Festival Reviews

The inaugural Common People Festival held over two days of the Bank Holiday Weekend on Southampton Common. No camping facilities so this made for a very local audience. 

Previous events on this scale have been The 80s Festival so good to see a move in a rather more creative direction. Driving force behind the festival is Rob da Bank and it had the slight feel of being an advert for other events he curates in this neck of the woods, notably Bestival (Isle of Wight) and Camp Bestival, the very family-friendly festival held at Lulworth Castle.

The consensus was that as the inaugural event they had played safe with the line-up which comprised a large sprinkling of DJ sets (including Saturday headliner Fatboy Slim, and Rob da Bank himself on day 2). The bands were also mainly local, including Band of Skulls. Sunday’s headliner was Grace Jones, again going for the mass-appeal vote.

Organisation was pretty good with plenty of distractions for younger ones via the mini fairground and play area. There were usual comments about length of wait at some food outlets. 

One gripe from me was the bar facilities. There were lager-bars aplenty across the site. Very laudable that they also had real ale and craft beer available but this was limited to the small 'Uncommon Stage'. This would have been ok but their very helpful idea of providing 4-pint pitchers (think ‘milk carton’) meant the lager-drinking fraternity were also drawn to this bar for lager in 4-pint servings, making for a painfully overcrowded bar situation.  

This was particularly acute on Saturday afternoon; less so on Sunday as they ran out of cartons so only those who took cartons back for refills were able to continue availing themselves of the facility (which I did).

We were able to attend some of Saturday and most of Sunday. 

Here is the review of the acts we enjoyed

Saturday

Novatones - earned their spot as winner of Battle of Bands. Very competent and enjoyable 4-piece guitar band, today with a 4-strong female backing vocal accompaniment. Drummer had his right arm in a cast leading the compere to comment 'the best one-armed drummer I've ever heard'. Not sure if he was being facetious or had never heard Def Leppard.

Rickyfitts - 2-piece guitar/drum line up, in the current mode. More melodic than many bands of their ilk, but still best described as crashing guitars and roaring vocals. Excellent.

Plastic Mermaids - hailing from the isle of Wight, all five band members were in bright, sixties style dress. The set started off with electro guitar mash-ups all accompanied with wide smiles, the epitome of a band delighted to be playing such a big stage. As the set progressed the tunes became increasingly atmospheric with the lead guitarist using a bow on some numbers, and this morphed into beautifully melodic/summery tunes reflecting their flower-power era outfits. The set climaxed with the introduction of a female vocalist who sang in operatic style - a spine-tingling conclusion to an excellent set. (This band is my one find from the weekend - already booked tickets for their London show in October).

George The Poet - as the best-known act so far on the main stage GTP was the first performance to draw real energy from the sun-drenched crowd. His articulate rapping is underpinned by strident if broad-brush political views. Unfortunately for me, I'd been looking at Akala videos in the morning - a far more edgy performer; made GTP sound a little bland by comparison.

Black Kat Boppers - RnR standards. Standard.

Jaguarskills - reflective of the atmosphere of this festival this DJ / Dubstep set was core fayre for much of the crowd. 

 

Sunday

The Costellos - another local Battle of the Bands winner. A youthful 4-piece guitar band delivering their own RnB tunes with great energy.

Craig Charles - Soul and Funk DJ mash-ups. Highlight was Sexual Healing on brass over a funk groove. As on Day One, the nature of the audience at this event meant this got a greater response than many of the bands on the bill.

Charley Macauley - wonderful soulful voice. Her songs were given colour through her 7-piece band that included a vibrant brass section, but never over-powering the strength and clarity of her vocal. 

Cuban Brothers - usual zany antics from this dad-dancing/underpant-wearing troupe. Mr Tumble for grown-ups.

Daisy Kitty & Lewis - Rockabilly six-piece. Their best tunes were those that lead with Harmonica or Sax, giving a more earthy, bluesy vibe

Slaves - great response to this brash full-on two-piece band. Most entertaining song was 'Feed The Manteray' when a crowd-surfer dressed as a flat fish jumped from the stage. Humorous moment when the band had to stop to ask the crowd to pick him up so he could complete his journey back to the stage

Years And Years - 4-piece band: 2 keys, drums and vocals. Drew a good crowd for their poppy/tuneful songs

Brother Goose - another local band on the smaller 'Uncommon Stage'. All five of the band were in maroon. Fortunately that's where the comparison to Maroon 5 ends. A punchy set interspersed with melodic pop numbers, like 'Lightbulb Moment'. Had a bass player making his debut. New tune 'That's The Way It Is'  in the middle of the set was the highlight.

Band Of Skulls - 'local band made good' were very comfortable on the larger main 'Common Stage'.

The Rising - much better live than their demo CD suggests. A really tight set. I still think their song 'Strangers In The Night' is a classic.

Clean Bandit – Solid performance from this band that have got themselves well into the mainstream.  Rather Be was an expected highlight and drew an excellent reaction from the early evening crowd. 

Grace Jones - broody and prowling around the stage with youthful grace (excuse the pun). Hats off to her continuing to deliver such an entertaining show.

So in summary, a good kick-off event which we hope will be repeated.  I think there is a worthwhile comparison to be drawn with a comparison the Victorious Festival, down the road at Portsmouth. 

Victorious had it’s inaugural year last summer, and apart from a few indie bands it was a pretty safe line up with 80s bands and Stones/Beatles tribute acts.  

The 2015 line-up this coming August is looking much more ambitious.  So from a selfishly optimistic view I hope Common People Fest goes the same way.

Si

 

 

The Great Escape is unique – as a showcase for new artists from around the world, from all genres, it offers the chance of seeing some of the best performances of the year – and some of the worst. With over 30 venues and 450 bands, no-one’s experience of it will ever be the same. The trick is trying to find the good stuff, whilst retaining a sense of fun and not rushing all over town on the hunt. I try to ask as many knowledgeable friends as possible, and lots of random strangers over the weekend ‘so, what do you recommend?’

Highlights:

 Day 1 Act 1 – coming out of torrential rain into the warmth of a little cellar bar to find Blair Dunlop (son of folk legend Ashley Hutchings) performing new songs like 'Castella' and 'Fox News' to a damp, quiet audience – he dedicates the latter to me, as the only person to respond to its anti-Murdoch intro. Later I stopped a man with a guitar to ask the way and instead he gave me his new cd – very nice lovelorn original Scottish folk. Thanks, Aaron Fyfe!

Slaves – so good live that their madness transcends any notions of cartoon pop-punk.  Sure they tell funny stories, but the tunes are massive, and they have something that so many lack – effortless rapport with their audience. So good I saw them twice, the first time amongst fans, the second with mostly record industry people – each time the effect was the same, within minutes sane people were running amok in total support of the duo – literally, when they walk out onto the outstretched arms of the audience towards the end of each set. While even they describe songs such as 'Feed the Mantaray' and 'Wheres Your Car Debbie' as ‘silly’, that mutual shared energy wins over – and numbers like the 'Hunter' and commuters theme  'Cheer Up London, You’re  Already Dead' (introduced with “if you don’t like your job…change it”) are political punk anthems.

Some great music coming out of South Africa right now, most notably Die Antwoord, so a pleasure to catch fellow rapper Okmalumkoolkat, who has the wooden floor bouncing at a lovely pub venue the Prince Albert. We shout back the lyrics to 'Holy Oxygen' and other slogans in unknown languages. Shaka Zulu would be proud (both the rebel warrior, and the sound system!)

Thurston Moore showed the youth how to do it, trading 10 minute riffs with his excellent band. Totally engrossing and enveloping, like a drug – to such an extent that the audience were dismayed at staff pulling the plug on them, only to discover they had overrun by 25 minutes!

However probably the most exciting experience of the weekend was even older - watching two 70 year old men in a small rammed pub – Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, the original Zombies, doing a 40 minute set spanning 50 years, including Time of the Seasons and She’s Not There, plus songs from their new album as premiered earlier this year at SXSW, with such joy and passion. Let’s hope some of the new guys here will be doing the same in 2065.

And a special mention for

Wand’s Californian psych wig outs, complete with crowd surfers

Zun Zun Egui’s tribal rock chants, face to face with the audience in a hotel living room

Delta Rae’s wild gospel blues, inc a cover of FMac’s the Chain

Lee Bains III and Glory Fires – Skynyrd on speed, watched by their mates Alabama Shakes

Mile Me Deaf – Austrian kraut/noise rock done with panache

Michel’s superb Palestinian falafels at Trafalgar Arches – as eaten by Michael Portillo!

Kevin Hand

 

The temperature’s in single digits, the rain showers are heavy and the forecast for the rest of the day isn’t much better, it must be time for the first festival of the year, albeit thankfully indoors.

Spread across 19 venues around the city, Live At Leeds (not to be confused with THE Leeds Festival) is a metropolitan, mainly 1 day event with over 150 bands playing and at a mere £27 for a wristband, excellent value for money.

Following a trip to the wristband exchange, then a hearty breakfast to set us up for the day ahead, the first decision was where to start? 8 of the venues had bands starting at midday, so we plumped for possibly Leeds’ newest venue The Key Club, which is rapidly getting a reputation for excellent rock nights. Local new band Forever Cult were on, a shouty, noisy three piece garage-rock band, not dissimilar to other local favourites Eagulls & Hookworms. This was both a good start and a scene setter for the day.

On the way to one of the larger venues taking part today, the O2 Academy, we popped into The Nation of Shopkeepers where a band called Ngod were playing, and impressing the large crowd in there with their indie/electronic hybrid brand of music.

So then to the Academy, where we joined the queue and intended to stay for most of the afternoon. Gaz Coombes opened the show, and was typically very polished with an excellent band and light show. Sadly no Supergrass songs were played, however with only a 45 minute slot he had to showcase mainly the new album.

After a 30 minute break, we made for row 1 for what was my wife’s anticipated band of the day, Dry The River. Elation turned to disappointment as mid set the power on stage completely went off, so like the true professionals they are, from the edge of the stage they performed an acoustic version of Weights & Measures from Shallow Bed. This only seemed to add to the magic of the performance, and when they ended with an electric version of the same song, the roof was nearly blown off.

Stornaway were next up, and we retired to the seats on the balcony. This is a band I love on record, but for some reason they don’t grab me in a live setting. This was the third time I’ve seen them, and the 3rd time I’ve left before the end of the set.

So that was the end of the Academy for us, so we had a big decision to make…where next ? So many venues, so many bands - probably enough bands to have a 3 day festival with. Leeds Beckett had : Menace Beach, Genghar, Hookworms, Eagulls & Thurston Moore, The Brudenell had Pinkshinyultrablast, Spring Kings, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Slaves and The Town Hall had Dutch Uncles, Palma Violets and The Cribs….we decided on the 2 stage venue of the university.

Model Aeroplanes were first for us, sounding like a younger Bombay Bicycle Club and the small but enthusiastic crowd was won over.

Misty Miller, a 20 year old Londoner was one of the finds of the day. Accompanied by a full band she has no right to have that powerful a voice and such an assured performance. Excellent.

Manchester’s Man Made were up next, and possibly another tip for 2015. A 3 piece guitar band, again they impressed hugely.

Next up were my 2 anticipated bands of the day : Blossoms & Hooton Tennis Club. Blossoms, from Stockport, had an Oasis thing going on, with added keyboards, and with the same assuredness and stagecraft of the aforementioned. Looking forward to the album release. Liverpool’s Hooton Tennis Club followed on in the smaller stage and to a criminally small crowd. Energetic, sloppy, noisy, tuneful and youthful scousers. Again, bring on the debut album.

And finally for the Uni, up were Fransico The Man from LA. A blistering wall of shoe gaze noise and guitars. Exhilarating.

So this takes us up to 9pm, and fatigue is setting in, so back to The Nation of Shopkeepers for a change of pace and 1 final band Jagaara. They might well be London’s version of Haim, but again another find for the day.

I’d love to have finished off with The Cribs, but the queue outside the Town Hall told you the venue was at capacity, so off we went to get the train home.  All in all, a fabulous day, some great finds and some fantastic performances were seen. This will definitely be a regular in the calendar from now on.

Keith @kjsmith4082

Before the trip itself, there had been plenty of talk regarding SXSW and what it had become.  Whilst as a music fan, not much had changed as far as amount of bands was concerned, the corporate side of SXSW had become a bit of a monster in recent years.  It was drawing in big name bands for exclusive performances, and while that was great for the fan in general, it may have not been great for the festival itself and the 1000’s of bands that make the trip to Austin to gain something from the all the work they put in.  Pretty difficult to compete when all the talk is about Prince or Coldplay…Kanye…

With increased exposure came even more free parties, open to all, and attracting even more to the city.   However, it had become unmanageable.  Line-ups became problematic and sheer volume of people in the city had started turning many industry folks away from Austin.  In 2015, SXSW made changes after feedback from those who attended and after hearing from so many bands, managers, and labels, that it had become difficult for them to justify the money, time and effort that it cost to attend.

So with that in mind, we prepared for SXSW 2015 not really sure what we were going to find when we got there, but we were going to have a concrete plan of bands to see before we got to Austin and take it from there and when the planning was all done, it was time to head to Austin.

Monday 16th  March 2015

So, the intention was to fly to Austin before the Music portion of SXSW kicked off. That would give us an opportunity to have a few drinks at our favorite craft beer bar, eat in our favorite restaurant and get a little rest before everything started.

That didn't exactly work out to plan as it turned out, there was plenty to do on Monday and there was no point in resting, SXSW had begun.

The party of the night turned out to put on by Rocket Fuel, a marketing company, and with Misterwives, Real Estate, and New Pornographers playing; it was tough not to go.  Sadly when we stood in line, it was revealed that while we all had rsvp’d, not everyone was going to get in.  Those who had received a confirmation email from Rocket Fuel were getting in and 3/4 of those in line would have to wait until later to join in on the fun, so….it was off to Latitude for the Monday night British Embassy party!

Got straight in to Latitude and they were handing out free beer tickets, and we were off.

Lost Brothers were up first and we had seen them before…lovely 2 piece Irish folk group and it was on.   Talented young men with a great sound. Next up, surprise guest?  No band listed so we were unsure who to expect.   It was Irish night at Latitude so that gave us one clue but we waited to see.

That's when we were all asked to remain quiet for the duration of the next show as it would be worth it…and they were right. Soak came onto the stage. This young 18yr old is a fantastic young talent.  Her songs are beautiful, her voice is pure and subtle and Latitude was silent but for her singing and guitar. She really is a wonderful singer and it's easy to forget that she is only 18 as she sings with such compassion and maturity that the songs just flow ….and she holds everyone's attention until the end of her set when the entire bar erupts in cheers, and clapping and there is not a person in the bar that regrets being there, it really was fantastic!

Then it was time to try to get into the Rocket Fuel party. It was time for Real Estate. A quick walk over to the Vulcan Gas Co bar, line-up was still there but they were pulling out anyone that had badges and in we went.   Here we found an open bar and free food…not what we really needed but its rude to say no…..…

We had missed Misterwives but still had the opportunity to watch Real Estate and New Pornographers.  Real Estate put on a solid showcase of their new and old tracks, another solid set of great songs that kept the crowd going (that and the free booze) until New Pornographers one show in Austin for SXSW.

New Pornographers played a full set of old classics and new tracks off of Brill Bruisers.  Would love to list any or all of the tracks they played but at this point, its after midnight and the free booze has caught up!!  I do recall dancing rather a lot during the great “Use It” but other than that, it's a little foggy.   Could also be the green drinks they were handing out but it was a heck of a first night.

note to self, when jumping into a first night like this, perhaps some restraint is best as this first night not only led to a wicked Tuesday morning (and afternoon) hangover, but repeated drunken attempts to upload video and photo’s used up most of what data plan I had purchased for our trip to the United States and the bill for using my phone was looking to be huge by the time we got back.

So, so much for a calm start to SXSW 2015, we dove in and it had begun. It was now Tuesday morning, time to knap and start over!

St. Patricks Day 2015

Well,its a little early to be this hung-over but it has happened.  Its going to be a long day.

First off, is the Rolling Stone party that is happening this year at Mellow Johnnys bike shop.   Tuesday afternoon is usually pretty quiet for options so a party that is featuring Alex Winston, Best Coast and TV on the Radio, you pretty much have to commit.

After a short wait outside, the free food and more free booze is on (I abstained) and after a couple of young new artists perform (Cramer a young r&b artist and a young singer songwriter whose name was never clear) it was time for Best Coast.  With new music ready to go and plenty of recent exposure, their set was full of pop and shoegazey classics including “Last Year” as well as new track “Heaven Sent”.  It's a fun venue to see them in and the place is packed.  Party was open to all so it's not badged and wristband folks, it's a lot of fans so the crowd is all over it.

After a short break next on is Alex Winston. Alex is a talented young pop rock singer songwriter and though I don't recall any new material for some time, it's clear the Rolling Stone folks love her.  They give her a great avenue to get back in people's faces, and with being tour support for Edward Sharpe, every little bit helps.  She is a classically trained singer so there are some fairly strong songs; no doubt new material is in the works

Now it's late afternoon and its time for the party to kick off.  Pretty much everyone at the party has shifted inside making it as packed as I have ever seen Mellow Johnnys…for TV on the Radio.   Tunde Adebimpe is his frenetic manic self and the whole band is jumping.  You can see the bikes, hanging from the ceiling of the shop sway slowly to the deep bass that's happening in the venue. There is a sexy nerdiness to these guys and the crowd eats them up.   There is no sign of any issues with the band, they all seem healthy and tracks like “Wolf” and “Trouble” stand out. It's a full on show, and the band does not hold back at all…and it's a good solid 45-60 minute set that makes everyone happy.

Dinner and drinks are welcomed now to prepare for another full night.

Tonight were are off to British Label Transgressive Records party at Buffalo Billiards.  While there were some solid showcases this night, this one would be the one with the best chance for me to see Songhoy blues.  I have always been a fan of the label having loved bands like The Subways, Johnny Flynn, Mystery Jets and of new acts like Songhoy Blues, Gengahr and Spring King.. it's an easy choice.  

Spring King are up first and these kids rock.  Have always admired bands whose drummer is the lead singer and that's not easy considering the punk rock style they play.  Its messy and straight ahead, loud and abrasive but still smooth.  Very nice, and while on occasion it all slows down a bit so drummer/lead singer Tarek Musa can catch his breath, it's a solid first show of the evening.

Next up, Gengahr. Indie Pop at its best, and kinda sinister, there is something lurking underneath the surface for this band.  It's a wonderful set of songs that are refreshing, I hear the Smiths on occasion,  love when you are listening to a band and you don't quite know what is coming next and it's a great follow up to the in your face, Spring King.

Next it is Songhoy Blues.This band comes with plenty of hype and this is only their 4th show ever in the States and it is a good one. The band from Mali, who are always smiling, play a fantastic live show.  This despite the fact their songs are based on tragic stories, of a brutal history, which their songs featured in the movie “They will have to kill us first” which is being featured at SXSW film, a movie about the Jihadist takeover of Northern Mali in 2012.  

Their live show is the ultimate experience of their talent, I am not sure how it will translate to an album but the show is infectious and grooving, a fantastic guitar driven rhythm based party and its a solid 45 minutes of fun.

The sound has that world beat groove and with lead singer dancing around and enjoying the show as much as he does, it is impossible to not love these guys.  Can't wait until these guys visit Toronto, its hard to label their music but it's well worth it to check them out wherever you are.

Next it's off to Latitude to check out Catfish & the Bottlemen who having sold out their last show in Toronto, it's obvious they are popular and the bar is crammed!  I decide to do what many are doing and that is stand outside the venue, where you can easily see and hear the band, and check them out.

Once described as the “defiantly uncool Welsh indie Rockers”, these kids are solid.  Indie pop rock well performed and it's difficult for me to find any fault in their show.  It sounds perfect, some great songs, done by a very talented band, and I enjoy all of their set, especially seeing the show from outside on a beautiful night in Austin! 

It's also a fantastic way to end the night, after a long day it is time to walk the 2 blocks to my hotel while humming Catfish songs and get ready to go again tomorrow!

Good night!

Wednesday 18th March, 2015

Feeling great this morning having recovered from Monday debaucher and managed to get some sun on Tuesday and Wednesday brings more sun to Austin and a very busy day for SXSW.

The plan is to head to the Mohawk for a day full of shows put on by Pitchfork.  Some may remember that this venue gets very busy and it has two stages, an inside stage in a very small room and an outside stage that holds considerably more people and levels of viewing areas, and a much more comfortable experience.

Some bands I watched for only 10 minutes (because we were stuck inside) and others we watched a full set outside, it was a busy day of running between the two stages and got a little tiring but badges were let into the building a lot earlier than those who had simply rsvp’d so we got a solid perch outside and one of us kept our spot safe while the other (me) spent the day between the two stages.

First up outside was Torres who is a rather gritty performer. Guitar based band with a tough lead singer, even the songs that start out as a ballad morph into something a little harder.  Her new album is coming out soon and she sings in a throaty whisper and switches to a full howl quickly and its a solid set of grunge guitar outside.

Inside…its a few dreamy songs by Lydia Ainsworth.  This local (Toronto) talent is well known here for being classically trained and has produced some very experimental stuff.  Inside, her songs have pulled in a huge crowd in a small room so I stay long enough to hear some Kate Bush and Bat for Lashes like songs…a rather beautiful sound that is tough to give up on but it's just far too crowded inside.

Outside it is Speedy Ortiz. A much buzzed about band lately…they rock!  Even when they invite a comedian in the crowd (Hannibal Buress) to drum for them (he can't drum) they perform a solid set of College Rock and shine on this stage.  Can't ignore this band live they are very good. Full sound, great players and I am outside, it's perfect.

Sadly…next up is another inside show and it's Natalie Prass  One of my must see artists, if the room was full for Lydia Ainsworth, its crushing inside with a spill over crowd out towards the other stage.  Natalie gets some roses delivered and then she and her band deliver song after song off of her new album.  Her country rock roots were apparent and she sings with a style that is very appealing…if you like her new album, you will love her live show.   Even the constant surge of the crowd trying to get in the small room doesn't take way from set but after a while, it's become uncomfortable, and I wait for her song “Is it you” to be performed (mesmerizing) and I am back off to the stage outside.

Steve Gunn is playing outside. Part of the Kurt Vile band, he is a killer guitarist and his band perform some lovely melodramatic guitar rock outside a good solid set.  Inside now…is Son Lux, a three piece post rock electronic band that sounds good but I can't even get in the small room to see them so back out to prepare for Viet Cong.

Viet Cong are the new buzz band here in Canada and growing internationally.  As they get on stage it's clear this is not going to be your normal show.  The drummer who plays on a drum kit and sample pad is struggling with a broken hand, in a sling.  Lead singer, Matt Flegel, playing bass pushes on and this post punk set of pure rock is stellar.  Songs come and go and between the amazing playing and witty banter, it's by far the best rock show of the day!  It's the 11 minute closer “Death” that pleases the most, the song is a punishing piece of guitar work and ends the set perfectly. 

At this point, its late afternoon and some re-energizing is needed but not before we hang around long enough to see the lovely Courtney Barnett perform on the outside stage.  Don't need to tell many out there that this will be Courtney's year.  Her new album is brilliant and having seen her a number of times before, I knew what to expect.  This set is just her new album, every track performed, and outside…all level of viewing areas are packed.  Her set is a beauty, I don't have all the tracks memorised but Courtney leads her band through a fantastic rock set and she really does play guitar and sing really really well.  Can't wait for another show here in Toronto…she is a must see.

After dinner it's off to Latitude for another Brit night! I really wanted to check out Blossoms. No chance of them visiting Toronto anytime soon and had been hearing much about these guys. From Stockport, these kids play some lovely psych-pop songs with beautiful melodies and with Steve Lamacq and the Coral's James Skelly shouting their praises it looks like these youngsters will do fine.   It is a beauty of a first set of the evening..

The next two acts are both acts we saw the night before but loved them so much. I am seeing them twice.  Gengahr sound even better here at Latitude, louder, tighter, and another solid show. Soak...again is brilliant.  Again, the venue is quiet, nobody talking and she amazes us again with a beautiful set of songs …and again, the crowd goes nuts..its an amazing response for another fantastic show

I stick around for Jack Garrett. This solo artist is a one man band, a fantastic blend of soul, hiphop,  and pop performed by one guy, standing on stage and it's a surprisingly full sound that is pretty fun!

Now it's that time to find one other show to jump into before some rest.   Bad Cop and Kopecky are playing close by so I am off. The Majestic club has about 40 people in it to hear Bad Cop.  I don't get to hear too much..its simple in your face rock but I am really here to see Kopecky

The Kopecky Family Band are a personal favorite and I have not seen them for a while so, I am quite happy to have fit them into my schedule.   They do not disappoint!  Solid set that includes “Wandering Eyes” and “My Way "classics off their album' Kids Raising Kids It's an indie pop rock show and it's a beauty.  New songs from an upcoming album fit right in with my faves so I have big expectations from the new LP already.  It's a family full of harmonies and Nashville rock and it's a great way to end the evening.

Thursday 19th March 2015

Big day here in Austin! Today is Spotify house day!! Bound to be a big line-up so we show up a little early but again, it is not needed, as badge holders have a small line and we are near the front, and…get in quickly. Inside, it’s a maze of inside rooms and a big stage outside. The line-up today happens to allow me to check off a number of boxes with Tobias Jesso Jr, James Bay and Ibeyi all playing but….first off, we have Twin Shadow

Usually Twin Shadow live shows are a mixture of synth pop and drum machines, bitter lyrics and a taste of Depeche mode.   Today, Twin Shadow is playing a rare acoustic show featuring himself on guitar and a friend on keyboards. Shocking himself the most, he pulls it off.  His songs, minus the production, are just as lovely, a little clearer where they are going and his voice might be a bit more powerful minus the extras.  It’s a lovely start to the day.

Ibeyi are a pair of French Cuban singers, twins, Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz. Their father was in Buena Vista Social Club so music is in their family. They grew up with solid roots in a widely practiced Afro-Cuban religion based on West African Yoruba culture and musically this is where they get their inspiration. For this, Sandra and I are very glad because the next 45 minutes would represent the best of SXSW 2015, even during the show, we both discussed how it would be impossible for any show following this to be any better.

Ibeyi mix jazz, soul, hip hop and electronica with the Yoruba influences and the mixture is magical.  The twins need no band, one on keys, the other doing percussion, their voices mix together in the most perfect harmonies I have ever heard.  The crowd, many of whom had no idea who these young ladies are, and probably are at this showcase just for James Bay or Big Data who are coming up…are all in the massive crowd in front of the stage.   

These twins love each other and love their songs and they are genuinely giddy from the response they are getting.  They sing about their father who has passed, they sing about their mothers struggle to deal with the loss all the while their singing seems like a celebration, despite the subject of their songs. 

They smile through every song and from the set opener of the two singing with no instrumentation to the final song “Ibeyi” in which they solicit the crowds participation to help sing it’s a stunning set of beautiful songs about family and love and while we often don't  understand what they are singing, it doesn't matter…its stunning. Please check them out, listen to the album, go see them perform, they are pretty special

Back to the Acoustic stage to check out our Canadian guy, Tobias Jesso Jr. it’s a simple set of songs performed solo on a keyboard, think Harry Nilsson or Randy Newman ..mix in a little McCartney and you have Tobias.  Simple showcase as he stumbles over his own songs in a self-deprecating way, forgetting his own lyrics on occasion but it doesn't matter.  it’s a solid set of songs that show off not only a great voice but simple lyrics that show off his writing talents.  It’s fun and endearing and James Bay is waiting nearby to take his spot on the big stage.

Having seen James Bay at Austin City Limits music festival, we wanted to see him again at a solid showcase and standing in the sun, drinking free beer. After seeing Twin Shadow, Ibeyi and Tobias is about as good as it gets. He is already at the stage of being deemed the “next big thing” by the looks of the crowd, he is already there.  He is a very good singer, not flashy, doesn't bounce around, he just sings his songs with the intent to please the crowd.. He does have some very catchy songs like “Hold Back the River” and “Sparks” and the entire set goes down very nicely.  Some may criticize him for being “bland” or too simple and uncomplicated but he sings a good song to me and Sandra and we are glad we stayed around long enough to check him out again.

We now make the call to run over to Waterloo Records and their big outdoor stage to catch Elle King. Fortunately we get there in time to see 2 songs by Son Little.  He has worked with the Roots and singing with a solid Cody Chesnutt vibe, glad we got to see a bit. His band mixes quite a few influences with some Reggae Soul and Blues leading the way but sadly the band is off and they are setting up for Elle King. 

Elle King is one Badass Blues Rock artist. Her voice is amazing, her band equally so and her humour, it just makes everything better. She tells some pretty funny stories while playing the banjo or guitar…she is pretty sassy and has plenty of attitude, (this may be because she is the daughter of Rob Schneider, SNL comic) but she sings some seriously catchy Country Blues/Soul songs to the delight of the crowd. With no full album out yet, can’t wait for more from her.

Latitude show tonight starts with Laura Welsh. A lovely British singer, who has toured with Laura Marling and London Grammar and sang with Gorgon City. She sings pop anthems back to back with some ballads and flows through a full set of some pretty good songs.  Hate to say it though. It’s early and all I can think about is the mess that's to come.

Next up is the lovely Dry the River. It’s a pretty great set of all the hits from their two albums and while they make a joke that they are performing for the third year in a row at SXSW “to be discovered” there is a lot of people in the crowd  that know every word to their songs.  They do have Angelic voices and look like rock stars and possess some stunning harmonic talent. The songs build and breathe and it’s great to hear all of these songs again in this bar, the sound in here is fantastic, one of the best at the festival.

Black Rivers (featuring two members of the Doves (minus Jimi Goodwin) They struggle with soundcheck, maybe trying to be too perfect and 20 minutes of their set is gone before they start a song. What we do get is 4 songs of layered psych rock but the singing is a bit off and does make me miss the old band. Still enough there to keep me intrigued so we will keep an eye on the band and see where they go.

Now it’s Circa Waves. Fantastic little Liverpool band whose songs are quite the little nuggets of pop, some wiry guitar and building chorus and are full of energy.  What you hear on their EP is only a portion of what their potential is.  They are far more energetic and frantic live but still with that underlying element of being pure pop, it works really well tonight and this crowd is actually kinda dancing,”Young Chasers” and “T-Shirt Weather” are standouts but really it was all great.

It’s a beer and Carl Barat & the Jackals!  It’s a must see show as Carl has cancelled all other shows, its SXSW or nothing, so I am in.  It’s a no nonsense messy and swaggering rock n roll/punk show with sweat and spit flying everywhere. A 40 minute set of madness and epic rock songs and if you loved the Libertines, you will enjoy these guys it is like the Libertines without the baggage, a professional rock show performed by very solid musicians and it is a lot of good times!

But now...the question I have is how the next band Public Service Broadcasting can follow Barat, will it work?  How can it work? No Worries, it does! Public Service Broadcasting are a two piece band that create a soundtrack to an ongoing visual display behind them and it is stunning. With no vocals and only limited communication with the crowd through pre-recorded responses from their laptop, it’s up to the drumming (fierce and forceful), and odd guitar and banjo, to tell the stories and it does.

I find myself in the front row, completely intrigued by what I am hearing. Almost more punk rock then Barat, its loud and sweet and danceable and engrossing and most interesting is the fact I find myself almost singing but there are no words?!!! 

The set contains an intensity that I did not expect and clever and rather overwhelming but it’s a stunning set of fantastic songs and I can’t think of any better way to end the night and one of the biggest surprises of the festival.

That ends it…another great night; sore tired legs and all...off to sleep!

Friday 20th March 2015

Good Day Austin! So there was plenty of planning in place before our  trip to Austin.  Some of that planning included having backup plans in case of rain. It has threatened rain a few times but we escaped the weather as it skirted past Austin or hit over night.

Today it looked like we would not be so lucky so we hit the venue we knew we would be protected the most and that is the Red Eye Fly.  While it still has a stage outside (as well as inside stage), most of the outside area is covered so the risks were minimal and the line-up was really quite strong so at noon…we were there.

Before we head to Red Eye Fly we attempt to pop by Canada House to catch a set by Heat. A fantastic band from Montreal.  Having  listened to much of what’s available from them we were really interested in hearing them but sadly, as sometimes happen, someone forgets to hit a switch, they spend 15 minutes trying to get the Mic’s working (literally was a simple switch that was missed ) and we couldn't stay any later.

First off inside at Red Eye Fly is Down & Outlaws, a hard rock blues band from San Fransisco.  Its straight ahead rock n roll and it’s a admirable set by a band playing for about 10 people.  It’s early and they are loud but people are slowly trickling in.

Outside Mathew E White is setting up, suited up and ready to go, his baritone voice is great, matching his skill with his guitar, and he plays a set of songs that include almost his entire new album.  He and his band toss in some jazz, blues, gospel and rock into a fusion that approaches an indie pop flavour.  It’s an nice early show and it’s still sunny out, can’t ask for more. Matthew is also tied to production and studio work and he is recognized as being an essential part of the beauty of the Natalie Prass album so it leads to her showcase later.

Back inside, for a complete change, Skylar Spence is creating an offbeat dance party all on his own.  Formerly Saint Pepsi, Skylar is really pumping it up inside and considering the indie rock blues set we just heard outside, it’s a refreshing change.

Next, a personal favorite outside, Wolf Alice.  This band were a SXSW2014 favorite of ours, pure rock n roll led by a young lady that likes to channel Robert Plant to produce an inspired set of songs. With a new album coming, the band tosses a number of new songs into the set and they sound fantastic.  She (Ellie Roswell) can sing like an angel one minute and then she is belting out a grunge song next, that song started out as a ballad.   It’s a wild ride with this band, they are a heck of a lot of fun.   They created quite the buzz last year and felt a return this year with a US tour was a good idea, I would say they were right, there was a lot of people talking after the set about how they had no idea who Wolf Alice were before the show, but they sure know now.

Hated that set to end but it did and it was inside to see Blank Range. Blank Range are an American rock band from Nashville.  It was solid  blues  based rock again but I could not get past the point that the lead singer was wearing sandals ?  Southern rock in sandals?  I had a hard time with that, songs were good. But Jack Ladder was about to start outside so off I went

Jack Ladder is an odd one, crazy little band behind him now and he is about 6’6” as a lead singer wearing a robins egg blue suit. He would remind you of Nick Cave or Mark Lanegan and his new album features Sharon Von Etten. He is quite popular and is playing in Austin a lot, and he is impossible to ignore when he is on stage.  A weird new wave, 80’s vibe but he is a dark one,.never really sure what you are going to get with him. I found myself watching his guitarist as he was even crazier then Jack, which says a lot.  Songs are fun, and it’s a good showcase for them.

Back inside, and I have to get a good spot as Natalie Prass is about to go on. This is a much more comfortable spot to watch her and her band perform and they do not disappoint. Performing wonderful country soul/ blues, a friend of  Ryan Adams, this little lady is a firecracker.  Her performance is refined and lovely, a class act as far as pleasing the crowd not only with fantastic songs but some pretty great banter.  Will wait for a solo show here in Toronto to see a full set, it will be even better.

Back outside for a quick song or two by new buzz band Twin Peaks. Messy noisy and fun filled punk rock played by this Chicago band. They have a lot of fun playing and it’s a good rock show but we have little time to listen. We must get to the Convention Centre.

Now we are out in to the rain and walking quickly to the Convention Ctr to see Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear.  These two are a mother and son duo from Kansas City who only in the past year have signed a label deal and is now getting the finishing touches done on a new album.  Between jokes about Kansas City BBQ vs Austin BBQ and jokes about performing with your mother or son, these two produce some pretty special songs. An acoustic blues set of very very great songs and for about 25 minutes it seems you are sitting in their living room and having a drink and watching them.

They have played together for years in Kansas City and I am very glad we are all getting a chance to see them. It’s a warm, comfortable set of songs performed by a genuinely tightly knit and fantastic duo.

This evening we are off to St. Davids Historic Sanctuary.  Have never been there but the appeal of sitting in a pew and watching bands was something my poor legs could not turn down.  Helped that the line-up was stellar.

First up inside was Tove Styrke. A fantastic up beat young singer/band from Sweden.  She is a fantastic talent and they were a lot of fun.

Next, the torytelling expert and ridiculously talented Laura Marling. Have seen her many times but I think the festival has tired her out so much now that she is giddy!  Singing all your favorites while making some pretty funny little mistakes and at times she couldn't actually sing as she was laughing at her self so much.   Telling the story of her first SXSW when she was 17 and was hanging with Johnny Flynn and she couldn't get into a venue to see Breeders.  She did the most natural thing and she climbed in the bathroom window of the bar.

These stories mixed with her amazing singing (and amazing acoustics in the church) make for a great show.  Her troubled lyrics mixed with her angst and attitude and this angry folk artist is hard to ignore.  It all came together for a great way to showcase a lot of new songs and some old classics.

We felt a little sorry for Foreign Fields who were up next .this 7 piece band produced some fantastic melodies, with as many as 5 members singing at one time but to follow Laura is tough.  It is Folk tinged Electronica played with a full band and it is a rather grand sound. This band now reside in Nashville and are working on a new album, I will be watching out for that.

Now comes the main reason we are here. Another huge buzz band is up and it is Leon Bridges. With only two songs officially in the books, Leon has got signed based on that.  He shows up at St Pauls with two back up gospel singers as well as some great s musicians from White Denim.

Leon Bridges is so popular, it turns out the Fire Marshall is getting close to shutting the place down.  It seems the festival has maybe under estimated the crowd and the spill over in the waiting area is threatening the event. Thankfully, it gets sorted and we are in for a show.

Like watching Sam Cooke and Otis Redding but, it’s a Leon Bridges show, he leads the band and looks as accomplished and confident as any I have seen.  He sings about his family, how his grandparents and how they met, he sings about growing up and he does it well.

The shows gospel spirit works well at St. Davids and the only sign I see of Leon being uncomfortable with his new found fame is when he gets a standing ovation and really does not know how to react.  Meanwhile, it’s time to move on and there is a crowd outside who have been listening to the show on loud speaker, specifically put in place for the overflow, and as we leave, they prepare to go in to see James Bay.

Off to the Parish (a great venue) to catch Songhoy Blues again!  Just as happy as the first time I saw them, still full of spirit and passion for the music they sing a serious rock show.  To pump it up a bit more, Nick Zinner from Yeah Yeah Yeahs join the band for some songs making it’s a great showcase for the band, a great stage for them to play and there is a lot of people dancing about!

Then its 1am and its time for the last band of the night  (morning?), a  favorite for many years, The Cribs hit the stage for a hour long hits laden set of loud rock n roll.  a pit full of fans is ready the minute they hit the first chord and it’s a must to keep an eye on the crowd around you, there is people flying everywhere!

While the set includes the hits like “Hey Scenester its balanced with some new more "Pop" songs off of the new album. They work just as well as the classics and the crowd is bouncing around even more now. The brothers seem to actually be enjoying themselves tonight but you never know.  They are professional and spitting out great rock and to close the set, just to make things interesting , a few guitars and microphones get thrown around, .just so that nobody forgets who these guys are, .that was a good night (and day) off I go home, time to rest!

Saturday 21st March

We are getting awfully tired now. It’s been a solid week of music and today it’s all about finding a comfortable spot to hang out, maybe away from the big crowds

We decide to head over the bridge, over to South Congress where there are some amazing, open to the public, no badges shows happening today. We have Music by the Slice, and South By San Jose, both featuring a day full of some very quality acts.

We catch the set by Great Caesar, from Brooklyn, a very capable folk rock band lead by a very dynamic lead singer, they are a good start here at Music by the Slice.

A run across the road took us to South by San Jose, one of our favorite spots, and we watched Peter Bibby, a wonderful little folk artist from Australia.  a seasoned vet, he is great with the stories and the songs, and there is an association with Tame Impala so he comes with some history. We stick around South by San Jose so that we can catch Kate Tempest. This young British rapper is spitting rhymes quicker than most.  She is a very positive force, a brilliant little talent and I can see why she is getting so much attention. She is an amazing little poet and she wins over the crowd, all convinced she is singing to them and it’s a great show.

Now its time to head back over the street to Music by the Slice to catch a number of shows. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. A solid funk/indie soul set from this band from Chicago, with a charismatic singer and they describe themselves as Otis Redding fronting The Stooges and can’t say they are far off. A  little rough and smooth, all at the same time.

Next up is Hey Marseilles, and indie folk chamber pop band from Seattle. Great lead singer, this band reminds me a bit of Lord Huron and it sounds very lovely outside on this stage.

Now, Third Man Records has opened up shop and with a tiny stage, they present a few bands between sets on the Music By The Slice stage. First up on third man is Blind Shake. They are loud!  a Garage Punk band that almost forces you to back off a bit…they were quite the change from what we have heard. 

Back to the main stage, and its Ball Park Music, a “Geek Pop” band from Brisbane. You pretty much have to smile during their set, its upbeat and clever but not being too soft.  It’s very solid and the band are shocked as there are a group of 8 young kids directly in front of the stage singing every word, and I mean every word, to every song….its rather cute.

Luceran Raze is up on the Third Man stage, and they are intense. The band is led by Luke Reilly, formerly of the band “Sex Beet”.  It is loud and it’s hard to get close to where they are playing, they are surrounded.   What I hear half scares me and half appeals to me…its solid

Canadian band Reuben & the Dark is up on Music by the Slice main stage.  We have seen them before over here last year and they are quite the little band. Beautiful harmonies and a talented bunch, they all play multiple instruments, their songs are well built and crafted and it’s a nice change from Luceran Raze!  I have heard this band described as Mumford & Sons mixed with Arcade Fire, they do create some great indie folk anthems.

Back to the Third Man Stage, and its slightly more manic and loud Pujol. Accessible punk rock, well written and solid performers, they do well on this tiny stage.

Now…I have to be in two places at once.  Here, on the Music by the Slice main stage, we have another Canadian with Dan Mangan and Blacksmith. This is my first chance to see Dan with his new band but across the street is Milo Greene and I have never seen Milo Greene before. I stick around to see Dan perform three songs off of his new album, one of my top albums, and its brilliant. Dan was a solid singer before, now, with a fantastic band, he may be even better.  If you like his new album, you will really love his new live show.  Its dynamic and full sounding and it is a perfect blend of Mangan's voice with chaos of guitars and synths, it’s a folk rock experimental blend that is hard to leave, but I must run

Across the street at South By San Jose, I am able to catch the final half of Milo Greene. New and old songs are sung with expertise, this band seems to have been touring non-stop since the first album came out and with the new album getting rave reviews, I don't see that changing much.  It is cinematic pop at its best, with basically four lead singers, this outdoor stage and no rain, this is the sound I was hoping to hear from the band. A  great time for some perfect pop and we shuffle on home for dinner happy.

After dinner, and being Saturday night, this is it, and I know I want to be at Latitude at 1am so I am just going to settle in there for the evening.  There is enough to keep me going.

First up is Honeyblood. Despite being a two piece having lost one member in the last year and replaced with a new, this band, one of my favorites from  SXSW 2014 kick serious butt.  This Glasgow band are brilliant, their album is another of my top albums and it’s a sweet full on rock show put on my two very talented young ladies, great start to the this showcase.

Next up, its Ultimate Painting. These guys are a wonderful, they play precise, well written songs and when these two came  together to form this band (one from Mazes and the other from Veronica Falls) it meshed immediately.  They are not going to blast you out of the venue, they just put together songs in a very orchestral way again, in this venue, it sounds great.

A somewhat quick change over on stage and we have Hinds (formerly the Deers). The Spanish group of young ladies play some solid songs in a somewhat shambolic surf grunge style. Considering it was not that long ago that they learned how to play their instruments, they do impress the crowd.  Their vocals are never quite perfect tonight and maybe its the fact that today I have heard some beauties but when the band explains that this show was their 16th of the week…I will give them a break.

Happyness is up next and boy these guys are good. Does seem they have listened to a lot of Yo La Tengo as was pointed out by a few people at Latitude, that does nothing to take away from their show.  It is lush indie rock with some fine lyrics, a warm rock show that pleases the crowd here for the last night.

I am fading at this point so it’s good that Hector Bizerk is on next.  This Experimental hip hop group from Glasgow is led by a very charismatic rapper named Louie.  There is no chance of falling asleep or not paying attention during this set...he is on everyone to participate.  Its great for midnight on Saturday, having these guys forcing people to bounce around and kneel on the floor...its an odd sight but people are into it.

Now, its 1am and it was my choice to end my SXSW with Girlband. Over the years, we have seen many great bands at 1am on Saturday with Drenge and British Sea Power coming to mind. Tonight I chose to go with some massive noise.  Girlband are a very loud noise rock band from Ireland.   Highly touted, these guys sing with intensity with a touch of thrash and hardcore, but it comes in waves. Not always hitting you, it sneaks up on you and before you know it , it hits My Bloody Valentine volume and you are wondering whether it’s time to call it a night!  The singer is a brilliant performer and maybe that is what takes the edge off of the volume, he is great to watch.  But for me, I see what many are doing is heading outside to watch the band from a safe distance so I join them and then call it a night.

Legs are rubbery and my brain is melting but I am happy to have made the most of SXSW 2015

Thanks for reading!

Jim & Sandra

Jim @totolondon

 

 

 

 

It doesn't take many "buzz words" in an email to get us interested so, Cecil Sharp House, Green Man, Sweet Baboo and Teleman totally sealed the deal to grab some tickets to The Green Man HWYL Festival in Celebration of St David's Day and many things Welsh!!

We took a leisurely train to London to arrive at Cecil Sharp House around 2 pm, where we were greeted by The Green Man and collected our first wrist band of 2015. A quick check of the "site" revealed Main Room with Huw Stephens about to hit the decks,

Seated Room for comedy, live Rugby (Wales v France, of course) and poetry, Cafe full of Welsh delights and The Bar Stocked with Welsh ales and ciders so what to do? Try some of that ale over a game of scrabble and make a plan of course!

To gain a full festival experience from the day we headed to comedy and were treated to some tales from Mike Bubbins about life and love in Barry, Swansea and Cardiff. very, very funny, including Elvis impressions.

Then upstairs for some music from Folk songstress Georgia Ruth, playing keyboard and a beautiful mini harp, with some guitar backing accompaniment and the lucky ones who had nabbed a bean bag had a totally chilled moment!

We may have dipped out for a pizza a little too soon (Athough the fayre produced by Made of Dough from their modified Land Rover was the finest pizza I have ever tasted) Majorcan sausage... with leeks of course! 

Unfortunately heading back to the main room we discovered we had just missed Stanley Brinks but there was a vinyl "Gin" with The Wave Pictures so I shall play (and review in due course!) when I have a quiet moment.

So we found a seat and waited for Sweet Baboo to take the stage and, as always, listened with smiles at his endearing tunes, and witty banter, the venue sound was superb and the songs including Tom Waits Rip Off, Motorhome and C'mon Let's Mosh! were crystal clear. Good to hear him playing new songs from his forthcoming album.

So what next? The Pub Quiz in the Bar! With 4 tickets to Green Man as 1st Prize it was a very well supported event, we hooked up with 2 great Welsh girls and took on the challenge which included topics; Shirley Bassey Covers and The 22 Council Areas of Wales! I'm pleased to report we did very well, but also miffed we were only one point off winning! (Damn! I knew St Paul's was bigger than Westminster Abbey)   We shared our 2nd prize of Creme Eggs and Dvd's!

The evening now drawing in and the Halletts Cider taking effect we headed to the main room for Twmpath. Wonderful Welsh Folk Dancing to a live band, a flash back to country dancing in our early school years.  An hour later "glowing" and aching from laughing, we'd had a fab time. This totally captured the true essence of a festival in one day.

So to the headliners. Teleman. It is no secret this band is one of our very favourites. The set was filled with tunes from Breakfast and sprinkled with 3 new tunes so looking forward to the next album. "Not In Control" saw a good crowd all dancing around the room as a finale to a fab day.

We couldn't stay for late DJ's (we had already missed the 23:35 train!). All in all damn good value for £25 each and on the radar for next year too.

Sally @sally_wally

Green Man Fesitval