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Part 1 of John’s coverage of Friday at Liverpool Sound City 2015 is this way.
Sticking with the theme with big chugging riffs in a warehouse, loud enough to make the meek and wimpy head for exits – not a daisy chain headpiece in sight – Yak were the next band on The Baltic Stage as the day became more and more Baltic in temperature and people gathered in the confines of the warehouse to escape the near arctic winds coming in off the river Mersey. Their bluesy Band of Skulls-esque riffage was enough to get everyone grooving at the front of the stage, despite the acoustics of the warehouse playing havoc with Oliver Burslem’s vocals. (6/10)
It was the turn of one of the big hitters next, or was it?
WHERE’S YOUR BAND, DEBBIE? As four Parisian musicians stepped onstage, the look of collective bafflement spread across the venue. Where were Slaves? A quick search on #SoundCity15 led me to the conclusion that they’d pulled out to another collective look of bemusement and a united sigh of disapproval. Oh well, on the bright side it meant I didn’t miss the triumphant return of the bespectacled groovesters of Spector, who were next up on the Atlantic Stage.
Now these guys were met by *yet another* collective look of bemusement. That’s not Frederick Macpherson, they’ve changed frontman! NO, he’s just gone hipster 2.0 and grown his hair down to his neck. Still, despite a wee change of hair-do could Spector build the anticipation to their new record? The answer, a resounding and still endearingly dapper YES. With all the charms and singalongability Spector brought on their delightful debut, the five-piece Hits like ‘Chevy Thunder’ had the now sizeable crowd standing on the precipice of the Mersey jumping up and down without due concern. While new track ‘Bad Boyfriend’ is the kind of heart-meltingly warm live track Spector are going to make their own over the next year of touring and promoting. Macpherson still has glorious presence on stage and while his band seem to keep the personality to a minimum by staring blankly into the Liverpool sky, Macpherson manages to carry the energy of the entire group and make a stunning show. (8/10)
Starring as the penultimate act on a strong bill were Everything Everything who get extra points in my boom as their guitarist Alex Robertshaw is from sunny Guernsey. They admit it’s been 18 months since they’ve graced a festival stage, but you’d struggle to believe it as they’re tighter than a cat’s bumhole – in musical terms that is. In the space of around six years they’ve gone from a band with a quirky new sound, to indie pop behemoths with a serious reputation amongst the industry. Jonathan Higgs voice remains one of the most unflappable and tonally malleable in the industry. Every note is perfect, and when you have to hit the kind of ranges Higgs is, that’s no mean feat. The tunes are still as inventive and quirky as the first time ‘MY KZ UR BF’ became an immediate hit and catapulted them into the mainstream consciousness.
The band as a unit looked impeccable in their faux-jester robes – the point of which I’m yet to put my finger upon. The set is a hit after hit affair, with a fair bit of audience reaction to each of the more well-known tracks like ‘Kemosabe’ and ‘Cough Cough’. The latter proving a huge success as it built to its noodling crescendo. One thing is for sure, this set was one which loosened the hips of half the audience, with 90% shaking and shimmying in the small space they had on the docklands. (8/10)
Once the sun had set around 10 o’ clock and Everything Everything had departed the anticipation started to build for the night’s headline act. When I asked around, ‘what were most people looking forward to on the Friday’ barring the rather null answer of Slaves there was only one other constant: The Vaccines. My first thought was, with two albums each clocking in around half an hour and a third one imminent; they’d struggle to fill one and half hours. The second one was what a frontman Justin Hayward-Young is becoming – he’s got just the right amount of arrogance to pull off the look he’s going for.
Rockstar credibility is in toe as he petulantly throws his mike stand around the stage for the roadies to pick up after almost every song, and the pride to know from minute one to the time they make their bow (no encore) that he’s got the crowd eating from the palm of his hands. It’s a set chocked to the nines with hits, which every one of the crowd can sing along to, not matter the demographic. The new stuff goes down well, but it’s the tracks from ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’, especially ‘Norgaard, which go down the best. A splendid end, to a full-on day! And the music only started at 5. (9/10)
Liverpool Sound City is in its seventh year and for the first time has moved from its spiritual home within the centre of the city. Before, the music was irretrievably mixed up in a maze of streets within the heart of Liverpool; the festival turned the already vibrant area into a thronging haven of musical activity, with bands popping up in warehouses and on the street in a metropolitan mezze of musical delicacies to amuse any palate. This year still served up a veritable banquet to satisfy any taste buds, but this time festival-goers needed to travel 20 minutes outside of the centre of Liverpool for the event.
Bizarrely, this report from Liverpool Sound City 2015 comes from the Docklands this year. The setting is quaint, if you manage to block out the industrial sprawl you’ve walked past to get there. One of the unique selling points of Sound City in its earlier guise was its central location. So the decision to plonk it way down the road has left many, including this writer, scratching their heads and with sore feet from walking to the secluded site.
Luckily, I found a solution: Liverpool’s version of the ‘Boris Bike’ to get me from the centre of the city where 99% of the hotels are to the festivals site. Again, the site is a departure from the dotting of venues around the city, as now in a more conventional festival manner, each stage is within a set perimeter.
My first impression of the actual layout of the site was one of confusion, but in such tight confines, after 15 minutes of ambling around with a dazed look on my face I managed to get my bearings on where everything was. The most striking feature was, understandably, the giant disused warehouse that was being used as The Baltic Stage. The first band up in the vast venue were Barberos, a three-piece from Merseyside, but not exactly one straight out of the textbook.
Yes, all dressed head to toe in sparkly silver morph suits, Barberos feel like they’ve been transplanted out of the realms of science fiction and onto a stage where their primary aim is to creep the shit out of you. From almost start to finish, their tribal roars and wave of drums echoed furiously around the disused warehouse, while the screech of their synths worked to either drive people from the venue or numb them into a stupor. Their sonic assault on almost every one of my senses proved too much and after three songs I felt my eardrums literally splitting in two and decided instead to go and sample less screechy and space age music. Perhaps they’re just scores ahead of their time? To quote Marty McFly, “your kids are gonna love it’. (5/10)
At the end of Stanley Docks, where the festival now calls its home, was The Atlantic Stage, which was acting as the Main Stage. Scottish band Neon Waltz, who’ve recently been snapped up by Noel Gallagher’s management, were first on and whilst they drew a good crowd for the first band of the day, their performance was all a bit glib and dry. It felt like for the 30 minutes they were building to something which might be a little more exciting, like the second time you sleep with someone, but in the end you just realise the exciting bit is never going to come, despite how much promise is shown at first. Plus the lead singer, whose mum then tried to banter me off on Twitter, *does* look about 2, despite being 18 or 24. I’m not sure really. (6/10)
Despite a classic seafront breeze chilling everyone on the docklands to the bone, a rather large crowd had amassed at The North Stage for Francopop artist HollySiz, not least because her outfit left little to the imagination. Immediately, HollySiz had the crowd fixated on her, throwing herself around the stage like a ragdoll. Opening with the inflammatory ‘Tricky Game’, she already conjured up images of your early ‘80s Europop with strong synths and a staccato pace.
It wasn’t exactly Kraftwerk but HollySiz had an air of authority that she demanded from square one on The North Stage. The closest mainstream comparison of the last few years I can give to her was Gossip, although I’d argue HollySiz had an air of the rock and rolls about them. She had the presence of Beth Ditto though, but without the hairy armpits. She finished the set by leaping into the crowd and taking a leaf out of the Slipknot / Frank Turner books by getting everyone to sit on the floor and leap up. Now, anyone who can do it as successfully as she did before the sun goes down at around 6 in the evening on a chilly Liverpudlian day has definitely made an impression. (9/10)
Briefly, I stumbled into The Cavern Stage, to catch a glimpse of old-fashioned Derry four-piece The Clameens. It was light-hearted spiky pop guitar riff driven music, with influences like Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club and The Undertones shining prominently through. Songs like ‘She’s Got My Heart’ and ‘Follow’ had the crowd swaying and jumping up and down, whilst their happy-go-lucky demeanour meant the audience all had a well needed dose of summery smile injected into them before they faced the gloomy Liverpool skyscape on the way out of the tent. (7/10)
Bad Meds were next on my port of call (get it, I’m at the docklands and I just said ‘port’) in the setting of the Baltic Stage. Within the confines of the giant disused warehouse, their reverb laden rock sounds utterly enormous and the sheer simplicity of their songwriting works to make the unconverted thoroughly converted. I mean, what’s not to like about songs where you remember how you died in 1995, or that one about how you left a cult?
The highlight though is undoubtedly ‘It’s Grim Up North’, their take on the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu song. The concept: a list of lots of cities in the North and how grim they are. It’s just about that offensive that you can probably say its genius, and it’s not half true too: I mean, have you been to Crewe? It’s grim. 10/10 for originality. Probably less for friend-making in the region though… (8/10)
Stay tuned for the second half of John’s day 1 report from Liverpool Sound City tomorrow.
Part 1 of my coverage from the Great Escape 2015 on Saturday is this way.
Le Galaxie @ Patterns downstairs (Jack Daniel’s)
So after getting my brains beaten in by a band from Cardiff, I was expecting for something a bit different at Patterns downstairs with Landshapes. However, when I arrived at the venue, there was a brief lull, and then an epileptic fit of strobes accompanied with throbbing beats. Uhhh, I don’t think this is Landshapes? (I was informed later that due to another band pulling out of the lineup, all the acts were going on a half-hour early. If you’re keen on Landshapes, you’re in luck, the London band was on Marc Riley’s 6 Music show Thursday night.) I realised quickly that I was now watching Le Galaxie from Dublin, which was fine by me because I was in the mood for some real electronic after a so far real dance-less Saturday at the Great Escape 2015. While Carrie covered the band at the full Irish breakfast at SXSW 2015, I am pretty sure the stars aligned on purpose so I would be at Patterns at that very moment to catch them.
Most dance music runs to one theme, love: how to get it, how to keep it and what to do when you lose it. With enough dB in the background to keep your heart pulsating. Having a charismatic frontman is paramount. In the case of Le Galaxie, Michael Pope knows how to shake what his momma gave him. It is not what you expect from a hulking Irishman with an epic beard; he looks more like he should be playing with Fleet Foxes, not fronting an electronic band. (I didn’t see the tattoos that are apparently also a trademark of his.) Watching him shake his arse and show off his fancy footwork in front of a Brighton crowd absolutely loving it was quite the sight to see. ‘Put the Chain On’ was a banger, the song that sticks out in my mind because the band was so on point. I think that was one of several where Pope took his microphone and went straight to the barrier to commune with the fans. Another big one was ‘Lucy is Here’, a darker, older but still goodie track. This is exactly the kind of band I expect would have an amazing – and deservedly so – draw at a festival like Ultra. It’s not just synths and buttons pushed. Pope and co. make sure everyone is included in their dance party, and it’s an unforgettable experience.
Young Kato @ Shooshh
Next on my hit parade for Saturday night was Young Kato, who I’ve been following since their early days. They’ve now released their debut album on Republic of Music this month, ‘Don’t Wait ’til Tomorrow’, which has been a long time coming, and I couldn’t be happier for the lads. Their show at Shooshh would be their crowning moment at the Great Escape 2015, where they would show off their new tunes and bring out the older ones for devoted fans. ‘Drink, Dance, Play’, which always ends up being a ridiculously fun exercise in jumping up and down, yelling and screaming the chorus, never disappoints, and it sure didn’t disappoint in Brighton. The vibrancy of the uber optimistic ‘Sunshine’, the title track of their autumn EP last year, closed their set out on a high note. Onward and upwards, lads!
Even though it was a little chilly to me, the dry weather was nice in Brighton, which means there were queues at most venues thanks to eager punters everywhere you went in the city. The Spiegelpub and Spiegeltent area around hub of transit activity The Old Steine was a new one to me, but I was very intrigued with the premise: being inside it was very much like being at an outdoor festival, which means if the weather is good, it’s fantastic, but if the weather’s crap, every man for himself.
Keston Cobblers’ Club @ Spiegeltent (Jazz Cafe Presents…)
After getting some cheesy fries with loads of mayonnaise and feeling like an idiot for eating them with a fork (hey, I still had to take photos, yo!), I entered a Moulin Rouge-themed area where Keston Cobblers’ Club would be playing. I have my favourite songs off their debut album ‘One, for Words’, and hoped I would hear them. One of the catchiest tunes off their debut, ‘Your Mother’ is a unique one, with horns and banjo joining the fray, the band’s lush harmonies sounded beautiful against the instrumentation. The group also showed off some new songs from their upcoming second album ‘Wildfire’, which will be released in June.
Sadly, I was drowned out for the request for a slower one by the rest of the crowd, which in the end is fine because I would have preferred them to gain new fans than to make one music editor happy. The crowd was in the mood to dance or to be more accurate, to stomp. While I was stood in the front of them, it quickly became a square-dancing hoedown, punters pleased with the up tempo gaiety their songs provided them on a mild night by the sea. At one point, I was sure I was going to be stamped to death, as everyone was so boisterously stomping their feet on the wood floor of the Spiegeltent. All’s well that ends well, though: after their set was over, new fans rushed like the dickens to the front to buy their CD. A job well done, then.
Blossoms @ Green Door Store (Dr. Marten’s)
I had been thinking for a long while how I wanted to end my Great Escape 2015 experience and after a friend had disappeared from me post-Keston Cobblers, I decided my original plan was best. I rushed quickly back up Brighton’s hilly streets to the Green Door Store, the site of my most epic fail at the Great Escape to date. Two years ago, at the same crowded venue, I got nowhere near the front so I could hear Teleman but could not actually see them. This time, I wasn’t about to be denied. I was a little pushy but was never rude and by the grace of god, I finally saw a clearing and was down the front for Stockport’s Blossoms, who I’d enjoyed at the BBC Introducing stage at SXSW 2015. I think it was a pleasant surprise for the band to see me, as they didn’t even know I was at the festival.
Watching a middle-aged man in sunglasses (remember, it was nearly midnight by this time, and dark) and a leopard print shirt, grooving to Blossoms, that image from this year’s event will definitely stay with me. He was clearly feeling and breathing in their psychedelic pop vibes, as were many down the front. Kitted out with their new shoes courtesy of stage sponsor Dr. Marten’s, the five-piece were on point. I still don’t know what ‘Blow’ means, it probably has some rude explanation that would make me blush, but for some reason I really connect with its sound, and I admit I have played the video for the song a few too many times on YouTube, Tom Ogden’s vocal line in the chorus is just about perfect, and bloody hell, you must be a stone if Josh Dewhurst’s guitar solo doesn’t bring you to near tears.
Afterwards, I went to go thank the lads for a hell of a set. We all hugged and they asked me, “when will we see you again?” Ha. I couldn’t cry then. It’d be too embarrassing. But I hated knowing I was going home the next day. But hopefully that reunion with them and everyone else I met up with in Brighton will be sooner than later. Fingers crossed.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 22nd May 2015 at 11:00 am
Saturday at the Great Escape 2015, and the final homestretch is in sight. If you haven’t felt broken already, you probably will have woken up the last day with a sore head and wondering why you have put your body through this again for another year. This year at both stages of the Komedia, the festival offered up something new called Great Day Out, for which you could buy tickets for the two matinee lineups outside of the actual Great Escape. I guess it was an option for those only coming into Brighton for the day and wanting a slice (a very small one) just to get a taste of what the festival had to offer.
As laudable this idea was, it was a small nightmare for the door staff to cope with. The kind bouncer I chatted with actually apologised for the situation, explaining that because tickets were being sold for the event taking place in the two performance spaces, they had to limit the count of people inside more than they might normally do. He had the unenviable task of asking everyone in the badge queue who they had intended to see inside. Unfortunately for one very hung over person in our queue, he had no idea what he was queueing for, grabbing his programme from his back pocket and frantically checking who was actually on inside. Oops. When it came my turn, I was prepared. My answer was short and sweet. “Get Inuit.” After promising I was only going to stay in there for them, I was finally let in, albeit mid-set, after stepping into the main room for a bit to see how 2011 Great Escape TGTF stage alum K. Flay was getting on. The crowd were loving her. Good.
Get Inuit @ Komedia Studio Bar (Great Day Out)
Apparently the Pav Tav has a bad reputation among bands for their not so great soundsystem. So after seeing Get Inuit there the night before, I wanted to give them another try in a supposedly aurally better location. Interestingly, I didn’t hear much difference between the two shows, except maybe that the band felt even less inhibited by the situation than they had playing in a pub, the Komedia Studio Bar being a more intimate, lower-ceilinged place.
Diving headfirst into a series of tunes that seem incredibly tight for a band that as only just released their first EP this year, their confidence shone through, and compared to the night before at the Pav Tav, it was the music that was front and centre and wildly, crazily enjoyable and not necessarily frontman Jamie Glass’ sometimes groan-worthy stage patter (sorry, Jamie). The punishing rock of ‘I Would’ was peerless, and despite its verbose, ominous title, ‘Coping with Death in a Nutshell’ has an awesomely melodic guitar I still have in my head to this day. Amusingly, a middle-aged American man came up to the band after, exclaiming, “you’re like the love child of Nirvana and Weezer!” I just stepped back and laughed. Huh, really? I don’t hear that at all. But if it leads to a record deal (as I assume it will) then I am all for it.
SLUG @ Dome Studio Theatre (Generator)
Our North East friends at the incredibly supportive to the UK music industry Generator were putting on an afternoon showcase at the Brighton Dome Theatre, and I for one was not going to miss it. Jagaara, whose set I’d seen the tail end of at Live at Leeds 2015, went over extremely well with the punters. But I was here for something…a bit off-kilter. I have always been amazed by the inventiveness and indeed the heart of the music coming out of Sunderland, especially anything touched by brothers David and Peter Brewis, whether it be Field Music, either of their solo projects, and anything in between. Both brothers and other local musicians Andrew Lowther and Rhys Patterson are part of the live backing band of gastropod-named SLUG, aka the project of Sunderland’s Ian Black.
You know you’re in for something special when the frontman of a band appears onstage looking all formal in a suit and a white bowtie, as if he should be performing in front of a philharmonic, not in a venue at the Great Escape 2015. He’s also ginger, so the look goes a long way of softening any thoughts that you’re in for a hard rock onslaught by a real live Viking. That would be boring though. And entirely inappropriate for creative Mackems. A quick read down the tracklisting for Black’s debut album with Memphis Industries released in mid-April, ‘RIPE’, makes it clear this is music that couldn’t be further from the mainstream (‘Grimacing Mask’, ‘Kill Your Darlings’ and ‘Shake Your Loose Teeth’ are especially of note).
The percussive funk of LP standout track ‘Greasy Mind’ is inescapably catchy, while the almost down and dirty ‘Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped in Plastic’, with the falsettos by Black and his onstage compadres is another earworm that won’t be denied. The live performance, with tambourine, bongos, melodica and empty beer bottles (to be hit, naturally) augmenting the more usual rock band elements, was also hugely entertaining, with Black’s backing band all dressed in black turtlenecks and jeans, like they were a bunch of bohemians flown in from France. My guess that there were either large numbers of exiled North Easters and/or massive fans of SLUG in attendance at the Generator showcase, as the applause and whoops of delight at 3 in the afternoon for the band were as enthusiastic as one might expect for a dance band at midnight at the Great Escape. In any event, the SLUG performance was stunningly brilliant.
Orla Gartland @ Brighthelm Centre (Amazon Student UK)
Having seen Slaves in a sweaty, hilarious show at Coalition Friday night, I needed not to queue up with everyone else for the NME evening showcase at the Corn Exchange for the Kent punks but was now free to do as I pleased. And what would please me more than see one of the brightest stars of young Ireland I had the pleasure of seeing twice at SXSW 2015. Orla Gartland opened the Amazon Student UK show as the Brighthelm Centre, wearing what I think must be her lucky dress, a cute black and white number I recognised from Austin. I can’t imagine this spunky young lady ever being mad or angry. All three times I’ve seen her play now, she’s been this irrepressible ball of energy, like a ginger bolt of sunshine in human form and exactly the boost I needed after what felt like a very long Saturday that was making feel like I was going to cry.
Several punters down the front had trained their cameras on the young Gartland. For the entire show. Then they grabbed her set lists off the stage before I could even blink. Your time has come, Orla. Fanboys are a sure sign of success. Me, I was content snapping a couple of photos but I really just wanted to enjoy the show. Beginning with ‘Souvenirs’, Gartland breezed through an all too short set of her pop gems and as in Austin, she peppered the time with her audience with short stories that made her laugh and indeed, reminded us that she’s a normal young woman…except she leaves her friends’ house parties early when she’s come up with an idea for a new song. Needs must, eh? To close our her set, she played ‘Lonely People’, which has gone massive on Hype Machine, having over 300K plays on Spotify since it was released earlier this year. Positivity begets positivity. And Orla Gartland has nowhere to go but up.
Houdini Dax @ Mesmerist (Alternative Escape / This is Now Agency)
Houdini Dax are a Welsh band I have seen on many a festival list we’ve attended but somehow I never managed to fit them into a schedule (I recall one Liverpool Sound City where I had them written down, but I ended up missing them, not able to arrive in time at the venue). Saturday night in Brighton, I finally got my chance at the This is Now Agency showcase at the Mesmerist, familiar to me as being the locale for past Blog Up get-togethers. I don’t know if the place has been gentrified or what, but I don’t remember people being in line to get bespoke cocktails. The mojito doesn’t sound like something that should be native to Brighton.
After I had settled in at the bar with a Kiwi cider, Houdini Dax started up with their assault on our ears. I totally get now why I was never able to see this band before. I wasn’t ready. Until now. I don’t think I would have appreciated them 2, 3 years ago. You can tell the Cardiff trio’s roots are based in classic guitar bands like the Beatles, which is always a good start, because a good handle on the basics and being able to write a song that is catchy and being memorable are important keys to being successful in this business. But when you listen to them, as the guitar squeals and the bass and drums thump on a track like ‘Good Old Fashioned Maniac’, there it is, the heart and soul of a band who are in it for the right reasons. It is bands like Houdini Dax that make me want to keep going with what I’m doing. Older song ‘Our Boy Billy’ shows the group’s darker, bluesier side and their adeptness for playing in spades.
I’ve read that they’ve been playing together since they were in school, and that tightness as a unit shows when they play live. Even though I didn’t know the songs before I came into the room, I left with the definite feeling that I want to keep an eye on these lads because they’re entertaining live and they’re good songwriters. The band suffered a major setback back in March when their parked van was broken into in Manchester and all their gear was stolen. (Thanks to a grant by the Arts Council of Wales and Horizons / Gorwelion, they were given money to buy a new van. Yay, art councils!) But you’d never have even known anything had happened by the way they attacked their instruments Saturday night. If you have a heart and want to support a band worth supporting, donate what you can to their stolen gear fund here on GoFundMe.
Hold your horses, part 2 of my Saturday coverage of the Great Escape 2015 follows this afternoon.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 21st May 2015 at 2:00 pm
Part 1 of my Friday roundup at the Great Escape can be found here.
At the recommendation of my host in Brighton to check out the Old Market stage west of the city centre during the Great Escape 2015, I had hoped to see XL signing Empress Of play, as the schedule indicated two shows on the Friday. However, when I scanned her Twitter and Facebook, she made no mention of leaving the States for the Great Escape 2015 so all I can assume is that she must have cancelled at some point but the schedule was never amended. It then fell to my new SXSW 2015 buddy Rival Consoles to give me the electronic oomph I needed that night. I am proud to say I navigated the bus system in Brighton like a pro, arriving outside a hospital and finding St. George’s Church easily from there.
After arriving, I was really happy to be seeing a different kind of space than what I was used to in Brighton. The only other real church space I’d ever seen a show at in town was the Unitarian Church, and that was only briefly in 2013, where Marika Hackman held the room spellbound with her voice and guitar. St. George’s Church was a whole ‘nother matter: in addition to being a beautiful space with stained glass windows, you could sense the air filled with the power and glory that only a place of worship can offer, and that was before a single note was played.
Rival Consoles got to work on his consoles (no pun intended), thoughtfully turning knobs and pressing sequencer keys to craft several of his masterpieces live while a ever changing display of dots and lines pulsated on the projection screen behind him. The acoustics, as you can imagine for a cavernous, sparsely furnished space like a church, made for incredible music. It was, in an word, awesome. When he was finished, the applause was deafening.
Then it was back on the bus into town, where I snuck in for the last couple of songs by Hooton Tennis Club, who were playing the BBC Introducing stage at Shooshh. Everyone I know it seems has gone gaga over their Heavenly Records’ laid back single ‘Jasper’, but I’m still not convinced, and even less so after I saw them play. Having seen astronomyy there the night before, I know the sound system is decent, but all I could hear was loud, loud guitars and even louder drums, all muddied. Guess this music just isn’t for me.
Unfortunately for me, I arrived at Coalition minutes too late to be admitted for the press guest list. To be honest though, getting in halfway in the middle of Slaves’ set list was sufficient for me to get a flavor of what the live Slaves experience is like. They were scheduled to play at the NME showcase Saturday night at the Corn Exchange but somehow I just felt that Coalition would be the better place to see them at, and I am pretty sure I was on the mark with this one. Coalition is a dark, sweaty basement venue, just the right kind of atmosphere for the wild antics of punk rockers Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent.
In the vein of Brighton’s own Royal Blood, they’re a duo who really don’t give a monkey’s, but there is a comedic element to their music. It’s not all doom and gloom. These are guys who clearly never take things too seriously, as during the airing of recent single ‘Feed the Mantaray’, a man dressed in a manta ray suit jumped into the crowd and crowd surfed. I couldn’t help but laugh. The moshing and shouting reached a fever pitch during songs ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Cheer Up London’, and during set closer ‘Hey’, both members somehow found themselves crowd surfing, shirtless, to the crowd’s utter delight. What the hell did I just witness? I’m laughing about it now just typing this out.
Having not been tempted at all by any of the headliners – I’d already seen Kate Tempest at SXSW 2015 and had my fill of her in Austin and I had no interest in seeing Alabama Shakes, Skepta or JME – I thought I should probably see at least one big name I might not get a chance to see otherwise. The VEVO UK-sponsored Wagner Hall, where other friends caught young Derry singer/songwriter SOAK the night before, seemed to be just the ticket.
There is a lot of buzz about George the Poet at the moment, and how much of that comes off of Kate Tempest making social commentary through the spoken word can be quite the debate in certain circles. There is, however, no denying that the man has incredible charisma as a performer, which is crucial for any entertainer and even more so if your craft is dependent on the word. George Mpanga has an interesting take on things, having graduated from Cambridge despite being talked down to by a teacher who said he shouldn’t even have tried to apply. But his mother believed in him. And in response to support the disenfranchised and in his words “if I can embody a viable alternative, the idea that it might be OK to stay in school, to aspire to university, then people will hear what I’m saying”, he writes to educate but also to entertain.
The live experience begins unusually with hip hop performer Shelz the Dancer and Mpanga is joined onstage at times by blonde sidekick and sometimes support act Tom Prior. Generally, Mpanga’s messages lean towards the positive and when they don’t, they seek to inform those who might not know or understand circumstances because, as we all know, knowledge is power. The only moment I cringed was during his song ‘Gentleman’, where he describes how girls with low self-esteem sleep around because they’re looking for love in all the wrong places. I get the sentiment and where he’s trying to go with it but the story he tells seems to suggest he took advantage of such a girl and it’s hardly a sympathetic angle, is it?
The headliner for the night were the Cribs from Wakefield, whose mere headline appearance to an essentially hometown crowd at Live at Leeds 2015 threw everyone in town off schedule. The trio, ubiquitous live since the release of their latest album ‘For All My Sisters’ on Sony in March, hadn’t played in Brighton for several years and naturally, a good portion of Great Escape 2015 wristband holders were chomping at the bit to see them play live. I give props to the security at Wagner Hall, because they kept a close watch on how many people were allowed into the performance space, ensuring it was not dangerously crowded. Which you can imagine is a major problem when a band like the Cribs perform, a band that notoriously invites and incites wild moshing at their shows. You’re probably wondering why someone who has claustrophobia would venture into a rowdy mosh pit late on a Friday at a music festival, but I have to say, having not seen the Cribs live in 3 years, I was curious. (Although I stood my ground pretty well, I do wish to thank the photographers and their gear near me, as I basically dove for cover into their crowd when things got to be too much.)
While songs from ‘For All My Sisters’ seemed requisite given it was the band’s most recent release, in general it was the much older material – in particular, ‘I’m a Realist’, a particularly boisterous version of ‘Mens’ Needs’ and the Johnny Marr-era ‘We Share the Same Skies’ – that really got the crowd riled up. I don’t know if it was a matter of where I was stood in the performance room, but the audio didn’t sound as crisp and good as I would have expected a VEVO-sponsored venue to have. Make no mistake, the lighting rig and other production values at Wagner Hall made for a classy experience, I was just really surprised that the sound wasn’t any better.
At the end of the day though, it wasn’t so much as how good the Cribs sounded to their fans as how physical and mental their performance was. This was evidenced by the antics by the Jarman twins at the end, with both Ryan and Gary seemingly all too eager to destroy their guitars by launching them directly into their amps. If that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, I don’t know what is. Below you can watch VEVO UK’s recap of Friday’s performances at Wagner Hall, including interviews with the artists by Radio 1’s Phil Taggart and a fleeting glimpse of yours truly.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 21st May 2015 at 11:00 am
While Friday at the Great Escape 2015 wasn’t a blazing scorcher by any means, we were able to put the brollies away and the hardier types were already tucking into their pints and all before the noon hour. As described in the second half of my Thursday roundup, one of the things that stuck in my craw all festival was the fact that there seemed to be queues everywhere. Coming off a less well attended than usual SXSW 2015 where I could get in most everywhere I needed to with my badge, the queue situation in Brighton was getting old and fast. After being turned away at the Komedia Studio Bar for the Dutch Impact showcase where I had hoped to see electronic duo Tears and Marble, I had to be content to go back to the Prince Albert and the Music from Ireland showcase.
In my failed attempt to get in for the Dutch show, I had sadly already missed one of my faves from SXSW 2015, Orla Gartland, and instead joined the throngs waiting for the Riptide Movement, noted by my holiday host in Dublin the week before as his favourite live act in Ireland at the moment. You couldn’t get a better vote of faith, could you? As also alluded to in my review of Tropics‘ late night appearance in the same venue Thursday, the Prince Albert is not for the faint-hearted when rammed. Still, I figured it was early enough in the afternoon and people wouldn’t be (that) pissed. That said, being Irish, they’re probably used to playing to raucous, inebriated crowds.
Frontman Mal Tuohy does an excellent job of rallying his troops for what ends up becoming a stomping singalong on songs like ‘You and I’. Do you remember what Mumford and Sons sounded like when they first brought out ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ in their early shows live and everyone was behind them? There is that same ‘I feel good, I feel alive’ element in the Riptide Movement that is very appealing and easily so to everyone, where everyone feels included, and you can also tell they’re having loads of fun like early Vaccines too, which is immediately felt by their audience. It seems to pretty much be a no-brainer that they’ll be the next big rock band out of Ireland on the basis of the strength of their energetic and unapologetically so live show.
Back outside, it was time to head over to the PRS Foundation’s showcase at the Dome Studio Bar, where Boxed In were playing third on an amazing afternoon bill starring SXSW 2015 alums Jay Prince, Spring King and PINS. I guess people were itching to see earlier shows on Friday because again, I was faced with a queue and the sinking feeling I would never get in to see any of the show, trying to hold my fist back from waving because I could hear the distant patters of ‘Mystery’ and felt annoyed I was not inside. I finally made it in halfway through their set, the place packed and I felt very lucky to have seen them perform at the much smaller Nation of Shopkeepers at Live at Leeds 2 weeks previous. I was confused though, as Boxed In mastermind Oli Bayston said this afternoon show would be an acoustic performance, and this most definitely was not one.
No matter though. The crowd whooped it up, dancing to and clearly enjoying the unique blend of keys, pop and dance Bayston had concocted for his self-titled debut album released last year on Moshi Moshi, the grooveathon known as ‘Foot of the Hill’ providing a set highlight. Due to a miscommunication, a previously arranged interview with mastermind Oli Bayston fell through; I hope to pick that back up sometime while they’re on tour, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer for it. Amusedly, while I was waiting around for this interview that didn’t happen, I nearly got stepped on by one of the girls from PINS who was trying to set up onstage; she apologised profusely and I told her not to worry about it at all.
Walking back onto New Road, a band was setting up under the Metro Free Gigs Airstream awning for what would be the Bullet Stage. They hadn’t started playing but I recognised that quiff…wait a minute. That’s the Dunwells from Leeds, isn’t it? Indeed it was. I had no idea I’d run into the band just walking around Brighton like this but I hung around as a large group of people amassed to watch this open air concert. A homeless man and his dog camped out in front of the group, keen on hearing this band play, the man enthusiastically clapping for them. For a show taking place in the middle of the madness, I think it went well, with EP title tracks ‘Show Me Emotion’ and ‘Lucky Ones’ sounding grand and much more fuller and richer live than on record.
A bit later on, it was time to do some Alternative Escape gigging. First up on my agenda was Get Inuit, who were performing as part of Alcopop Records’ showcase at the Pav Tav. Like an idiot, I was looking for an actual venue with a marquee reading “Pav Tav” and it wasn’t until I put two and two together that all I was looking for was the actual Pavilion Tavern. (Yes, it was my first time trying to find the place. ::insert canned laughter here::) I’ve been quite interested to hear the Kent four-piece play their self-described “dirty-pop” to a Brighton crowd. Bless frontman Jamie Glass, he’s got this nerdy yet very adorable way of addressing the crowd in between songs, coming up with connections no-one else would ever think of, such as trying to come up with an alternative nickname for the people of Brighton without insulting them. Anyone else would get bottled but with his self-deprecation, he gets away with it.
In another pleasant surprise of the afternoon, I was pleased to witness that Get Inuit are actually a harder-rocking band that the previous self description might lead you to believe. I suppose the pop label is more a nod to the catchy melodies of their songs, but phwoar, when they play, it’s loud, guitars and hair are flying, and everyone’s having a good time. ‘Cutie Pie, I’m Bloated’ is a prime example of this, where you can help yelling along with them, “I wanna be your stick in the mud!” while not really understanding exactly (or caring) what that means. Footstomper ‘Mean Heart’, which we gave away as a free MP3 of the Day last month, didn’t disappoint either, with James Simpson’s guitar bangings much appreciated. Huw Stephens is already a fan, so why aren’t you one yet?
Bar Rogue is on the seafront-facing side of the Royal Albion Hotel, and it’s where Earworm Events put on a 3-day onslaught of bands while the Great Escape 2015 rumbled on in other locales in Brighton. I arrived while London’s Longfellow were still soundchecking, so I guessed there were technical issues, later coming to a head when Ali Hetherington’s keyboard stopped working for a moment.
Save for the nonexistent lighting that made my photography near impossible, the setup was fantastic: just as frontman Owen Lloyd quipped, the intimacy felt like you were playing in someone’s living room. Compared to their Live at Leeds 2015 set, I had arrived early and was present for the whole thing, able to fully enjoy the grandeur of early single gem ‘Siamese Lover’ alongside newer EP tracks ‘Where I Belong’ and ‘Chokehold’.
Part 2 of my Friday coverage of the Great Escape 2015 follows this afternoon.
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