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Norwich Sound and Vision 2015: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Wednesday, 14th October 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

For Norwich Sound and Vision 2015, the venues weren’t too far apart (and in two cases, they were in the same building), which meant you could rush from one place to another and get a flavour of nearly every band performing. Or, if you so preferred, you could hang out and stay for nearly all of an artist’s set and then go off to get a nip of something else nearby. Very pleasingly to me as a music editor, there were never queue, which meant I got to see everyone I wanted. Massive thumbs up!

Let’s Eat Grandma and Best Friends @ Norwich Arts Centre

Appropriately, my first band at Norwich Sound and Vision 2015 were a Norwich band. Already drawing comparisons to out there and anarchic artists like Bjork and Micachu and the Shapes, it just so happens that it was one that not only has an awful lot of local hype behind them, NME and BBC 6 Music’s Stuart Maconie of the Freak Zone have already gotten on their bandwagon, and from what I understand, there is already label interest in them. This is all pretty damn amazing considering Let’s Eat Grandma – yes, that’s really their band name (upon further reflection, I’m assuming it’s an editor’s joke, hur hur) – are a pair of young girls who’ve just reached the age of 16. When I was 16, I was in high school, too busy steering clear of bullies to even think about writing songs or being artistic.

Let's Eat Grandma live at Norwich Sound and Vision 2015

Two pretty teenage girls, with teased and tousled hair; sequined, sparkly tops; and midriffs showing: that’s certainly an image, isn’t it? (At Festival No. 6 last month in Portmeirion, Wales, they appeared in white ballerina outfits and metallic leggings.) While there’s a lot of talk in the industry right now about women in music being objectified unfairly, I expect Let’s Eat Grandma’s music more than anything else to be what will keep these youngsters riding high. Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton, who look like twins when they’re up onstage, say take what they like best out of pop music, then insert it into their own quirky song structures, playing a multitude of instruments while they’re at it. The sound is a little too out there for me, but given the way mainstream pop music is going these days, it can always use a kick in the arse.

In contrast, Sheffield band Best Friends I suppose could be considered ‘settled’, in that they’ve already found a label (Brighton’s FatCat, who signed them this past spring) and they’ve already found their niche in today’s emerging music ecosystem. Unexpectedly to me, their lo-fi surf-y sound was a subgenre to be repeated several times among the artists I saw showcase in Norwich. It hadn’t occurred to me until several different folks pointed out to me that many British bands like the American surf pop thing an awful lot and are not just having fun with it, but are actually doing well with it, filling venues and keeping their fans happy, wild and dancing.

Best Friends live at Norwich Sound and Vision 2015

Best Friends actually sounded way better to me live than on recording, and this probably best explains their devoted following who come out to their shows. With their loud, brash psych guitar-playing and pounding drums, conducted at an unrelenting tempo, you can’t help but get drawn into their sound. Those devoted fans? They were already down the front, getting lost in the music as they cut a rug in time to the music. Well, as much as you can to such a frenetic noise…

Abigail Blake and True Adventures @ Norwich Arts Centre Bar

Just adjacent to the main stage at the Norwich Arts Centre was another small stage in the bar, which was used mainly for acoustic acts during the festival. At just 20 years old and a self-admitted uni dropout, local singer/songwriter Abigail Blake represents the hope and dreams of many a young, struggling artist wishing to make it big one day. The Coventry-born, Kent- and Norfolk-bred Blake released her debut EP ‘Etches’ earlier this year.

Abigail Blake Norwich Sound and Vision 2015

Initially, she was sat on the stage playing her harp and singing, and while her harp-playing was certainly serviceable, the instrument seemed more of a gimmick and less of a real addition to her songs. I can’t recall whether I’ve ever seen a harpist at a music festival, but maybe I was just I was just looking for something more to sink my teeth into while at Norwich Sound and Vision and this wasn’t it. When she switched to acoustic guitar, Blake seemed more believable. As evidenced on ‘Air’, she has a really nice, gentle, sweet voice, but time will tell where her talent will take her.

True Adventures live at Norwich Sound and Vision 2015

True Adventures is the stage name of Samuel Leonard Keith Leonard (yes, that’s one person’s name), formerly (or maybe still?) associated with Norwich alt-rock / classical band Wooden Arms, who we covered a few years ago at the Norwich Sound and Vision showcase at Liverpool Sound City. Though it might seem odd to see one man onstage versus his six-person strong band, Leonard is a deft hand at folk songwriting. While his debut single from earlier this year, ‘North Atlantic Ocean’, features his Wooden Arms’ bandmates’ beautiful strings, the beauty of the song still shone through with just Leonard’s warm, robust voice and acoustic guitar. I can also get behind a 21st century musician who favours red legwarmers, proving you can be comfortable, yet still fashionable!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5JNXXYZy_8[/youtube]

Ducking Punches, Tigercub and Clarence Clarity @ The Mash Tun

Everyone you talk to who was in Norwich in 2013 for that year’s Sound and Vision speaks of a then unknown, then unsigned Royal Blood playing to a room full of A&R men here, so The Mash Tun’s important place in rock history is assured. So it seems natural that the majority of the bands chosen to play the performance space on the top floor of the pub were of the raucous, loud variety matching or at least similar to that of the Brighton band. Ducking Punches are a Norwich band self-described as of the folk punk genre, and when you hear that heavily tattooed frontman and leader Dan Allen has also worked as Frank Turner‘s guitar tech, things start to make more sense.

Ducking Punches live at Norwich Sound and Vision 2015

While I couldn’t catch most of their set, suffice to say it’s a no-brainer that if you’re a fan of Mr. ‘Wessex Boy’, Ducking Punches are up your alley, with barnstorming tunes, shouty bits of social commentary and a DIY attitude. Seeing Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) badges on their merch stand also made sense in the context of ‘Six Years’, a song Allen wrote for a friend he lost to suicide. It was a stark reminder that suicide is the single biggest cause of death in men 20-45 in the UK and is preventable. For more information on the CALM campaign, go here.

Though Brighton band and Royal Blood’s buddies Tigercub came highly recommended to me by many in town for the conference, they didn’t wow me. Their style of “escapist, post-ironic, post-everything “music isn’t reliant on a clear melody, which is fine when you’re in the mood for that. But what nagged me more was that they sounded like a 21st century retread of Nirvana; having been there for the original, they just weren’t exciting to me. To their credit, if their primary intention in Norwich was to create a wall of sound, they did it. It just ended up sounding very loud and of little else. Am I getting old?

Clarence Clarity and his band from London were also loud, but there was so much going on onstage, you didn’t know where to look, and you couldn’t *not* look. I saw his name on the Great Escape 2015 bill but couldn’t see him then, so I was delighted I’d get the opportunity in Norwich. You can point to similarities between him and the aforementioned Let’s Eat Grandma at the start of my day 1 coverage: to these artists, being ‘normal’ and like everyone else is an anathema, and their rebellion against the mainstream is through their musical expression, however mental their route might be. Elements of electronic, hip hop, pop and rock make their way into the man’s music and live with his band, the experience is feast for the eyes and ears.

 

Liverpool Sound City 2015: Day 3 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 12th June 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Header photo by Niall Lea

For more of John’s coverage of Liverpool Sound City 2015, read his day 1 and day 2 round-ups.

As people finally got used to the bizarre layout of the new look of this year’s Liverpool Sound City, the third day had crept up. Brains were frazzled from the night before by the orgy for the senses served up by The Flaming Lips. Revellers who had crept into the city centre to keep the party going after the Lips now had hangovers galore from day 2’s festivities, so the bars were still looking bereft of people on Sunday.

As for the bars, I’ve never seen a festival better prepared. The area was about as long as the similar installations at Reading and Leeds Festivals staffed by just as many luminous vest clad volunteers. Problem was, with just a fraction of the expected clientele walking through, the facilities looked hilariously empty for most of the day. Additionally, planning that saw pints pre-poured for quick service, meant that during the dearth of customers, pints were sitting poured in the baking midday sun. Definitely a decision to review, methinks. Nobody wants a warm pint of Strongbow on the third day of festival if they’re paying through the nose for it.

Aside from logistical issues and the numerous punters moaning and groaning about the health of their legs after an hour long trudge back to their hotel in the city centre, the festival site was a hub of activity on the final day, with the corporate sponsorship’s Red Bull-mobile blasting out crap drum ‘n’ bass remixes of classic tracks as you entered the festival It was a reminder that although until quite recently, the festival had a DIY feeling, everyone has to sell their souls in the end to the corporate monsters. Still, you could be at Creamfields, and count your lucky stars you’re not there.

Because at Creamfields, you certainly wouldn’t be treated to the psychedelic grooves of Moon King, who graced the abandoned warehouse of The Baltic Stage around mid-afternoon as the shroud of grey cloud disappeared from over the site. The Canadian duo of Daniel Benjamin and Maddy Wilde exuded energy and all male eyes were transfixed to the baseball cap-cladded shredder providing the trademark ‘buzz-saw’ guitars, as Benjamin did his best Justin Hayward-Young impression, with about 50% of the balls and swagger of the former. (7/10)

Houdini Dax came highly recommended to me, and with a packed out Cavern Stage to greet me as I arrived, it was obvious I wasn’t alone in hearing of the charms of the Welsh three-piece. From start to finish, the boys exuded an infectious energy to the relatively lethargic crowd, and with a few charming smiles and sing-alongs, they laced the kind of hooks you’ll be humming for days, going down as stern favourites for day 3. Their set closed with ‘Get Your Goo On’: in title it sounds utterly ridiculous, but the song brought a lively 30 minutes to a close with a bit of swagger, some Beach Boys-style call and repeat and at least a 100 new likes on Facebook post set! (9/10)

From melt in your mouth harmonies to a complete disaster was sadly what awaited me with Clarence Clarity. The highly-rated Londoners would probably go down great at a smoky acid-house/post-dub night in Brixton. But, after the splendid chords of Houdini Dax, the semi-glitter pop mash-ups they served in the warehouse ended up sounding like an utter sonic catastrophe. The reverb screamed around the enclosed space and within minutes those without earplugs were vacating the area for something less audibly offensive.

They’ve done their best to sound like a 21st century turn on Outkast, but in doing, so it’s just ended up as a bit of a mess,with Eastern influences mashed crudely into your run-of-the-mill British drum ‘n’ bass. Perhaps this sound would work in a different setting and at another time – but as a prelude to Gaz Coombes, Peace and Belle and Sebastian at about 6 o’clock with the sun still shining, they simply jarred and sounded like a mess. (4/10)

Calming things down on The Atlantic Stage were the gentle tones of Bill Ryder-Jones who cut a lonely figure in the middle of the vast stage. He has all the hallmarks of any 18 year-old music fans crush, with sweeping good looks and swishy hair, plus a moody expression cut upon his face permanently. Sadly, Bill was nothing special at Liverpool Sound City, pumping out a couple of mediocre covers, some staggeringly uninventive, along with three chord originals and all at a pace that sent me daydreaming into thoughts about what delectable burger van food I could chomp on and whether the Premiership season had finished yet. With time I’m sure he’ll find his sound, as his songwriting seemed to hold up, but for now he just felt very vanilla on a day which could have done with some rum and raisin. (5/10)

Now while I was trying to escape Clarence Clarity’s sonic bombardment, I bumped into a young German girl who asked me for tips on who would blow her mind (aside from the obvious), to which I replied the next act on the Cargo Stage, “Findlay is nothing short of phenomenal every time I see her”.

Of course, by doing this, I inevitably delivered the kiss of death to her set.

For an act that normally struts about the stage with an incredible swagger and presence, I was shocked when she delivered a terribly staccato performance, bereft of showmanship and craft. Instead, it just felt like another day at the office. The fierce Debbie Harry-lite figure of Findlay had been neutered and stayed locked behind a set of oversize sunglasses. Whether it was a poorly-thought-out change of tact, to go from ferocious female aggressor to a sultry parlour singer grated on me. Because for the main part, barring from a rousing rendition of ‘On and Off’, she delivered a pedestrian performance stripped of the trademark character I’d promised to my new friend from Central Europe. In fact, it was so disappointing out the corner of my eye I saw the very Fraulein make for the exit after three songs. (6/10) Probably to get a good space for the next band on The Atlantic Stage…

Kings of the indie singalong The Cribs looked every bit the seasoned pros they are compared to some of the green-behind-the-ears acts gracing every one of the stages over the weekend. They easily drew the biggest crowd of the day so far, being probably one of the most recognisable names on the bill, and it’s probably to no surprise as well. Quite easily the three-piece could have turned up, delivered the hits and been on their way with a big smile on their faces – cash in pocket – job done. But instead they threw every bit of themselves into it, to the delight of the Liverpudlian crowd. The three-piece choral harmonies were great and really lifted the entire set, whilst the new poppier material lifted what could have been a bog-standard Cribs set to something far more. (7/10)

In fact, it was the perfect preface to former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes, the penultimate act on The Atlantic Stage. As expected, there were no frills and bells like the night before. No gimmicky matching jackets like Everything Everything and The Vaccines, despite Coombes definitely putting a bid in for Best Dressed Man at the festival with his attire. Instead, one of Britpop’s finest men on stage, guitar in hand, was trying his hand at going solo to good results.

Now, while his second solo album ‘Matador’ may have only debuted at number 18 in the Official UK Albums chart, in circles like Liverpool Sound City he was always going to get far more respect and credence than at another festival. Effortlessly cool and with the gently soaring masterpiece that is ‘Detroit’ in Coombes’ arsenal, he commanded the slowly fading light surrounding The Atlantic Stage. Although there were rumblings of ‘is he going to play ‘Alright’?’, in the crowd after a few of his originals, everyone seemed to settle down to enjoy a true legend of his era going out on his own. (8/10)

From one legend, to another. Belle and Sebastian carry with them the baggage of being cult stars. In fact, it’s difficult to find somebody these days that enjoys alternative music who DOESN’T name an experience watching Stuart Murdoch and co. as one of the crowning moments in their musical history. I waited with trepidation, as I’ve never GOT Belle and Sebastian; they’ve just never managed to excite me in the way I want music to. It’s all just felt like wallpaper–jazzy elevator music to me.

The group of Glaswegians manage to captivate the crowd, myself included, with their phenomenally deep songwriting. ‘Nobody’s Empire’ is a personal highlight, as Murdoch’s intensity is poured into every single lyric, as if he was living the experience right there in front of the crowd. It wasn’t the spectacular of colour The Flaming Lips served up, or the singalong, lad-rock frenzy of The Vaccines. But in their own way, Belle and Sebastian delivered one of the most soulful, warm and encapsulating sets of the weekend. (8/10)

So what did I learn this weekend? Delving into the unknown on highly-tipped acts like The Serpent Power and Clarence Clarity can sometimes be a dangerous endeavour, which can lead to your willy being commented upon on social media alongside pictures of genitals being sent to you. But bands like Houdini Dax, The People and the Poet and Hollysiz can come from left-field sources and end up being the highlights of the festival. That’s the joy of events like Liverpool Sound City and The Great Escape: while you can walk in on some absolute duds, it’s unlikely you’ll have a weekend of it with the sheer glut of musical talent on show. Just work on the stage layout guys, or The People and the Poet won’t be back…

 
 
 

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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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