It was hardly Oasis at Knebworth, but Noel Gallagher can still just about put on a day of music in a field with his songs as the main draw. As festivals go, however, this was an underwhelming one, so small that bands couldn’t appear on both stages at the same time because of sound interference, yet big enough that there were still long queues for every amenity.
The Calling brand has already shrunk from three days in Hyde Park to two in Clapham last year, with Stevie Wonder and Aerosmith topping the bill. It was just one day this time and felt weak next to the grander spectacles that have just wrapped up in Hyde Park. A “flash sale” of tickets at under half price less than a month before the event suggested that it struggled even to be this busy.
It may have looked more heavily populated to Gallagher’s fans, many of whom were so drunk that they must have been seeing double. Introducing Riverman, he warned them that it would feature a saxophone: “Do not be alarmed.” There was truth in the jest, directed both at himself – in May he was criticised in the press by his former producers Amorphous Androgynous for not being adventurous enough in the studio – and at an audience that reacted most strongly to every ancient Oasis song in the setlist.
While Blur are back being active and creative, complaining that Gallagher is not as inspired as Damon Albarn is like complaining that your left shoe is not an iPad – he just does what he does. Yet he’s not completely stuck in his ways. The hammered piano of AKA… What a Life! from his first solo album still sounded fresh, and You Know We Can’t Go Back, from his second, had youthful vigour and a marvellous tune. The Oasis songs in the mix were less obvious: Fade Away not Live Forever, silly novelty Digsy’s Dinner not Wonderwall, but Don’t Look Back in Anger, as ever, provided the closing singalong.
Earlier on, New York band Bleachers celebrated the fourth of July with some of the biggest choruses of the afternoon, while Wolf Alice demonstrated the polished take on grunge that sent their debut album to number two last week. Ryan Adams was in fine voice but perfunctory, unable to spread out in his alloted hour. After today, it’s unlikely that many will be calling for more from Calling.