[First Published in Concrete, September 20, 2011]
“Security 1 to Security 2.” It’s 3pm, searing heat and a conversation has sprung up over the walkie-talkies. “No it’s Jimmy. Yer, these to fellers wanna know where that press this is. No? Alright, thanks mate.” Whilst Venue holds out hope for a free bar and fears the directions given to the press entrance are actually directions back down the A11, Aaaron Delahunty is walking onto the sprawling Norfolk Spectacular stage. The closer we get, the more he sounds like an immature and impossibly puerile Plan B. By the time we’ve located the well-concealed press entrance and passed through the bowels of the backstage VIP area, we see Delahunty looking like a 17th-Century Kray twin who received a gift voucher to a piercing parlour for his birthday. At least he sets the tone for the endless stream of X-Factor semi-finalists dominating the day (Delahunty, apparently, was in Futureproof, voted out in the 3rd X-Factor Live Show in season 4. He had failed to make the competitive stages solo.)
There is no free bar.
Delahunty introduces his final song by thanking the people most important to him – “Big up Norfolk Spectacular, big up Kiss FM and big up HTC, you get me.”
There is no free bar.
“You’ll need to speak to Ian for that.” It seemed only fair to take pictures here, but apparently Ian is our only portal to the magical world of the press pit, our wardrobe to Narnia. It appears that the intricate web of highly skilled security at the Norfolk Spectacular is in place purely to stop anybody from reporting on it. Ian must be some sort of lynchpin in this operation; a talisman of sorts. Ian says it would be much easier to take pictures on the Arena stage, the Spectacular’s answer to an alternative arena. The lone security guard on the Arena stage does not know who Ian is. Without a free bar, we console ourselves with an ostrich burger and settle in to watch Adele Swallow on the Arena Stage, a charming and talented singer who’s been on the Norwich scene for a while. Seven other people have settled in to do the same; beyond that, the cavernous abattoir that we find ourselves penned into is empty. To Swallow’s credit, she holds her set together well while maintaining a bemused smile that suggests she knew this would be shit all along.
But let’s not get bogged down in such frivolous and fleeting things as music or quality. Today is not about that. Today is about Fulham white boy Example where “all the fucking nutjobs are at” and getting a response from 12,000 pre-pubescent girls. It’s about the man in a jumpsuit with a bottle of ASDA cider in his hand proudly proclaiming “I fuckin’ pissed meself.” It’s about the RAF recruitment tent set up next to the main stage using a weapons display as its main selling point (NB: Venue trusts very few people with firearms. None of them are in this field.)
It is best demonstrated by Alexandra Burke (remember her? She’s the one that’s not Leona Lewis or the kid who used to be in Emmerdale.) Taking to the stage with only a backing track and two particularly swarthy looking dancers is ambitious, but when you’re singing covers it’s just karaoke. Yes, she unnecessarily tears apart Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and, following Example’s example, asks the young crowd if they “want some more of that” in reference to her male dancers. But, in truth, the stage, the set, the songs and the atmosphere are all just empty.
There are now over 500 festivals in the UK and, as ever, some just plain old fell through this year. So whilst the Beacons Festival and Northern Lights dish out refunds to disappointed music fans, mediocre pop events sponsored by major corporations will grow and grow. See you next year at the News International Clear Channel Vodafone Norfolk Spectacular. There will be a bigger weapons display. There will be no free bar.