Bilbao is a beautiful modern city in Northern Spain, sitting between mountain ranges which surround the estuary of Bilbao. BBK festival has been running for 8 years and is located part way up the mountains to the south of the city. It attracts c 100,000 people over it's whole course but breaking this down to a daily footfall it makes for about 30,000 each day. The site has a compact feel but it never feels overly busy and moving around was easy.
Bands play across four stages, three of these in the open air: the main Bilbao Stage, slightly smaller Heineken Stage and small Matusalem stage. There is one sizeable indoor arena, Starman Stage, which isn't a tent in the way we know them in UK. This is more of a semi-permanent structure with steel frame.
A real plus is the cashless nature of the festival. All expenditure at the event is by pre-loaded chip on your wrist-band, and fully embracing available technology this can be loaded up in advance and whilst at the festival via the Festival app. This makes for zero queues at the bars. There were small queues at food outlets at busy times.
As regards beer on offer, the heavy sponsorship (by Heineken) carried through to all bars with apparently only that beer on offer. But Rock Club buddies Keith & Ali discovered early on Day One that the bar in the Starman tent also had a German wheat beer (Paulsner) and a very pleasant double-drop dark Affligem beer on offer. Suffice to say every beer visit of the weekend was to these lone taps.
There were well organised shuttle buses running to the festival site from Athletic Bilbao football stadium. As is the nature of festivals in such climates, the bands start at 5.00 pm leading to the headliners about 10.30/11.00 followed by more bands until 3.30 a.m.and DJs after that for the truly nocturnal souls. The shuttle buses ran through the night, and taxis back to the hotel were easy to grab. Camping was an option but reasonably priced festival ticket & hotel packages are available so a sensible option.
With the sponsors laying on events through the city we managed to catch 29 acts across the three days.
DAY ONE, Thursday 6/7
David Bowie Tribute band - Bilbao city centre. Stumbled across this in the city outside the bbk (local savings bank) office, where we discovered, after watching the band, that we could collect our wristbands. An excellent DB lookalike supported by a highly competent band. Great fun to kick things off. The only set all weekend where we knew all the songs. We were treated to Fame, Sufragette City, Changes (band had no sax which was a shame), China Girl, Ashes To Ashes, Starman, Let's Dance, Rebel Rebel, Young Americans, Heroes
Rufus T Firefly - Bilbao Stage. As a Marx Brothers fan I simply had to watch this band. Hailing from Spain their songs were all sung in Spanish, a lyrical language but not best suited to rock n roll. Anthemic songs in Arcade Fire mould with excellent instrumental breaks.
Circa Waves - Heineken Stage. Clashed with Cabbage but opted for CW as we'd seen Cabbage earlier in the year and they're also on EOTR line-up. Solid guitar band from Liverpool, but somehow lacking a spark today. A few songs in they announced "it's mosh-pit time..... when I say Go, Jump!' A good part of the crowd duly did but it felt rather contrived. The moshing was better, more spontaneous for following song 'Fossils'. Half way through we high-tailed to The Starman stage for Cabbage.
Cabbage - Starman Stage. Full of energy. Spontaneous moshing here. Think Jonathan Richman with contemporary themes (including a song about Jimmy Saville). Only caught last four songs but glad we did.
Cage the Elephant - Bilbao Stage. US guitar rock n roll from Nashville Tennessee. Drew a good crowd. Fully hit their stride towards the end of their set with more melodic songs.
Sundara Karma - Matusalem Stage. I had reservations about this band as the recorded material I've heard puts them in a category I call 'one up from a boy band'. Much better live than on record and provided a highlight of the day. Quite humble "..... we didn't think anyone would be singing along". Quality stuff - a band on the rise
The 1975 - Heineken Stage. Best stage and light show so far. Apart from an interesting sax solo where the sax player was in darkness. Lost the impact of what might otherwise have been a beautiful moment
Depeche Mode - Bilbao Stage. Excellent view from the grass bank toward the back of the auditorium. Excellent front-manning from Dave Gahn. Set comprised old and new tunes including an excellent 'Somebody' and 'Where's The Revolution '
Spoon - Heineken Stage. Mature US sounds veering between smooth synth-based songs and jerky dance tunes. Excellent pop songs, delivered with panache
Justice - Bilbao Stage. Impressive stage set-up with banks of speakers. Perfect early-hours set to keep the crowd dancing
Idles - Matusalem Stage. This band's performances get ever more anarchic. Today the lead guitarist, dressed in just swim shorts made two sorties into the crowd. Other band members saved their crowd surfing antics to the last song. Excellent set with casual vitriol directed at The 1975 throughout "We are The 1975 - we are the best band in the world "
DAY TWO, Friday 7/7
Amazons - Bilbao Stage. English guitar band. Drummer was bedecked in beret, red neckerchief, white shirt and black waistcoat. His cousin Christian was on his stag-do at the fest. His outfit matched 16 others, all in lively early-evening mood. Excellent set from this band playing their first ever gig in Spain
Jenny Lanza - Starman Stage. Caught a few tunes while at the bar. Solo, on decks. Impressive projections on screens but only drew a small crowd. Perhaps would have been better suited to a slot in the small hours.
Explosions In The Sky - Heineken Stage. Every festival should have an EITS slot on the bill. Elongated tunes with no vocal, harping back to days of prog rock excess. A very pleasing deviation from standard RnR guitar chords. Songs are mostly guitar based but keys feature heavily. Studious intensity from every band member. We were only 20 feet from the stage but I was nevertheless drawn to the screens simply to enjoy the intricate guitar work.
Fleet Foxes - Bilbao Stage. Having been an admirer of this band's work for some time I was looking forward to this set but as I have found at a festival a few years ago I was rather disappointed. With six of them on stage there is enough manpower to give their songs depth but they don't really go beyond the distinctive vocal on enough occasions. Most impressive was the multi-instrumentalist who contributed with tuba, flute, double bass, violin, guitars, maracas, tambourine and the occasional vocal.
Jens Leckman - Starman Stage. All female backing band on drums, bass and keys/synth. Bass player was particularly energetic. It was raining so the tent was fuller than it might otherwise have been with rather too much chatter from the back. This was the perfect antidote to the uninspired Fleet Foxes set. Dancey/pop-ey tunes. A fun Belle & Sebastian. JL gives you licence to dance like nobody's watching. (With pint of Affligem in hand I did)
Killers - Bilbao Stage. Took us a few minutes to find a good vantage point as annoyingly the sound was bouncing off the side of the Starman tent. But once we found a suitable spot we were treated to a wonderful set from this iconic Las Vegas band. A customary energetic performance from Brandon Flowers. It's indie rock n roll for me...... and for the whole BBK crowd.
Royal Blood - Heineken Stage. As they are apt to do, RB took things to another level. Excellent stage set which gave the impression they were playing in a room, drawing you in so you completely forgot you were outside. Plenty of material from their excellent new album 'How Did We Get So Dark' mixed with older favourites. Superb.
Joe Goddard - Starman Stage. JG (of Hot Chip) on decks supported with sublime female vocalist Valentina Gabriel. Highly enjoyable set but as the clock hit 3.00 our tired bodies demanded we call it a day.
DAY THREE, Saturday 8/7
Isis - Bilbao city, square opposite our hotel. Spanish female singer with a full brass section in support. Obviously a local favourite evidenced by the participative crowd.
Naranja - Starman Stage. Spanish 4-piece guitar band. Front man looked like a young Jarvis Cocker. Mix of slow songs which sounded a bit like Alex Turner, and harder-hitting guitars. The slow tunes were better suited to the Spanish lyrics.
Los Bengala - Heineken Stage. Another Spanish band, this one a different proposition altogether. Two piece, a la Royal Blood with similarly powerful tunes. Thoroughly enjoyed themselves (particularly the bare-chested drummer) as did the enthusiastic crowd
Saint Motel - Bilbao Stage. A happy festival band, hailing from LA. Described as everything from dream pop to indie prog. Not a bad description. Five-piece. Front man on keys with bass, guitar, saxophone and drums. The sax was used to good effect in several songs. Got the crowd singing along to summery anthem 'Sweet Talk' and jumping in the last number as the lead singer made good use of the runway. The most notable thing for me though was that at the beginning and middle of this set I was on my knees through sheer tiredness, actually kinda wishing I was somewhere else. But by the end I was buzzing, raring to go for more bands. Such is the the power of Rock n Roll. We are privileged to love this stuff.
The Orwells - Heineken Stage. US rockin guitars, tinged with punk in places.
The Parrots - Starman Stage. Spanish rock n roll punk blended with thrashing guitars. Wonderfully lively. Towards end of their set played their excellent anthem 'No Te Gusta Te Quiero' (I don't like you, I love you)
Brian Wilson - Bilbao Stage. Funny moment at beginning of opening song, California Girls with BW' s face large on the screen only to be obscured by an inflated floating condom. BW was today supported by a ten-strong troupe, delivering the whole Pet Sounds album. It deserved a hot sunny day rather than the chilly cloudy day we were experiencing but good to see these legendary songs delivered by the legend himself. BW took on some of the vocal (not the high bits). Good Vibrations closed off a memorable set.
Chk! Chk! Chk! - Heineken Stage. The power of poor research. I have some of this bands material on my I-pod but haven't listened to it for ages. Neither did I read up on this band beforehand. Had I done so I might well have given this a miss but glad I didn't. Compelling performance from jagger-esque front man and female singer who pumps energy into every beat. 80's disco rhythms, much of the material was almost spoken, Grace Jones-like
Two Door Cinema Club - Bilbao Stage. Plenty of good tunes in this band's catalogue to fully justify their headline slot. Sound was particularly good from our vantage point on the grassy bank.
The Lemon Twigs - Starman Stage. Couldn't think of a better band to round things off. Played all the great songs from their 2016 album plus new number 'Queen Of My School' off next album which they announced is out later this year. Also 'You Can't Talk To The Dude' off forthcoming EP.
A wonderful festival experience. We spent three further days in Spain with Rock Club buddies recuperating from the festival, and taking in the Pamplona San Fermin festival, a visit to a vineyard and a brief stop-over in San Sebastian, a beautifully unspoilt resort city on the Bay of Biscay
(PS: Rufus T Firefly was the character played by Graucho Marx in Duck Soup)