What can you expect from a festival that costs £49 for three days offering over fifty performers across 2 stages? At an average cost of £1 per band, some might argue, not very much, but they would be very wrong. Last year the event received some criticism for the number of pop / dance artists who turned up, plugged in a USB stick and effectively sang karaoke so 2015 saw a much more band / guitar focused event. Indeed, looking at the line-up one might think that Bingley had become a 1990's reunion festival with a few even older and some current performers thrown in.
There seems to be a tradition at Bingley to have a ska band on a Friday which is a great way to enliven an audience. This year it was The Beat, but for me this was ska by numbers, lacking the dynamism of previous performers in this slot. Similarly, Cast, with the exception of guitarist Skin, seemed to lack any spark. That isn't to say that they weren't well received, because they were. Personally, the highlight of Friday on the main stage was Gallery Circus. The guitar and drums duo of identical twins played with great exuberance and were clearly having fun. Whether greater success beckons, I'm not sure.They may be too similar to Royal Blood.
So we come to Friday's headliners, James. True to form, Tim Booth was quickly among the audience and there was no doubting the band's positive reception. I've seen James on numerous occasions and always enjoyed them but haven't seen them perform a set longer than an hour since the 1990's. Playing for 45/60 minutes they are a great festival band but their 90 minute set seemed to dip in intensity with a succession of slower tracks at the midpoint. It was still a good performance but this was probably a case where presenting less would have achieved more.
With the exception of singer songwriter Natasha North, Saturday afternoon on the main stage was drab. Funeral For A Friend have been making the same noises with diminishing returns for a decade but they were at least an improvement on the turgid Hurricane No.1.
If anyone wanted to sample the best of Bingley 2015, the trio of acts filling late afternoon / early evening slots proved real highlights. The Jackals, fronted by Carl Barat are a heavier proposition than The Libertines and they seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience were them. Next up, was Ella Eyre who like Carl Barat, had an album to promote. Always visually stunning, this was the best and most energetic I have seen her. She was followed by Ash, a band who just seem to get better as a live proposition. Delivering a mix of old classics and newer, heavier but no less catchy material, for me they gave the performance of the weekend. Headliner Labrinth, had a lot to follow. He delivered a competent, crowd pleasing performance but couldn't match the passion and energy of those who preceded him.
Saturday saw really large crowds and a great atmosphere from late afternoon. I'm not usually a fan of Radio 1 DJ's but must mention Scott Mills who played slots between each of the last four acts. His presence attracted lots of cheering teenagers to the front of stage but more importantly, his choice of music maintained and heightened levels of enthusiasm which really helped to generate such a brilliant atmosphere.
Bingley's smaller, more intimate second stage has seen some real successes combined with a relaxed atmosphere in the past. Unfortunately there seemed less to inspire among young up and coming acts this year; too many who sounded like other bands from the past. The only band to really catch my attention were The Jacques, who played early on Sunday. Having said that, the 30 minutes I saw of headliners Rae Morris and Scott Matthews, really impressed.
This year Bingley offered a new venue each evening. A cocktail bar set among trees with hay bales, twinkling lights and acoustic performances, was a real success. There were steady queues for the bar and the area had a really chilled, pleasing vibe.
In terms of mundane but important essentials, toilets were plentiful and clean while food choices were limited but tasty. There were some complaints about the price of beer but it was cheaper than many festivals and I guess if you only charge £49 for a weekend, money has to be made somewhere. The only real negative appeared to be the time it took to get into the event. There were great crowds each day and I witnessed long queues to enter as punters were rigorously searched. Posts on social media suggested some queued for 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon- an area for improvement.
Sunday was bright, sunny and warm but as on Saturday, early acts on the main stage did little to inspire. For many it possibly didn't matter as the arena quickly filled with families, many bringing deckchairs; all enjoying (apart from children) the cold beer and warm sun.
Vant were the first to make an impression with their rock sound and big choruses but I would imagine that some of their sexually explicit lyrics may not have been appreciated by some parents with small children having to explain why the singer's mother wants to suck his d. . . ! Very rock n' roll but sometimes it's about being aware of one's audience.
Nothing But Thieves are clearly a band with potential who seem designed for big venues. Sounding like a cross between Muse and Led Zeppelin, with vocal gymnastics reminiscent of Jeff Buckley they delivered a really powerful performance. Some of the teenagers at the front may not have appreciated them but as their set progressed, the levels of applause going all the way back to the deckchair brigade at the rear of the arena, grew and grew.
Peter Hook and warm sunshine doesn't seem like an obvious combination, yet the sometimes dour Mancunian sounds that form his heritage really struck a chord with the audience who relished the familiarity of the songs. Hook was on great form, strutting and posing front of stage and finishing by stripping to the waist and throwing his T shirt to the crowd. Voices were heard to say, "How can you follow that?" and Embrace emerged next to take up the challenge. Personally, their songs seemed plodding and one dimensional but who am I to judge. People were clearly in the mood to sing and the band got a great reception.
It became clear that many in the crowd, particularly those with families, had come to see the above two acts. The end of Embrace's set saw a steady stream of people begin to depart. This only seemed to accelerate with the arrival of Idlewild, another band reforming following success in a previous decade. Unfortunately their booking seemed misplaced. After a muted early audience response, singer Roddie Woomble enquired, "Does anyone here know our material?" A small cheer went up from a small contingent but their music seemed lost on many. I really like some of their songs from the early noughties but have to admit that their performance lacked the spark and passion that characterised their first incarnation.
A month ago I reviewed a Super Furry Animals performance in really negative terms. So, had anything improved? Well their set was the same but the visual experience certainly benefited from darkness and some impressive lighting. They also had an enthusiastic crowd on their side on this occasion so, a decent finale to the weekend.
During the weekend there were a few too many bands failing to re-kindle former glories. Others like Ash, Peter Hook and James proved they still have the passion and the songs to bring a smile and excite an audience. Bingley also offered a platform for some exciting young talent like Gallery Circus, Ella Eyre and Nothing but Thieves. So was Bingley Music Live 2015 a success? Based on the crowds that attended, the quality of some of the performances and the £49 price tag, of course it was!
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