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Guilfest, Guildford, Surrey 5 July 2003

Not so rock orientated on the main stage this evening (the festival restarted at 11am but I’ve got a family & ballet-run to do, you know!) with Madness headlining and the Stranglers on immediately before them. On the Uncut stage there was Jackie Leaven (who I just caught the tail end of - very talented singer/songwriter), ex-Genesis/GTR guitarist Steve Hackett and Richard Thompson was headlining. Due to timings I flitted around the stages (it’s hard with only one of you!) to get the best feel for the evening for you all.

First the Stranglers, who have not featured original vocalist Hugh Cornwell for some years now. A very loud and hit littered set, with ‘Peaches’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Golden Brown’ all present and correct. They also did a storming cover of the Kinks classic, ‘All The Day And All Of The Night’, which went down a treat with the crowd. The band played well and got an enthusiastic reception, which must have pleased the band as they originally come from Guildford.

Over to the Uncut Stage to witness Steve Hackett, who played a very mellow and chilled acoustic guitar driven set. His guitar playing is sublime and really was a treat to listen to. A keyboard player and clarinet player ably supported him throughout the set. From the three hundred or so audience he got a rousing reception and it was nice to get a sit down!

Now I stayed for Richard Thompson, who has been a major name in the folk rock scene since his days in Fairport Convention back in the late 60’s. He has had a varied career, with his latest album, ‘Old Kit Bag’ gaining rave reviews recently. Four piece band, with Thompson laying down some very tasty electric guitar solos. A very accomplished guitarist and a delight to watch perform. His songwriting skills are first class and subjects covered included a Taliban’s View of the West (which has been covered by Sting) to political songs tackling Thatcher’s Britain. His secret is to wrap these contentious issues in catchy melodies, making them easier to digest in a wider audience. Couldn’t catch all his set as I wanted to take in some Madness!

Madness were a mainstay in the UK charts for most of the 80’s and early 90’s and have been doing sell out festival dates and arena sized tours ever since (with a brief split). I am no fan of Mod/Ska music but the band can write very catchy tunes that appeal to a very wide audience, represented by the fact that they had a bigger crowd than Alice Cooper the night before. Plenty of hits including ‘Baggy Trousers’, ‘Could This Be Love?’, ‘One Step Beyond’, ‘Just Another Day’ and ‘Our House’. Suggs is a great showman and works the crowd well and a very enjoyable time was had by all!

Quick mention to Vega 4, who greatly impressed in the Unsung Heroes tent. Melodic songs, reminiscent of the Stereophonics and even bits of XTC/Travis in the more acoustic driven songs. Maybe a band to watch out for in the coming months!

Another great evening of music and get along to next year’s festival. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll enjoy listening to bands you know little of and enjoying the ones you do!

Performances of the festival for me? A tie between the Darkness and Richard Thompson! With a very close second going to Alice Cooper and Madness!

Text © 2003 Jason Ritchie

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