Somersault cultivated a chilled out surf-dude theme this weekend, reflected in the laid-back demeanour of its initially small crowds. The first bands to take to the Main Stage were indie-folk outfit Saturday Sun and experimental sister-duo Hockeysmith. On a hazy Friday mid-afternoon, the audience was a few degrees too laid-back for the early acts to make an impact – most of them were horizontal, many unconscious. Saturday and ‘Smith both plumped for a haunting ambience that would better suit an indoor venue or a night-time slot, and were inadvertently muffled by the Devonshire greenery of the festival’s idyllic valley setting.
Who better to get people up and moving, then, than Exeter’s bequiffed quintet The Computers and their demented frontman Al Kershaw? Basing their look on the Blues Brothers and their rockabilly refrains on a mix of pop-punk, motown and swing, they aimed less at innovation than the people sat in front of them: “I have given the sun to you,” Kershaw said, apparently taking credit for the warm weather. “I have blessed you, and I can take it away.”
The Church of The Computers grew over the course of their 40-minute set, tearing through ‘Music is dead’ and ‘Bring me the head of a hipster’ while a congregation amassed at the stage barriers. Kershaw proceeded to leap into the crowd to spin one unsuspecting adolescent on his shoulders like a manic fireman, and again for a closing crowd dive. Drenched in sweat with his jacket in shreds, Kershaw and The Computers’ mission was accomplished: they’d brought Somersault, more or less, to its feet.
Next up were folk-rockers Dry the River, bringing with them a mesmerising set which seamlessly weaved the likes of ‘Lion’s Den’ and ‘Bible Belt’ from their first album ‘Shallow Bed’ with new tracks ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘Everlasting Light’. Humble frontman Peter Liddle’s pastoral lyrics complemented his ethereally resonant vocals and guitar-wails, rising into crashing crescendos which left the (now very big) audience calling for more.
Concluding Friday’s Main Stage frolics were Spiritualized, headed by Jason Pierce, garbed as usual in white and hunched ponderously over his guitar like a wise indie king on his throne. The band’s press release said the billing was ‘no comeback’, and ‘no stylistic about turn’; if neither of these, the 90-minute gig was a showcase of honed musicianship borne from over twenty years’ experience.
Playing songs from across the Spiritualized catalogue, the accompanying backing choir amplified them all with some gospel oomph, forming new beasts out of the recorded versions of ‘Come Together’ and ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’. Pierce’s priestly white attire began to take on a more clinical aspect after the first half hour, as the somebrely delivered songs began to blend in tone. Perhaps some positive showmanship from the frontman could have broken things up for a crowd not all familiar with him. Nevertheless, an assured performance from Friday’s headliners.
While not every punter will have wandered into the night feeling ‘spiritualised’, per se, Somersault was in high spirits after a diverse range of good music on its biggest stage. And that, of course, is what festivals are all about.