Festival Reviews

If you were looking to have a new and eclectic festival, who better to curate it than a respected and influential independent record shop, ( hello, Drift Records!) and where better to house it than a hippy intellectual enclave in the south west (yes, that is you, Totnes!) .

It’s near the sea, so the three lovely record shop organisers called it Sea Change – motto, I Can Sea change. I knew it was to be a special weekend when we woke in the bijou campsite in the dairy fields of Dartington estate to find a table laden with free tea, coffee, milk and flasks of hot water. Then Bob the Community Bus arrived to take us the short trip to town.

The five diverse venues were mostly close together in the High Street, where every other shop is a cool café or organic eatery. The opening ceremony was led by Ways with Weirds, two poets who really are undertakers. It had a death and rebirth theme, in the little used Civic Hall where Blondie and 90s raves once shook the tiles from the ceiling – now reborn with a line-up so diverse that even I could not appreciate all of it... full of new discoveries whose records Drift liked and had connections with.

A full-on Membranes rock show was preceded by lead singer and writer John Robb being interviewed about his love of science by John Duran of the Quietus, who later curated a stage in the S Devon Arts Centre featuring his mates like Teeth of the Sea and Bo Ningen...you get the picture. Incidentally, Teeth were so powerful my friend ran out screaming during the first number, joining several other deafened partners on a big leather sofa outside next to a ping pong table.

One of the finest venues for both architecture and acoustics was the 13th C St Marys Church (no bands til 4pm on Sat because of a wedding, when the large festival Bar Open sign was discreetly replaced).

Highlights here were 20 year old Holly Macve from Yorkshire who walked up from the train station with her guitars and sang just like Loretta Lynn, Alasdair Roberts in a trio with Stevie Jones from Sound of Yell and Alex Neilson of Trembling Bells, and James Yorkston with Jon Thorne from Lamb and the stunning voice and sarangi playing of Suhail Yusuf Khan from New Delhi, as heard on their hypnotic and emotional album Everything Sacred.

James then went on to tell anecdotes from his life and two books as part of a spoken word bill in the Birdwood House art gallery.. and then played acoustic solo at a perfect venue, the tiny but welcoming New Lion Brewery.

New Lion had brewed some special beers just for the festival, including British Sea Power IPA (100 numbered bottles – I drank no. 22!), named for the headliners and big name draw who packed out the final session at the Civic Hall. Totnes has two other breweries, including brew pub the Barrelhouse who hosted great dance music with Bizarre Rituals and guests such as Neil Landstrum of Planet Mu and the wonderful Throws, made up of the founders of folkpsych favs Tuung. The two singers played opposite, staring into each other’s eyes.

Perhaps the best new discovery of the weekend was Ultimate Painting, one of several acts referencing the 60s, in this case the Beach Boys and the Byrds. Shame I missed them solo on New Lion’s intimate staircase. Other highlights were BC Camplight roaring out his soulful songs in a big black hat and coat with a bottle of red wine in one hand and a keyboard in the other, and 30Lbs of Bone playing his sad slow laments to a seated Civic Hall. Then it was rocking out with Brighton’s version of the Beautiful South, Pure Conjecture, featuring new Heavenly artist Rose Elinor Dougall.

@KevinHand3

Festival Website

Come rain, wind, storms, sunshine, blue or grey skies, the middle weekend of August brings us The Green Man Festival, in the glorious setting of the Black Mountains in South Wales.

This year it’s the 14th edition of the festival. A festival that is special in the calendar mainly for the laid back, chilled, mixed ages and general happiness of the people attending. Thursday this year, sees again a fine line-up to wet the taste buds for the weekend ahead.

First on the Far Out Stage ( bigger tent this year) are Cigarettes after Sex from Brooklyn. Slightly National like in style these guys are excellent. Deep, dark songs from next year’s debut LP sound very promising indeed.

Next up it’s King Glizzard and the Lizard Wizard from Australia who nearly blow the roof off the tent on the first evening. Psych Rock at its finest.

Final band of the night is Wild Beasts, the biggest Thursday headliner the festival has had. The band back with a new album, ‘Boy King’ are in fine form and play a full 90 mins set.

Friday

First up on the Mountain (main) Stage is Tony Njoku, winner of the Green Man Rising competition. An excellent voice mixed with Synths make for an interesting sound. Palace Winter, a Copenhagen rock outfit seem polished and able to blow the cobwebs away! Always a good sign.

Next a band that certainly fit into that category are the 9 piece O’Hellos from Austin, Texas. Absolutely fabulous, full of life, full of fun and great songs! Ex- Megafauna man Phil Cook gives us an accomplished set of great songs and chat before it’s off the the Far Out tent for the legends that are The Membranes. Suitably shell-shocked post gig we head for Georgia band Mothers who took to the Walled Garden Stage having switched slots with Emma Pollock .

The band highlighted their set with a number of songs from their latest album 'When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired', which has received rave reviews from critics. Whilst you may not find their show full of party central songs, their sophisticated songwriting was evident in their 30 minute set. Showing just why their band are gaining an up and coming following.

Julianna Barwick is someone you always want to listen to lying on the grass with your eyes shut. Magnificent! Next it’s The Mountain Stage for local hero Meilyr Jones who was excellent with great songs and lyrics. Then comes veteran U.S. indie band The Miracle Legion. Mark Mulcahy and co delivered a great set in the pouring rain to an enthusiastic and very wet crowd.

Oh Sister, another Green Man Rising band were something special on the Rising stage. Very soulful and great musicians ... a Brit Warpaint in the making. Throws were surprisingly loud on the Walled Garden stage ... excellent songs created during a winter in Iceland apparently.

Early evening now and Connan Moccasin takes to the Mountain stage with the evening sun shining bright and warm. It takes a while for the band to warm up, but when they do, wow! Suuns clash with Jason Isbell but with the staggered stage time we get 20 mins of this superb band, after which the aforementioned Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit play a storming set on the Mountain stage.

Dark now and it's White Denim who get everyone bouncing before it becomes a choice of James Blake or a re-formed Lush. We opt for Lush and get a Shoegaze, Brit pop history lesson. Brilliant!

Saturday

I See Rivers (Staves like) start the day off beautifully. Sea Pinks from Belfast raise the pace with their bright sparking indie tunes followed by Fews, a Foals like band finding their feet fast. BC Camplight and band have a sunshine set on the Walled Garden stage, which is great fun as is, the ever delightful Emma Pollock, who is always someone to make the sun shine.

The Weather Station, Canadian Tamara Lindeman and band play a sublime set in the Walled Garden. Shut your eyes and think Joni Mitchell and you have it. Joan Shelley also guested on one song.

The Magnetic North with Simon Tong, Hannah Peel and Gawain Erland Cooper plus strings are magnificent, again on the small Walled Garden stage. Both their albums get a good look in during the hour long set. A real highlight of the weekend.

Night time and Edward Sharpe and his Magnetic Zeros get the Mountain stage crowd on their feet and dancing. A brilliant frontman and equally brilliant band, turn a large crowd into a club!

Laura Marling played a wonderful set as headliner but, this wonderful set was more suited to a concert hall. As a Saturday festival headline set it didn’t really work, the crowd seemed pretty deflated after the exuberance of the Edward Sharpe show.

They didn't use video screens on the side of the stage, which meant that those on the slopes around the stage and at the middle / back of the flat area in front of the stage lost their connection with the artist. The same thing happened with Tindersticks earlier in the evening and Neutral Milk Hotel a few years ago. Laura played some beautiful music, but with warning of 55 mph winds due overnight, we chose to trudge back to our tents.

Sunday

No obvious major tent damage after a second night of storms! Sunday was dry day for the most part and very warm. A real great find and opener on the Mountain Stage at midday was Margaret Glaspy, a real gritty singer/songwriter from Red Bluff, California and now based in New York. A real one to watch!

Daniel Norgren from Sweden leads a 3 piece band with heavy Neil Young influences, a great grungy hour in the sunshine. Gengahr are up next, songs form the new album due next year sound good as does the more established material.

Ex-Woods man Kevin Morby plays a blinder in a very warm Far Out Tent and he is followed by a dose of prog psych from The Besnard Lakes. Back to the Walled Garden for some tropical pop from Black Peaches after which the garden becomes rammed as a massive crowd squeezes in for Whitney. A real hit of the weekend, the band suffering from a long night partying still provide a fun packed show of songs and banter. Guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich have really hit a rich vein of form with this band. There are autumn UK dates, so check them out.

Down to our final two bands of the festival. Warpaint, perhaps played the most fluid set of the whole festival. This band have such a brilliant vibe about them. The music each member plays just flows together between the four of them to create a groove laden whole. Outstanding set and again they have Autumn UK dates scheduled.

Unfortunately Warpaint clashed with Ezra Furman, who from comments of those smiling people coming out of the tent after the gig, put on the most talked about set of the weekend. End of the Road beckons for our Ezra live experience!

The legend that is Grandaddy wound up the festival for us in fine style. Pushed for time they still completed an hour long hit laden set to the joy of everyone present.

The burning of the Green Man and speculator fireworks ended the 14th edition of the Green Man festival which was a real joy to attend.

Pete

 

A lovely sunny day for strolling between the five locations up and down Mare Street, Hackney that comprise this festival. The venues are all indoors and are dispersed along a mile-long stretch so a bit of planning is needed. Key thing for us is not to be too ambitious given the requirement to build in 'moving about' time, but at the same time we wanted to take in all five venues which we managed to do.

Good quality street food on offer and plenty of craft ale from local micro-breweries. So with all that, mixed with an eclectic band line-up we couldn't really go wrong.

Gabriel Bruce - Moth Club

Our favourite small venue in Hackney and this was a must-see act for us as well. Particularly good quality Hackney Golden Ale was consumed as we sat in the bar area of this social club awaiting proceedings to begin.

Gabriel Bruce can be best described as 'effortless rockin', his dark brown voice never showcased better than in second song 'Sacred Heart'. Supported with a four-piece band, together they got funky on 'Kurt And Kanye’. Finished with 'Come All Sufferers', title track from Gabriel’s forthcoming album (I confess I thought the song was called ‘Come on Suckers’ until I saw the set list)

Japanese Breakfast - Oval Space

Perhaps I'm getting to be a grumpy old man but I get increasingly irritated at events like this when stage schedules run a long way out of time. This band were second on this stage but (not their fault) were a full 50 minutes late starting. This feels like uncaring disregard for the paying customer (there are other bands I could be seeing!.... or perhaps I should just chill out a little).

At 3.35 the band were ready to go but were looking non-plussed toward the sound desk. At this point I had two templates in my head for this mini-review: (a) ‘....resulted in making what might have been an enjoyable set a rather tepid affair’ or (b) ‘.... but it was worth the wait as this exciting US band blew us away....’

First song in was definitely option A, but things picked up massively as the set progressed and I'm glad to say option B prevailed. This was their first visit to UK. Pop tunes in Alvvays/Sunflower Bean vein but with a thumping beat. The fifth song was sung solo by lead singer Michelle Zauner. Interestingly she seemed most at home on this number; shades of 'See Of Bees'. Unfortunately the guitar sound was out of kilter with the vocal suggesting an acoustic accompaniment might suit it better. Final number went electro a la Polica.

Michelle Zauner is a talent to watch, not necessarily, I suspect, within the confines of this band.

Let's Eat Grandma -St John's Church Hackney

This venue presents a slightly sorry picture. A cavernous building but with a ceiling sadly discoloured from water penetration. Still has the trappings of a working church but the pews all taken out, so unusually for an ecclesiastical venue this is an 'all-stander'.

Let's Eat Grandma are two 17 year old girls from Norwich, Rosa & Jenny. With matching waist long curly hair you'd be forgiven for thinking they were sisters. Having seen pictures of them before today but without hearing their material I was expecting an angry punk-edged shout-fest. This was nothing of the sort. This pair produced sounds of a maturity that belied their years. Supported by a drum machine they both skipped between multiple instruments: keys, glockenspiel, sax, mandolin, guitar and recorder - all complementing the vocals which they also shared.

A few songs in, the drum machine was ditched for real drums, once again both taking a turn. But this was the one area I feel they over-stretched themselves. It felt like wasted energy that might have been put to better use expanding on the quirky synchronised dance-moves that became an increasing feature as the set progressed.

A wonderful performance though surprisingly not the most striking we saw – this was to follow at the Brewhouse....

Drones Club - London Fields Brewhouse

The performance that blew us away most today. As we came out of the Brewhouse bar heading to the small auditorium we followed the band as they exited the 'Band Dressing Room' area. They were bedecked in jump suits all with multi-coloured burkah-style head-dresses. Put me in mind of Devo in their pomp.

As the band went into their first dance-groove electro tune two other (presumably female) band members, similarly attired with only their eyes visible through their head-dress, came toward the stage and proceeded to dance in front of the stage, where they remained, beguiling throughout.

Two of the band members revealed their faces as the set progressed but the remainder remained unidentified. A great spectacle.

Bleached – Mangle Club

Jennifer and Jessie used to be ‘Mika Miko’. Now the band is three girls with a dude on a drumkit which was bedecked with flowers. Girl punk in sensible shoes

Gengahr – Mangle Club

Delivered excellent renditions of songs mostly from their excellent 2015 album ‘A Dream Outside’. Set included three new tunes, played with perhaps a tad more energy. Most interesting was titled ‘Mallory’.

Yak – Moth Club

Missing their usual bass player, tonight’s line-up included Leo of Gallon Drunk on bass. Plus guests Jono (Jagwar Ma) and Jay (Tame Impala) on guitar. This auspicious line up played guitar heavy tunes with plenty of electro keyboards interlaced, all complemented perfectly by sax interludes.

From previous experience of this band we knew the crowd was likely to be ‘lively’; and as expected a mosh started from the opening chords. As drink became spilt on the dance-floor area it became like an ice-rink and in the second number two girls fell backwards to the floor, limbs akimbo. Singer Oliver Burslem wasted no opportunity to max out on this opportunity, leaping from the stage to lay backwards on top of them, hampering their efforts to get up - playing thrashing chords on his guitar all the while.

This was the first of multiple forays into the audience through this vibrant set that comprised songs of 10-12 minutes in length with drum/bass/sax solos aplenty. Fantastic stuff – by the end we were battered and exhausted in equal measure, and wet with beer, water and sweat. An appropriate state to catch the train home with whistling ears....

Si

Festival Website 

Splendour festival is hosted by Nottingham City Council in Batman's back garden, or as it's more usually known Wollaton Hall. (Fun Film fact- Wollaton Hall doubled for Wayne Manor in 'The Dark Knight Rises'), and whilst Batman doesn't appear to be in the crowd today 20,000 residents of Nottingham and surrounds are present.

There are two noisy stages in the parkland next to the hall and an acoustic stage in the courtyard of the hall's outbuildings. Seen first today on the second ('Confetti') stage is grunge-punk band Babepunch. I've seen this very young, local band a few times recently opening shows in Derby and Nottingham and their thick, grunge-like sound works really well outdoors. Particular mention must go to the lead vocals of Molly Godber with her Courtney Love style roar , which is used to great effect on their cover of Hole's 'Violet'. Babepunch's single 'Snake Tongue' is another highlight.

Over to the main stage for Turin Brakes, whose Summery, laid-back sounds fit well with the unusually good East Midlands weather. The small but appreciative crowd gathered down the front sing along with 'Painkiller' and 'Underdog'; both of which are still simply lovely.

By total contrast back on the 'Confetti' stage is Stiff Little Fingers. The mass of old punks in SLF t-shirts heading towards the stage replace the exodus of teens heading the opposite direction possibly confused by the sounds of live guitars and drums; the benefit of experience wins out as SLF play a great set. Opening with 'Barbed Wire Love' they deliver a blistering set of fan favourites including 'When We Were Young ' and 'Tin Soldiers' and just before they finish with 'Alternative Ulster' Jake Burns promises the crowd a return to Nottingham's famous Rock City really soon.

Quick trip to the acoustic stage as Ellie Keegan, who's a highly rated local folksy-acoustic singer songwriter is on. Ellie finished second in the Future Sound of Nottingham 2015 and has appeared on local new music radio show 'The Beat', so she's getting a good reputation locally. There are a couple of things which sets her apart from many other singer songwriters in her clever use of vocal and guitar loops as her own backing track and compared with others older and more experienced she appears confident and totally relaxed on stage. The track 'Change Your Ways' stands out.

The sun is still shining and the quantity of drink increases, so the presence of UB40 gets the picnickers on the hill in front of the main stage off their low deckchairs and blankets for the first time today for a festival-friendly hits set including 'Cherry Oh Baby', 'Be Your Baby Tonight' and 'Many Rivers To Cross'. Their music is the perfect accompaniment for the warm, boozy early evening feeling and their end of set selection of Kingston Town', ' Can't Help Falling In Love With You' and inevitably 'Red, Red Wine' get the first mass field sing alongs of the day.

The average age of the punters gathering in front of the main stage means that we've probably got a 1980's favourite next and The Human League were always one of the best. In a hits-heavy hour you're reminded what a great selection of pop songs (let's not be afraid of using that word) they wrote. First surprise is that Phil Oakey, a man who was once famous for his lop-sided fringe is now completely without hair. Starting the set with 'Mirror Man', then 'Love Action', it's clear the tunes haven't aged at all. The perfect pop melodies provided by Phil, Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall in 'Open Your Heart','Tell Me When' and '(Keep Feeling) Fascination' encourage the audience to join in with every word. Another costume exchange gives the band time to play the first verse and chorus of 'Don't You Want Me' with the audience on lead and backing vocals, the full band plays the whole track to the biggest field sing-along today as the audience are transported back to their adolescence.

A lovely venue, good local refreshments, interesting and varied music and luck with the weather, Splendour was obviously splendid.

Alisdair Whyte

Festival Website

 

The first day of this new festival on the edge of the Thames in Fulham. Music and literature are the themes along with some pretty decent beer, coffee and cuisine. Much the size of a village green fete, the surrounds of Fulham Place are a fine location on a sunny day.

Ticket sales seem to have been pretty sparse with the number of special offers on tickets flying around prior to the two day event, but basked in glorious sunshine the small site did seem comfortably full.

One main music stage is the centre of attention and the music kicks off with Imarham from Algeria with a perfect sound for the sunshine. Into the palace building for a chat with Charlatan’s front man Tim Burgess about his new book ‘Tim Book Two’ .. a lovely interview helmed by Emma Warren.

Back outside for an ethereal set from Be Play One followed by the hazy sunshine sound from a tie dyed t-shirt adorned Ryley Walker.

Back indoors for Darren Hayman playing a rather intimate show around his latest venture ‘Thankful Villages’.A Thankful Village is a village where every soldier returned alive from World War 1 so, lots of stories are told between songs. A lovely set.

Early evening and it’s the return of Beth Orton, slightly overwhelmed to be back on stage it seemed, the three piece outfit start with songs from the new album and Beth really grows into the set. Mixed with “songs from the olden days” it is an accomplished return. Look out for Beth’s September dates.

Final band of the day and headliners are Low. On stage five minutes early, they deliver a magnificent set over the next 90 minutes or so. This band just get better with age it’s an awesome set.

10.00pm curfew so it’s a early train home from a lovely day out.

Day Two is headlined by Super Furry Animals so, it should be another great day out for those there.

Pete

 

 

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