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:: Doves :: Cherry Ghost :: The Cheek ::
12 June 2010 / Thetford Forest / Thetford
By Cath Aubergine

Thetford is renowned for being one of the oddest places in Norfolk, which is saying something. This opinion is offered by a native of "Nelson's County", as the border roadsigns inform us - but today it looks like pretty much anywhere in England: the national team are hours away from their opening World Cup match against that remowned footballing nation the USA; everything's red and white and smells of barbecues and lots of lager is being consumed by men with short hair. We enter into the spirit of things by sticking LCD Soundsystem's "North American Scum" on a pub jukebox, not that anyone else gets it. Thetford Forest is, confusingly, in Suffolk - and if the town centre looked like a picture of working-class England then the clearing contains possibly the most middle-class gig crowd ever. Some of them probably aren't, but when we arrive those with camping chairs outnumber those without, and the only concession to the fact that there's a football match on somewhere tonight is a whiteboard behind the bar on which the team line-up and scores will be written.

The Forestry Commission is, it has to be said, an unlikely gig promoter. The idea was launched in 2001 with Jools Holland and the Levellers performing in Sherwood, Dalby, Bedgebury and Thetford forests; over the years the scheme has grown to include Delamere, Westonbirt and Cannock. And what better way to spend a summer evening than watching bands in a beautiful natural environment? Unfortunately for the music fan, though, artists tend rather towards the uninspiring: Katie Melua, James Morrison, Simply Red, Keane. Somehow Doves slipped through the net, probably on the grounds that they've always had a certain appeal amongst people who buy their CDs in Tesco and go to one gig a year. None of whom seem remotely interested in The Cheek, an inoffensive bunch of vaguely art-school-ish indie kids whose set here is as average as their Dot To Dot performance a couple of weeks ago. That's average as in not bad - there are pop hooks aplenty - but we strongly suspect this booking was more down to the fact that it's always good to promote up-and-coming local talent at things like this and there aren't that many recently-signed bands in Suffolk. Cherry Ghost, meanwhile, are the perfect Doves support: nice enough to not scare the picnickers but with sufficient Northern grit and wrenching country-tinged melodies to warm the darkest of spirits - which is perhaps as well, as word from those with one ear pressed to pocket radios (mobile web-streaming? You've got to be kidding; you can barely squeeze out a text message here!) is that England are not doing particularly well.

Within seconds of the final whistle blow on the other side of the world, Doves are onstage - and by half way through the opening "Jetstream" the result has been all but forgotten. It's a great soaring colossus of a song anywhere; as the evening sun dips towards the trees it's magnificent. There's always been an element of nature and the outdoors about Doves; it seems to permeate their sound as much as their subject matter - it would be amazing to actually hear "Winter Hill" on the top of Winter Hill, but surrounded by a thousand shades of green is definitely a reasonable substitute. And any residual misery is blasted away by a typically euphoric "Pounding" - for three rather ordinary near-middle-aged men (OK, four, if you count oddly ageless and still floppy-haired longtime keyboard accompanist Rebelski) they don't half know how to get a crowd going. Most of the camping chairs are back in their carry-bags by this point.

Jimi Goodwin dedicates a song to the first star to appear in the sky, and evening falls to "Kingdom Of Rust" - this set seems timed to perfection, and by the following "Black And White Town" the stage lights are painting the night. And the set-closing "The Cedar Room", more than a decade old now, still sounds as stunning as it did back at the tail end of the last century when it heralded Manchester's musical rebirth after the dormant 90s' post-Madchester hangover. It's in the encore, though, where Doves show just how easily they slay all opposition in the field of Big Epic Indie Rock: the haunting "Firesuite", the great pop thrill of "Catch the Sun", and of course the all-conquering anthem that is "There Goes The Fear". Manchester's greatest single of the last decade? In the cold light of day it's probably one of a few contenders but as the last air-punching chorus gives way to that glorious samba percussion sequence none of them would stand a chance. They're not leaving the stage, though, not just yet, and there's only one thing that could follow that. "My god, it's full of stars" says the sampled voice - and it's not, quite, but there are a good few more than you'd see on even a clear night back home. A lot of heinous crimes have been committed in the name of indie-dance crossover, sure, but "Spaceface" makes up for every last one of them and leaves everyone on a high. Even the security, one of whom seem surprisingly unruffled when a punter blows his vuvuzela (you know how every World Cup you learn a word you didn't know existed before? Metatarsal, anyone?) down his megaphone. And even our little crew of city dwellers, who hadn't quite prepared for the fact that whilst towns the size of Thetford might well have 15 taxi companies they each comprise one man and his car, and it's a five mile hike back to the Premier Inn. The buzz carries us all the way.

It seems, now, that the rumours of Doves calling it a day after this summer might have been a little exaggerated, but either way, past experience would indicate that if they do tour again it'll be at least a couple of years off. And they're on the best live form they've ever been. Catch them while you can.

Cherry Ghost
The Cheek
Forestry Commission Music Site

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