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The Independent Culture
Blur bigger than Prodigy shock! Well, in their county of origin at any rate. If speed of selling-out is anything to go by, Damon Albarn's born again art-rockers have already won the battle of the Essex giants - having now shifted all the tickets for tomorrow's first of the two days of V97 in Hylands Park, Chelmsford, while a few still remain for Liam, Keith and co headlining on Sunday. Things are different up North, with some tickets left for both days at Temple Newsam in Leeds, where the same two line-ups take to the stage in reverse day order and Embrace (on the Blur bill) fly a lonely flag for local talent.

An enterprising and well-organised innovation in an apparently over-crowded festival market, this event has already settled snugly into the summer calendar. Last year's Pulp-dominated debut was voted "European festival of the year" by readers of The Tablet and, with Glastonbury cruelly served by unseasonal monsoons, Phoenix suffering from a serious punter deficiency, T in the Park lacking something in the big name department and Metallica playing at Reading, there seems no reason why that feat should not be repeated.

The obtrusive soft-drink sponsorship is annoying and the whole happening will be too wholesome for some people's taste - there is certainly little chance of meeting a druid. But with worthy headliners, two decent subsidiary stages (one an NME-sponsored white bread indie banquet, the other a dance- dominated eclecto-fest) and heavyweight supporting line-ups including Pavement and The Chemical Brothers for Blur, and Beck, Placebo, and the dying-belch-of-a-flatulent-alsatian sound of Daft Punk for Prodigy, anyone sill holding fire for their annual festival experience is strongly advised to go in hard before it's too late

Information hotline: 0891 884484; credit cards: 0171-287 0932 (Chelmsford), 0113-244 4600 (Leeds). Day tickets pounds 28.50, weekend pounds 50 + camping pounds 6 + bkg fee Ben Thompson