Live at Leeds 2015: Editor Mary’s Roundup (Part 1)

By on Wednesday, 6th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

For more of my photos from Live at Leeds 2015, visit my Flickr.

It’s always a bit daunting to come to a brand new city and hit the ground running at a music festival you’ve heard about for years and have only heard the highest praise for it. Such was my personal trepidation ahead of Live at Leeds 2015, the 9th annual installment of an event where artists descend on the West Yorkshire town, drawn in like moths to a flame.

I’ve no idea how anyone ever did this festival prior to the advent of the smartphone. It seemed by the time I finally sussed the lay of the land and knew where all the venues were, it was all over. In between 11 AM of picking up our press credentials at the First Direct Arena until midnight, the 13 hours were packed with bands; running around to see said bands; catching up with friends, many of whom were in some of those said bands, but others who were new mates; and familiarising myself and falling in love with nearly every venue I had the pleasure of stepping into. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their kindness, hospitality, good food, and of course the amazing music that makes an event like this so worthwhile, ensuring my first Live at Leeds experience was a good one.

Despite the intention I set for myself at every festival – “Don’t get lost!” – construction and obstructed signage at the Leeds Coach Station turned me around and made me late for Longfellow performing at the Wardrobe on the east side of the city centre. The group from London recently released the new EP ‘Remedy’ on Fierce Panda Records (read my review of it here) and were eager to perform in front of their first-ever audience in Leeds. Ever the testament to the city as supportive to the British music scene, the 1 PM gig was well attended. Good on you, Leeds!

I arrived just in time for EP standout ‘Where I Belong’, showing their knack for anthemic songwriting. Their set also included BBC 6 Music stalwart ‘Kiss – Hug – Makeup’, another EP number ‘Chokehold’ and what frontman Owen Lloyd calls “their birthday song” they bring out for celebrations, ‘May the Light’, which appears on their 2014 mini-album ‘Prelude’. Longfellow’s set ended on a high note with live fan favourite ‘Medic’.

Staying put at the Wardrobe, I got a full dose of Racing Glaciers. I have to admit in recent years, I’ve had a jaded eye for any band that has a synthesiser set up centre stage; I’m half expecting a couple of plinky-plonky notes being dropped not for any good reason but just because it’s required these days. Seeing that they appeared directly after Longfellow and also have a keyboard player, logic would dictate that the sound system would make Racing Glaciers’ anthemic style I sussed from them on record translate to something similar sounding to the Londoners who played before them. Instead, the massive loudness and brashness from the band from Macclesfield, including, dare I say it some funky bass notes live, suggest to me that they’re a band who should not be so easily pigeon-holed. Their self-titled and ‘Don’t Wait for Me’ EPs certainly deserve further attention.

After a brief catch-up on the way with TGTF friends The Orielles who had just finished their own gig at Leeds Beckett Stage 2, I was on to my third band of the day. I had a general idea that I would be trekking north and upwards towards the Mine in the Leeds Uni Student Union, but I had no idea the labyrinthine path Google Maps had laid out for me would take me up steps of Rocky-isian proportions. But if there’s anything that will inspire me to get somewhere and quickly, it’s a band.

Half out of breath by the time I reached Leeds Uni, I arrived just in time for the final soundchecking by Oxford indie pop band Pixel Fix, whose ‘Running Thin’ EP of summer 2014 was one of my favourites from last year. They have that poppy, bouncy synth thing going that’s not quite as dancey as Friendly Fires but nearly there (see ‘Lungs’) and that’s where they shine; I’m not as convinced by the oozy, woozy, r&b jam attempts but hey, that’s what sells on Radio 1. What is entirely evident is the undeniable energy that can only radiate from youth, with frontman Marcus Yates definitely looking the part with his spiky blonde hair. With the right kind of promotion, Pixel Fix are the kind of band you expect playing to a crowd of screaming teenagers in a venue near you. Soon.

Despite my prior impression that the place would only be filled with hipster uni kids bopping their heads side to side to the beat, there were plenty of adults too, many of them chatting with each other and saying how good this band was and how quickly they expected them to “make it”. This isn’t a common occurrence from where I come from, so I base on these overheard conversations that the older generation of Leeds music fans has excellent taste and hopefully good prescience!

What goes up must come down, yes? Or so the saying goes. Once I figured out how to get to and up to Leeds Uni, it was reasonably quick work to get back into the city centre. In my rush to not be late to my next band appointment, rushing through the corridors of Leeds Student Union, I nearly collided headfirst into Tom Ogden (you can’t miss him with that gorgeous, flowing Pantene hair of his) and the rest of Stockport psych band Blossoms, who were checking out bands before their set at the Stylus later that day.

Following a quick hello and a run back into town, I was at the Academy, whose front door oddly shares frontage space with pretty amazing Gothic architecture (the whole thing is a Grade II listed building). As much as I adore Oxford’s Stornoway, Leeds Academy has a capacity of 2,300 in the main space, and I had a hard time believing their folk pop sound would translate well into such a cavernous location.

Boy, was I wrong. As I am sat here typing this up while on holiday in Ireland, it occurred to me yesterday while seeing a larger than life mural of U2 on the side of a building in Temple Bar that Bono has nothing on Brian Briggs at this point. I enjoyed a good portion of their third and latest album ‘Bonxie’ that was released a short time ago on Cooking Vinyl, but I found the collection uneven and hoped against hope that the new tracks would sound amazing live.

At least I was right on the mark with that prediction! My feeling is they had such a good time working with an outside producer for the first time, it freed them as both musicians and people, and it gave them just the right encouragement to step outside their comfort zone that perhaps they might not have felt without working with Gil Norton. Straight out of the gate, frontman Briggs seemed much more at ease speaking to a throng of people than I have seen him ever, which was incredibly good timing, seeing that a massive crowd had assembled at the Academy to see his band play.

Their opening salvo ‘Between the Saltmarsh and the Sea’, smartly continuing the Stornoway tradition of artfully arranged harmonies, was simply and devastatingly beautiful, its expansiveness reaching into every nook and cranny of the Academy and certainly into each and every heart present in the venue, and album single ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’ followed suit. The uplifting nature of both ‘Get Low’ and ‘Lost Youth’ can’t be beat, and in a surprising turn of events, a rousing, folk-ified cover version of Yazz’s ‘The Only Way is Up’ had fangirls and fanboys of all ages singing along – loudly, I might add – to the Oxfordians. Nods to their early years with 2010’s ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ were also included, including an unexpected but completely appreciated dedication to your humble editor on ‘I Saw You Blink’. All in all, it was a performance that you couldn’t ask for anything more from. Except more songs: calls for an encore went sadly unheeded.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my Live at Leeds 2015 review, which will post tomorrow here on TGTF.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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