This hangover is remarkable; one of those you need to sit back from and admire for its unrelenting ferocity. I take a shower, get dressed, attempt to head downstairs for breakfast, almost fall over, undress, go back to bed. Two hours later the headache has ebbed a little but the general disorientation and inability to construct basic sentences prevails into the afternoon, which is unfortunate, because we are being taken on a river boat and then on a guided tour of the city and I like nothing better than being taken on a river boat. I cross the road to a bar to avail myself of some pintxos, an orange juice and a coke. Two cokes. Tim joins me and does the same. He seems to be in better shape than I, despite being easily as drunk as I was. The bastard.
We meet the others and our guide, Unai, a Bilbao native. We wander around some streets for a while, asking questions, listening, taking photos. The sun is out and the sky is cloudless. I stick to the shadows like a gecko. We pass some remarkable street art, and various signs of a city that cares about the wellbeing of its people, and arrive at the riverside, where I am asked if I will be interviewed by a crew who are out talking to us foreigners about our impression of the festival and the city. I agree, of course, what with being a guest here, and eager to repay their hospitality thus far.
It is very hot now. I cover myself in sun block and try not to look like a pale northerner.
The girl holding the mic is as hungover as I, and we mumble our way though, her asking me what I think of the city, and me banging on about how amazing it is and look at all the art and aren’t the parks beautiful and isn’t everyone so friendly and
She moves on to someone else.
We pass around the peninsula which is about to be turned into an island by the world-renowned Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, all the while being schooled by the knowledgable Unai. This is the former industrial heart of the city, where once ship-building and mining industries belched and welded, much like the engine-room-cities of the north of England and Scotland. Repairing to the lower deck for a refreshment, I marvel at what appears to be a single-minded effort by the City Fathers to make Bilbao as pleasant a place to live in as is possible. We disembark and Unai guides us toward the old town, which is as picturesque as the words ‘the old town of Bilbao’ would lead a man to believe. After more explorations and explanations we settle into a restaurant and prepare ourselves for a lunch of meat dripping with blood, although there is bread, salad, and some concoction of artichokes, eggs and cheese for those who choose not to partake of carnivorous chow. The steaks arrive, oozing red. It’s a little much for one of our party who apologetically sends it back for another five minutes under the grill. It returns, still oozing. He apologetically sends it back for another five minutes under the grill. By the time it has returned for a third time he is queasy enough to have already left the restaurant and returned to his hotel room for a lie-down. One of our party is Polish and does not care what is oozing out of his steak, wolfing it down, along with the free cider of which all customers here are invited to avail themselves of, tapped directly from casks set into the wall at the back of the room.
Sated, we return to the hotel – past more engaging art, gorgeous old buildings and thrusting modern architecture – to brush our teeth and make our way on site. We bid a fond farewell to Unai, our guide, thanking him profusely for his time, enthusiasm and patience. Tim is keen to see The Mars Volta and, after visiting VIP to get started on the drinking (Tim more keen than I at this point) we head along to the main stage. Two songs in, we’re not sure if this is The Mars Volta or not. I’ve no idea what they sound like anyway, but Tim is a fan and can’t understand why this band he usually likes has been replaced by this… this… caterwauling, discordant pish. By and by they play a song he recognises and, accepting that they’ve all had haircuts and sound terrible now, it’s back to the VIP until TV on The Radio come on. They’re a decent band, are TV on The Radio, if you like funk bands, and remembering that I didn’t enjoy them live previously but quite like their first album, I clamber up on top of the rocks that overlook stage two, settle down with a beer, and find myself sitting next to Shingai Shoniwa, the singer from The Noisettes. She looks striking in a bright yellow dress, dancing freely, as if she is alone in her bedroom, and as I look around, 120 feet below me, I notice that what feels like the entire crowd and every photographer on site is pointing their camera at her. I suspect she is well aware of this but anyway, it makes for a nice picture, and a fittingly figurative face of the festival thus far.
We take a peek at Vetusta Moral on the main stage; from Madrid, their lofty-pop-rock is a little anodyne for our ears, but the crowd is huge and they’re obviously much loved around these parts. In contrast, Kasabian – who follow TV on The Radio – are despised around these parts, assuming we are referring to these parts as me, but in keeping with my good nature and optimistic disposition for which I am well-known, I give them a chance. Their chance doesn’t last long. In fact, it last as long as it takes for Tom Meighan to swagger on stage wearing a denim jacket, hoping to come across like his band aren’t a bunch of pub-rockers with occasionally marginally more memorable tunes than pub-rockers. They drive through their set of far-too-many pub-rock tunes and, although the audience is very pleased to see them, and Tim tries to convince me that they’re not as bad as I think they are, I decide they are as bad as I think they are, and probably worse.
Afterwards there’s a little time to kill so Olatz, Tim and I go for a walk off-site to find some tents for Tim to photograph. I pad across to the Vodafone tent to see what Mamba Beat are all about, and what Mamba Beat are all about are a kind of We Have Band/Hot Chip/disco-rock thing from Bilbao who like doing Doors covers. The crowd dances. We gather ourselves up, restock our fists with drinks and stand ready to watch Suede who have been draughted in to replace Amy Winehouse who, let’s face it, was always going to cancel in the first place. The crowd isn’t as big as it was for Vetusta Moral, but Brett and the boys do their damndest to entertain and from what I hear from those Suede fans next to me, they succeed. I don’t really pay much attention because as far as I can make out Suede only ever had one decent tune, and I don’t feel any notion to hear it performed live. Still, we can see from the big screens that Brett is really giving it some, and by the end of their set his shirt is unbuttoned almost all the way to his navel, so I figure that many of the young ladies in the crowd are not quite so fussy about what Suede sound like as they are about how Brett looks with his shirt unbuttoned almost all the way to his navel.
Kaiser Chiefs appear next. The less said about them the better.
!!! are up next, and are in fact last on the second stage. Many of us are tired now, but I tend to enjoy !!!’s antics and so attend the rocks once more for a good view. I do not have to wait long for ‘Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass’, and this track sets the tone for their entire set, which is dance-funk, and very enjoyable if you like dance-funk. Their frontman, Nic Offer, seems to like it very much, and he prowls around the stage and down in the audience, dancing exactly like Lady Miss Kier of Dee-Lite at 2 minutes 35 seconds into the ‘Groove is in The Heart’ video. The set starts to drag after fifty minutes though, and for reasons I will keep to myself, I hang around until the bitter end, and in fact later, in the pouring rain, though with an umbrella, before finally taking myself back downtown to the calm and sanctity of my hotel room, pretty sober, and ready for actually making breakfast in the morning…