Live Review: Us Vs. Them curated by Field Music at Leeds Brudenell Social Club – 2nd December 2017

By on Wednesday, 6th December 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is one of those mythical places that you have likely heard of due to its connection to Wakefield’s finest the Cribs. But unless you live in Yorkshire and/or have attended Live at Leeds over the years, you’ve probably never visited the place. That’s the boat I was in until last Saturday, when for a second year running the venue, in coordination with Futuresound Events, put on a Us Vs. Them festival showcase curated by the most prolific musicians of the North East, Field Music. (Last year’s was curated by Welsh band Los Campesinos!) TGTF have been long-time supporters of the Brewises and since it so happened I was in the vicinity of Leeds (er, sort of…it’s a long story, ha) and the lineup was indeed pretty amazing, I thought it was my editor duty to stop in.

The Cornshed Sisters (Tyne and Wear)
They’re folky, they’re poppy and they have connections to Field Music, which make them a convenient addition to this evening’s bill. The ukulele-playing Jennie Brewis is Peter Brewis’ wife, and Liz Corney plays keyboards and sings backup in Field Music. As you might expect for women from the North East, they are women with minds of their own and they have wit, judging from jokes about their live drummer Ian Black, who fronts his own band SLUG (keep on reading this review), and a dinosaur. I won’t spoil the latter for you, you can ask them yourselves when you see them live; it’s toilet humour, but remarkably high-brow toilet humour.

The Cornshed Sisters Us vs Them 2

Anyway, right, back to the music. I arrived at the Community Room after they’d already begun, a crowd listening to them in rapt attention. Their second album ‘Honey and Tar’, was released in early November, and is filled with catchy tunes and important meaning. ‘Jobs for the Boys’ was introduced as “one of the misogynists”; its peerless four-part harmonies superbly infectious for reasonably weight subject matter. The mostly a cappella ‘Sunday Best / Small Spaces’ is a welcome treat, its second half led by Jennie Brewis conveying something so simple – being in close confines with a loved one – beautifully. It always feels odd to me to hear Americana folk somewhere outside of my country, but the Cornshed Sisters do it so well.

SLUG (Sunderland)
Inside one Mr. Ian Black of Sunderland lives a truly depraved mind. Who else would come up with a song entitled ‘Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped in Plastic’? But let’s leave that gem for a moment. The far more important thing to note about Black and his band is their commitment to rock, rocking out and doing so in a way that is off the wall mad. And it’s absolutely brilliant. Whether it had to do with him throwing off his glasses and running to the Main Stage like the crazy ginger he is, or if he was just having a bad night, guitar problems delayed SLUG’s set.

SLUG Us vs Them 1

In exchange for the delay, his drummer played a pretty rad solo with funny interjections about the location of the cowbell in his kit while Black was stuck trying to tune several different guitars. When the boho-looking band finally got started, a good chunk of their playing time had already evaporated, leaving the group to play out their set with‘Cockeyed Rabbit…’ and the sleazy, percussion-driven ‘Greasy Mind’ and ‘Running to Get Past Your Heart’. (Seriously, how has a SLUG song *not* managed to appear on a Wes Anderson film yet?) The best I can do is to describe them as a certain sweet convergence of pomposity, squealing guitars and buzzy percussion. If you know anything about Field Music and their North East friends, they are unpredictable and don’t do anything linearly. And just as I saw at The Great Escape 2015, SLUG’s music is always fantastic.

Emma Pollock (Glasgow)

Emma Pollock Us vs Them 2

Ex-Delgados Emma Pollock has a funny story about being invited to perform at this festival. She explained she herself had curated an event to celebrate Kate Bush and that the Brewis brothers attended the event when it was being put on in Glasgow this past spring. Great minds and all that, eh? Performing only with her voice and guitar and accompanied by a keyboardist, her performance was a stark contrast to the boisterousness of the Cornshed Sisters earlier. Lights of red and blue swathed Pollock in an eerie glow, her voice strong, yet haunting, providing the most wintry-feeling set I saw all night.

C Duncan (Glasgow)
A month prior to this, I saw C Duncan open as a one-man act for Elbow at the 9:30 Club and was already wowed with what he could do solo. Here, finally, was my big chance to see Chris Duncan with a full band. As you might expect, the bigger setup leads to a far more robust and exciting sound than is achievable with a one-man band, even with a laptop and synths available at a touch of a button.

C Duncan Us vs Them 1

This is probably most obvious with the joining of three male voices in perfect harmonies on ‘Say’ and ‘Like You Do’. While an appreciation of choral music is of course not a prerequisite to liking C Duncan’s music, having witnessed evensong the evening before at York Minster was a good reminder of Duncan’s achievements recording and tweaking versions of his own voice for an ethereal choir sound on record, as well as organizing the live performance of his music. The innocent, dreamlike qualities of ‘Do I Hear’ from his second album ‘The Midnight Sun’ come through on the oozy, woozy lyrics, as Duncan waxes philosophical on the early halcyon days of a relationship. Ever fallen in love? This song, like many of C Duncan’s orchestrations, makes your heart swell. It’s wonderful to be invited into this special world, with a sweeping grandeur you can be a part of. It makes me want to stretch my arms out and throw them around, er…Paris?

Warm Digits (Newcastle)
Time for something heart pumping and in a different way. North East duo Warm Digits, fine purveyors of wonky dance beats, with the guest vocals of such luminaries at Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell on ‘Growth of Raindrops’ and Field Music themselves. They were exactly what the doctor ordered on a chilly night in Leeds, turning the Community Room at the Brudenell into a Berlin discotheque. By the time I arrived, the room was packed and I wasn’t going to push my way to the front. People weren’t exactly bumping and grinding to their music at the back; more heads appeared to be craning to see the projections of cartoony images and splashy big words in bold colours behind the pair. Hopefully there was more actual action down the front?

Dutch Uncles (Manchester via Marple)

Dutch Uncles Us vs Them 1

Now on to the prolific group from the other side of the Pennines, Dutch Uncles. Songwriter Robin Richards just keeps going like the Energizer Bunny, having scored a documentary on the Chernobyl disaster-ravaged city of Pripyat last year and spent time in Caernarfon, Wales in an artist residency there. The band themselves released their fifth album early this year, ‘Big Balloon’, so they’ve got plenty to pick and choose from in their back catalogue. The bubblegummy ‘Oh Yeah’ might suggest this LP is their most accessible yet.

But not to worry, there are still plenty of weird time signatures and bops in all directions on ‘Hiccup’, impressively aggressive live. They pulled out the frenetic ‘Flexxin’ from 2011’s ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’, and it sounded as good as it did way back then. The Main Stage floor was packed out again, no doubt by people who had seen Dutch Uncles loads of times before and were eating up Duncan Wallis’ amusing stage patter and what appeared to be drummer Andy Proudfoot’s smashing impromptu rendition of Semisonic’s ‘Secret Smile’. Something tells me a good number of these folks saw them at Leeds Town Hall at Live at Leeds 2015 (I didn’t; you can thank the Cribs for that).

To conclude…
Annoyingly, in order to catch a train and to rest a wonky, swollen foot that I must have twisted the day before in York, I entirely missed Field Music’s own set. The one comfort I have, and you should have too, if you were not present Saturday night, is that the band from Sunderland have UK tour dates in March and May 2018, so you’ve got your chance in the new year. In case you have been living under a rock, they recently revealed ‘Count It Up’, the first taster to seventh album ‘Open Here’ due out the 9th of February 2018 on Memphis Industries, and you can bop your head to the highly political, supposedly ‘Material Girl’-inspired track below.

All in all, who I did manage to see at the Field Music-curated Us vs. Them in Leeds were great, excellently showcasing some of the best acts, new and old, from the North of England and Scotland. I hope the Brudenell and Futuresound Events continue this annual tradition. Really, who better is there to put together a festival but musicians who actively listen to other musicians and can choose prudently a lineup that their own fans would love to see? For more photos from the festival, visit my Flicker.

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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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