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On the outskirts of Manchester lie the lush green expanses of Heaton Park. It’s a beautiful place that over the past years has been host to some unusual events.  For instance in 1982, no less a luminary that the Pope dropped in to entertain over 100,000 of his followers. A hard act to follow you might think but some twenty seven years later in 2009, the constantly warring Gallagher brothers attempted to do so by playing their final concerts in Manchester as Oasis, before an acrimoniously split sent them spinning in separate directions. Last Saturday however, it was the turn of ice-cream artisans Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who valiantly attempted to upstage John Paul, Noel and Liam by rebranding their London-based Sundae Festival as Double Scoop Sundae, and exporting it to Manchester. If nothing else it’s a novel way to promote one’s products as well as giving a strong blow on one’s own cornet. Heaton Park really is an ideal setting for a Music festival and Ben and Jerry have picked an almost perfect day to stage one. Without doubt out-door festivals stand or fall with the weather and it really is a gamble to try and second guess the Manchester sun. Ben and Jerry must know something we don’t because the sun is streaming down and there’s not even the merest hint of a breeze.

The first two bands, Rescue the Eskimo and Starlings, come and go and make a good first of entertaining the steadily growing crowd. Actually it’s rather difficult to beat a clear path to where the stage is because there’s a small funfair to negotiate, and, a tent that’s handing out free cones of Ben and Jerry’s delicious ice-cream. It’s enough to bring out the kid in everyone and spend a short time riding the merry-go-round or sliding down the helter-skelter, and many do, but eventually most people eventually gravitate to the concert area.

The Little Comets are not a band who is troubled greatly by praise or criticism. This band initially started its career by staging impromptu free concerts in unlikely places like shopping malls or car parks, but today, they’re perched on Ben and Jerry’s big stage so they can play their songs to paying customers. It’s melodic stuff, but not in an way mawkish. The two lead guitars chime together and the bass and the drums roll along, and it’s a really nice feeling to lay on the green grass soaking up the chilled atmosphere and it just how I always imagined a festival should be.  The Little Comets play no small part enhancing the buoyant mood of the afternoon and they leave to enthusiastic applause.

Mancunian singer-song writer Stephen Fretwell strolls to the microphone next, though as he starts his set I decide to stretch my legs and see what other delights Ben and Jerry have laid on. Because I’m hot I first head towards the beer tent to grab myself a larger but I’m surprised when I’m told it’s four quid a can. Still it’s cold and you have to wonder if the price is made artificially high to stop people get wasted which is probably a shrewd move because there are a fare few families milling about the festival. So with extortionately priced beer in hand, and Stephen Fretwell’s wistful voice drifting on the air I wander round the festival site. By far the strangest thing I see is a place where people are invited to come and ‘toe wrestle’ someone who I can only presume is toe wrestling champion. I’m asked if I ‘want to have a go’ but I gracefully  decline because most of my close friends consider the things I’ve attached to the end of my legs are more akin to cloven hooves than feet, which I’m sure would automatically disqualify me by virtue of them giving me an unfair advantage. Embarrassed I hotfoot back to my position near the side of the stage just as Stephen Fretwell is playing his final tune.

There’s always one at every music festival; a band that sets sparks flying in the imagination and reminds you how great music can be. Today it’s The Duke & the King who do it for me with an understated soul music that been irreparably stained by tears and nicotine.  In their ranks is one Simone Felice who learnt his trade in the Felice Brothers before taking up residence in this latest band. He is the possessor of a great voice, although he’s not the only one who can hold a note in this amazing group because all four members have a talent for singing.  In fact each takes a turn at the mic belt out a tune, as well as, rather curiously, swapping instrument – at least three of them have a go at tapping a rhythm out of the drum kit.  But it’s fun to watch and made more so when it’s plane to see that The Duke & the King are having just as much fun playing while they’re being watched.  For me, the measure of a great song is that you only have to hear it once for it to nestle into your memory, and The Duke & the King played a great song which I’ve since discovered is called ‘No Easy Way Out’ from the group’s second album ‘Long Live The Duke & The King’ I really hope they do.

It’s hard to disassociate Gary Numan from dark shadows, so to see him in the full glare of the afternoon sunshine is unusual.  Playing a more compact set that that he played at the Academy earlier this year, which goes down really well with the black shirted and mascaraed boys and older blokes who’ve waited patiently in the baking heat for Gary’s arrival.  Rather oddly he’s dressed simply in a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt which can’t happen very often.  Not that his devoted fans care, they lap the songs up with gusto and for the first time some dancing starts to break out in little pockets.  He finishes with a really sweet version of ‘Are Friends Electric’ and it’s hard to remember how odd this song sounded when it first came out.  But over the years it’s oddness has dissipated so all that’s left is a classic tune and a fantastic song to bring Numan’s very enjoyable set to it’s conclusion.

Finally it’s left to Maximo Park to thrill the near capacity festival crowd.  I have to admit that I haven’t heard a great deal from this ban, but it was hard not to get swept along in the excitement of this band’s music, and, in the elastic limbed Paul Smith, a front man who commands the eye of everyone watching. He springs around the stage like a new born lamb on amphetamines, while the rest of Maximo Park drive hammer out a selection of songs from the three albums they’ve released so far.  The sun is getting low in the sky as Paul and the band bring their energetic and enjoyable performance, and with it, the festival, to a close.

 As festivals go Ben and Jerry have made a really good job of this one.  The mellow vibe married to the fine weather and great music made it a day to remember, and I hope they decide to repeat the event next year.

Review/photos by Phil King

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