Happy Birthday to Jamie Cook, the world’s happiest guitar player for one day only. What’s usually a picture of serious strumming is now some toothy smile chord thrashing. The Monkeys are back in the mountains.
Day three of Bilbao BBK Live.
Happy Arctic Monkeys Day, even for everyone else we hear talking about the festival in passing. It’s also the final day before we all have to say goodbye to our home for the last three days, and there’s nothing like a bit of last-day energy.
In yesterday’s roundup, I mentioned that we were going to be at the front for Arctic Monkeys. Considering I’m 6’3” (and that’s the shoulder width) this wasn’t going to be an easy task. More on how we got on later though.
Right now, let’s start from the beginning. The city was heaving again. Stepping out of the hotel we have a festival-sized collection of buskers on each corner of the streets. It was impossible not to walk with a spring in your step, even to the out-of-sync jammers that had clearly smoked too much. We were even blessed with the traditional Basque dancers.
The weather was more stable today and the sun was about to perform a fantastic finale it had been practising for millennia so we sped up to the festival a bit earlier.
Magical. It was even more magical than the first night. With mountain peaks stretching far into the horizon, each summit with a hazier tint of blue to form the layers Bob Ross paints. The egg-yolk-orange sun rolls down the edges as it sets and the clouds glow purple and orange in appreciation. You understand why people love it here and how it made it to its 17th instalment.
You’d be happy listening to Orchestra at this point, but we had a lot of bands to remind us that wholesomeness comes in small batches.
So, our mission. How did we fare? How many times was I punched? Let me tell you.
The original plan was to camp at the front and stay there, but tinnies and sunsets had other plans, so we arrived at that stage 20 minutes before they were due to start. This was going to take a lot of courage ploughing through this crowd.
No problem, two free-pour vodka lemonades each and full steam ahead.
Paper aeroplane kinda full steam ahead. We broke past two rows and I bottled it. Laura reminded me that we’re journalists and we needed the story. I reluctantly agreed and stood in the same spot for about three more songs.
There’s another brilliant thing about Spanish festivals. They have rapido bebidas (fast bevs) which is someone with a keg on their back selling beer in the middle of the crowd – and they’re everywhere. Like, front-of-main-stage everywhere.
We saw this as a win-win. We said to people that we needed to get a drink, even if we didn’t, and they’d let us through. Our little health packs throughout the mission.
With this method we’d worked our way from the back to about 30 rows back from the front. Unfortunately, I’d missed the show looking for passages in the crowd we can squeeze down.
Only joking! What kind of daft 6’3” clown would do that?!
Their performance was impeccable. And for someone that has seen them play about six times this year alone, you’d think I wouldn’t be able to say this after a while, but they just keep hitting out the park.
A gay man told Laura that Alex Turner is the reason he realised he was into men and I can see why. You’re transfixed when you’re watching him. He doesn’t say much (apart from muchos gracias a thousand times), but he can erupt a crowd with as little as a thumbs up or taking his sunnies off.
The setlist was up there, with The View from the Afternoon making a comeback and I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am returning after a short break. It takes a lot to get Spanish crowds going, but they managed it.
It was evident that the experience elevated as you got closer to the stage. Armed with this knowledge and still only 30 rows back, we had three songs for their encore to hit the front. Game on.
I Wanna Be Yours was their first song after they hit the stage again. Not much movement.
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor was our ticket. The mosh pits opened up so we elbowed our way through the boisterous teens. 15 rows back.
Then, the twang of R U Mine? Served as our secret tunnel and we dived through the excitement to about five rows from the front. Laura could finally see the stage (she’s not as tall as me).
She jumped on my shoulders for the final chorus as we cherished a phenomenal performance – the Arctic Monkeys were pretty good too.
IDLES followed immediately on the other stage so the mad rush began towards the other side of the park.
Their reputation for being animals on stage is not exaggerated. You find yourself questioning how they manage to perform like that each time. The most threatening non-threatening people ever.
Over 120,000 people enjoyed the festival from Thursday to Saturday, breaking the attendance record. It’s obvious why.
With strong line-ups, a cosy feel with quirky activities throughout and hidden corners to explore, decent food courts and, of course, the stunning views of Basque mountain range it’s impossible not to fall in love.
The integration with the city and organisation behind the transport makes it enjoyable outside the festival grounds. It’s a must-see for people who think they’ve seen it all and those who love adventure.
The next edition, its 18th year, already has dates set for July 11-13th at the same venue, so you can start planning now.
See you there. I’m off to nap for a few days x