Here comes the sun, which means the rock festival season is already upon us. Young and old alike are turning up at football stadiums or muddy fields for the likes of Coldplay, The Stone Roses and, er, probably loads of people I’ve never heard of. And all in the name of ‘fun’. Apparently. Not me, though. No way. And here’s why…
Dexy’s Midnight Runners once sang ‘Lord Have Mercy On Me/ Keep Me Away From Leeds’, in the brilliantly titled Thankfully, Not Living In Yorkshire, It Doesn’t Apply.
And, to be honest, many people would probably agree with Dexy’s, since Leeds certainly fits a lot of folk’s idea of the grim, industrial wastelands of the north of England.
What could be gloomier, in fact, than, say, Leeds on a cold and rainy weekend in September? Maybe watching Joy Division, too? Ah, well …
And so it came to pass … it was 1979, at the age of 17, when I first visited Leeds to attend the Futurama Festival (nothing to do with the cracking telly show) at the Queen’s Hall. Organised by local boy John Keenan, the festival was billed as ‘The World’s First Science Fiction Music Festival’ – even though there seemed to be little sci-fi to the experience, apart from a couple of people dressed as robots.
Mind you, sleeping in a municipal building’s drafty hall, on a grubby and sticky floor, with a bunch of other waifs and strays (who had travelled the country – and further afield – to see some of the hippest, most cutting edge, post- punk bands around) did have a touch of the dystopian future about it, when I come to think of it.
But the sci-fi angle wasn’t important. It was all about music. And what a line-up of ‘hot’ bands it was.
Yes, of course, the now legendary Joy Division were among the odds and sods of bands playing over the Festival’s two days, along with their fellow Factory Records glum chums A Certain Ratio and, electro-pop superstars in the making, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.
But, there was also The Teardrop Explodes (who were beaut and performed a cracking version of Aretha Franklin’s Save Me), Scritti Pollitti, Cabaret Voltaire, The Monochrome Set, Spizz Energy, Echo and The Bunnymen (complete with drum machine, Echo), The Only Ones, and, er, The Invaders.
And there was also one of the first performances of former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s Public Image Limited (I also slept through a bit of them but bought a Bowie bootleg from Lydon’s brother Jimmy.)
And, of course, The Fall who, for my money, were the best band of the whole two days. I still have fond memories of Mark E Smith hassling the Hawkwind fans about their ‘cosmic crap.’ Hawkwind, along with other sixties psychedelic types, such as Nik Turner, seemed prehistorically out of place but their stoned fans seemed happy enough to wander around and take abuse from the younger punks and long-mac wearers.
Joy Division, by the way, were damn fine. At the time, they were on the crest of a creative wave, after Unknown Pleasures and Transmission, and before the synthesizers softened their sound. They were, for most people, the stars of the show. The bees’ knees, the cat’s whiskers, the dog’s bollocks.And any other animal’s anatomy.
As was the Futurama Festival.
More than a few of those bands went on to make something of a name for themselves and when Keenan organised another Futurama Festival in 1980, I went along, hoping to recapture the magic of the previous year. But as little as a year later, though, it looked to my naively jaded eyes as if the Futurama Festival was already moving towards the mainstream.
Acts then, included Siouxsie and The Banshees, who were promoting their mega selling Kaleidoscope album, The Psychedelic Furs, Altered Images, Soft Cell (who, I remember, did a pretty tasty version of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid in front of projections of hard core porn) and, ahem, Gary Glitter.
The Bunnymenwere back, too, complete with a real drummer, and seemed to be on their way to a bombastic psychedelic form of what became known as stadium rock. Speaking of which, there was also a newish band from Ireland, who were being raved about by Sounds’ Garry Bushell – the ill-fated U2.
I actually thought they were alright, on the night, what with their Television-lite pop rock, although I –along with my mate Ronnie Burke – did spend most of their set shouting Nanu Nanu at the singer because of his remarkable resemblance to Mork From Ork.
The annual Futurama Festival apparently carried on for a few more years after that but I didn’t go again or, indeed, go to another music festival.(Apart from Dock Rock in Hartlepool, my home town.) It could never be bettered.