On its tenth anniversary Summer Sundae, the crown jewel in the Midlands festival schedule, is showing no signs of slowing down. The weekender is an annual pilgrimage for many in the surrounding area (and for Contacmusic.com) and has built a reputation on mainstream, family friendly headliners and an eclectic undercard. This year's headliners may be underwhelming when compared to 2009's choices; Seasick Steve, Tinchy Stryder and Mumford & Sons being this years counterparts of The Streets, The Charlatans and The Zutons, but there is still enough across the sites four stages to attract interest.
The first day is hit by several cancellations, a seemingly ever-present occurrence at Summer Sundae, with The Wave Pictures and Fanfarlo pulling out of the festival with hours notice. In the place of the former is Eliza Doolittle, or Amy Winehouse mk.4589 as she is known to her friends. She, predictably, performs a limp set of utterly forgettable and soulless soul and swing. Thankfully Nottingham shoegazers Spotlight Kid provide sufficient mid-afternoon entertainment with their swirling, fuzz-soaked pop gems. More than a passing nod is made to My Bloody Valentine and Ride et al, but Spotlight Kid threaten to break new ground in the ever-staler genre, accommodating the pulsing rhythms and vicious under-current of former band Model Morning. After this Teenage Club provide a set much more refreshing and satisfying than the umpteen number of shoegaze/c86 reformations currently clogging up mid-size London venues, partly due to their enthusiasm and ear for a gorgeous understated melody, and partly due to the fact that they play 'Star Sign', perhaps the most under-rated alt-pop song of the past 20 years.
Later on there is only one winner in the headliner battle between Seasick Steve and Roots Manuva, and that is the latter, the godfather of UK Rap. For whilst both are rightly recognised as kingpins and master showmen of their respective genres Roots is simply unmissable, somehow taking the complex-but-catchy beat-driven jams that he has made an an art-form further into the stratosphere. He is at once hilarious and thought-provoking, an MC and a poet. His newer material is as strong as any spanning his 15 year plus career, drifting into dubstep territories that bring to mind Joker at his most playful, but it is, of course, the iconic 'Witness' that is the unquestionable highlight. Roots builds up the crowd for several minutes, throwing out lines from the song and always threatening to unleash. When he does the crowd erupts, riding on the earthquake basslines and near-nonsense raps that thrust him into the limelight. It is a perfect festival moment, one which realises the full potential of an artist and completely unites the audience.
It is also a moment that puts the next day in quite a shadow. Already one of the worst single day line-ups in the festivals ten year history, it serves as little more than a comedown from the previous day's events. Outside of Gaggle's overpowering 38-legged drum and bass maelstrom and The Fall, who manage to stay on the right side of the unhinged/unlistenable boundary, there is little to keep the attention, particularly in the near-torrential downpours that turn the usually pristine grounds into a mud-pit.
The DrownedInSound endorsed Indoor Stage offers the highlights of not only Sunday but the entire weekend. The Besnard Lakes dazzle with their windswept post-cum-stadium rock, and DeMontfort Hall's main chamber is the perfect setting for the Montreal quartet; large enough for each falsetto and solo to ring out without fading into nothing, and built with the same romantic, regal air. New single 'Albatross' is a whirlwind of howls and fuzzy riffs that removes the paranoia and liquor from Galaxie 500 and injects a dose of mid-eighties pop.
Despite starting rather half-heartedly Errors eventually impress, moving on from clich'd, mid-focus electro to bubbling soundscapes that build organically and give nods to early electronic purveyors Kraftwerk as well as label head honchos Mogwai. Los Campesinos follow, and whilst there is endless enthusiasm and determination from the band they fall short of hitting the mark, particularly on the more reserved tracks from their latest album 'Romance Is Boring', where lead vocalist Gareth's caterwauls jut out uncomfortably above the octets' indulgent (albiet oft-enticing) not-quite-post indie rock.
Putting in the penultimate performance of the stage's proceedings, Frightened Rabbit return to the festival with one of the sets of the weekend. The Scottish five-piece are simply irresistible, with songs full of earworm pop hooks and lyrics that sound as apt shouted drunkenly on rainy Glasgow streets as written on schoolbooks. The set is split half and half between 2008's classic 'The Midnight Organ Fight' and 2010's 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks', with those from the latter really coming to life when let free on-stage. 'Living In Colour' and 'The Wrestle' burn with a new energy; tempos are upped and every word is more strained, every riff pushed just that little bit further into distortion. Lazy comparisons are often made between Frightened Rabbit and latter day Idlewild, but live there is a true similarity with their fellow Scots circa 'The Modern Way Of Letting You Go', with boundless visceral energy driving their intelligent, hard-nosed and bleary-eyed indie-rock.
Although not an official close to the weekends proceedings it is the perfect one, leaving a sampling of nearby curry house Akash as an unconventional but immensely rewarding after-party (tip; try the chicken breast Bhuna, with extra chillies if desired). Summer Sundae is never going to challenge the larger festivals with its line-up and laid back attitude but it is a welcome break from the typical gargatuan masses of dirt and violence, and can offer numerous surprises and delights.