The first band we catch are the up and coming Southampton four-piece Wild Front, fresh from the release of their Physics EP last week. It's the first time we've seen them and we're hugely impressed and they certainly deliver live as well as they do on record. They've got big soaring melodies and choruses that explode into glorious life and leave you humming them for hours afterwards. Songs like Rico and Physics also avoid the pitfall most new bands stumble into because Wild Front's set has a really exciting streak of ambition running through it which means they don't settle for producing different variants of the same song and in front man Jack Williams they've got an engaging enthusiastic front man who isn't fazed by this huge stage. Give it twelve months or so and they'll be playing to thousands under their own name.
The return of Milburn has taken us by surprise. Not that they're not a great band as they prove tonight, but they never felt like they achieved what their potential and their songs deserved. Fronted by Joe from Reverend And The Makers, their belated success is massively overdue and they're not treading the reunion bandwagon for the money as their new material sounds every bit as inspired and set to get crowds jumping as the old favourites. Recent single Take Me Home is a case in point and proof that they still mean business with a new record coming out in September whilst the likes of What Will You Do (When The Money Goes) and What You Could've Won are met with love from the growing crowd. It looks like their time might still come and richly deserved it will be too.
Peter Hook needs no introduction and he's been doing this New Order / Joy Division for about seven years now and no one seems to be tiring of it. Hardly surprising when this set is full of some of the most important songs of our generation and they're being played with a power and a rock edge that sometimes is missing from his former band's live shows as they've sought to replace him. "We're well versed in it" he says before launching into Disorder, his bass almost down by his knees in his trademark pose. As the square fills up and beers are consumed, the singalongs get louder as the likes of Blue Monday, Transmission and Temptation are delivered like the era-defining songs that they are. He's clever in his choice of songs for these festival gigs too, picking not just the best known ones from both bands but also those which suit his singing style and the impressive band that he's gathered around himself. And that's how he avoids something that could end up as simply a nostalgic run through the motions but instead perfectly captures the essence and spirit of these songs, which despite whatever legal shenanigans are ongoing, he has the perfect right to perform.
They save the best for last though as Tim and Jim from James come on to stage to join them in a rousing Love Will Tear Us Apart. It's little known that Tim rehearsed this to play live back in 2004 when he was touring his Bone solo album but never played it at a show. He describes it as "one of the best love songs ever" and he hits the nail right on the head with that statement and vocally delivers a stunning performance that makes this coming together genuinely special rather than simply a gesture.
Peter Hook And The Light played Digital, Disorder, She's Lost Control, Shadowplay, Transmission, Blue Monday, The Perfect Kiss, True Faith, Temptation, Ceremony and Love Will Tear Us Apart.
"What else could we follow Love Will Tear Us Apart with?" are Tim's first words to us as they start with Sit Down, probably angering the thousands who've attended gigs this year when they haven't played it. Resting it has given it a new lease of life and being able to drop it in when they please seems to have reinvigorated the band's love of the song, which undeniably is still their signature tune despite the best efforts of Sometimes and Laid to dislodge it. Ring The Bells follows and it suggests that James are going for an upbeat crowd pleasing set in anticipation of one of those special nights that always seem to happen whenever they come to this part of the world. This isn't Newcastle Academy though, and rather than looking out and seeing bouncing hordes, there's a lot of people just stood there or watching the gig through their phone or camera lens.
It's something Tim tries to address by going out into the crowd surfing during Curse Curse and he ends up stood amongst the crowd with just a jacket to cover his chest to make his way back to the barrier. James are a band that thrives on the connection with the audience, you just have to watch Tim looking for people when he comes down who are lost in the moment and, contrary to Manchester but similar to Kew, it felt that we as a crowd let the band down a little at points. Catapult has steadfastly refused to make way for something else in the set all last year and into the summer and it's no surprise why - its energy makes it one of the stand out tracks off Girl At The End Of The World and perfect to end this opening four-song salvo.
They slow things down, as is their wont, for a beautiful Five-O that's given the due respect it deserves, people listening to it rather than talking, hugging their friends as it's a song that expresses some deep emotions. Walk Like You is a glorious eight-minute journey through what makes James special too - you can hear them playing with it, tweaking it and trying to find that almost impossible extra bit that pushes them further on. It's that approach to Just Like Fred Astaire, another song that seems to rarely get played but which provokes outpourings of emotion given its rare (for James) subject matter, that transforms it from a song that's fairly straight to play live into something more beautiful, ambitious and refusing to play to the rules of engagement.
With the release of remastered versions of Stutter and Strip-mine this week, it's wholly appropriate that Johnny Yen gets played and it feels like welcoming back an old friend, but one that's changed since you last met. It should have been a single way back in 1986 and it could have been a game changer, yet thirty one years on it feels as fresh as if it were a new song. Trouble is a new song and already seems to be mutating into something very different from when it was first played in Mexico earlier in the year, a gloriously searching song that swirls around you before reaching its final comedown. Of Monsters And Heroes And Men is another of those songs that drifts in and out of setlists, yet is a firm crowd favourite for those not just interested in the hits.
Moving On is a song that really makes an emotional connection given its subject matter that possibly only Out To Get You can match. People take a sharp intake of breath, a girl near us starts crying until her friend puts her arm round her. They then go all the way back to the early days for Hymn From A Village, a sneering snarling rant at the banality of what some artists produce and a hat-tip to Hooky who was part of their support network in the early days of the band. How Was It For You remains in its stripped back form and is a real crowd-pleaser as Tim ventures down again.
Attention grinds to a halt a minute in and Tim explains to us that they need to get it perfect because it's a song from Girl At The End Of The World that they're very proud of. And with good reason. Once they start, the surprisingly sharp and crisp sound in the venue, which is effectively a public square surrounded by buildings that dwarf us, allows us to fully appreciate it as it builds, almost stops and then takes us on a magical journey through Mark's creative mind as Tim loses himself in the music. They finish the main set with a rousing Sometimes, although it still isn't enough to rouse some, that has several thousand of us taking the song at the end and making it our own even after the band have departed for the encore ritual.
They start that with a soothing stripped-down She's A Star before the ultimate contrast of Come Home that still possesses its magical spark and always feels on the brink of imploding on itself such is the looseness and energy that James bring to it. They finish with a glorious uplifting Nothing But Love, a soaring statement that this band has the absolute faith and belief in their new material to finish off the evening rather than something more predictable. We hear a few moans heard that there was no Laid to finish the night off, but that's not what James are about.
James played Sit Down, Ring The Bells, Curse Curse, Catapult, Five-O, Walk Like You, Just Like Fred Astaire, Johnny Yen, Trouble, Of Monsters And Heroes And Men, Moving On, Hymn From A Village, How Was It For You, Attention, Sometimes, She's A Star, Come Home and Nothing But Love.
James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the band - Tim, Andy and Dave - are also on Twitter.
We also run the One Of The Three James archive, the most detailed resource for information about the band, and the site also has a Facebook and Twitter page.
Peter Hook And The Light's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Milburn's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Wild Front are on Facebook and Twitter.