Dirtblonde Archives #5: Playing at Leeds Festival

One of our most memorable early gigs, was when we landed a slot at a new bands stage at the Carling Weekend Leeds Festival. Of course, our gig wasn’t quite the Kasabian-style crowd pleasing set most festival goers like, haha…

dirtblonde live at leeds festival

Dirtblonde live at Leeds Festival

It was our biggest gig up until that point, so it was quite an exciting time. We were invited to come to the Leeds Festival press conference launch, a few months ahead of the gig, which was pretty cool. By pretty cool, I mean the usual – free booze and nibbles, of course! A few (shitty) bands were around, such as Pigeon Detectives, and festival organiser Melvyn Benn gave a little speech to the press. The NME were there  too, and it was the only time they ever mentioned Dirtblonde on an article (the fuckers, haha.)

One thing I remember, was chattting to some Hall Or Nothing PR lady, and thinking oh, that’s the kinda people big bands deal with – nice. I mean, I’m sure the music industry is full of assholes, but the toilet circuit has even more of them! I just thought how easy it must be for all those big signed bands, who can afford proper PR people etc… money can’t buy you love or happiness, but can certainly make the life of a rock’n’roll band easier. Being DIY ain’t a stroll in the park… So, it was interesting to see all the very professional people who grease up the music bizz machine… and they all seemed quite friendly and nice to be honest, as far as I remember.

Anyway, ahead of the gig itself, one of the coolest things was that we were given lots of free one-day Leeds Festival tickets to give away, so we got family and friends to come along… it was just great to be able to offer that to our mates!

Lula playing at Leeds festival

Lula playing at Leeds festival

On the day of the gig, in true rock’n’roll style, we got two friends to be our roadies, and crammed all our gear and camping stuff in a tiny old car (NOT very rock’n’roll… but a tour bus was a bit over our budget) and headed to Leeds!

Arriving at Braham Park, the site of Leeds Festival, was quite surreal. The first view we had was of the Main Stage, from behind, where at first we briefly parked our little car… right next to the big tour buses, because we were not quite sure where to go!

But still, even being just a little band, the overall festival experience was much, much better than if we went just as punters: smaller & more exclusive camping site, exclusive backstage hanging out area, cleaner toilets, exclusive bar where you could get your pissy Carling without facing huge queues. All told, pretty cool. It’s definitely better attending a festival as a performing artist, than as “the public!” Plus – we got to see many cool bands for free, such as Franz Ferdinand, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Long Blondes, Primal Scream, Serena Maneesh, Morning After Girls…

Lula rocking at Leeds Festival

Lula rocking at Leeds Festival

As for our gig itself. It was messy, loud, classic Dirtblonde – ie. some people loved, lots of people hated hahaha! No soundcheck, quite hard to get a good sound… but we just went for it, as we do. I had something written on my chest, don’t remember what, but started with “Fuck…”. I think it was “Fuck the Kooks”, the popular indie band that year.

During the last song – messy and improvised as always – I picked up a can of Carling beer and hit my guitar strings with it. So strongly that the can split open on the side, making the beer shower everywhere, as told on the previous Dirt Archives (guitar #5).

Ivan abusing a beer can at Leeds Festival

Ivan abusing a beer can at Leeds Festival

Some people loved our set, some people hated us (usually the “lads” who think bands like Kasabian are so “rock’n’roll” but can’t handle NOISE, haha).

We got some cool reviews. One reviewer even said that we were the 2nd most rock’n’roll thing to hit Leeds that weekend, after Peaches!:

“Liverpool’s DIRTBLONDE are the most enigmatic of the bands on this stage. They’re a punk duo with a spitting and snarling Ivan Hell on guitar and a gentle bass playing vocalist in Lula Blue… DIRTBLONDE achieve the wonderful result of driving a lot of bored people away while a small but fierce cluster of disaffected and wonderful looking kids are drawn like bruised moths to a rather guttering candle of venomous wax. Hell savages the security rails with his guitar in the finale and the new fans are in raptures… for the kids who love it this is the real thing, and probably the only dose they’re going to get all weekend.”

“Dirtblonde on the Topman Unsigned Stage are far more divisive, attracting looks of adoration or disgust from passers-by with their scuzzy rock’n’roll. Arrogant (one fan offering them a CD is knocked back with the words “I don’t want it if I’m not on it”), bolshy, rough around more than just the edges, it’s the second most rock’n’roll thing to hit Leeds today.”

And that’s how it should be done, really, in the gospel according to Dirtblonde – fuck joe public! Some people will inevitably love what you do, and some people will inevitably hate what you do – so  there’s nothing worse than trying to be a crowd pleaser, like so many cheesy indie bands do at festivals.

Lula during the Dirtblonde set at Leeds Festival

Lula during the Dirtblonde set at Leeds Festival

Some people were/are impressed that we played at such a major festival as Leeds Festival. To be honest, it’s no big deal, it was just a gig, and we played better ones in tiny venues such as The Castle Hotel in Manchester, to be honest. It was a memorable gig that, to me, just showed that nothing’s really impossible and even a little band such as Dirtblonde could land on one of UK’s biggest music festivals. But I wouldn’t call it a “career highlight”… that’d be depressing! The way I think is – my band is fucking good, so of course we had to eventually end up playing at a major festival… no big fucking deal. I don’t think any band should really brag, be proud or be surprised about any such “achievement”. If you think you’re good, whatever things you end up doing should come as something you expected, as the due course of things. If you don’t think you’re good enough to do these things, then don’t fucking be in a band in the first place!!!

Whenever we mention that we played in New York, Leeds Festival, SXSW… it’s never ever bragging about it, it’s just something we feel we need to mention to some promoters etc to show them that even though we’re not famous, people thought we were good enough to play at those places.

(Ironically enough, even though Dirtblonde are one of the few Liverpool bands who’ve played at Leeds Festival and SXSW, local festivals such as Liverpool Sound City tend to ignore us!)

Ivan at Leeds Festival.

Ivan at Leeds Festival.

The only surprising thing to me (or should I say disappointing)  is that we don’t play big festivals more often – we’re certainly good enough, but most promoters are idiots, of course.

It’s quite depressing that so many, forgettable indie bands get to regularly play at festivals just because they got a deal/PR/ managers… even though no one actually comes to those festivals specifically to see any of those bands lower in the bill or on the smaller stages!

At the end of the day, most music  festivals are shit anyway. Since that time we played at Leeds Festival, I never felt the urge to spend my money to attend another Leeds Festival again. To paraphrase Lula: If I’m not playing on it, I’m not interested in attending it!

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