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We’ve already previewed the extensive small- and big-kid friendly activities available at Deer Shed Festival 2013, but what of the music? Featuring full 2 days of music (Friday evening, Saturday all day, and Sunday afternoon), and a smattering of stages, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill enormo-fest, and is all the better for it. The entire card is quality, but here we run down some of the highlights of Deer Shed 2013’s music offering…
Friday night sees a clash-tastic triumvirate of triumphant talent. Edinburgh festival favourites Tubular Bells For Two take over the In The Dock stage all night – for those who haven’t heard, TBFT are Aussies Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts, who have taken it upon themselves to recreate Mike Oldfield’s multi-layered masterpiece Tubular Bells in its entirety, complete with a home-made set of the eponymous melodic percussion. An inspired booking, and a rare opportunity to catch TBFT in the fresh air.
Gaz Coombes proved with his diverse work with Supergrass that he’s one of the finest songwriters of his generation; his solo album ‘Here Come The Bombs’ superbly reinforced that reputation. He’s just put out a new double-A single: ‘One of These Days’ is a typically bittersweet string-enhanced 4 minutes of slow-burning goodness, marking an intriguing move into gentle electronica stylings; ‘Break the Silence’ is a more upbeat synth-led stomper with hints of Supergrass’ superb 2004 orphan release ‘Kiss Of Life’. Which all bodes well for the second album which is rumoured for imminent release.
In a fairer world, Gaz Coombes would be the highlight of the evening. But if Coombes’ star is still developing, Edwyn Collins’ is a full-on supernova. There’s no need to go over the old ground of his medical history (if you need the details, see here), suffice to say that Collins’ personal story is as remarkable as his music. His 2010 LP ‘Losing Sleep’ gathered my Writer’s Choice for a Mercury nomination that year; this year’s release ‘Understated’ continues his output of smart pop-soul, hinting obliquely at his trials, but mostly simply affirming the human condition in matchless, witty style. A true legend, revered warmly by industry and fans alike, and a great way to wrap up Friday night at Deer Shed.
Saturday afternoon is folky and soulful. Tynesiders and Craig Charles favourites Smoove and Turrell (John Turrell is the male voice of Charles’ Fantasy Funk Band) are perfectly timed to get the crowd into a groove; Zervas and Pepper soundtrack dreams of shimmering open plains and dusty roadhouses; To Kill a King purvey that keening, yearning folk-rock sound that has such broad appeal these days that will surely make them a highlight of the day for many.
Elsewhere, Spring Offensive bring their suave Oxonianisms to the In The Dock Stage. If you like atmospheric, emotive guitar music, and wish you had seen Radiohead live before they released ‘The Bends’, the Spring Offensive are not to be missed. Neither are The Phantom Band, whose sound genuinely defies classification. There’s detailed multi-movemented arrangements, pepperings of atonality, a touch of ‘Green’-era R.E.M., and even the hint of properly heavy guitars on occasion. Very difficult to describe, which means that they’re very clever indeed. Worth being acquainted with beforehand, but will reward the effort live.
Darwin Deez has a lot to live up to – the punditry casually bandy around names like Beck, Prince, and Hendrix whenever he’s mentioned. Yes, Deez displays a loose, carefree obscurantism that Beck would be familiar with, but there’s little evidence of the epic sweep of Prince, or indeed of Hendrix’s Stratocaster majesty. Perhaps his live show will answer the doubters. But most excitingly of all, Saturday night finds The House of Love on the main stage. Surely the most underrated band of the pre-Britpop era, The House of Love’s self-titled meisterwerk contains future echoes of The Stone Roses, James, and both Oasis and Blur, and without whose influence British pop music would surely have taken a different, and undoubtedly inferior, path. Despite such achievements, in comparison with their peers they remain relative unknowns, with founding member Guy Chadwick carving a second career fitting sash windows. The story of the band is no less remarkable than their music, featuring personal acrimony, heavy drug use, mental problems, countless spin-off side projects, and the inevitable ritual burning of banknotes – enough to fill a decent book, one would imagine. Will The House of Love find their final redemption in their reformation and release of new material? Will Deer Shed be where it all finally comes together? One waits with bated breath.
After the excitement of Saturday night, Sunday is wind-down day. The Unthanks bring to life the North-East’s history of heavy industry and hard living with ‘Songs From The Shipyards’, and band-of-the-moment Public Service Broadcasting (who we caught last month in Newcastle) offer a similarly historical yet rather more lighthearted take on this island’s history with their audiovisual tour-de-force. On the main stage, we have chilled-out ambience from AlascA, knowing ensemble wittiness from Moulettes, and the acoustic finale belongs to the avuncular King Creosote, who has a challenge on his hands to match the vertical, punch- and love-drunk ambience of last year’s Cherry Ghost set.
If it had escaped your notice, this is just part of what’s on offer at Deer Shed Festival this year. Take a look at my Part 1 for a roundup of the crazy catalogue of activities to lose yourself in. Tier three tickets are still available from from the official Web site – but probably not for much longer!
There comes a time in every festival-goer’s life when the spectre of having to give up the annual pilgrimage to the grassy land of song, cider, and occasional sunshine looms large, most likely due to the arrival of those little bundles of joy we call children. 2012 was the year your correspondent faced this sorry fate – and conquered it. Determined to share the joys of the unpredictable, oft mud-laden fields of dream with a young chap barely 6 months old, the discovery of the sublime Deer Shed festival was as if a sign from Dionysus himself. Nestled in the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, Deer Shed prides itself on two virtues – of providing a modest yet perfectly-curated bill of music for adults, and laying on a multitude of activities for children which mean they have as much, if not more fun, as their elders.
Now in its fourth year, taking place 19-21 July in Baldersby, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire, this year Deer Shed takes Machines as its theme – all manner of self-propelling man-made apparatus are due to make an appearance. Led by modern mad scientist Paul Granjon, the objective is to improvise with a group of volunteers and a pile of obsolete electronics to build an interactive construct of some kind. Not to mention the invasion of “Thingies” – small, mobile robots with a hint of canine (and a tail) will be mingling and entertaining, and no doubt slightly scaring the kids. There’s a real life Scrapheap Challenge to build a boat, the results of which will be tested on the lake on Sunday. Add in a Minecraft party held on a LAN of Raspberry Pis, programming workshops, learning to solder, meccano, nano quadcopters and the opportunity to play a theremin, there’s ample opportunity to unleash your inner geek.
And that’s just in the Machines tent. There’s another entire strand of workshops to get the creative juices flowing – and it all gets very Blue Peter here. Take your pick from making a robot mask out of a giant roll-mat, making a mini dog out of a date-stamp casing, or a superstructure from screw-together water pipes. For the boys – water bottle rockets, and for the girls – friendship bracelet making. Or do it the other way round if you fancy. Make a windmill, a badge, or a balloon powered car, but don’t forget to learn how to play the ukulele with the pUKEs (last seen at Liverpool Sound City).
And that’s just the activities for kids (and big kids, we should add). There’s a whole lineup of fantastic music over three days – at Deer Shed Friday is an evening warm-up session, Saturday is an all-day marathon of goodness, and it bears repetition here that last year’s Sunday afternoon was the most chilled-out wind-down this correspondent has witnessed, anywhere, ever. The creative activities themselves and beautiful camping space would be enough to justify the entry price alone, but of course there’s far more to Deer Shed than that. Check back in for part two of our Deer Shed preview, where we run down the music and comedy lineup – trust us, there’s some unmissable stuff going on.
If you’ve already made up your mind that Deer Shed is your cup of family tea, then tickets are available at the bargain price of £89 plus booking fee, with children only £25, and under-6s free of charge. Buy them here. Still not convinced? Read Martin’s reviews of Deer Shed Festival 2012 part 1 and part 2.
Evolution Emerging is very much the North East’s version of something like Liverpool Sound City: a showcase of the very best up-and-coming artists from Tyneside, Wearside, Cumbria and Yorkshire, sprinkled with a few more familiar names who treat it as a homecoming celebration, having made that all-important move towards the mainstream over the preceding 12 months. Arranged and facilitated by that shining beacon of regional artist development, Generator, Evo Emerging is possibly the most important evening in the North East musical calendar, held at several boutique venues scattered about the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle’s creative and cultural hub. What follows is a flavour of what went down this year.
First up are Blank Maps in the Cluny. Theirs is an uplifting sound, with soaring guitars and gently keening vocals, perfect for a summer’s evening, being reminiscent of the balearic influences that swept through guitar music a couple of years ago. Think Friendly Fires, with at times a bit more stadium rock, at others a more ambient, chill out vibe. It’s a shame they’re performing indoors tonight; they’d be perfect playing from the balcony of a beachfront bar as the sun drifts below the sea’s horizon, before the disco really kicks off into the early hours. Lovely stuff.
Agerskow, aka Yorkshire-born singer-songwriter Kate Edwards, fronts a sparsely-instrumented three-piece that trade in gentle, confessional ditties that sound a lot like Hem, which is a perfectly good thing. On record there’s cello everywhere; tonight the sound is very simple, letting songs like recent release ‘This Train Terminates’ sigh their modest evocation. Edwards’ voice is lovely, falling somewhere between American country twang and pristine English-rose folk – as striking as her looks. Influences appear numerous; like a complex glass of red, there’s several flavours at once: Joni Mitchell is there, along with the aforementioned Hem, overlaid with the redoubtable Linda Thompson. A fine list of influences then – and it would seem Agerskow has the voice and the songs to compete with the best of them.
Mickey Moran Parker is a fresh-faced chap who purveys a decent slice of urban soul, aided by a crazy-haired producer dude, and some live instrumentation. He’s got a decent voice – although in the interests of full disclosure he sounds just that bit more in tune on record than live, and tuning is all-important in this genre which relies so heavily on a strong vocal performance. For some reason all I kept thinking was he’d go a long way on the X Factor, which I’m sure isn’t a thought that has escaped the man himself. But credit that (for now!) he’s ploughing an independent furrow. For although white soul might not be everyone’s cup of tea, this is a very competent example of it, broaching the credibility gap between chart-bothering pop and more underground urban stylings. Competent stuff, and Moran has plenty of time to refine his sound and persona.
Goy Boy McIlroy take the prize for best set of the evening, not in small part down to an astonishing, fourth-wall-smashing performance from singer David Saunders (see what I mean here). Not content with the ample stage down at The Tyne, he and his enormously long microphone cable wander through the unsuspecting audience, gyrating, falling over, and generally acting like a rock ‘n’ roll frontman should, but rarely, do. The music is self-confessed alt-blues, with a hard, snare-skin-puncturing edge. It’s difficult to fathom what Saunders is on about, but he gives a spellbinding performance when he’s on about it. What is possible to determine is the gothic atmosphere, the dirty riffs, and more than a splash of unexpected camp. Well worth checking out online, before experiencing the ear-bleeding live show.
Richard Smith’s slow-burning balladry is a welcome rest for the ears after the cacophany of the previous set. Although it’s not a particularly quiet affair, featuring as it does three guitars and expertly-thumped drums from Hyde & Beast’s Neil Hyde. Things certainly are much more deep and cerebral though; Smith manages to conjure a distinctive, desolate soundscape, his languorous vocals and washes of reverbed guitars evoking backwoods loneliness, occasionally blossoming into Editors-style tightly-wound rock riffing. Recent track ‘The Water’ sums up his style perfectly, commencing with an elegant acoustic guitar riff against a murmuring backdrop, perfectly framing Smith’s baritone musings, until finally unfurling a gently driving end coda, like the first shoots of spring after a particularly chilly winter. Lovely mature songwriting, excellently executed.
Nadine Shah takes the headline slot in the Cluny 2 for what appears to be something of a homecoming for her: she’s been playing a few dates across the country to crowds of variable numbers, on the way berating Mancunians who think they’re from the north (“It’s just the north Midlands, right?”. It’s her first gig since The Great Escape, and she seems pleased finally to be playing to a partisan crowd. Shah’s performance is highly emotionally-charged – whilst there’s seemingly nothing particularly happy in her songbook (sample song titles: ‘Cry Me A River’, ‘Dreary Town’, ‘Aching Bones’), it’s an engrossing spectacle to see her dispense with each nugget of bitter wrath in her beautifully highly-strung South Tyneside contralto. As is common with musicians from coastal towns, around Shah’s work hangs the salty tang of the sea shanty, and the careworn drama of an out-of-season seaside resort. She’s about to release her début album, produced by no less a luminary than Ben Hillier, so she’s just getting started with her career proper, and we can assume we’ll be hearing far more of her unique delivery. A beautifully unsettling end to a night of superb music.
Public Service Broadcasting are a multimedia project, mixing live drums and guitar with samples, sequences and visual films, to create a modern, danceable soundtrack to historic records of events that changed the course of history. They take as their inspiration and sampling material that rich vein of mid-century film footage which gloried in the wonder of British achievements, celebrating the majesty of heavy engineering, the valour of daring explorers, and the gritty triumph of war. The band themselves mirror the tone of their subject matter by dressing in tweeds and having names like Wriglesworth; one half-expects the other band members to be called Ginger and Algy, and for them to fly off in Sopwith Camels after the show is over.
Each piece brings to life a particular microcosm of history via clips from vintage newsreels, spanning about 20 years from the early 1940s to the advent of practical colour television in the 1960s. Wartime propaganda is invoked in ‘Dig for Victory’, the distinctive iconography exhorting the populace to self-reliance via growing their own food is writ large across several vintage television sets adapted for digital projection. ‘Spitfire’ uses copious footage from the 1942 film The First Of The Few to honour the achievements of RJ Mitchell, the designer of arguably the most famous aircraft ever built.
And what sequence of wartime tributes would be complete without the famously lugubrious tones of Winston Spencer Churchill himself? Progressing from the war years, there’s music and film evoking topics as disparate as recreational drugs, the conquest of Mount Everest, and the advent of colour television. Perhaps the most symbiotic conflation of soundtrack and visual is found in the celebration of postal trains – the visceral impact of the pounding, steel-on-steel rhythmic chatter of a steam train at full speed is expertly captured in the music, the visuals a reminder of the brute force engineering which was once required for the transmission of data in a pre-digital world.
The whole project is as much a tribute to the unnamed writers, directors, cameramen and narrators of the original films as it is a vehicle for PSB’s original music. As the project name suggests, the imagery is so powerful and the subject matter of such importance to the British national story that the performance would be just as much at home as part of an Imperial War Museum educational installation than on the gig circuit; surely any student of history bored of dry textbook treatments could find fresh inspiration here.
But surely the most intriguing aspect of the whole performance is the sociopolitical context. It has been the tactic of several so-called ‘progressive’ politicians of the last decade or two to belittle any display of appreciation of the culture and achievements of the moderately recent past with such labels as ‘reactionary’ and ‘populist’. Yet here we have a modern audience lapping up – and the volume of applause is testament to just how much the audience enjoy this performance – a series of reminders of what Britain was once like, and how her achievements literally changed the world. Never in my lifetime have I experienced a large crowd so enamoured to see a film of a Spitfire in flight, cheering a Royal Navy destroyer pounding through a rough sea, or applauding a Churchill speech. But that is what Public Service Broadcasting have managed, and that is perhaps their greatest achievement of all.
Bands of the day: Goonam, Ilona, Night Engine
Venue of the day: Mello Mello
The previous two days of Liverpool Sound City 2013 had seen the music kick off around 6 PM, but as a special Saturday treat, the Korean delegation arranged a showcase at the Kazimier Gardens from the unearthly hour of 2 PM. As well as showcasing four of the country’s finest bands, there was a delicious and in-no-way-an-incentive-to-turn-up spread of native Korean food and drink. Marinated and barbecued pork, chicken and beef vyed for attention with the superb kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish flavoured with chilli, ginger and garlic. To wash it down was a unique cinnamon beverage with pine nuts floating in it, and for those that drink in the afternoon (me!), Korea’s version of dry sherry. All utterly delicious and free of charge. As if that wasn’t enough, there were goody bags packed with promotional materials and traditional Korean wave-in-one’s-face fans – not that they were much needed in breezy Liverpool. I’d like to think I would’ve turned up anyway, but who doesn’t find free food always seals the deal?
The music was just as memorable. First up were Galaxy Express, a hard rock power trio whose song titles come translated into English but they actually sing in Korean. No matter, it’s all about the energy with these guys; they know a thing or two about throwing shapes, slinging their vintage guitars all over the place, thrashing their way through their set at top speed. There’s a great deal of skill on offer – anyone remotely interested in rock music should give these guys a listen. Even though I haven’t a clue what they’re on about (a point which holds true for all four Korean bands, for obvious reasons), theirs is a fine, attention-grabbing set.
Goonam are brilliant. First of all, the music is just perfect for the laid-back vibe of the afternoon – the lazy rhythms and mock-Hammond organ recall early ’90s Acid Jazz output, the ideal accompaniment for swaying around in the weak early afternoon sunshine, knocking back Korean fortified wine. But the star of the show is the eccentric, perma-grinning bassist ByungHak Eem. Attired in a woman’s yellow-with-black-polka-dots blouse, heavy black shoes that are literally falling apart at the seams, and sporting a fine example of the classic Chinese emperor beard style, Eem’s presence lends the whole set a quite rare frisson of surreal excitement. His stilted explanation of how he came to play with lead singer Ung Joh is described in a charmingly naive accidental haiku:
We meet in karaoke
He sing well, I love him
We make band
There’s a deep vein of subtle, deadpan humour running through everything Goonam do, making it easy to get right behind them. Eem really is the star of the show, his beams lighting up the stage, his theatrical bass-as-machine-gun genuinely amusing. Memorable stuff.
Apollo 18 (pictured at top) are a bit more conventional – another hard rock trio, mostly instrumental this time, they don’t quite have the same amount of accessible personality as the previous two acts. What they do have is high levels of extremely intense noise, which comes as a bit of a shock to the system after the chilled out Goonam. Not quite my cup of SuJeongGwa, but if shredding is your thing, Apollo 18 are worth checking out.
To wrap up the Korean invasion are Gate Flowers: possibly the most intriguing of all the acts today. They’re another guitar-rock band, but far more mainstream this time: a bit like a heavier Counting Crows, and at times the guitarist’s wah-wah technique adds a touch of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The songs are very competent, and the singer’s bizarre hand movements and “anti-singing” technique are captivating in their own way, but I can’t help but think that if they were British or American they wouldn’t particularly stand out as ones to watch.
After Gate Flowers finish their main set, the crowd are hungry for more, so they kick into a cover of ‘Paint It Black’, at which point the stage is invaded by members of the three previous bands, who proceed to plug in and jam along. As the stage becomes more crowded, things get messier, with singers sharing every available microphone, guitar solos played whilst hoisted on someone else’s shoulders, and our friend Hak standing on a speaker waving an empty sherry bottle and mugging for the multitude of video cameras surrounding him. A drunken outdoor Korean rock supergroup party jam – not something that you see every day.
In between sets of Korean music, I headed for a swift break to Mello Mello, the location of Thursday’s triumph from The Oreoh!s, and dispenser of the finest beer of the festival, a heavily-hopped American-style IPA. At 6% ABV this beer is a special treat, and no sooner had I tucked into my half, the realisation dawned that there was another special treat in the room. Ilona is a Bulgarian-born, London-based singer-songwriter, who stands out from the enormous crowd of similar hopefuls by being tremendous fun to watch and listen to. Being sparsely accompanied by mentor and co-writer Tony Moore is an advantage here, as it lets the natural character in Ilona’s voice shine through. And what a voice – sumptuous and sultry at low volume, powerful and beautifully-toned at normal range, with a buzz-saw intensity rasping through when the song demands it. As for the songs… recent release ‘Love is Stupid’ is clearly gunning for the Radio 2 crowd, but it may be a little too hackneyed even for that ultra-mainstream demographic – by the time the third chorus comes around, I’m switching off. And don’t get me started on the cheap video. Elsewhere, the set is jolly enough to hold the interest, but her Alannah Myles-style voice is crying out for something of the quality of Black Velvet (if she wants to stick with the pop-rock genre), or maybe, since she comes across as Marina Diamandis’ feisty younger sister, something quirky and electro. Either way, it has to be acknowledged that this is very early days for Ilona, and her collaborators are doing their best with limited means to promote her talents. A performer dripping with potential.
I’ve been looking forward to seeing Willy Moon since reviewing his debut single “I Wanna Be Your Man” in our 10 for 2012 feature, and declaring, “If those dance moves translate well to a stage, he’ll be an unmissable prospect live.” However, the sad truth is that he turns out to be the greatest disappointment of the weekend. It doesn’t help that he’s 40 minutes late, in a roasting hot venue, making the crowd restless and perturbed before a note is played. And when Moon arrives, it becomes clear that his set consists of a handful of stunted backing tracks, overlaid with live drums and guitar, and his gyrating karaoke. More worryingly, he appears to have no personality whatsoever, struggling to string enough words together to thank the audience for sticking around in the equatorial heat, let alone provide a compelling reason why we all should have gathered here in the first place. The final straw is the deep streak of misogyny running through the performance – the two other musicians are women, with the drummer particularly scantily clad in a fishnet top, and he regularly gurns leeringly at them, sometimes mopping his sweat-caked brow on the guitarist’s shoulder. They must have the patience of saints. When the best thing about a music performance is the drummer’s jiggling breasts, you know something has gone seriously wrong, as evidenced by the room steadily emptying as the show progresses. Moon needs to completely rethink his stage show, get some proper songs, proper manners, and a proper personality, otherwise people will increasingly come to view him as a hollow charlatan.
Night Engine, despite only having released their début single (‘Seventeen’, on lovely limited edition red vinyl) just a couple of months ago, have already managed to conjure a reputation for being the next big thing. The Shipping Forecast is hot and humid, and technical problems delay the start of the gig; thus the atmosphere builds feverishly before even a note is played. But when the band finally kick off, it becomes apparent that Night Engine are good. Actually, make that very good indeed. This is sharp, elegant, guitar music with an irresistible, pristine groove from the exquisitely tight rhythm section, overlaid with splurges of fuzzy synth. Phil McDonnell is a disturbingly intense presence on vocals and lead guitar – his selection of glares and stares as the music ratchets up the drama simply add to the intensity of the performance. But it’s not all serious – there’s a gleeful joy in the grooves that prevents everything collapsing under the weight of its own portent. The obvious stylistic reference point is Bowie’s early-80s funk-influenced output; there’s elements of Chic in the clean stabs of electric guitar, and perhaps even Kraftwerk in the metronomic accuracy of the rhythms. But most of all, they simply sound like Night Engine, which for such a young act is an astonishing achievement.
And that, give or take a humdrum Delphic performance here, or the ubiquitous ukulele covers band there, is that. Liverpool Sound City is a world-class place to discover new music, new friends, and new beer. There’s talk of it becoming as important as SXSW on the international music scene, and I see no reason why that should not be the case. That said, SXSW is, by virtue of being on another continent, an event with a completely different promotional demographic, meaning Sound City is an event with few real competitors, despite several other regional music festivals happening around the same time. Add to the mix the superb venues and the warm welcome experienced by every visitor to Liverpool, and you have quite a fine event indeed, and one which deserves to go from strength to strength. See you there in 2014.
More of Martin’s high-res photos from day 2 can be found on his Flickr.
Bands of the day: Concrete Knives, Wolf People, Melody’s Echo Chamber
Venue of the day: Screenadelica
One not-to-be-underestimated benefit of an event being held in Liverpool is the impressive situational architecture. I chose a hotel based entirely on cost and availability, and yet it boasted a fine view of the Mersey estuary and is continuously watched over by that Liver bird which is unfortunate enough not to have a sea view. There’s few things more inclined to soothe a music-induced foggy head than a bracing Atlantic breeze and a frozen berry smoothie, both of which are liberally on offer on the Albert Dock; head duly cleared, there’s still a few hours to kill before play recommences – a tour around the Tate Liverpool and a few frames of World Championship snooker fill the gap admirably.
There’s a distinctly Asian flavour to this year’s event – delegations from Korea (of which more tomorrow) and Taiwan are in town, and are plugging hard. Echo are the first Taiwanese band I come across. They’re technically excellent rock musicians, and enjoyable to watch, but there’s little distinctive personality to be discerned in this brief meeting. Perhaps they’re better at copying a western style than coming up with one of their own. Another slight disappointment is L.A. band Hands – pre-event research had revealed them to a promising, if slightly pretentious act; today, their sound is mostly lost in the cavernous Garage, and no amount of optimistic gyration from Geoff can save the day.
The second French band of the weekend are Concrete Knives, and they continue the French theme of pure excellence. Theirs is a delightfully retro jumble of danceable grooves, funky breakdowns, and singalong choruses. Morgane Colas deadpans into the microphone, breaking into precise little dance moves when the occasion demands it, her slight frame booming out a powerful vocal, dominating the delicious noise the band pumps out. Despite (or perhaps, in an oblique way, because of) their Normandy roots, the band sing and title their songs in English, with just the right amount of evocative Gallic accent to spice their singing with a romantic otherness which suits the material perfectly. Most of recent album ‘Be Your Own King’ is played, climaxing with the swaying Truth, its loping beat building into a kitchen-sink crescendo which brought that rare, unique hair-stands-on-end moment which always happens at some point at a music festival. They played a second set later in the day to a dusky Kazimier Gardens, which managed to be even more funky impressive, with the entire crowd dancing and whooping by the end. These are the band of the festival for me.
My first venture into the Kazimier itself, which turns out to be a superb old-school auditorium with delightfully odd black-and-white handmade woodwork, is for Sheffield surf rock four-piece Best Friends. In the interests of full disclosure, in advance I decide I’m predisposed to feel an affinity for the band because the lead singer shares my surname of Sharman, but there’s plenty more to like about them besides that. There’s an endearing warmth to their ocean breeze of fuzzy guitars and circular chord sequences that charms the crowd and enchants the neutral observer. Wasting Time, with its memorable riffs and football-terrace chorus demonstrates just how tuneful their arrangements can be, but elsewhere there’s a sour undertow of dissonance that prevents everything getting too sickly, like a slice of lime rammed into a bottle of lager. Take your Best Friends to the beach.
The Kazimier, with its slightly tired retro ambience, is the perfect environ in which to experience Wolf People, who, from their first note to the last, transport everybody to an incense-fugged basement club in west London, circa 1971. Theirs is the world of paisley kaftans, flared jeans and beards; their sound is that of the classic folk-prog-rock power quartet, guitars intertwining – sometimes harmonising, sometimes octaving, sometimes complementary, sometimes in battle. Vintage fuzz tones abound, guitar solos are long and unashamed, the rhythm section grooves like a bastard, and the lyrics… whilst there’s a possibility that they’re not about goblins, wizards and faire maidens, by rights they really should be. Wolf People are one of the finest rock bands I’ve ever seen, and a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in the influential late-60s/early-70s psychedelic scene. A song like the superbly-named ‘When the Fire is Dead in the Grate’ encapsulates practically an entire genre in one brilliant many-movemented beast. A great opportunity to experience one of rock music’s finest hours for those who missed it the first time around.
Still in the Kazimier is the third and final French act of the weekend: Melody’s Echo Chamber (pictured at top) trade in beautiful, dreamy ditties in the vein of classic French chanteuses such as Francois Hardy, updated with modern arrangements; there’s bits of electronica in there, some found noises, and a persistent, driving guitar. Sometimes they descend into beat-infused chaos, but always maintaining the pretty, ’60s-tinged melodies. I should have stayed for the whole set, but Melody’s lament at missing Unknown Mortal Orchestra got the better of me so I crossed the road to catch the end of their performance. I’m not sure whether my expectations were unfairly high, but the subtleties of their act were either lost on me, or not present at all, comprising as it did long episodes of Ruban Nielson rocking out on his Fender Jag-Stang and not a great deal else. Possibly a deep-seated familiarity with latest album II would have helped decipher it all, but at this late hour none of it seemed very impressive.
To Screenadelica, and what is basically an unused low-ceilinged office building housing a music poster exhibition, with a stage seemingly plonked in one corner. The ceiling is of low, broken tiling, the lighting is exposed fluorescent tubes which conspire to bathe the room in an unflattering, green-tinged blankness. Such a disconcerting environment makes a perfect post-apocalyptic backdrop for the heavy rock bands which are in residence all weekend. An impromptu meetup with Mary and John of this parish meant we all had the good fortune to catch a mental set from Arcane Roots. You never know where you are with these guys – one minute they’re all sweet, delicate vocals over a charming, chiming guitar line – but in the blink of a distortion pedal later, they’re shredding your face off and roaring down your throat. Comparisons with Biffy are unenviably inevitable, but Arcane Roots do carve a niche all of their own, and their directness and energy is a welcome change from the more cerebral fare on offer earlier. As an aside, what gives with what bands are playing and wearing these days? All the pop acts are wearing rock band T-shirts (viz Bastille, Ilona et al.), and the rock acts are wearing suits and shirts and playing Fender Telecasters. When did a Tele become a heavy metal guitar? How I long for the days of the bepointed Japanese Superstrat to return. Perhaps a fashion revival waiting to happen?
It falls to Future of the Left to finish the night. It’s past 1am before they even start setting up, which may be why Andy Falkous is even more grumpy than usual; the sardonic wit which often lifts their uncompromising set is buried deep under a layer of gritty condescension tonight. Even though on record their well-crafted, often surreal lyrics lighten the heft of the music somewhat, tonight subtlety is exchanged for impact, which matches the raucous crowd’s mood perfectly. The Thatcher-baiting is getting old now, however – if this is the future of the left, then it looks and sounds very much like a repeat of the past couple of decades – and the ensuing yawns are too emphatic for your correspondent to resist. I retire home to rest in peace.