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Split Festival 2012: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 1st October 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Missed Martin’s field report of the Saturday of Split Festival? You’re in luck; read it here.

Where Saturday at Split Festival 2012 was noisy in the main tent and more subtle in the other, the situation is roughly reversed on Sunday. Field Music turn in a lithe, precise set on the main stage. Since this writer has, more by coincidence than anything else, seen them four times this year so far, I can safely say that they are better every time, and have never played the same set twice. A hometown gig is always a bit more special, and the crowd are duly appreciative.

Saint Etienne’s comeback continues apace – Sarah Cracknell looks glorious, her sparkly mini-dress picked out by a central spotlight, and she sounds just as good. In a set heavy with material from this year’s ‘Words and Music’, the synth-pop sound is just as present and correct as in years gone by. The volume and tempo is gently increased as we proceed, Cracknell elegantly gyrating, flourishing a feather boa. Close your eyes, and new songs like ‘When I Was Seventeen’ can make you believe it’s 1992 again; Neil Young has never sounded as warmly glorious as when they cover ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’.

A guilty candy-floss pleasure compared to the gristle of Future of the Left, whose noisy Welsh surrealist punk deafens everyone in the small tent. Andy Falkous, drenched in sweat, screams out such deadpan masterpieces such as ‘Sheena was a T-shirt Salesman’ and ‘Failed Olympic Bid’. The humour perhaps isn’t immediately apparent, but the skit climax, “if Margaret Thatcher was alive I’d ask her what her favourite film was” surely clinches the deal.

What’s the point in running a festival if you can’t headline it yourselves? After last year’s absence, The Futureheads are back with what is essentially a greatest hits set. They kick off with the superb ‘Beeswing’ from this year’s a capella album ‘Rant’; four-part harmonised vocals have always been an essential part of the ‘heads sound, but this song, shorn of any instrumentation, demonstrates just how accurate and heartfelt they can be with just four voices.

But it’s not long before the electric guitars come out, and the band rattle through the best bits of their back catalogue, climaxing with a majestic ‘Hounds of Love’. The audience are enraptured throughout, as well they might be: this event is more than just another show, it’s a celebration of Sunderland, its people and its music. And on the evidence of Split 2012, Sunderland is in very rude health indeed.

 

Split Festival 2012: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 28th September 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Split Festival has the finest grass in all of fest-dom. Even though the square of the Ashbrooke Cricket Club at which it is held is fenced off, the outfield still proudly displays its evenly-cropped blades, a far cry from the slopping mud too often endured by festival-goers elsewhere. This year sees Split subtly bigger and improved: there is a vintage tent, an arts tent selling the crop of local music photographers’ work and a veritable globe’s worth of international cuisine. The Creole food deserves a particular mention. But the real treat is a comprehensive musical programme, with a distinct tilt towards the regional – unsurprisingly, as local heroes the Futureheads are in charge of the whole thing.

As with all good, small festivals, there are two stages; as one band finishes in one arena, another starts in its counterpart. The slight figure of Kyla La Grange belies her impact; her epic gothic-tinged songs are as if designed to be played on an outdoor stage, at once majestically swooping and delicate. The avuncular King Creosote is up next in the acoustic-themed tent: his performance is a masterclass in understated delivery; with just a djembe and bass for accompaniment, there’s a surprising amount of dynamic on offer, and with material as strong as his, it’s a fine way to gently shift gear into evening.

And shift gear is what Leeds’ Pulled Apart by Horses most certainly do, in a whirlwind of coruscating grungy noise and a frenetic stage show. Nobody seems to be injured – a rarity apparently for a PABH gig. Whilst not strictly punk, one has the feeling that the noise and aggression on display here is directly inspired by the antics of Rotten and his peers over 30 years ago.

Before we get to him, there’s folk headliners the Unthanks. Sisters Becky and Rachel, backed up by a string quartet, grand piano, and band, produce a captivating set of gentle drama and fragile beauty. There’s no artifice or pretention; the sisters’ best trick is taking the sound of authentic Northumberland-influenced folk music, updating it with more mainstream arrangements for a wider audience. That and the clog dancing. Probably the most unlikely support act that Johnny Rotten has ever had, but not less effective for that.

The anticipation in the air of the main tent before Public Image Ltd take the stage is palpable, and to cut to the chase, the crowd are not disappointed. Rotten has an instantly recognisable stage persona, at once cheekily humourous yet genuinely threatening. His singing voice is a strange thing – one can’t really claim that his vocal lines have proper melodies, but it’s never really out of tune; his oft-employed keynote-drone-with-microtonal-variations technique wouldn’t sound out of place reciting echoing Koran verses in some dusty Eastern European mosque. His lyrical content wouldn’t be welcome, however. Naturally, there’s plenty of anti-establishment rhetoric, and even a moment towards the end of the set where the audience is exhorted to worship Rotten-as-musical-deity, which they are only too happy to do.

The band are razor-sharp, particularly Fagin-esque unsung guitar virtuoso Lu Edmonds: swathes and shards of his guitar overlay the pulsing, deep bass and tireless drums. Lydon is an enthusiast of dub reggae, and there’s plenty of this influence on display, but towards the end of the set the band turn up the tempo and become essentially a live dance music act, more akin to the now defunct Faithless than any traditional punk outfit in spirit and sound, with Lydon gargling brandy and preaching from the pulpit like a demon priest.

His one misstep involves a throwaway comment about the police, cumulating in the line, “the boys in blue aren’t all bad… well maybe they are,” a clanger of monumental bad taste considering the tragedy in Manchester just a few days previously. His opinion on Jools Holland is too scabrous to repeat here, and considerably more amusing, considering the band’s date on his show the following week. In case nobody knew, PiL are a challenging, uncompromising listen, led by one of the greatest frontmen of all time, still firing on all cylinders. Is there any higher praise?

Stay tuned: Martin’s roundup of Sunday’s bands at Split 2012 will post early next week.

 

Preview: Split Festival 2012

 
By on Thursday, 20th September 2012 at 3:00 pm
 

The tent is packed away. The wellies have been demuddied and chucked in the back of a cupboard, not to be seen until next year. By September all the big summer music festivals have been and gone in a haze of traffic jams, mud, and the occasional transcendental musical performance. But for the music fan that wants more, there are a few notable events still yet to come – of which Split Festival in Sunderland is one. A modestly-sized, two-day, outdoor-but-under-cover shindig just outside the city centre, Split has a great local feel to it, showcasing a superb blend of North-East talent and national acts.

Following on from the success of 2011, which saw the Drums and the Charlatans headline a rich and varied bill, 2012 promises to be even bigger, better and brasher. The pièce de resistance, perhaps curators Futureheads’ greatest coup ever, is the appearance of Public Image Limited in their headline slot on the Main Stage on Saturday night. Johnny Rotten’s post-Sex Pistols outfit reformed in 2009, and in May released ‘This Is PiL,’ their first album of new material in 20 years. Expect a razor-sharp band featuring guitar virtuoso and Fagin lookalike Lu Edmonds, and coruscating bar-room banter and plenty of brandy-swigging from Lydon himself (pictured right at Primavera Sound 2011). As the last PiL date before their American tour in the autumn, this is simply a no-brainer. One to savour.

Elsewhere on the bill we find a double dose of West Yorkshire noise in the form of Pulled Apart by Horses and That Fucking Tank, postmodern chanteuse Kyla La Grange, the dreamy pop of St. Etienne, and finally our hosts The Futureheads wrapping things up on Sunday night on the Main Stage. If the ears finally succumb to noise, there’s a fine tent of folk at the Tunstall Hill Tent on the Saturday (Kathryn Williams, King Creosote, followed by The Unthanks to close out the night), which turns noisy again on the Sunday with headliners Future of the Left. Last year saw a food tent with international delicacies galore, and a wide selections of real ales to dig into, both of which make a welcome reappearance this time around. Split is a great way to wrap up to a fine season of festivals, and with tickets a veritable steal at £40 for the weekend and day tickets for £25 for either Saturday or Sunday also available, it’s bound to be Rotten.

 

Preview: Split Festival 2011

 
By on Friday, 2nd September 2011 at 11:00 am
 

The fourth Split Festival returns to the Ashbrooke Sports Club in Sunderland on 17th and 18th September. The two-day festival, curated by Sunderland’s own Futureheads, boasts a fine slice of local talent, whilst offering enough international acts to keep even the most jaded festival-goer awake. At the time of writing, tickets are still available at the bargain price of £35 for the full weekend.

For any enthusiast of the vibrant Northeast scene, or fans of its melodic, harmonised sound, the goodies on offer at Split are second to none. Saturday features the sparkly, newly-minted Vinyl Jacket from Northumberland, Sunderland’s ornithological instrumentalists B>E>A>K, the delicate and dramatic Newcastle-bred but L.A. enthusiast Beth Jeans Houghton, and a rare chance to catch Jarrow’s poppy guitarslingers Little Comets. Saturday’s talent from further afield includes 80s widescreeners Spector, the mathy Dutch Uncles, and straight-ahead indie veterans the Rifles, whose new album is due out just a couple of days later. Then there’s a chance to see how the Mystery Jets’ new material is coming along, before headliners the Drums (pictured above) give a masterclass in deceptively simple, melodic New York thought-pop, showcasing new album ‘Portamento’ released the same week.

There’s a distinctly punky edge to Sunday’s line-up: Sunderland’s vintage punk rockers Leatherface, active for over 20 years, are still capable of ear-bleeding intensity, after whom the Dauntless Elite, Dinosaur Pile-Up and the King Blues create a triptych of melodic noise that should satisfy all but the most hardcore of punk fans. Bringing light to the shade are the sunny Tomahawks For Targets from Newcastle, Sunderland’s superb, trippy Hyde & Beast, featuring both a Futurehead and a Golden Virgin, and the jangly Ganglians with their dreamy Sacramento psych-rock. A homecoming gig for pop ‘n’ rollers Frankie and the Heartstrings is worth wearing a quiff for, before headliners the Charlatans put on the granddad shirts and baggy jumpers and shake it like it’s 1990.

If that feast of musical goodness wasn’t enough, there’s a literal feast on offer, with Masterchef finalist Stacie Stewart cooking up a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in honour of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, which, rhymingly enough, was written in Sunderland. Not to mention the superb Fringe Tent, with Beth Orton headlining the Saturday, or Sunday’s enviable comedy line-up. A veritable treat for a modest price – even Geordies must be tempted to cross the river for it.

General Admission tickets are available for Saturday, Sunday and the whole weekend. Prices are £25.00 for a day ticket and £40.00 for a weekend ticket (booking and postage fees apply). There is an additional VIP ticket option called ‘Friends of Split’, giving you access to the festival on either Saturday, Sunday or the whole weekend plus access to the ‘Friends of Split’ area where there will be a dedicated bar service with local Real ales, lagers and spirits and a luxury seating area, you will also receive some Split branded merchandise including a ‘Friends of Split’ t-shirt. Prices for Friends of Split tickets are £44.00 for a day ticket and £71.50 for a weekend ticket (inclusive of booking fees, postage fees apply). For more information, visit the official Split Festival Web site.

 

Tramlines 2011: Day 3 Roundup

 
By on Tuesday, 16th August 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

Fortunately, the weather once again holds out on Sunday as thousands of music fans flood into the centre of Sheffield for the last day of Tramlines 2011. By early afternoon, venue capacities become how many people will fit and still be able to get to the bar and the main stage has a steady moving queue. For this reason, I return to the New Music Stage, which today is curated by local screamo/hardcore group Rolo Tomassi. The band have great taste, as the first band I see are Brontide, proper post-rock that appears to convert those present who weren’t already fans. 65daysofstatic are amongst a group of local bands to really bring this genre to the forefront of new rock music so it’s great to see Brontide get such a good billing in the city centre.

Later, London group Three Trapped Tigers also grace this stage but I decide to go for another Tramlines speciality in the form of the Busker Bus. Created and curated by local band Bromheads, the busker bus (crowd shown above) takes punters on a trip across Sheffield (and back) with the benefit of artists playing a gig at the same time. I arrive just in time for today’s special guests, the Everly Pregnant Brothers (photo below). Playing their third set in as many days, the Yorkshire band are comprised of about 10 ukulele and other small instrument-playing middle aged men. Sounds like a recipe for disaster right? Actually, it’s brilliant and quite refreshing to hear a band play a version of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ with all of their own words, whilst a hundred people crammed onto public transport all “fafafafaafa”-ing along. At the stop, everyone’s off and they manage to out-Sheffield Jarvis Cocker at his own song as the group play ‘Common People’ before going into the pub to play another set whilst the bus riders get back on and back to the centre. Next up on the bus are late additions and ever popular Johnny Foreigner. Playing some quieter tracks ahead of their main stage show later today, ‘I’ll Choose my Side’ is put alongside an as of yet, unnamed track to treat those present.

Upon being returned to the city, I head straight for the main stage. After featuring a selection of pop from Olly Murs and Pixie Lott yesterday, as well as Joshua Radin and Guillemots, today’s line-up is distinctly more electric guitar-friendly. I arrive in time to catch the Phantom Band’s sound make its mark on the city and with dedications to any single-malt drinkers in the crowd (sorry security, you missed my flask), the band bring a slightly synthesized and electric folk blended set of tracks to the main stage. The second and much larger set of Johnny Foreigner’s day comes in replacement of their fallen friends: “to anyone at the back who’s confused, we’re not Frankie and the Heartstrings,” explains front man Alexei. Playing to a crowd the size of “an entire tour” the band (pictured below) play tracks that are nearest to being the ‘hits’ collection and do it well. Scatterings of fans across the crowd appreciate to start, many more are dancing, a little, by the end. Even new song ‘Electricity vs. the Dead’ leaves fans seeming quite happy with the progress the band have made.

It’s the hit makers up next though. The Futureheads bring a set list that’s been tried and tested for months in similar billings to Sheffield and get everyone doing “the bouncy bounce” which is effectively jumping in time, as well as constructing mass sing-alongs for ‘The Beginning of the Twist’ and the ever popular Kate Bush cover of ‘Hounds of Love’. It’s the kind of music festivals like Tramlines exist for.

Not that it stops there though, because this evening’s headliners have even more crowd pleasers. Ash (pictured at the top of this post) open with ‘Girl From Mars’, reminding everyone just what a tour de force they’ve been since day one and now with the added sound of Russell Lissack (Bloc Party member two of my weekend), they’re sounding even more like a band worthy of headlining such an event. Their set features all the expected hits, some recent singles from their ‘A-Z’ project and even covers of ‘Teenage Kicks’ and Weezer’s ‘Only in Dreams’ alongside set and festival closer ‘Burn Baby Burn’. What a way to close a festival!

Tramlines probably should have some sort of limits and caps, but I’m not sure there’s a way to implement that without ruining so much about what makes it incredible. Hundreds of bands playing a mass array of free live music can only be good in my eyes. Until next time, thanks Sheffield.

 

Top Gigs of 2010: Editor’s Picks

 
By on Tuesday, 14th December 2010 at 11:00 am
 

I went to a lot of gigs this year. (If you need the evidence, my gig list is under the cut, click the link further down in this post.) The more amazing gigs you go to, the more difficult it is to choose your top 5 performances for the year. I haven’t taken this task lightly, and without further adieu, here are my top live picks of 2010:

5. Delphic at Washington’s DC9, Liberation Dance Party (Friday 8th October 2010) – Most of my local friends do not share my enthusiasm for gigging – or music, for that matter – so it took a special band to get most everyone I know to DC9 for Liberation Dance Party at the end of the work week.

Washington often gets a bad (and unfair) rap for stoic crowds – I’ve seen far worse in my travels. This night, the DC9 crowd were going mental for the Manchester band’s electropop/guitar rock sound, and I couldn’t have prouder. (Exhibit A: two blokes were stood right in front of James Cook, described by my friend Silvia as “Mister Super Dancer and his 7-foot tall friend” going absolutely crazy, dancing like loons, “it looked like this was the most exciting thing that ever happened to them”. Haha. If you were interested, Mr. SD was later seen picking Rick Boardman’s brain after the show.) I’ll be the first to admit, there is a touch of bitter sentimentality about this gig for me, as for a long while I thought this might be the last dance ever put on at DC9. (DC9 was closed since 15th October after a tragic death [cause of death still unknown] occurred on the street outside the venue. I was really sad about this, because I’ve seen some of the best gigs of my life there. But it looks like the club will reopen on Wednesday [15 December]!)

4. the Futureheads at Washington’s Black Cat (Friday 4th June 2010) – I remembering Tweeting earlier that Friday afternoon about how I was going to see the Sunderland band for the first time that night, and what did I find in my messages but a personal note from Barry Hyde saying, “we’re going to knock your socks off. see you B x”. Being the professional I am, I refused to let that touch of thoughtfulness bias my opinion of the evening, and I really needn’t have worried. They played hit after hit after hit with no signs of the onslaught abating. At one point, Hyde even yelled at an inconsiderate drunk who was causing trouble, and everyone cheered. Well done, Barrington Hydeous! For a while I was almost sure this was going to be my top gig of 2010.

3. the Temper Trap at Boston’s House of Blues (Wednesday 29th September 2010) – You know how sometimes you can just feel greatness? Just two gigs in on a month-long tour of North America, you could just feel that this band from Melbourne, you could feel them at the top of their game. While I wasn’t impressed by the audience reaction and I am sure DC would have given them a better reaction based on their show in April at the 9:30, the sound quality at HOB was amazing. Afterwards, I ran into half of the band, smiles all around. (Who wouldn’t have been happy with a performance like that?) I would love to see them again, but I think their days of playing clubs are over.

2. the Joy Formidable at Washington’s Black Cat Backstage (Thursday 11th November 2010) – Ritzy Bryan knows how to rock it. I mean, I never expected her to go for it as much as she did when the Joy Formidable played DC for the first time last month. WOW. Talk about unleashing pure, unadulterated power. I’d been having such a hohum month that this gig kicked me in the arse and said, you know what? Music – and how you feel it – is what it’s all about. Cannot wait for ‘The Big Roar’ to come out next year, accompanied by full tours in the US and the UK, of course.

1. the Postelles at Washington’s DC9 (18th September 2010) – The Postelles, four incredibly fun guys from New York City who play the most fun guitar pop ever, haven’t even released a full album yet. Like the Joy Formidable, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain by throwing themselves 1,000x into their performance. And judging from the Saturday night crowd assembled to watch them – and go crazy for them – full scale Postellementalism is just around the corner.

After the jump is a full list of all the gigs I’ve been to in 2010 (in reverse chronological order) so you have an idea how difficult my job was to choose favourites. The runner-up gigs (gigs that fell were in my top 10 but did not make my top 5) are also marked.
Continue reading Top Gigs of 2010: Editor’s Picks

 
 
 

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