Buried deep among the hills, forests and brooks of Derbyshire’s Peak District is Castleton, a town of cosy pubs, few shops and fewer ATM’s. A walk over the bridge and up a winding lane finds the base of a limestone cliff. Beneath these walls is the entrance to The Devil’s Arse, a cave reminiscent of a giant spider’s lair from a JRR Tolkien tale. Stories of happenings from the cave are plentiful in local folklore, one involving the meeting of the leader of the rogues and the King of the Traveller’s to form Thieves Cant, the underground language of England’s dark-age rascals. True? probably not, but no harm, since we’re here to celebrate Jack Daniel’s 162nd birthday, he a man who believed that the truth should never get in the way of a good story. Though no longer with us, I imagine he’d be proud of the roguish bunch assembled in his honour.
Two of said rogues are Justin Young and Arni Hjovar of The Vaccines. I wonder what they make of the setting. “The best thing about being in a band is going to new places”, Arni adding that “it breaks up the monotony of portacabins and fields”. I wonder is this the way things are going as festivals face the decline from their brief and saturated heyday. Are the companies that sponsored festivals going to concentrate on individual events like this, and is this simply a market evolving? Justin reckons that as the industries suffers, branding becomes more important. 20 years ago this would be frowned up but in reality it’s keeping bands afloat and something they would welcome. Knowing how important touring, merchandising and branding are illegal downloading is something he supports.
The rise of festivals both coincided with and reacted to the run of popularity of guitar bands. The music suited muddy fields and drunken marauding. But things have settled down, the charts are back to normal. The notion of the “death of guitar music” is bandied about but really just refers to lad-culture, groups like Scouting For Girls and giddy overexcited notions from the likes of the NME that went with it. It’s just down to music now, and having fun. Justin reckons fun is essential. “Just before we go on stage one of our friends who works with the band always says ‘enjoy yourself, cos you won’t be on the way up forever’”.
Back in The Devil’s Arse, Tribes really get to grips with the best use of the surroundings, their soaring atmospherics rebounding from the ancient leaking ceiling. The songs however are a letdown. Not to discredit their noble intentions but a stripped down guitars and drums formula needn’t seem lazy. Their hits ‘We Were Children’ and ‘When My Day Comes’ are effective but few present are too bothered.
Mystery Jets play a set laden with offerings from their fifth and latest Radlands, an album that retains the youthful exuberance they are now known and loved for while musically moving in a more mature direction. ‘Young Love’ and ‘Two Doors Down’ from 21 are modern British classics but it’s among the recent material that they come alive. ‘Radlands’, ‘Hale Bop’ and ‘Someone Purer’ show a craft that came alive during their stint in Nashville recording Radlands. Compared to The Vaccines later their performance shows a band utterly at ease with their place in music, thanks, in part, to their fans growing with them. “When we did our record 21 we got a lot of teenage girls turned up to our shows, with Seratonin they started bringing their boyfriends and this records gone a lot towards the dudes”, says singer Blaine. “Lots of beards lately!”, adds drummer Kapil.
The Vaccines open with recent hit ‘No Hope’ and over the course of 40 minutes rarely pause for a breath, ploughing through punchy number after punchy number. If anything has changed since What Did You Expect … it’s that they’ve become even more self aware and self deprecating. Though understandable from a band embarrassed by the “hype”, one can’t help but feel that it’s holding them back somewhat and that they really could be a great band. That aside, it’s a compelling performance, inspiring singalongs through ‘Post Break-Up Sex’, ‘No Hope’, ‘All In White’ and #Teenage Icon’ that test the wisdom of using a cave as a safe venue for a raucous pop show.
It’s testament to the demanding nature of genuine music fans that such thought and effort went into this show. Companies like Jack Daniels want to tap into a market of people who care deeply about music but won’t settle for any old tack. Fans want quality acts in interesting locations, and to hand it to the folks at JD, they delivered spectacularly. Advertising and branding is part and parcel of music now, but there is so much more on offer than before. If I have to see ads to watch free music videos on Youtube or Spotify, fine. Similarly, if for one evening, while I experience a free show in a unique and fascinating location, I can only buy Jack Daniels products, I’m more than happy to. Whether I buy the product or not afterwards is up to me.