Wish You Were Here
Wish You Were Here is a risk. But a risk that JOE BATES is glad he took.
The Portland Arms, The Boat House, The Corner House, Saturday 1st October
Wish You Were Here, Cambridge’s own mini-festival, entered its second year last Saturday. With a line up about as obscure as a copy of Art Rocker, there was little chance that an stranger to the scene would Wish They Were There at all. Yet for those who braved the obscurity, a welcoming, ramblingly and joyous assortment of bands awaited.
The quality of the acts was predictably variable, but was fairly aligned with their position in the line up. Early on, the exceptional weather emptied the dark band rooms, leaving the audience in the awkward position of being face to face with some pretty cringy bands. Whilst none of the bands were truly terrible, the lyrics seemed more like the notebook of a 14-year-old boy than an adult band.
But as the weather cooled down, the acts warmed up and rooms began to fill. Audience numbers swelled into the mid-20s for The Organ Grinder’s Monkey, an eccentric one-man band whose rumbustious electronic sounds modified his voice and guitar into a gamut of colours and overtones.
Yet this trend of improvement would not, obviously, be sustained ad infinitum. I hadn’t suffered a truly dire act until Um surfaced. Pete Um is a producer of grindingly awkward shithop who wears a cap so silly that for a long time I suspected he must be a comedy act.
I compounded this mistake with another: trying out the third, more distant, venue. All evening I had been hopping between The Portland Arms and The Boathouse, both nice-ish pubs with reasonable gig spaces. The third location was The Corner House. Hidden well out beyond the Newmarket Road roundabout, it was an absolute trek. Whilst the bands it hosted were good, the time lost in transit (45 minutes in total) easily outweighed The Bomb Factory’s shouty charm or Model Village’s dreamy vocals. The near empty pub had great potential as a venue, but it really did need some kind of audience.
By the time I returned to The Portland Arms, stuff had finally really kicked off. The band rooms were full of enthusiastic fans, making the bands work that much harder. And these were the big names. Johnny Foreigner and Tellison both have a mass of real fans that actually know all the words and like to jump up and down.
Johnny Foreigner’s set was more than a little underwhelming at its outset. Constant sound issues made their customarily symbolical style sound less like glitchy kitsch-charm and more like incompetence. But once order was restored their experience shone through, delivering a final handful of rousing songs to the pumped up crowd. Tellison, the final act of the night, contrasted strongly Johnny Foriegner. Polished indie pop songstrels with a CV that includes playings on The Inbetweeners, their gig was more sedate but extremely enjoyable. Their winning stage manner and easy tunes put the audience at ease and brought the night to an accomplished end.
So what to take from this ill-assorted roster of first impressions? Firstly, Wish You Were Here is a risk. With no unifying theme and few recognisable bands there is little guarantee you will find a genre or band that suits you. Unless you are an enthusiastic eclectistist, or like anything with guitars, you may find it hard to find the right act.
Secondly, don’t go early and don’t go far. The trips to the far off venues is unlikely to be worth the effort, and the eight hours span (4pm – midnight) is simply too much work. It isn’t really a festival – just a series of gigs at a set of pubs – so don’t feel the need to go to everything. Or bring a tent.
Thirdly: go. It’s not really like anything else you’ll do in Cambridge, it takes place in good value and pleasant pubs and is surprisingly friendly for an indie scene. But most importantly, whilst going to a gig of an unknown band may be risky move in terms of enjoyment, in terms of indie kudos it is as near to a dead cert as you can get.