The inaugural edition of Sunday Sessions Norwich, a brand new festival headlined by indie uncles Kaiser Chiefs, seemed like a good idea in theory. In practice, it scraped its way from ‘downright shambles’ to ‘decent day out’ by the skin of its teeth.
Let’s start with the positives.
The setting was great. When Earlham Park has played host to high-profile shows in the past (BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend and pop superstars Little Mix, to name a couple) its natural amphitheatre-shaped hillside has created a perfect view and sound from all angles. Couple that with the unobstructed view of the sun set and you’ve got yourself a perfect outdoor venue.
The headliners rocked. With over a decade of performing under their belts, Kaiser Chiefs know exactly what they’re doing. Breezing through 90 minutes of banger after banger is what they do best, and frontman Ricky Wilson proved himself a master of rousing the (surprisingly sluggish) audience. On the Sessions Stage, Liverpool scamps Circa Waves’ chirpy melodies fuelled ravenous mosh pits. The set was cut short due to technical issues, but they took it in their stride, ploughing on restlessly through their two albums worth of material.
It’s what Norwich needs. Bar Latitude, East Anglia is always pretty barren come festival season. An easily accessible city centre site like Earlham Park deserves to see current bands kick up a storm, not just dredged-up heritage acts… *cough cough*
But it wasn’t all plain sailing.
The organisation was poor. This became especially apparent as the heavens unexpectedly opened mid-afternoon. Limited indoor space forced most punters to sit it out in the open, for frustrating reasons: the dance tent (already limited to 18+ only due for ‘safety’ reasons) quickly filled and the one oversized beer tent lay mostly empty, because it was part of the VIP ‘Club Tropicana’ area. Which, by the way, was not worth the ludicrous upgrade fee, unless you like plastic furniture and village fête-grade decor. On top of that, a lack of bins meant the green field quickly became coated in litter, turning from an eye-sore into a slip hazard as well.
The sound was fucking awful on the Sessions Stage. Like, physically painful. Poor old British Sea Power (a wildcard on an otherwise, TBH, pretty basic bill) had their ornate, folky sound butchered, as did Circas, who only just scraped through thanks to frenzied teenagers dying for a good muck-about circle pit. Next time it would be nice to see the indie stuff in the tent and the DJs outside.
Reverend & The Makers played, and it was utterly dismal. The problem wasn’t just Sheffield ‘not even funny bad’ dickheads R&TM, whose aggressive stage presence and downright offensive songs made for one of the bleakest sets I’ve ever seen, but the whole undercard. Sugar-pop singer/songwriters Lucy Spraggan and Gabrielle Aplin were billed alongside 90s dad rockers The Bluetones and drum-and-bass DJs like Sub Focus; trying to appeal to as many demographics as possible simultaneously meant the festival had no consistency, no overall character, and a generally weird atmosphere throughout. Next time, they should pick a style and stick with it – I’d suggest steering clear of the Sundown vibes and heading more indie, à la Y Not/Neighbourhood/Tramlines/etc.
For a first go, Sunday Sessions ticked more boxes than they missed, and by the time Kaisers came on, bringing a slice of magic with them, everything was as right as (um) rain. Here’s hoping for a second, sorted out attempt in 2019.