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Riverside Festival @ Charlbury, 19/06/2010


A work colleague has a mug reading “A bad day fishing beats a good day working”.  Hardly Kierkegaard, but bear it in mind when reading this review: although we saw very few acts that really inspired us (on Saturday at least), we’d rather spend a weekend watching disappointing music at Riverside than a night with decent bands at The Academy.  It’s something to do with the delightful landscape, the excellent Marsh Gibbon ales, the friendly atmosphere and the knowledge that some people have gone to a lot of effort to create a weekend out for us all, and not asked for a penny.

Deer Chicago are a decent opener to the festival, constructing large scale edifices of ever-so-slightly angular rock with a sturdy, emotional voice spread over the top.  All very Fell City Girl, though Jonny Payne’s voice doesn’t have the natural power of Phil McMinn’s.  The odd Jam interlude works surprisingly well.

At first Alan Fraser & The Resignation Orchestra offer flat jazz with Tom Waits Gruffalo growling from festival organiser Dave Oates.  Diverting, but not much else.  However, after a minute or two they start to warm up, and Fraser’s soprano sax solos become more interesting and contrast with some excellent honks and bubbles from Tony Bevan’s bass baritone, which is roughly the size of a hatchback.

Music For Pleasure entertain us as ever.  Their mixture of spicy mid-reign R.E.M. melody and pre-leyline Julian Cope energy is always fun, even if it lacks the character of their day job bands (Harry Angel and The Unbelievable Truth).  It’s like many of long term local trier Mark Cobb’s bands, but with bigger balls.

The Black Dog Emporium sadly sound nothing like techno trailblazers The Black Dog, nor much like Black Sabbath, despite the programme’s allegations.  Instead they play a tedious brand of lightly funky 70s rock.  The word “Reef” came to mind, and not least because it felt as though we were grounded inextricably in musical shallows.  The drummer made things mildly interesting with some carbonated fills, but the vocals were honked out as if by a bingo caller trying to communicate across a Swiss valley.

More foghorn vocal subtlety from Crackerdummy.  They’re a capable post-grunge trio who remind us of average Irish act Mundy.  The playing is good, and it’s all well put together, but only in the way a small brick wall is.  A small wall where you were hoping to find a bouncy castle and bourbon jacuzzi.

Remember David Oates’ functional blues growling?  It starts to feel like a halcyon era once Stuart Turner starts his rubbish gravelly groaning.  It sounds as though he’s trying to scare an errant toddler, not entertain adults.  Pity, as The Flat Earth Society are a good band, spinning a nice sticky rockabilly web, and capable of a John Lee Hooker style boogie chug.  We live in a frustrating world in which most post-rock instrumental bands sound half finished, but where most blues bands are ruined by duff singers.

Last year Diplomat’s Coffee kept us awake for the weekend.  Sadly, this year we’re forced to buy our brew from a drunk man selling Mexican food, who was frankly fortunate not to have burnt his fingers off or inadvertently stabbed himself with a potato wedge at any point over the weekend.  On one visit he mumbled something impenetrable about Mary Whitehouse and pronounced “hot chocolate” with one syllable, and at the next he blessed our coffee, even though we doubt he’s taken holy orders.

If Music For Pleasure hark back to R.E.M.’s Green, David Celia immediately reminds us of Around The Sun.  Wrong choice, Dave.  But we give him a chance and although the music is a little grown up for us, he has some a warm voice with decent Neil Young flourishes and some nice delicate keyboard parts, so we’ll give him the thumbs up.


Huck & The Handsome Fee are very good, if a little one-paced, and Tamara Parsons-Baker’s vocals really shine in this unabashed 50s throwback.  The Roundheels’ trad rocking is less intense, a bit of a light, fluffy country meringue, but is pleasant enough.  The Delta Frequency make out that they’re all about aggressive, subversive rock, but what we hear is like The Foo Fighters playing over a tinny old Front 242 LP.  Ho hum.What a swizz

Undersmile amuse us, not least because their name sounds like coy slang for a fanny.  They supply a thick, dense grunge sound that just trudges on slowly forever, like a man ploughing treacle.  The twin vocals detract from the Babes In Toyland effect a little, sounding like two girls who don’t want to eat their sprouts, but that aside they’re a fun new band.

Far more fun than Charlie Coombes & The New Breed, despite the fact they’re several squillion times more experienced.  Actually, he’s not that bad, and has a very smooth voice, like a 70s sit com vicar having a crack at Nik Heyward, but the songs just aren’t there.  He only needs one great Crowded House style pop hit and we’d love him, but for now we’re bored enough to consider going for a quick game of chess with the guy from the Mexican food stand.

With flagging energy levels, Riverside keeps back three excellent acts to round off the day.  The Family Machine still have the chirpiest pop songs in Oxford concealing the sharpest barbs, but they feel distant on the big stage.  Beard Of Zeuss make a sort of bang bang bang noise for a while and it sounds bloody great; by the end we’re not only unsure whether it is wrong to spell Zeus with two esses, but we’re wondering whether a few more might not go amiss.

Borderville synthesise the twin poles of the sometimes mystifying Riverside booking policy.  They play “proper” music, with choruses and schoolroom keyboard technique and a respect for rock classics, yet they also throw it together with such calculatedly wild abandon and desperate drama that the gig becomes almost aggressively experimental.  They start with a string quartet, which is over-amped and out of tune, but sets the tone of faded glamour from which the set springs in all its camp glory.  This is what Glee would be like if Roxy Music sat on Mount Olympus and Pete Townshend carried amps down Mount Sinai.  Improbably excellent music.

  • Dave Oates

    As ever, David Murphy has his facts wrong. I am NOT the Festival organiser and never have been (nor do I look like a Gruffalo). Riverside is run by a large group of people, under the leadership of Andy Pickard and all for nothing. The bands also play for nothing. It would be a pleasant change to see a review on this site that reflects the fact that this is now a highlight of the Oxfordshire summer with a wide variety of music that caters to a diverse audience and whilst it may not appeal to the reviewer, keeps a few thousand people coming back every year.

    Dave Oates

  • colinmackinnon

    Thought you were a little rough on Charlie, David. He’s an excellent pianist and I thought the tunes were stronger than you describe. I think there’s an EP coming for review so I can compare and contrast.

    The Delta Frequency’s material was wholly inappropriate to that audience at that time of day. I thought they played excellently,blowing away all the amiable chuggers that went before but really? Early evening with lots of young families in the audience? Do the promoters even listen to the material they are putting on? Should have been 8-9p.m. at the very least.

    The Mexican stall man was very funny- and very baffling.

  • http://davidmurphyreviews.blogspot.com david

    Afternoon Dave

    Sorry, I thought you were one of the team behind the event, so apologies if that’s not the case. Facts wrong, as you rightly point out. Apologies.

    And, no you don’t look like a Gruffalo, you look just fine!

    And I must say Riverside is alreadsy a highlight on my calendar, sorry if that doesn’t come across. Perhaps when the 2nd part of the review goes up, assuming Colin does so, you’ll hopefully be happy with some of the comments.

    But I’m afraid I don’t subscribe to the idea that responses should be tempered by how nice the people involved are. I suppose it boils down to a question of whom a review is written for – we’ve been though that here and never found a solution, so I shan’t go into it now. I mean, I have a lot of time for Phill Honey, but I didn’t enjoy TDF, I daresay he’ll get over it. But anyway, if you want somebody who will write a positive review even if they don’t like the music there’s always Oxon Music Scene (oh look, it’s folded, never mind).

    Anyway, in case anyone is in any doubt, Riverside is a wonderful event, but on Saturday I just didn’t find much music to get the pulse racing.

  • Tamara Parsons-Baker

    ‘unabashed 50s throwback’-nice

  • http://www.needlebath.co.uk Matt Halliday

    Can you spell Tamara’s name properly.
    That’s not very funny…

  • http://davidmurphyreviews.blogspot.com david

    Sorry! Palmer-Tomkinson isn’t a cheap gag, just my mind short-circuiting. Perhaps Colin will be good enough to edit that part – Tamara Parsons-Baker, I meant of course. You can have fun ridiculing me when part 2 of the review comes out, where I take the mickey out of MCs who pronounce the acts wrong! And I’ll deserve it too. Sincere pologies to Tamara & co.

    “50s throwbacks” isn’t necessarily an insult, though; I rather like Mark Lamarr.

  • henry

    Cheap gags aside – Borderville sounded great. The atmosphere they created and the response from the crowd (things David might like to consider next time) were impressive, especially at the end of such a full day. To describe their keys as “schoolboy” is, at best, careless. Thinly veiled insults are all well and good, but a good ear can’t hurt. Are we to understand now that David sees a connection between Huck and the Handsome Fee and Mark Lamarr? Or is this just another hilarious “short-circuit”? Thanks for a great festival, all those who put it together. And thanks for a typically provocative review, Gavid

  • John Maloney (nee Palmer Tomkinson)

    Dear Sir,

    Someone once said that trendy references are like saplings – they must be planted with sparing density, lest in their attempts to capture glorious sunlight they strangle one another and one is left with nothing but fallow ground. I would suggest that planting Foo Fighters, Front 242 (and an LP to boot, slightly laboured no?), Babes in Toyland, Nik Heyward, Crowded House, Glee, Mount Sinai, Roxy Music and Pete Townshend on a single plot is over-burdening the already rather barren soil of your review. But I suppose something similar could be said for pastoral analogies.

    Are you afraid to give a compliment that is not back-handed? Put yourself out there, David. You might just get complimented back. And that, my friend, is just about the best feeling in the world.

  • Black Dog

    Very scathing, I like it!

  • http://davidmurphyreviews.blogspot.com david

    Mr Maloney, what a wonderful comment! You should get a regular job reviewing the reviews on this site. I think we’re more similar than you think, though, judging from your cheeky put down!

    Anyway, I shan’t bog things down by answering every little thing mentioned above, but I shall say that I’m not scared of giving compliments; to be honest I don’t give compliments at all. Compliments are things you say to be polite or flattering, whereas I always feel reviews arwe best if they’re honest, & I won’t say something was “Amazing” unless I was amazed (cf the Stornoway LP). Sort of devalues the currency otherwise. I did say Borderville made “improbably excellent music”, whcih I think is pretty positive: they were certainly my favourite act of the day by a long chalk.

    Oh, and Henry: H&THF don’t sound like Mark Lamarr, but he’d probably like the sound of them. He was called a “50s throwback” by Vic Reeves for his taste in music and hair gel. I don’t think that’s a “trendy reference” as it was at least 15 years ago, but I can’t be certain.

    Excellent to see so many well thought out comments, sometimes there’s not enough action here, so keep them coming, and stay tuned for the review of Sunday!

  • Gary Willis

    Mark Lamarr was a 1950’s binman purely because of his hairstyle. You’re called a dickhead (by me, just now) because you’re a bellend!

  • Joeder

    Well, compared to our last riverside review I’m happy! Glad people enjoyed it…it took a phenomenal amount of effort on our part.

    I thought it was a lovely little festival. Everyone who I saw was great!


  • phill

    I don’t know what you’re all complaining about – I had a swizz of a time even if we did offend Colin, but probably no-one else. Colin, did you notice we dedicated ‘High Five’ to “…the guy running the spit roast”?!

    I have to disagree with what was written about Family Machine though. I thought they were awesome and not at all “distant on the big stage”. For a start, the main stage at charlbury is hardly “big” – and I don’t mean it’s actual size, I mean that playing the main stage at charlbury is sort of like playing the market tent at truck. It’s big-ish but not enough to feel disconnected. Also, with the songs Family Machine have got, combined with their laid back attitude, I could easily see them going down extremely well on bigger stages at other festivals. However, seeing family machine did coincide with my first spliff of the day so maybe that had something to do with it.

  • http://davidmurphyreviews.blogspot.com david

    I dunno, it sort of feels bigger than Truck stages because it’s so high compared t the smattering of listeners sitting about. “Big” as in far away rather than stadium-sized, I suppose.

    But yes, you’re right, Family Machine have certainly got the songs, no doubt about that.

  • peter griffin

    David Murphy you obviously do not know anything about music, your reference to warp records i found conceited, your derogetory comments about blackdog emporium were not in line with the audience,i find your review of the bands to be narrow minded and very harsh,probably the reason your reviewing the riverside and not glastonbury

  • geoffrey p

    David, I am somewhat confused after reading your comments on the performance by The Black Dog Emporium at the Riverside on Saturday.They may not have been your cup of tea, but i feel your scathing comments totally unjustified.The applause and shouts for more at the end were testemony to the appreciation by the audience of a well presented set.I feel that your unfounded comments with reference to the vocals would only undermine the confidence of anyone. Have you ever fronted a band ? I think not.You say that the word REEF came to mind an anagram of FREE two great bands two great singers, ok he might not be Paul Rodgers but he is dam good.WATCH OUT THE BLACK DOG ARE HERE TO STAY.

  • Wilden

    Thanks, David, for an excellent review – I couldn’t make it to the event but your review was fun to read and gave a really good impression of what went on, which chimed with my (many) previous experiences of Riverside. I doubt I’d have agreed with you on all the music but you’re not suggesting that everyone did, will or should. It’s good that so many people on here care about the reviews, even if there is a tendency to overlook praise for criticism and take the criticism – real and imagined – a bit seriously. Lighten up, guys! A review is only ever one person’s opinion, and the most useful reviews are one person’s unvarnished opinion.

    I’m looking forward to the review of day 2!

  • http://www.myspace.com/theprohibitionsmokersclub leesmilex

    an interesting review, i like the reactions it provoked probably more than the opinions stated but that’s all good! while i agree it is just one person’s opinion, i doubt most think of it as so easily discardable though!
    delta frequency wise, i thought it was a good review: the first 2 foo fighters records are soem of the best rock ever made! and i had a couple of front 242 records that were ok altho df spound more like nin really!
    also colin, not to sound attacking but do u realise just how much like a bothersome god squadder you sound? they did not play monkey or charge me up and so hardly any offensive lyrics or behaviour was on display aside from a comment or two that would not be out of place in a ‘carry on’ movie! what is so offensive? is it the heavy rock? in which case you may well be the enemy: you know, the man who does not want the kids hearing rock music! overall had a great weekend of music which i was going to review for oxmusicscene – oh bugger! ;-)x
    p.s. if my review never comes out family machine should be huge and borderville took the biscuit brilliantly!

  • http://www.myspace.com/theprohibitionsmokersclub leesmilex

    and let me say now, i like undersmile too! it’s like grunge never happened round these parts sometimes y’know!

  • http://davidmurphyreviews.blogspot.com david

    Yeah, NIN, I’ll give you that, Lee. Actually, later F242 LPs were pretty ace, too, but the 80s ones don’t get my blood racing.

    The rest of it, keep coming, it’s great stuff!

    I always wonder when people complain about unfairness in reviews where they’ve been all my life. Reviews of this nature go up here & in Nightshift all the time, and yet we generally only get cfries fo “Foul” when somebody’s read a review they don’t like about the event they/their chums/their Mum played at/organised.

    If you think the writing about someone you know is a crock, get involved when it’s someone you’ve never heard of, it’ll be fun, & if thew principles aren’t the same then….

    PS Yes, I’ve performed in/fronted/recorded with bands on many occasions – I’ve had rave reviews & absolute dumpers too, as it happens; and, no, I really can’t see why this should make a smidgen of difference to what I hear or write.

  • http://davidmurphyreviews.blogspot.com david

    Oh yes, & I found TDF offensive in no way whatsoever – in fact they make me chuckle. But the music didn’t get me this time: on record they fared better for me.

  • http://www.gappytooth.com gappy

    “Reef” may be an anagram of “Free”, but then again “Black Dog Emporium” is an anagram of “Lame Dick Mob Group”, so it might not prove anything.

  • phill

    it’s also “good bum licker map”. That’s what you need to get a good review.

  • peter griffin

    to gappy 25 june (2010 2;45pm)
    reef may be an anagram of free but gappy is another word for COCK

  • http://www.gappytooth.com gappy

    OK, Peter, it’s also an anagram of “A Premium God Block” – happier now?

  • varnish

    David, I must express my disgust and disappointment that the above review failed to include reviews or even make mention of any of the bands I’m in. This oversight leads me to believe that you are being somewhat exclusive of local bands and are not giving them their due exposure.

    The fact that none of my bands were asked to play, and indeed I was out of the country at the time and couldn’t attend anyway is neither here nor there.

    Your etc,

    Disgruntled of The Slade.

  • http://davidmurphyreviews.blogspot.com david

    Get down & get with it!

  • http://davidmurphyreviews.blogspot.com david


    I’ve just come across this rather great little film on Riverside from the atrociously named Twitney site. Nice work. I thought I’d post it here for those who felt that I was harsh on some of the performers. The film celebrates the ethos of Riverside & the effort that goes into it, which is something I think we can all agree on: http://twitney.co.uk/player.php?id=1044.

    So, if you don’t like somebody actually givign their opinion, you can watch the film instead and geta warm fuzzy glow.

    PS I’ve had a quick scan of the crowds, & I don’t think I’m visible on this video, so even that won’t put you off! (Can’t make the same promises about the sight of Silver Phil). Two of the shows I reviewed are briefly featured, however. Anyway, all jokes aside it;s a ncie little film so take a look.

    PPS It’s also been brought to my attention that there’s a cool stop motion video of the Riverside site being put together on their webpage – ironically it was made by another David Murphy!

    PPPS Went to Cornbury this weekend, and dropped by the Riverside stage many times. Saw one of my absolute festival highlights there. And, yes, some shit too ; )