Snow, rain, sleet, sunshine, more snow, more rain. Quite the typical morning in Leeds town. Over 200 bands playing across the city is way less common, however. And its amidst this less than enticing weather I head off in search of a musical gem or three at this year’s Live at Leeds.
There are more bands than ever for version ten of the festival, with a few new venues replacing some of those used in the past. But the general theme remains unchanged: performers of all shapes, sizes and genres, some well known and others not so, playing to thousands of music enthusiasts city-wide. With so much on offer today, I opt for a laid back, see what happens, kind of journey around town in favour of a well carved out plan and where better to start the adventure than Leeds best live music venue (in my humble ‘I’m always right’ opinion), the Brudenell Social Club.
After a brief visit to the much improved games room out the back to catch the end of Party Hardly, a three-piece grunge get-up from Leeds (who’s sound is decent enough), its into an already good-way to full main room to check out NARCS who play some rather splendid Alt Rock tunes to the receptive crowd. Lots of distorted and high pitched riffs from the lead guitarist, with a heavy bass and rhythm in support behind, whilst frontman screams directly at each set of ears present – some of which he does from within the crowd, adding even more intensity to their powerful set. It’s only 1pm and yet they set the bar high, not just here at the Brudnell but festival-wide.
Up next was Nottingham’s Kagoule, who were way less in our face but still managed an impressive follow on. Lead singer and guitarist Cai Burns twists his riffs around some mighty bass chords courtesy of Lucy Hatter – who supports Burns with her own powerful vocal range – all together producing a sound quite akin to The Pixies. Their album Urth was released last year and they include a few of its tracks today. New to me, although clearly not to all here at the BSC (some of whom tell me they have improved their live performing massively in a matter of months), they are a band to watch out for.
It’s time to leave the clutches of the Brudenell and head south into town. Mystery Jets are the first band to grace the O2 stage today, which seems odd, to have this place out of bounds until late into the afternoon. Although having it reserved for the “crowd pullers” is not such a bad idea and this band are clearly in this category, with queues to get in spanning the entire outer building and the upper arena quickly made available to allow for as many punters inside as possible. It was big band stuff here; plenty of lights, plenty of volume, and plenty of support from a crowd who seem captivated from the moment they open with Telomere. They’re an easy band to listen to, whatever your musical preference, talented song writers and perhaps one of the performances of the day – or so the crowd would have us believe, at least.
Over the road at Leeds Beckett’s main stage, Kleine Schweine perform to a small yet enthusiastic audience. Here’s another band I was unaware of, and what to say except utterly brilliant! They’re a local punk get up, consisting of four lads who have been around for a while, shall we say. Typical punk attitude about them and the singer with plenty of banter which was as entertaining as their tunes, if not more so; it was definitely helpful too, as understanding the ranting lyrics would have been difficult without some explanation from singer Neil Hanson. A somewhat political bunch, they covered Thatcher, Cameron, the tabloids - Daily Express Yourself was a fantastic tune – while also managing to big up the photographers, asking security to leave them alone (“They’re just doing a job!”). There was a particularly good exchange between band and fans when Hanson threw an opened, half full can of beer to someone front row, who took a swig and threw the can back again, this exchange continuing for an entire song. Hanson was also the breaker of big LaL news today : Jess Glynne had cancelled her O2 show later due to having passed on. Yes, she had cancelled, but this was due to an illness and nothing too serious, thankfully. Humorous from start to finish.
The Beckett remained our host for the next hour or so – partly due to saving our legs and also because they were dishing up decent beer. Bouncing between the main stage, the bar, the second stage and back again, we took in a few different bands.
Three chaps from Leeds known as Forever Cult, who are grungy and loud in something of a standard Leeds lad band kind of fashion, managed to entice a few of their small audience into head-nodding although it was all fairly tame a vibe it must be said. On the contrary, Zuzu seemed to create more of a stir out the back, with her relaxed whilst poppy West Coast rock tunes getting the folk of Leeds moving about a bit. Plain Jane as she appeared, her guitar playing and vocals were less so, both very strong, and her playful melodies well supported by her male backing vocal and fellow guitar player who provided a wonderful male harmony to help achieve that surf rock sound. Autobahn, yet another Leeds rock band, managed to dish up an almighty dollop of dour which is almost typical of Leeds musicians, and quickly had the main room awash with a sea of moody gothic types. Fine purveyors of darkness, with frontman Craig Johnson looking every bit the part with his long trench coat and fixed stare, these chaps do doom very well. So well, it was time to leave after two songs for fear of provoking a permanent return to a gothic past…
In need of something refreshing, and not just a slice of pizza from the Belgrave Music Hall – as nice as that was - Slutface (rebranded as Sløtface recently to keep those Social Media mogul types happy) were just that, playing a fast and quirky set in the basement known as the Key Club. Riot Grrl-esque singer Haley Shea is full of beans throughout the show, she and her bands’ energy pinging off of the four walls around us and this infecting everybody here by the look of the mosh pit. Songs like Sponge State, their forthcoming single, tell of the need for change; how apt it seemed at this point in time today, a sudden bolt of enthusiasm kicking the prior band’s dour into touch. I’m guessing these Norwegians were a far cry from Corinne Bailey Rae who was playing about this time and, whether or not your cuppa Yorkshire tea, would have been interesting to hear, although her having opted to play the intimate HiFi club where she was allegedly once a waitress left many revellers stranded outside with no chance of entry.
Brighton’s Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansel are Blood Red Shoes and what a performance they give at the Becket this evening. While only two in number they are very, very loud in sound, with their Alt Rock thumpers absolutely blowing the packed out venue apart. It’s amazing to watch a talented drummer also cover the lead vocals; I can’t quite fathom how an instrument like the drums can allow for anything other than complete concentration and yet Ansel has both responsibilities completely nailed. Carter struts to and fro centre-stage, owning her stringed instrument, and with each strut, the louder Ansel thrashes the drums. Listening to them live brings Sonic Youth to mind, and the experimental sound they always managed to achieve. A big audience is as a appreciative as I, here, by the looks.
A relatively new place in town is the Hyde Park Book Club, which I’m keen to get to both to check out the venue itself and also to hear Galaxians, a band I know nothing of and have based viewing them entirely on their 80’s arcade game derived name. It’s a tiny café, one which is already fit to burst when I arrive, although miraculously, I worm my way to a spot left of the band as they are running through their sound checks – something which appears to be a little difficult, and a few extra hands are pulled in to resolve whatever issues they have. Most punters by now will be headed for their place watching one of the headline acts in town - not this lot, some of whom explain to me how they have seen the band before, and that I am in for a blinder. They are not wrong! The gig finally kicks off and all present are treated to close to an hour of amazing electro sounds produce by two lads using a Nord, a Roland and a traditional drum kit. This is synth sound as its finest, all very early 80s New York. It was impossible to get any photos due to bad lighting, although the darkness not a bad thing in its adding to the vibe. Dancing with strangers, all with our arms in the air – there was no room to have them anywhere else to be fair – there was one big collective grin here this evening, the band’s beats and bleeps spurring us all onward and upward. This was today’s jewel in the crown, and everything a gig should be, in my eyes: great music, a fab crowd and nothing but fun.
And so, its full circle for me, and back to the Brudenell Social Club for headline act Rat Boy, aka Jordan Cardy. Unfortunately, Galaxian’s late finish meant the show was all but done by the time I rocked up, although catching the last couple of songs as I did, it looked to be a well received and a decent performance by the lad from Essex and his entourage, last year’s singles Sign On and Fake ID both going down a storm. It’s difficult not to jump along to his quirky style of jingly guitar crossed with hip hop, and jump about everybody did, with some crowd surfing thrown in for good measure, too. It wasn’t packed to the rafters tonight, with Cardy having stiff competition from other bands across town, but it’s still electric an atmosphere – perhaps due in part to the venue, the Brudenell continuing to feel something of a sacred place where only magic can happen, regardless of who’s playing.
And finally, the sun (which had eventually come out) goes down on another Live at Leeds. In the most, another successful event and a fine example of how a metropolitan festival can work. I was surprised by the lack of hoo ha, what with it being the big ten-year anniversary; and, pleasant as the Live at Leeds IPA was, this alone wasn’t enough of a fanfare for an event of this caliber. Still, congratulations to the organisers, who managed to produce another stellar event, and to the musicians of all types who kept us all entertained for twelve hours solid. Encore.
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