Having carved out a niche as the one-day music festival for uncompromising indie bands who wouldn’t quite fit in at Glastonbury orReading, the Field Day festival in East London’s Victoria Park is now in its third year. Once again, they combined bands with village fete games, sack racing, the tug of war, lots of straw bales and any other maniac activities they could think of.

I like the venue, mostly because it is a brisk walk from Mile End tube station - and therefore not to far from my bed - but this year was a distinct improvement. The interminable queues for the toilet seemed to have been addressed, for the most part, while the layout of the site now seemed more logical. Advice for next year - make sure security don’t go off on a flier and force the crowd to throw their water away before entry. That aside, Mr and Mrs Field Day get good marks for their stewardship of this year’s day out.

Of course, the crowds at events like this always baffle me. A lot of teenagers wearing those tacky plastic sunglasses that used to come free with copies of 'The Beano' and jeans that hadn’t been washed since last year’s Field Day. What is that all about?

My festival experiences tend to be rather similar now to how they were when I went to the Reading Festival in my teenage student days earlier in the decade - hopping from tent to tent, watching bits and pieces of sets and hoping to be in the right place at the right time, in order to catch something spectacular. That was, basically, how this year’s Field Day went as well.

Headlining were Mogwai, a band that is easy to admire but a bit harder to love. Over more than a decade, they have taken the post-rock formula and refined it with sardonic humour and (just occasionally) pretty melodies. I have seen them once before, and my opinions then were roughly the same as now - that while their music is enjoyable, it doesn’t feel like much more than good background music.

After half an hour of this, I ducked out and headed for one of the tents, in order to watch Malian kora player Toumani Diabate and his band. Now, I wouldn’t pretend to be a world music expert, but this was simply exceptional.

Diabate is a true virtuoso, demonstrated best when he casually demonstrated to the crowd how his instrument - somewhere between a harp and an acoustic guitar - was played. Despite having just been carefully shown how he played it, I found it remained impossible to fully fathom how he made such a lovely noise with just his thumbs.

His band were equally as good - even the sound check was more polished than most bands on the bill’s offerings. Most of the songs were little more than jams with sing along sections, but they were still thrilling - I have genuinely never seen a guitarist move his fingers faster. Graceful, stylish, warm and dedicated - it was as captivating as watching Ricky Ponting pull cricket balls for four over and over again, for half an hour. Impeccable, thrilling and magical.

Obviously, this was the highlight. But the rest of the bill offered some tasty treats (as, indeed, did the food stalls - for lunch, I had a rather delicious Indian Thali with rice).

First up, on the main stage, were Gaggle. This consisted of a choir of girls (some, to tell the truth, looking rather older than the other acts on today’s bill) half-rapping, half singing along to pre-recorded backing tracks coming from an IMac. It looked like tremendous fun to be part of, and although somewhat repetitive, it was quite entertaining - but one wonders who would actually want to listen to a recording of this music at home.

Then came a bit of a delay, explained by an announcement from the next band, Fanfarlo, that they had been forced to break into their rehearsal space that morning in order to retrieve their equipment.

When Fanfarlo eventually took to the stage, they delivered one of the highpoints of the day. Their instrument hopping and bubbly stage presence make them a natural festival band - able to catch the eye of an audience who might not have heard much of their music before. But, it was their combination of effortlessly catchy melodies and uplifting instrumental segments that made this set so appealing.

Their debut album, 'Reservoir', released earlier this year, seems to have received only a muted response. If their Field Day performance has been repeated at other festivals this summer, the critics may have to revise their opinion. Certainly, Fanfarlo deserved to be far higher up the billing.

After that, I went to a smaller stage (called - for no discernable reason - the Village Mentality), where the audience was so thin, there was sitting room at the front. This was rather unfortunate for the band due onstage, but to their credit, they resisted the temptation to just go through the motions.

In fact, Wet Paint (who I had decided to watch solely because of vague suggestions they sounded "a bit like Pavement") go down as my discovery of the festival.

A London based quartet, with scruffy clothes, long hair and beards, they play short, sharp guitar rock and did indeed sound a bit like Pavement. But, although their inspirations were fairly transparent, they had energy and melody, a winning combo. Like Fanfarlo, they deserved to play to a larger crowd, later in the day. Remember the name, Wet Paint, and go and see them whenever you get the chance.

Popping up in the Blogger’s Delight stage - in the past reserved for dance acts and DJs - were the XX, a band that come with a nice back story, having formed in the music room of their West London comprehensive school.

"We’re the XX," announces bassist/singer Oliver Sim after one song, "…although you sound like you already know that." Indeed, the crowd knew exactly who they were watching, but sadly it seemed like too many were expecting something a little more riotous, leaving unimpressed.

After those opening words, the four band members concentrated on their quiet, intense music - a brooding mix of chiming post-rock guitar lines, hip-hop bass lines and laptop electronica. Over this, the male/female vocal duo of Sim and Romy Madley Croft whisper slow-burning melodies.

Although I wouldn’t expect many of these songs to become hit singles, the unforced genre merging and skilful musicianship promises much. I’m instinctively distrustful of bands that sound more like a music critic’s fantasy than something people would actually create unattended, but, in this case, the XX really do justify the column inches.

Other hotly tipped artists fared less well. The Temper Trap were all over the TV and the radio in the week leading up to this festival. But, despite the caffeine-buzz feel of their singer, Dougy Mandagi's rampant enthusiasm, the songs sounded samey and unambitious.

Meanwhile, it seemed like no broadsheet music columnist could have allowed a day to pass without complaining that Micachu and the Shapes had been overlooked for a Mercury Music Prize. Madness. This set was appalling. Just to check my judgement wasn’t failing me, I listened to her album online after the festival ended. I wasn’t wrong - these songs are charmless, tuneless, and wouldn’t have made the cut for the second Elastica album.

My patience, already sorely tested, snapped when she vacated the stage and treated the audience to some aimless ambient drivel instead. Upon her return, facing a muted response, she berated the crowd for their failure to appreciate her offerings. Dear oh dear. For Micachu, I suspect that the wider audience will quickly appreciate another music critic's folly for what it is. Like so many before her, (remember Terris? King Adora? Gay Dad?) Job Centre Plus beckons.

Having left Michchu early, I then caught the latter parts of a set by Mexican actress turned folksinger Juana Molina, who performed an ‘interesting’ set of curiously repetitive and ambient acoustic folk, and it was pleasant, if a little too quirky for the uninitiated. Alas, I had arrived too late for what might have been the most existing part of the set - a series of rows with her soundman, which might have explained the subdued stage persona she adopted during the parts I did see.

In between all these bands, and cups of tea from the Guardian tent, I was also able to see lots of other acts. Some were exceptional (Four Tet - invigorating and unpredictable electronica, so good that it makes the rest of this genre entirely redundant in my eyes, although perhaps too much ‘ambient’ noodling at the latter stages of his stagetime), some reasonable (Final Fantasy - nice violin and vocal combinations, but not a patch on Andrew Bird’s variations on the same theme) and some awful (Malcolm Middleton - the only people who seemed more bored than the audience were the people on the stage).

All in all, it was a quirky and unconventional festival, and a good day out. The decision to snap up Toumani Diabate was simply inspired. Hopefully, the organisers will be tempted not to book quite so many critically acclaimed but unproven indie-guitar bands next year, as the day was best when they indulged their whims.

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Commenting On: Victoria Park, London, 1/8/2009 - Field Day

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