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South Bank, London
THE SOUTH Bank’s annual Meltdown Festival is a celebration of music, art and performance that allows one artist to not just make their mark but show their influences and inspiration.
For the special 25th anniversary celebration this year, and following in the footsteps of such luminaries as John Peel, Patti Smith, David Bowie and Yoko Ono, the curator is none other than the enigmatic Robert Smith of goth legends The Cure — he of the smudged lipstick, eyeliner and birds-nest hair.
Over 10 days Meltdown is hosting a wide roster of bands and events, all under the watchful eye of Smith, with post-punk rockers the Psychedelic Furs opening the festival to a packed house at the Royal Festival Hall.
Unmistakable from the off, the band plough through a 17-track set in which lead singer Richard Butler’s rasping vocals, Rich Good's steely guitar and a virtuoso performance from sax player Mars Williams bring punters to their feet.
This is amazing music and after a 90-minute meander through a host of key tracks — there's a particularly enthusiastic reception for The Ghost in You, Love My Way and Heaven — predictably the band save signature tune Pretty in Pink for last. The crowd love it.
As an opener, the Furs set out the stall as an accomplished alternative but a shout out must also go to support band The Church who blend jangling psychedelic rock and indie guitar. They refuse to leave the stage at the end of their set and the sight of roadies on stage dismantling the drum kit and more as the ever-reducing band play on gets a massive round of applause right through to the final plucked strings on acoustic guitar.
A few days later in the restored Purcell Room, drone rockers Loop take to the stage and exhort the audience to rise from their seats. A strobe-heavy light show is a flickering backdrop to songs relentlessly repeating a pounding groove.
Echoing and repetitive, the sound builds with a relentless bass backed by dual guitars and the beat of the drums. Breaks between songs are a little long, but in the main the repetitive loop is what the band is all about and what the audience has come to appreciate.
Meltdown features a litany of well-known names, hidden wonders and more and although many of the main gigs inevitably sell out, like any festival there are free showcases, impromptu performances and a chance to catch something unexpected.
And that’s before Robert Smith will himself close the festival in his own special way with a two- hour smorgasbord of songs selected from his peculiar and wide-ranging back catalogue.
It’s definitely worth wandering down to the South Bank to drink in some of the ambience and perhaps catch a hint of what really goes on in Smith’s mind musically. For a man who has brought melancholy to the mainstream — albeit always with a hint of humour and joy — Meltdown is very much a way for the many to enjoy and celebrate the workings and wonder of a pretty unique sensibility.
Meltdown runs until June 24, box office: southbankcentre.co.uk.
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