Festival returns as Leeds gets ready to rock again

This year’s Leeds Festival kicks off today with plenty of big names to entertain the crowds. Chris Bond takes a look at the highlights.

AFTER the mudbath that was last year’s Leeds Festival, organisers and music fans could have been forgiven for hoping that the sun would shine this time around.

But it seems the weather gods have other ideas with the forecast not looking too clever for the Bank Holiday weekend. But at least the festival is going ahead which, given the number of high-profile casualties that have fallen victim to the abysmal weather this summer, is a cause for celebration in itself.

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Tens of thousands of revellers will descend on Bramham Park today for the start of the annual three-day rock extravaganza.

Friday night, sees Leeds’s favourite musical sons the Kaiser Chiefs return, fresh from their Olympic exploits, to a festival they’ve made their own over the years. They are joined by US rockers The Black Keys and headliners the Foo Fighters, with Dave Grohl and the band taking to the stage where they wowed festival-goers back in 2005.

Saturday sees legendary indie-goth survivors The Cure headlining, with Bombay Bicycle Club, Graham Coxon, whose latest album A+E has won countless plaudits, and The Maccabees among some of the other highlights. While on Sunday, the irresistible Florence and the Machine are likely to be a big draw along with Wakefield’s finest The Cribs and indie stalwarts The Shins, before Kasabian bring the party to what is likely to be a barnstorming close.

There are a few tickets still available and Ian De Whytell, owner of Crash Records, in Leeds, believes the bad summer weather has meant ticket sales have been slower than usual. “Last year it was a bit of a mudbath and I think some people were waiting to see what was happening with the weather, but there’s been a real surge in sales in the last few weeks,” he says.

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“There are some big names to look forward to like The Black Keys and The Cure and it’s good to see local heroes like the Kaiser Chiefs and The Cribs back here, too. I don’t think it’s the strongest line-up the festival has had but that’s the inherent problem when you’re trying to appeal to such a broad spectrum of music fans,” he says.

But even so, he has no doubts that the festival remains one of the most important dates in the British rock music calendar. “It’s a massive festival and one of the musical highlights of the year, not only regionally but nationally. After Glastonbury, Leeds and Reading are the next biggest music festivals in this country because you get to see some of the best rock and indie music there is.”

He believes that getting The Cure was a feather in the cap for the organisers. “I’m really looking forward to seeing them because they haven’t played around here for a while and I think they could be one of the musical highlights of the year, never mind the festival.”

De Whytell also believes the fact that Leeds has such a prestigious rock festival is important, not only for the city but Yorkshire as a whole. “With the arena finally being built this really puts Leeds on the map and it sends a message to people all over the world that Yorkshire is a great place for music and somewhere that big bands can come and play.”

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As well as big stars and established musical names, the Leeds festival also provides an opportunity for young, little known bands to make a name for themselves.

More than 30 groups have won their way to coveted spots on the BBC Introducing Stage through a series of competitions across the UK, including Leeds teen rockers Glassbody and several other fellow festival debutants from Yorkshire including Bearfoot Beware, Post War Glamour Girls and the Proxies.

Festival bosses have also added some of the country’s top comedians to the bill for this year’s event. Reginald D Hunter, Lee Nelson, Jason Byrne, Stephen K Amos and Al Murray will all be sharing the limelight with the main musical attractions.

But it’s the music that people flock here for and over the years the festival has played host to everyone from Oasis and Blur, to Arcade Fire and the Arctic Monkeys, and it remains one of the biggest rock music festivals there is. Whatever the weather.

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The Leeds Festival, Bramham Park, August 24-26. A limited number of tickets are still available. For more information visit www.leedsfestival.co.uk

Hot rocks: Who to watch at this year’s event

Kaiser Chiefs: Fresh from their high octane performance at the closing ceremony of the Olympics fans should expect another barnstorming gig on home turf.

The Black Keys: American blues rock with heart and soul, the band’s last album El Camino is arguably their best yet.

Kasabian: Natural born swaggering stadium rockers and the heirs to Oasis.

The Cure: What else is there left to say about Robert Smith & co? Brilliant.

Jake Bugg: A singer-songwriter from Nottingham who sounds like a young Bob Dylan. His star is on the rise.