean Colour Scene.
Thanks to a 2-hour wait for our free tickets, we arrive just in time to catch the tail-end of Aereogramme's set. Despite this, the new Chemikal Underground signings' veer between anger and angst is already the festival's high-point.
Up on the Main Stage, 4 tiny dots in coordinated rainwear are performing. They are All Saints and they are rotten. To be fair, opener 'Lady Marmalade' sounds ok i.e. a precise facsimile of the recorded version, but for their slaughter of 'Walk This Way' it's only the ambulance chaser in us that keeps us. A tuneless 'Bootie Call' eventually sends us running for cover, to The Wannadies, a band who have recently acquired the disease that all Scandinavian bands eventually succumb to - Roxette-itis. The applause for 'You and Me Song' greatly outweighs that for the dumb glam metal of 'Hey' and should act as some sort of clue for future reference. The gong propels us from Sweden back to Scotland again.
Biffy Clyro are an odd mix, emulating Fugazi and Shellac. They need a decent producer - is there an Albini in the house? Chop their act down to 4 songs, write 4 more as good, and we could have something special.
We remain briefly for the post-Britpop of Midas whose guitar jangle now sounds like the finished article before venturing out in the rain and the Bluetones, the band it's not ok to like. However, it's a crowd-pleasing and workmanlike performance where 'Bluetonic' and 'Slight Return' look as likely as anything to bring the sun out.
Looper are almost the exact opposite - hardly natural live performers. Indeed, 'Burning Flies' doesn't bode well - bass-heavy and a bit ropey. The crowd's Belle and Sebastian contingent are, however ,very forgiving and Stuart David pulls things round - they actually start to look like a bona fide live act and tracks from 'The Geometrid' plus newie 'Peacock Johnston' are simply perfect pop.
Another surefire hit on the main stage are the Fun Loving Criminals. Previous T stars, they start with their 'signature tune' and the crowd immediately take them to their hearts. In truth much of the Crim's material is plodding metal-lite, but such is Huey's charisma that it seems they could perform 'Agadoo' and still get the freedom of Kinross.
Damon Gough aka Badly Drawn Boy isn't quite au fait with how the live spectacle works yet. An overnight sensation, the instrumentation is iffy and the band under-rehearsed. As for the set - disjointed and ragged, but the songs from the hit album 'Bewilderbeast' shine through. He even insists on doing one more - "they can pull me off if they like" - and the set is dismantled around him, much to the audience's delight. The Boy done good.
Moby point out that The Hits should always be saved for the climax of a show. He then proceeds to kick off with 'Porcelain', 'Go', 'Why Does My Heart...' Moved up the bill for safety reasons, but bringing his recorded sound to the stage he unites pop, indie and dance fans. A true star, a true headliner.
Day 2 - Dumping the car in a swamp and running full-tilt to
the PRS stage we catch Magnetic North Pole removing the
chill with their warm'n'fuzzy guitar sound. They perform the trick
of mixing 'lo-fi' / indie weirdness - 'December 45' lasts a mere
30 seconds - with genuine songwriting sensibilities, as evidenced
on 'Trees'. The large early crowd seem well impressed with what
is the top performance of the day - so far.
We remain in the relative comfort of the tent for Macrocosmica, who have thrown off any last vestiges of their Mogwai connection and now have the phrase 'very metal' stenciled across their black, black hearts. Speculation is rife as to the father of the forthcoming 4th member of the band - Brendan and Cerwyss may be married, but the smart money's on Satan.
Bottles and rotten fruit in hand we make for the main stage again, ever mindful of the welcome expected by returning exiled Glaswegian divas. (we're talking Sheena Easton here, youngsters). Happily, Lulu endears herself to the audience, partly by not having developed an American accent, and also by running through her considerable back-catalogue. 'From To Sir With Love' to 'Relight My Fire', she is truly the star of the day. She's at once your auntie and your wee sister, rabbiting away to the audience and belting out hit after hit.
Comparative youngsters in King Tut's Tent, where Urusei Yatsura have also come home. New haircuts, but same old songs. It's like the Hits collection, if you consider the 61-in-97 'Strategic Hamlets' a hit. Reliably reassured, we move to the day's first piece of crap scheduling, with another big local act, Idlewild, battling the elements on the main stage. While it's great to see them reach these heights, they're better suited to the confines of a smoky club. Their undoubtedly great tunes carry - just - across the field in the wind and rain. The band are undeterred by all this, they and the moshpit are happy.
The big question of the day - will Iggy Pop's much-rumoured collaboration with Death in Vegas actually happen? Our mad dash is fruitless as Iggy, sadly, doesn't appear to be onstage. Mind you, the 4 figures in the distance could be Peters and Lee, Mark E. Smith and the Pope for all I can tell, such is the scale of the packed tent.
Decision time. Coldplay or Iggy Pop? Well, Coldplay are out, as people are 30-deep at the exits of the Tut's tent, trying to get even a glimpse of this week's chart heroes. So it's IGGY! Is he too old to rock and roll? No, and he's even shirtless. Paying tribute to the home of "Irvine Welsh and Sickboy" he endears himself to the crowd with an, erm, 'energetic' performance - crowdsurfing during 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', then returning the compliment during 'The Passenger' by inviting a sizable portion of the audience onstage and giving the security guards nightmares. He seemingly closes with 'No Fun' but, as the curtain comes down, sneaks in an encore, much to the confusion of all concerned. Still the anarchist, and at his age too!
It was said by someone that Eastenders star Sid Owen could charm the birds out of the trees. The same has been said of Macy Gray. Ok, we're talking tree-dwelling DUCKS, but anyway... Macy is actually a disappointment, at least for reporters - she's coherent (well, as much as usual), she makes no odd pronouncements, even the famous fright-wig is tucked away under a headscarf. She looks like someone's granny singing some very ordinary songs. Bong!
Playing to a mix of bedraggled punters and record company execs, The Zephyrs are Edinburgh's latest lo-fi country sensations play a plaintive set of world-weary songs that somehow fit the mood of the festival at this time. The moothie and squeezebox are cool again.
Travis take to the gloomy night and build to 'Why Does it Always Sleet On Me' with a few golden oldies from their less-than-salubrious back catalogue. Even 'U16 Girls' is aired, presumably as a test of the loyal audience. The crowd stretches back to the top of the hill and out of the main stage area and binoculars are required to even see the jumbo TV screen. Travis are now too big for stadium rock.
It's during the quieter passages of 'Writing to Reach You' that they're drowned out by the Flaming Lips in the tent down the hill. On record they seldom reach the heights that they do tonight, but with an elaborately synchronised stageshow they justify their headliner tag. And centre stage, among the fake blood, flashlights, artificial snow and elaborate back projections, there it is - Wayne Coyne is beating the hell out of a GONG.
Bong! Time's up, for another year...