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Saturday at Deer Shed Festival 2013 dawns bright and sunny again, and the search for sustenance before the day gets properly going commences. Now, on that topic, a word about Thomas the Baker. The esteemed purveyor of sweetmeats was on target for being absent this year, for reasons unknown. But at the last minute, their attendance was announced, to the delight of those of us who consider a cheese straw and a sausage roll to be a delicious and satisfying snack. And Thomas does the best in the business. But the real highlight of their range is quite the definitive Yorkshire curd tart, the reference for all other boulangers to aspire to. The place wouldn’t have been the same without them, so as a personal favour, please can Thomas and Deer Shed never part? Thanks.
Blood Relatives continue the Scottish flavour which continues throughout the weekend. They are a very young four-piece from Glasgow trading in summery, jangly tunes, who wouldn’t be out of place on Edwyn Collins’ Postcard Records. Along with deep-fried pizza and brutalist council estates, it’s the sort of thing that Glasgow churns out seemingly without effort. First and only single ‘Dead Hip’ sums up their sound – all chiming guitars, intertwining vocals and clever wordplay. Lovely to listen to, and the perfect way to ease into a long day of music, but perhaps their chip-off-the-old-block stylings mean they need a few more releases before they can stand apart from the immense back catalogue that their part of the world carries. (3.5/5)
Moving from Scotland’s west to its east coast, the four young lads that make up Bwani Junction bat away various technical problems to deliver an energetic, good-humoured set of funky guitar pop with chiming, trebly, afrobeat-inspired guitar overlay. Latest single ‘Papa Candy’ actually gets pretty heavy in places, whilst maintaining a surreal edge (“The milkman is evil,” anyone?) There’s a hint of ‘London Calling’-era Clash in their mashup of styles – the backbone of punk is ever-present, the world music influences keep things fresh, but their essence lies in observational songwriting in the vein of Arctic Monkeys. A great find. (4/5)
Spring Offensive are no stranger to these pages; we reviewed them just over a year ago when they were touring single ‘Worry Fill My Heart’. Back then they seemed destined to be the next big band to come out of Oxford. Today… is it my imagination or have they perhaps lost a bit of their sheen? The WWII threads have been all but abandoned; today there’s less of a sense of genuine menace and portent that they are capable of at their best. Losing a superb bass player into the ravenous clutches of Gaz Coombes can’t have helped matters. Although it may all be down to the incongruity of it being a sunny afternoon at a family festival, a point acknowledged when they launch into ‘The River’, a particularly maudlin affair with the chorus “I suggest you slide into the river / like the rat that you are”. Hello children, everywhere. Nobody else does a sense of modern despair like Spring Offensive, as they evoke grey clock-watching employees and care-worn lovers with ease on ‘52 Miles’. All told, Spring Offensive not quite firing on all cylinders is still of a level of quality that many bands would envy. (4/5)
Zervas and Pepper are a Welsh singer-songwriter duo – you may have heard their latest single ‘Jerome’ being promoted by Lauren Laverne on her 6music show just the previous day. An atmospheric slice of country rock straight outta the 1970s, ‘Jerome’ is named after the eponymous Arizona town, a place which neatly summarises the music’s windswept desolation. The obvious reference point for the combination of acoustic and electric guitars, and the mid-tempo vibe is Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’ period; there’s a touch of psychedelia in the spacey reverbs and multi-layered backing vocals that previously Young had the exclusive rights to – not anymore! What’s most impressive is how genuine the sound of giant-sky Americana being conjured actually is, considering the protagonists aren’t from round those parts. ‘Somewhere In The City’ is a brilliant primer as to the power of Z&P – a beautiful acoustic guitar intro, those fantastically widescreen vocals throughout, and even a flute solo all add up to a beautifully atmospheric piece as good as anything released in the 1970s by proper Americans in big cowboy hats. (4/5)
To Kill a King’s Ralph Pellymounter proudly strides onstage wearing a Brudenell Social Club t-shirt – a badge of honour that obliquely declares the band’s city of origin, and also pays homage to the cult music venue nestled in terraced Leeds suburbia which continues to play an important role in the development and support of local bands. In which category To Kill a King are the latest, and perhaps one of the best. In Pellymounter, they have a deeply charismatic, if unusually-bearded frontman, whose infectious smile and direct eye-contact enchants the audience from the very beginning.
Musically, TKAK are from the stable of Noah and the Whale (close your eyes and it could be Charlie Fink on vocals), and (whisper it) Mumford and Sons, but dispense with the cod-folk stylings of the latter in favour of a far more contemporary approach. The majority of debut album ‘Cannibals With Cutlery’ is played: something like ‘Funeral’ (perhaps a nod of gratitude to Arcade Fire there?) has the radio-friendly sheen of melody and climax of the aforementioned megabands, but still manages to carry a reasonably complex message; ‘Besides She Said’ manages to be romantic without ever resorting to saccharine sweetness. If everyone who owned a Mumford’s CD replaced it with something by To Kill a King, the world would be a better place. (4/5)
I’ve discussed the importance of The House of Love elsewhere on this site (read the retrospective here), so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that Guy Chadwick looks older than one would expect, and could do with a decent manicure. Terry Bickers has lost nothing of his legendary guitar skill, and could pass for a close relative of Bernard Butler both in looks and playing style. Perhaps it’s simply the power of familiarity, but the old songs sound stronger and in a way fresher than the post-reformation material. Time hasn’t dulled the power of an anthemic ‘Shine On’, and ‘Beatles and Stones’ works brilliantly live. Much as with Edwyn Collins, I suspect a neutral listener may not appreciate the portent of it all, but in its proper context, any performance by The House Of Love is special. (4/5)
It’s fair to say that Darwin Deez is hardly a household name, so perhaps an odd choice for headliner. But if there were any doubts as to his ability to carry a top billing, a few blasts of virtuoso guitar work instantly dispel them. Deez specialises in funky, jazz-inflected ditties with witty, observational lyrics and regular forays into complex fretwork. Comparisons with Prince are to a certain extent valid: they both share an ability to conjure a potent blend of funk, soul and rock, even if Deez doesn’t quite aspire to the vast artifice that is ‘Purple ‘Rain’ live. Neither does he carry the massive ego: everything is deported in a humble manner, even when at his highest level of fret-shredding. An ambitious choice of headliner for a Yorkshire family festival, but an inspired one – in his 90 minutes, Deez really does turn in a wide-ranging performance; yes, heavy on the guitar but also carrying a full-on party vibe, which gets the crowd all worked up for… (4/5)
DJ Smoove is the production brain who, along with John Turrell, make up the creative heart of Tyneside funketeers Smoove and Turrell. After their live set earlier on in the day, Smoove is back for a two-hour DJ set of old-school tunes, to keep the crowd (mostly dads who have escaped the family tent for a bit of out-of-hours boogieing) going into the small hours. And thanks be to the God of DJing, because Smoove brings to the party those increasingly rare accessories – a pair of turntables and several circular black plastic discs commonly known as records, which I believe are still used occasionally by those who learned their DJing trade before the advent of CDs and the various digital shenanigans commonly seen on a DJ’s desk. Smoove totes a couple of decks and a mixer, nary a Macbook in sight, and his set is all the better for it. His set ranges through soul, funk and house, blended with beatmixing and proper vinyl scratching that’s simply world-class. He may not be a household name, but DJ Smoove is a class act on the decks. (5/5)
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 26th July 2013 at 4:00 pm
In what’s like a bunker – an acoustically sound bunker – at this year’s Tramlines, the festival hid a couple acts away to record some really lovely acoustic sessions for all of us to savour.
First, Alessi’s Ark, aka London singer/songwriter Alessi Laurent-Marke, performs a stripped back version of ‘The Rain’ from her album released this year on Bella Union, ‘The Still Life’.
Next, we’ve got local boys the Crookes performing ‘American Girls’, one of the singles off their 2012 Fierce Panda album ‘Hold Fast’. The choice of song seems rather appropriate given this Tweet from them yesterday! (Mmm yes indeed. The American half of our writership is very excited about this touring prospect.)
Finally, we have Lianne La Havas (pictured at top performing at Alexandra Palace in 2012) all by her lonesome with her acoustic guitar, playing ‘Tease Me’.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 26th July 2013 at 11:00 am
I like a festival that actively seeks to film interviews, performances and sessions with the wealth of talent they have appearing at their event. Earlier this week we posted bands’ thoughts on this year’s Tramlines in Sheffield, as well as some live stage performances. This morning we have some exclusive chats filmed by the festival.
First on tap are Dutch Uncles‘ Duncan Wallis and Andy Proudfoot chatting about their year so far – including their support slot with American rock band behemoth Paramore – and what it’s like for the Marple band to come to play in Sheffield.
Following that, we have Wilgoose and Wrigglesworth of Public Service Broadcasting being interviewed by the Guardian’s New Band Up North columnist Emily Brinnand, ahead of their appearance at the Harley.
Right in the middle of his Saturday night headline set at Deer Shed Festival 2013, Darwin Deez brought his band to the front of the stage, and all four men lined up in silence. Then a metronomic electro beat kicked in, and they began to move. Initially, just an arm would go up in response to a recorded note. Then each dancer took on a musical motif as his own, limbs locked in time with the music, until they were a blur of moving body parts, aligned in rhythm but diverse in motion, as if the internal workings of a wristwatch. It spiralled from there: in pairs, each couple chiding the other – using nothing but the power of dance – to even higher levels of highly-skilled yet light-hearted boogie-banter. It was a moment that summed up the entire ethos of Deer Shed Festival: do something fun; do it well; do it with the unselfconscious devotion of a child. And if it involves putting a cardboard box on one’s head and pretending to be a robot, so much the better.
Rewind a day or so, and the famously clement Deer Shed weather made putting up a tent both a pleasure and a chore – baking hot sunshine is perfect when the work of tent-erection is over, cold beer in hand, but slightly less enjoyable whilst in the process of whacking tent pegs into baked-hard ground. Still, it beats rain in any form, and Deer Shed still has a 100% record for no significant rain at any of the four events so far, a record which leaves many festivals blushing with envy. The site itself was significantly rearranged this year, cleverly making use of Baldersby Park’s natural bowl-shaped amphitheatre, although this sadly leaves the eponymous Shed outside the arena, looking very much unloved and forlorn. Perhaps it could be brought into use for… ooh, I don’t know… housing deer for the weekend?
No sooner was the tent upstanding then it was time for music. First up was Gaz Coombes, late of Supergrass, and what a superb opening gambit he turned out to be. His recent work, as chronicled in long-player ‘Here Comes the Bombs’, was very much in evidence, as expected, as was heartbreaking recent single ‘One Of These Days’. Songs such as the sub-3-minute stomper ‘Whore’, and the more circumspect, spacey almost-prog of ‘Universal Cinema’, were rapturously received by a crowd who appeared initially not to know quite what to expect.
What they got was a spectacular performance from a well-drilled and vastly experienced practitioner of alternative guitar-pop. A lady or two might have swooned at the sight of his impressively-sideburned visage. Imagine the delight of the crowd when treated to an acoustic interlude of a couple of Supergrass numbers, including the divine ‘Moving’, which excels when given a stripped back treatment. Then imagine that delight transforming into headbanging ecstasy when the very last song turns out to be the storming ‘Richard III’ from Supergrass’ sophomore release. Not a brow was left unsweaty. (5/5)
By chance, a member of our entourage is acquainted with a good friend of Edwyn Collins, and from him has learned how devastating the double cerebral haemorrhage and subsequent complications Collins suffered in 2005 actually were. Thusly, we’re under no illusions about how impressive it is that he’s here at all. Which makes reviewing his performance a little tricky. Collins himself isn’t overly mobile, his right side clearly considerably weakened. He sits on an amplifier throughout and plays no instrument. He has an odd way of speaking – in short, sharp facts rather than conversational sentences. His speech is slurred. Yet here he is, confidently headlining. It cannot be overestimated how significant an achievement that is, and a tribute to Collins’ efforts of rehabilitation. Such sentiment is largely irrelevant, however, in the context of musical criticism. And whilst on the surface this could be a difficult listen – a bald reading of some relatively obscure songs from a man who slurs his words and is liberal in his approach to perfect pitch – anyone with even a casual familiarity with his work will appreciate the resonance of this performance as a whole.
The set ranges widely over Collins’ long career – the white funk of his Orange Juice period still sounds fresh in ‘What Presence?’, time hasn’t dulled ‘Gorgeous George’’s edge, but it’s the new, post-illness material that’s most impressive. We get a smattering from 2010’s superb Losing Sleep LP, including the Northern Soul-influenced title track and the touchingly romantic ‘In Your Eyes’. But the best bits come from this year’s ‘Understated’. If Collins’ voice is damaged, his ear for a tune is still factory-fresh. There’s a strong autobiographical thread running through his newest songs: ‘31 Years’ and ‘Understated’ are barely-concealed musings on his past, his achievements, and what the future might hold, all bound together with expert songcraft. Bad health may have robbed Collins of his ability to play his cherished guitars, but it has thankfully left his musical brain intact. A performance for connoisseurs, but what it lacked in accessibility it made up for in depth. (4/5)
A particular highlight of last year was Darius Battiwalla’s piano accompaniment to the eerie ‘Nosferatu’. This year, Darius was back with 1925’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. ‘Phantom’ tells the story of Erik, a hideously deformed figure who lives deep in the bowels of an opera house, falls in love with a leading lady, and proceeds to terrorise all those who would stand in his way. A disturbing portrait of manic depression, it contains some genuinely chilling scenes, notably the casual way Erik dispenses with his first underground caller.
The production is astonishing even when viewed with a jaded modern eye – the subterranean lair is a romantic gothic masterpiece, and the restrictions of black and white film are used to its advantage when portraying the inky blackness of water, and by the use of tints to reinforce the emotional context of a scene. Battiwalla’s playing is an absolute joy, so expertly reflecting the on-screen action, one could close one’s eyes and imagine how the story was developing. Beautiful melodic vignettes of disparate theme, pitch and tempo flow together to create a seamless soundtrack, all the more impressive for being played without sheet music. Cinema doesn’t get any better than this. (5/5)
Head on over to Martin’s Flickr for high-res versions of his photos taken at this year’s Deer Shed Festival.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 24th July 2013 at 11:00 am
Not counting the varying levels of success in 2006 to 2008 at a Baltimore racetrack and since 2009 when Richard Branson brought in the Virgin Mobile FreeFest to Merriweather Post Pavilion (the venue, not the Animal Collective album), Washington DC doesn’t have a major music festival. And the FreeFest doesn’t even attempt to cater to people who might not be mainstream music listeners, such as myself. I wouldn’t drive anywhere to go see the Black Keys or Jack White, just two examples of previous FreeFest headliners. Most other American festivals suffer from the same problem. They focus on getting huge names that the MTV watching public would enjoy. Coachella and Lollapalooza, anyone? Despite John and Martin’s urging that I need to do one at least once, I don’t think I could survive the massive camping festivals, so city festivals, with their many venues dotted across one given place while also allowing me to sleep in a real bed for the night, are very appealing to me.
This year I decided to pay more attention to a local UK city festival that has been going on for a couple years and seem to be doing it right: while they bring in big names to headline the main stages, there is a whole wealth of bands, big and small, playing traditional venues to the town cathedral. I am, of course, speaking of Sheffield’s Tramlines, which I had understood from the get-go had been an idea borne by local Sheffielders such as Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders, Jon McClure of Reverend and the Makers and Toddla T.
Even the name of the festival, inspired by the friendly-looking tram transit network I admired when visiting the city in the spring, seems to indicate the pride the festival organisers have just by being from the city and wanting it to remain something very special to the people that live there, yet all the while being entirely welcoming to those who choose to come into town to enjoy it with them. It’s hard not to have your heart warmed when you hear things such as Festival Director Sarah Nulty talking about this year’s event, “A huge thank you to everyone who attended and made it a truly wonderful event. The fantastic weather on Friday set everyone in a great mood which lasted across the site all weekend. Musically it was a great year for Tramlines with so many talented artists on the bill. Through Tramlines we get to showcase exactly what Sheffield has to offer and we’re very proud of it.”
John and I have been in discussion that next year we might just join forces and go finally, having looked jealously as this year’s line-up and whinged that we weren’t there. Who was there were the bands, of course. We’ve asked several of them to weigh on their Tramlines 2013 experience, so here we go…
Andrew Parry, keyboardist, Story Books:
Tramlines 2013 was our first band trip to Sheffield, and what a pleasant one it was. Tramlines is one of those inner city festivals that takes over an area of a city, encouraging sprawling crowds on streets and music coming out of its ear holes. Situated a few yards away from the aforementioned tramlines, our venue of battle was The Bowery, a cosy bar with a stage the precise dimensions to squeeze us and our gear on. This made for a real fun set. Nice and close in, we forgot any inhibitions and had a ruddy good time. The crowd were attentive and appreciative, with many a complimentary post-gig word. Which is all you can ask for isn’t it? That, and chips and gravy. And ‘scraps’. We’ll be back, Sheffield. Cheers.
Fran O’Hanlon, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Ajimal:
The cathedral might have been the most beautiful construction site I’ve ever played! Unfortunately, the body of the cathedral is being renovated, but the sound was pretty incredible none the less, such a beautiful and massive space. There was a bigger crowd there for me than I expected, which was lovely to come out to, and really attentive – those kind of venues always seem to inspire pin drop silence.
It was nice to wander round and get a sense of everything going on in Sheffield at Tramlines. I also managed to catch Dutch Uncles who I’d been meaning to see since their last album came out. Brilliant band.
James Leesley, vocalist and guitarist, High Hazels (read my Bands to Watch on them here):
To collectively summarise the weekend in two words, hectically pleasant would probably be accurate. Saturday was a day where we had three shows to play, the first being inside the Sheffield Cathedral. I think we were all particularly excited about playing in the cathedral, it’s quite a rare place to play and sonically speaking, it has a natural sound that we strive for within a lot of our music. The gig surpassed all our expectations and went really well – the audience sounded like they enjoyed it which is always a good sign. Along with the Cathedral, we played at Weston Park and later at Shakespeare’s, which was our highlight. There was a great atmosphere and it was a fitting ending to a very good day.
Sunday, we were on at The Bowery in the afternoon which was another full house and a great show. It was a good way to draw the curtains on our playing for the weekend and we were all really pleased with the response and quite humbled by the way we were received.The rest of the day was the first real chance we had to catch some of the other bands and join the traffic of the festival, which is always nice.
We thoroughly enjoyed it and are looking forward to next year.
Eddie Dullaway, guitarist, Van Susans:
After a 4-hour drive and two festival gigs in Kent on Saturday, we arrived in Sheffield’s Weston Park for the first of two performances. As we were setting up there was an apparent air of anticipation. A crowd, not on their feet, but sitting waiting for the next eargasm. We made for a musical fixation, drawing in with technical interludes and catchy hooks; our set time was halved but it kept us short and sweet and the crowd eager for more!
Our second show was at The Forum at 10.30 PM so with a little time to spare we engaged ourselves in frisbee, interviews, football, eating and more interviews. It was also Olly’s birthday, so a small amount of alcohol was consumed! The second show came bringing much of the crowd from the first into The Forum for an acoustic show which equally entertained the listeners. Overall, it was a brief, hectic but energetic day. We left Sheffield at around 12 AM to return to base (Bromley, Kent) and arrived home at 4.30 AM just in time to see the sunrise.
Ben Duffy, vocalist, Fenech-Soler:
Sheffield, for me, felt like it all clicked from a live perspective. It takes some shows and some experiences to fully get to grips with new material, especially the way we make our music. On the first record we had hundreds of shows testing things out but Tramlines felt like we were fully comfortable. We hadn’t actually slept in few days as we’d come straight from Switzerland so that just added to the mental state on stage. It’s nice getting totally lost in a performance. It’s also always hard at festivals playing songs that no one knows but the reaction has really made the last 12 months worth it. We’re just looking forward to releasing ‘Rituals’ (their second album out on the 2nd of September) now.
Dave Fendick, multi-instrumentalist, Fossil Collective:
Tramlines was pretty cool. We love playing in Sheffield, and it’s always good to be so close to home (as we can sleep in our own beds!) Although the weather forecast predicted rain, it held out and it was nice to arrive and see everyone lounging about, drinking beer and soaking up the vibe.
Playing on a bandstand instead of a normal stage was a nice touch. It made a change from the normal festival stages that we play. The crowd were very receptive too. (The cheap beer helped!) It was a nice family vibe, with lots of little stalls selling a variety of food and drink. We stayed on for a bit after the gig, talking to various people who’d seen us by chance and who were very glad that they did.
We left having made some new friends, and hoping that we get another invitation next year.
Tom Sanders, vocalist and guitarist, Teleman:
We played in the afternoon on Sunday, the weather was calm and temperate and everything seemed nice and relaxed. I don’t think many people knew our songs, or who we were, but that didn’t seem to stop people from enjoying it. I always think these kinds of festivals are about just wandering round and discovering new music anyway. Some of the best shows I’ve seen have been entirely by accident. Sheffield seemed a perfect setting for the festival and I can only see it going from strength to strength!
Bridie Jackson, vocalist and piano and guitar player, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour:
We played two gigs at Tramlines on Sunday, starting off with The Folk Forest, where we enjoyed some great music and our first Pimm’s of the season! The atmosphere was fantastic and the audience were great – we even managed to get them to join in with our rather whimsical Justin Timberlake cover.
Our second gig was at The Riverside, which boasted the highest ratio of cellos on one stage that we have ever seen! All the music was excellent, but particular highlights were The Early Cartographers, The Pocket Satellites and Joe Banfi. Again, the crowd were great and fun was had by all.
Matthew Whitehouse, vocalist and guitarist, The Heartbreaks:
Arrived in Sheffield at about 8 PM. Sat in the van outside the Harley mixing vodka and tonic in the bottle until Russ and Tom from the Crookes walked past and Russ gave us some promotional Red Bull cups. Tom was eating a margarita pizza. Saw the singer from Grammatics (who we went on our first UK tour with) and met the singer from Komokino, who our tour manager Mark used to drum for. Charlie Bone was there too. At about 5 past 10, we walked out to Sharpe’s ending theme as sung by Rifleman Daniel Hagman and played seven songs, including ‘Polly’ for the first time since February. Joe did a nice new drum bit at the end. Dedicated a song to Richard Sharpe and no one laughed. Ate an entire packet of custard creams.
Tom Dakin, guitarist, The Crookes (photograph below from the stage by drummer Russell Bates):
Tramlines is comfortably the highlight of the musical year in Sheffield, and will always have a place in our hearts. We’ve played at every year of the festival and it has been thrilling seeing it grow from its smaller roots into the city-wide, all encompassing event it now is. Every day on our route to our practice room in town we cross the green where the main stage is (Devonshire Green) during the festival, and it’s hard to believe it’s the same place when we’re stood onstage looking out at all the people.
This year has been particularly special for Sheffield music, which really is the lifeblood of our city. Bands such as Hey Sholay, Seize the Chair and High Hazels are just a few of the brilliant new wave of Sheffielders breaking through, and 65daysofstatic created a stunning combination of three-dimensional music and visual effects which left us wondering if our minds would ever be the same again as we wandered in a daze from their installation at the Millennium Galleries.
Needless to say, as the dust settles on this year’s Tramlines, all we can do is try to shake off our hangovers and begin the countdown to next year’s festival. May there be many more.
And that’s it from the bands of Tramlines 2013. Funds and time off from work willing, we’ll be in the thick of next year’s festivities so we can experience first-hand what always sounds like one of the best UK city festivals of the summer. See you soon, Sheffield!
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 23rd July 2013 at 4:00 pm
Stockton band Young Rebel Set appeared at Traumzeit Festival in Germany in June. Singer Matty Chipcase and drummer Luke Evans performed this lovely acoustic version of their song ‘Penny to My Name’ for local music Web site Cardinal Sessions and you can watch the fruits of their labour below. Enjoy.