Rain clouds are looming ominously when London-based post-punk outfit Warmduscher take to the stage. Dressed in all white boiler suits, they are a motley crew of personalities. Their American lead vocalist Clams Baker Jnr (real name Craig Louis Higgins Jr) cuts a stout figure and looks like a cross between Future Islands’ Samuel T Herring and Alan Vega, possessing a conniving Bukowski-like lyrical sensibility. Bassist Mr. Salt Fingers Lovecraft (Ben Romans-Hopcraft) faces the audience with concentrated reserve, while the keys player at the back puffs on a cigarette, pushing back his slick hair.
They do battle with the bad weather and equipment failure and win the crowd over, crushing it via the sleaze rock of tracks like ‘Twitchin’ In The Kitchen’ – “Sniff it off the kitchen floor, let’s go”, barks Clams. He then pays tribute to his rap inspiration, Cool Keith, which makes perfect sense once he’s said it. Their sound might be more Sun City Girls, but like CK, Warmduscher are eccentric and quite happy to wait patiently for you to get the gag.
Out strides Anna Meredith and her band. Accompanied by drums, tuba, guitar and cello, Meredith takes hold of percussion and electronics. ‘Sawbones’ is a volcanic composition, relentless and intense. Jack Ross on guitar is a highlight too, and on ‘Paramour’, his tapping technique generating first-rate electronica. Towards the end they play the cinematic ‘Nautilus’, which really gets people moving. Meredith hops around punching the air without a flicker of self-consciousness. It’s contagious. Her compositions and style are so idiosyncratic that you seriously believe there can be no other Anna Merediths in the world.
As dusk falls over Jodrell Bank, the time has come for Björk, and it would seem that word has got out. We don’t get off to a good start. The place is so packed – the festival’s capacity is 20,000 and almost everyone appears to be here – that people are emerging from the front looking withered and sweaty. “Don’t go in there,” wheezes one woman trying to escape.
Expectation is also running high, risky when dealing with an artiste like Björk. This is unlikely to be your typical headline show, with Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra performing alongside the Icelandic star. Wembley is about 200 miles away from Bluedot, and we can’t really expect Björk to come out arms waving, whipping up the crowd into a frenzy. When I say B you say jörk! B! Jörk! B! Jörk!
The buzz grows when around 20 musicians from the Hallé Orchestra and Icelandic conductor Bjarni Frimann takes to the stage. People in the crowd are already standing on their tip toes. It’s like we all want to be the first to spot her. Then she appears.
“Thanke youuu”, she coos, dressed in a puffy one piece that stretches over her head, looking like a cross between the Queen Of Hearts and a Slitheen. She floats across the stage and the screams are truly deafening.
‘So Broken’ is captivating, handed a complete makeover behind the twinkling mastery of the Hallé Orchestra. On ‘Isobel’ her voice rises and falls in that particular Björk-ian lilt. After the supple ‘Hyperballad’ and ‘Hunter’, Björk thanks us again. “Thanke youuu, you’re a wonderful audience,” she says. And I suppose we are. We stand silent during songs, waiting for the song to finish until we clap and there’s no flashes going off as requested in the pre-gig recorded announcement.
‘Joga’, her climate breakdown epic, takes on added emotional power – “state of emergency, how beautiful to be”. ‘Quicksand’, despite losing the rabid breakbeat, feels most familiar due to the strength of the strings. It’s musical theatre and the quietest performance of the weekend, but one that brings the loudest cheer. It is quintessential Bluedot programming.
When it’s over, Björk once again thanks us for being wonderful, curtsies and disappears, floating away just as she floated in.
An encore? Ha! You must be joking. But to our surprise, the orchestra walk back out. They play ‘Overture’, an instrumental from Björk’s first soundtrack album ‘Selmasongs’, and then she joins them. The enigmatic star who was performing before is now a chatty confidant.
“I don’t know if should share this,” she says. “I actually had Covid five days ago. I didn’t know if I would be able to hit those high notes.” Defiantly, she roars – “Fuck Covid!”.
They close with ‘Pluto’, turning the techno beats madness into a symphonic banger, as Björk screams and shouts, clearly letting off steam after the quiet purity of her main set. And then she trots off again – this time a person – just quite an extraordinary one.
Tickets for Bluedot 2023 are on sale now at www.discoverthebluedot.com/