A ‘coldy but goody’ is this year’s Live at Leeds, with the chillier climes not dampening any spirits as thousands warmly embrace Leeds’ annual festival of city-wide live music.
Almost 200 bands are on show, across some 21 venues – or, as quickly becomes apparent on the morning, 20 now, thanks to some technical glitch at Stylus leaving the place redundant. Rumour goes it’s a burst water pipe that’s made the stage unusable; which is not an issue to most bands due to play there, happily moved elsewhere within the uni grounds for their gigs. Headliners Metronomy, on the other hand, are having none of it, choosing not to play and subsequently leaving their fans annoyed while the rest of us strike them off our list of potentials for later. Never without incident, our Live at Leeds!
Whether you’ve planned your day to the nth degree or prefer the Captain Wing It approach, you’re aiming to uncover at least a couple of gems at this festival. It rarely disappoints and this year is no exception, with more than just a couple of magic moments, the first coming early on thanks to Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard. Not from New South Wales as was the tip off, but from the real Wales - Cardiff, to be precise - and they’re clearly big fans of Double Denim, so much so, they’ve dedicated an entire song to it. Their sound matches their look, fresh from the ‘70s and apparently, inspired by ‘Spirit in the Sky’ creator, Norman Greenbaum. A trillion ‘woop’s from an excitable singer Rees, the odd Jagger strut and pout plus plenty of high kicks from his team, it proves a great start to the day for anyone lucky enough to cram into Beckett’s Gigwise stage before it maxes out and closes its doors one song in!
Following the Buzzards cubed is three-piece Wovoka General, a group who if not siblings, have gone to great lengths to find identical-looking band mates. Their harmony-filled folk, while a pleasure to the ears, is but a mere gap filler for us while we await Beckett’s main stage opener, Dream Wife. The British-Icelandic female three piece, with one album under their belts and tipped for big things by Rolling Stone, were not to be missed – and stood up to the hype with a bouncy, Punk-Pop set laced with catchy riffs and rants galore. Short, snappy lyrics tailing off into high-pitched wails from singer Rakel had us all hooked; this and her facials, with every word elongated and left hanging on her lips almost like she’s waiting for the camera to snap (and boy, did they snap?!). The pit is moshing, Becketts is bouncing and the girls are jumping, wailing and ‘Hey-Heying’ their hearts out. Whilst not quite the raucous live set they are famed for on offer today, you can clearly see the potential.
Meanwhile, back on next door’s Gigwise stage, along comes Saltwater Sun who produce a much louder sound than expected upon first glimpse at them. “Don’t boo!” pleads singer Jen as she explains their Reading roots; there was certainly no need, with nothing but applause for this surprise package as they churn out Grungy, jangly, Indie Pop which grabs both ear drums and gives them a pelting. She sounds a little Cerys, our Jen, with high-pitched, strong vocals wrapping themselves around heavy guitars. You wouldn’t have seen it coming, her plain-jumpered band standing static aside the lilac-haired singer, herself the only one resembling anyone ‘Rock’. No egos here, just a good solid sounding Indie tune or five.
Since a move from Beckett was overdue, it’s down to the Belgrave we go where Jesse Jo Stark’s set comes to a close with a rather lovely cover of Kim Carnes “She’s got Betty Davies Eyes” (a great song, if a little karaoke). Following Stark is East London-born singer Millie Turner who provides us with some quirky Dance Pop tunes, telling the stories of a not-yet-twenty-year-old backed by a drum machine, keys and beeps n bleeps. Like Dream Wife, she’s clad in glamourous shiny top and casual trousers; I’m sensing this is the look of the day (and female vocals, the sound of the day so far – it must be time to find a bloke or two…).
We didn’t have to stray too far. ‘Four Geordie’s and a Frenchman’ is how Sam Fender introduces he and his band today. Not that any introduction is necessary, judging by the bulging crowd at the O2 who fizzed over on Fender taking to the stage and leading on a good old “Yorkshire! Yorkshire!” chant to kick-off with, and the rather stellar ‘Millenial’ quick to follow. Fender is one of a bunch of male artists growing in popularity these days producing simple, complex-free songs with a catchy rhythm that’s hard not to appreciate; “Play God”, from his debut album, features in FIFA 19 which has no doubt helped give brand Fender a boost and proves a fine choice for today’s closer. A huge voice full of soul – as are his lyrics - with strings that haunt you, Fender and friends are completely at home in this sized venue. Supporting the likes of Catfish and Blossoms he's rattled around for some time and, as this gig suggests, is now getting the recognition he deserves.
It’s as busy outside the O2 as it was inside, with the crowds circling in anticipation of The Sherlocks. For us, it’s away up to the Leeds University, and a super quick glimpse of She Drew The Gun who are keeping a roomful at the Riley Smith Theatre - the (very decent) understudy for Stylus - entertained with their stories a la Psyche-Pop. One Guinness later, we switch politics for religion mid-gig and head to the Church, an apt venue for Scottish Alt-rock trio, Fatherson, who resemble all things angelic as they stand stage front, clad head to toe in white, against the building's original stained-glass windows. Would the Lord approve of their sound, I wonder? If she likes a thick-accented Scotsman, heavy guitars and a rocking, anthemic chorus or two, it’s quite possible.
Coming full circle back to Beckett’s main stage and what to say about the sensation that is Ibibio Sound Machine...? Except that I am completely in love with this band. They always put on a show and a half and today’s performance was a pure belter! If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, they’re a funk, disco, electro fusion, a take on the African-influenced Afrobeat injected with a modern electronica. Songs are heavy on the bass and percussion with synths and machines throwing down noises that put you in the Space Invaders line of fire. It’s a set which never stops moving, bursting with energy from start to finish, everyone on the stage playing their part, notably the mesmerising Eno Williams on vocals and her backing singers whose smiles never break throughout the set. The packed-out room jumps, sways and shimmies along with the band every beat of the way, all keen as mustard and clear in their appreciation. So what if an encore slows down the following act? Nobody cares – in fact, we insist upon one!
Back at next door’s Gigwise stage it sounds as though Frank Spencer is in the house. Or is it Slaves? Neither, it’s Lady Bird, a three-piece from the ‘Sarf’ who look as much Slavesy as they sound Slavesy: tops off and full-blown, Cockney-tongued shouting rants ahoy. Perhaps even more ranty than Slaves due to their being a three! To be fair, everyone’s more than up for it by this time in the day, several beers in and pumped for noise (and if you’ve just been Imbibio’d you’re up for anything with a beat!). The pit thrashes along madly to their cheeky, hypnotic tales, the words “In a Sense, Innocence” on repeat still ringing in my ears hours later…
It would have been rude not to give Kate Tempest a listen, back in the main stage area. It’s an interesting start as Tempest takes to the stage only to inform us she’s heard two hours since how a good friend has taken their life... But this is Tempest in a nut shell. Nothing to hide, only raw, real-life (and death) stuff which gets you thinking, delivered in a somewhat sombre style by this edgy modern-day poet. Alone on a darkened stage, only her keyboardist for company, she talks the audience through her thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes. It’s gripping when you’re in the mood for it. Fresh from Lady Bird, it was something of a crash for me. Time to move on.
To, dare I suggest, the ultimate in today’s treasure haul - shiny happy Ibibio people aside -
Indoor Pets, who completely rip apartthe Dr Marten's stage at Hyde Park’s Brudenell Social Club. Live music wise, it’s the best place to end one’s evening in Leeds and tonight, this band ensures it’s a trend which continues, sending the place orbital with an energy and set full of cheeky tunes they like to call Dirty Pop. Geeky, awkward-looking as they are, quiet types they ain't, songs part-Weezer /part-Hives creating a unique noise that’s 100% their own. A set packed with ‘bangers’ as they would call them, it was clear to see (and hear) the true fans absolutely loving this set, the pit in full mosh from start to end. It was the type of gig which reminds you exactly why you love live music; loud, raucous, sweaty, beer-splatted NOISE. Great to see the spirit of Punk living on through this bunch of quirky looking Kent chaps.
Except it wasn’t quite the end of the night, with Leicester five-piece Easy Life yet to come. Although, post Pets, nothing was going to be quite the same; for me, at least. Still, plenty crammed in to hear this much more chilled bunch of chaps and their self-proclaimed musical ‘middle finger’ at the material world, served up on a RnB, Hip-Hop style platter. It’s the kind of laid back groove you can’t help but appreciate as it takes you away somewhere, rather pleasurable after a day’s grind - which is exactly their objective. And it works, in fact it couldn’t have been further from previous years’ closing acts at the Brudenell (Slaves a la 2015 springing to mind…). There was a definite crowd appreciation here, heads nodding along to the casual beat, soothing horns and singer Sam’s calming vocals. Less late-night Jaegerbombs, more mug of hot cocoa and your favourite pair of slippers. Way to bring another Lal to a close, chilled-out style. Aaaaahhh….!
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