Independent Days Festival, Arena Parco Nord, Bologna, Italy, 4th September 2004

With Nastro Azzurro on tap, blistering heat and a masked Italian rock group on the bill, the annual Independent Days festival in Bologna is not exactly your average British rock festival. This year’s bill marked a notable departure from the ska punk friendly line ups of years gone by, with Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines and a couple of Queens Of The Stone Age offshoots heading the bill on the main stage. News arrived 24 hours before the festival that Keane had pulled out, so those hoping one of Tom Chaplin’s tenor like performances were disappointed. No matter, the line-up still had many tricks up its sleeve to make this a memorable day out.

It’s about four o’clock and there’s a noisy echo coming from the main stage. Upon closer inspection, the four lads playing their instruments rather loudly are York based rockers Colour Of Fire. If you’re not familiar with this band, think Jimmy Eat World, Placebo, Biffy Clyro, My Red Cell thrown into a large blender and you have the type of angsty, melodic rock that Colour Of Fire trade in. Aside from lead vocalist Stuart Jones reminding everyone in the crowd that it’s ‘fucking hot’, his band provide us with some very commendable tunes - songs like Second Class Citizen and recent album title track Pearl Necklace are as good as anything in their genre and should ensure that they gain a small army of devotees in northern Italy. Whether this band will make a significant impression in the UK is less certain, but on this evidence one could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of their debut LP. It’s a very good start to proceedings, but the next band on the bill would offer something very off the wall indeed.

Three men stroll on stage - the running order informs us that they’re commonly known as Tre Allegri Ragazzi Morti. They wear Eminem style chainsaw masks and make a lot of noise in Italian. Gut instinct suggests that they’re Italy’s answer to Slipknot and as the set progresses, this assumption is not too wide of the mark. The crowd seems to love every minute of it, and upon further investigation, the group have a massive back catalogue ranging back to 1994 - An Italian rock institution no doubt, so one must not poke too much fun. But what is really disturbing is how seriously they take themselves, with the lead singer shouting ‘Rock N Roll!’ after each number. The novelty wears off quickly.

Judging by the number of Queens Of The Stone Age T-Shirts around, many in the audience have come for the two splinter groups of Queens, (Josh Homme ensures us Queens are far from dead however) Mondo Generator and The Mark Lanegan Band. The former you’ve heard if you’ve listened to ‘Millionaire’ from Queens Of The Stone Age’s 2002 album Songs For The Deaf. Nick Olivieri’s wild scream is present on most of the tracks, and whilst the songs could be described as having a destructive, party rock feel, really do get tedious after a short period of time. Olivieri does throw in a Queen’s track to placate his large fan base in the crowd - Gonna Leave You from the aforementioned album sounds as wicked and haunting as ever. Mark Lanegan’s husky Johnny Cash esque vocals resonate around the arena for the best part of an hour, and whilst he is an undeniably talented musician, there’s nothing really in the set that will blow your mind unfortunately. It’s very dark stuff, which is more suited to a small club than a large field.

The hours have ticked away, and now the trademark Up The Bracket album sleeve glares at us from the stage. The Libertines are about to take the stage, and although Bologna is an unlikely location for Pete Doherty to rejoin his old friends, there’s always hope in the back of one’s mind that they may have organised a romantic reunion in this lovely red brick city. Slightly disappointing then, that it’s The Libertines Mk. II that appear. However, they waste no time and burst straight into ‘Up The Bracket’. What’s immediately noticeable is how great they sound even without Doherty - Barat’s voice has always been the more eloquent anyway. Don’t Look Back Into The Sun is as glorious as ever, its anti nostalgic message couldn’t be more apt at this point in time. The band’s second album has just been released to huge critical acclaim, and a selection of tracks from it are showcased. The Saga is reminiscent of the band’s early days, with its frantic and thrilling guitars, and What Became Of The Likely Lads, despite being a sorry tale of what might have been, is utterly brilliant. What Became Of Forever? Barat asks during the song – this is the question on everyone’s lips. Although missing a vital cog (Can’t Stand Me Now is a trifle odd without Doherty to say the least) The Libertines wheel is still fully functional without Doherty. Whether Barat is happy to do this is yet another question, but you get the feeling that he wouldn’t be sustaining the band if he’s lost hope himself. There’s yet another twist in the soap opera for sure, only a fool would write this band off.

It’s on to the most talked about and hyped band of 2004, Franz Ferdinand. The difference between them now and the start of the year is phenomenal, where they once looked like scruffy Glaswegian art students they now look like they’re attending a Hollywood premiere. Alex Kapranos is sporting a bright red shirt and slicked back hair, and drummer Paul Thomson is wearing a bright gold top. Par for the course I suppose, when you’re riding on a wave of adulation from press and public alike and have just received yet another album prize nomination. They charm the crowd by muttering words of Italian, and to add to it all, play an outstanding set. The album is played back, all sounding crisper and clearer than ever before, with Take Me Out and Matinee galvanising the inevitable crowd participation and rapid hip movement. However, this has been done before on many an occasion, which is why Kapranos and co. are here tonight to road test some new songs. Your Diary is a Take Me Out hybrid, it starts off slowly and bursts into a manic crescendo of guitars, but is just as exciting as their trademark single when we heard it the first time. The other new offering This Boy is a fast and furious affair, and leaves us in no doubt that the recent winners of the Mercury Prize will be back before too long with a second world beating album.

So that was Independent Days 2004, where The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand triumphed, Colour Of Fire promised much and Nick Olivieri made one hell of a racket. The fact that Keane were struck from the bill 24 hours earlier was a distant memory. If you're stuck for holiday ideas next September, you know there's a wild party going down in Bologna.

Jeremy Lloyd