Calling Festival – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Ryan Adams and The Hives sizzle in the London sunshine

July 6, 2015

By Greg Wetherall

If you wanted food, you’d have been better off heading into hills, slaughtering your own livestock and foraging for your own mushrooms. The thing is, you can call Calling Festival many things, but abundantly endowed in the food outlet stakes isn’t one of them.

Setting aside quibbles regarding the lack of places for nibbles, the rambunctious rock n’ roll leanings of a tantalising music bill proffered a decent compromise, and a giddy compadre to those soaking up alcohol-centred libation as well as the scorching sun.

Finding themselves in a slightly strange position, The Hives strike as an unusual early evening proposition. After all, they are a band that have found their commercial standing in a state of decline for some time now. Yet they remain ebullient, committed and infectious as ever. Emerging to John Williams’s ‘Jaws Theme’, replete with matching white suits, trademark wry, sardonic and witty stage patter intact, frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist conjures up a storm.


Tracks such as ‘Come On’ and ‘Take Back the Toys’ from their most recent record, 2012’s Lex Hives, offer a timely reminder as to the potency of their fast-paced rock n’ punk fusion. With an energetic bonhomie, it does not take long before the crowd is clapping, sitting and cheering exactly as Pelle instructs. They are, quite appropriately, putty in his sweaty hands.

The nagging feeling remains though that even they must scratch their heads trying to fathom why the likes of ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ and ‘Main Offender’ cast such an impenetrable shadow over the rest of their catalogue, when the constituent ingredients have been plundered effectively by them elsewhere. 2007’s ‘Tick Tick Boom’ is a rare exception to this state of affairs in terms of commercial clout and shines accordingly in the glaring early evening sunshine.


As they sign off with their aforementioned signature, ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’, there is no denying that you’d struggle to find another garage rock band on the planet who are as joyously entertaining and relentlessly frenetic as these Swedish upstarts. They are due a renaissance. Perhaps it starts here.

Preceding Noel’s biggest solo UK headline show to date, the sonorous, dulcet tones of uber-prolific Ryan Adams strode upon Clapham Common’s stage. Opening with the choppy guitar crunch of ‘Gimme Something Good’ from last year’s self-titled and classic rock-minded record, Adams, decked out in double-denim and backed by a backdrop of huge amplifiers a la Neil Young’s Weld, garnered a reverent and impassioned response from the many gathered.


Excavating a neat pick n’ mix from the various corners of his post-Whiskey Town career, songs such as ‘Fix It’, alongside ‘Shakedown on 9th Street’, offer ample opportunity for some rollicking riffs and axe heroics. Finding time to dust off the gentle cynical, self-flagellating, love sick song ‘Come Pick Me Up’, the crowd offer complimentary harmonies to the harmonica-assisted strum cooked up in front of them.


He doesn’t close with a widely predict jaunt through his version of ‘Wonderwall’. Instead, he bows out with ‘Magnolia Mountain’ and says, ‘Now, for the best fucking song writer of our time’.

Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds head onto the stage in full face of London’s persistent sunshine. A balmy evening is about to get all the more hot and humid.

Opening with ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, he at once, unwittingly, transforms the atmosphere from one of gentle, good-natured appreciation, to that of a football terrace. This is never more apparent than when he delves into his Oasis catalogue, which he does on multiple occasions: an acoustic ‘Champagne Supernova’, ‘Whatever’ and ‘The Masterplan’ ring particularly loudly. In fact, such is the volume and commitment of the crowd’s accompaniment to these songs that the thought presents itself: are these songs that will, one day, enter the folk song canon?


It is quite a transcendental thing to be a part of, and one can only wonder if even Gallagher himself can get used to this sensation. On the downside, the subtle nuances of some of his lyrics seem to fall upon the deaf ears of a slightly ageing and heavily inebriated crowd. As they yell out the words to Oasis B-side ‘Fade Away’ (‘the dreams we have as children, fade away’), the wistful, melancholic observation at its heart seem to be entirely lost on those present.

Gallagher’s borderline apologetic stance for incorporating instrumentation outside that of the expected continues to be a dialogue he wishes to have with his audience. ‘This next song has a saxophone in it. Do not be alarmed.’ He pauses, before uttering, ‘Live Forever’. The crowd burst into a deafening roar. ‘Live Forever on the saxophone? How pissed are you?’ Gallagher scolds. He then launches into debut solo single, ‘The Death of You and Me’.

On the flipside, this drunken abandon also pays generous dividends to Gallagher when a famous lyrical howler, such as the nonsensical ‘Champagne Supernova’ couplet, ‘slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball’, is allowed to pass without the slightest scrutiny.


It is heartening to note that his latest material slides effortlessly into his set and holds its own. ‘The Mexican’ has a delicious riff that most guitar bands would chew Noel’s hand off for; ‘Lock All The Doors’ is a lost Britpop anthem; ‘Riverman’ is atmospheric without being banal. Perhaps inevitably, it is ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ that concludes. Once that towering 90s cut is dished out, there is, quite understandably, nowhere for his set to go.

He departs triumphant. The sun had finally set and so had his performance. Gallagher will play a headline slot at Latitude Festival in a few weeks. On this form, it will be quite something. His passive, stoic gigging posture may lack textbook dazzle or shtick, but he has songs in his armoury that rise above the need for pyrotechnics or other.

Calling Festival may have been truncated this year from two days to one, but it bore all the markings of an event that focused on quality rather than quantity. The sun helped, but the music would have saved even the drabbest of days.



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