Festival Reviews

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....


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.




I was at Cambridge Folk Festival last weekend. Glastonbury may have the spectacular location and world famous party vibes, but if I could only come to one festival, Cambridge is the one I would choose. It is musically right up my street and everything is just so pleasant, friendly and comfortable.

When you camp at Cherry Hinton you are so close to the stages that you can get to your tent and back in between sets. The weather was fairly good, even though at Cambridge that does not really matter as the stages are in tents. This was my 11th time at the festival and as many people come every year there are familiar faces everywhere.

Apart from gigs I attended some of the special events. Singer/songwriter Chris Wood did a talk on songwriting, which was fascinating. Audience members would ask about particular songs and Chris would talk about the song, explain technical stuff that I never would have thought about and he played some songs as well.

Eliza Carthy did a similar thing about singing. She rarely plays solo these days, so it was a treat to hear her do quite a few songs completely solo. The Mojo interview was with Kate Rusby this year, who can talk the hind legs off a donkey. Damien O'Kane was with her and accompanied her on the guitar for a few songs. Kate explained that she cannot play guitar anymore due to arthritis in her neck.

The highlights:

1. Gogol Bordello

This will go down as one of the most fun gigs I was ever at. They were exactly at the right place at the right time, as the last act on stage one on Friday night. We had barely recovered from Glen Hansard when the stage was invaded by these 'Ukrainian gypsy punks' from New York. Eugene Hütz is a great frontman, kind of a deranged pirate with wine bottle constantly in hand. There was so much to see and hear and everything played on proper instruments. Not a computer or a gadget in sight. I like that Eugene sings in his original accent. At the end of the show the two dancers threw their big drums into the audience and Eugene and one of the dancers then climbed onto these drums that were being held up by the crowd. It was thrilling stuff and it made for a great change from all the flutes and fiddles.

2. Christy Moore

I had seen Christy a few weeks ago in Killarney, but Cambridge was the better gig. He was accompanied by Declan Sinnott, Seamie O'Dowd and Jimmy Higgins, and I realized that I had missed Declan's contributions in Killarney. Christy paid compliments to the great listening audience. I was a bit unlucky in that a very drunken Paddy who evidently had Christy's greatest hits (we were okay on the newer material...) was near me and roaring loudly along to the songs (he knew them word for word, I have to give him that). He was that drunk that his own friends did not dare to try and silence him. But at least he was not talking and I was more or less able to zone him out. The tent was absolutely rammed. One of the highlights was what Christy described as "something local" - 'Shine on you crazy diamond'.

3. Kíla

Cambridge does not publish the performance schedule in advance, so it was only when I got there and saw the program that I learned that Kíla would be the closing act on the Sunday night. Couldn't wish for a more perfect end to the festival. I am a huge fan and therefore biased, but they got a great reception and CDs were selling briskly afterwards. Of all the festivals I go to Cambridge has by far the best stocked CD stall.

4. Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary was on stage directly after Eliza Carthy and her 12-man/woman circus-like Wayward Band and it was the perfect antidote. Accompanied by a guitarist and a keyboard player, Mary's songs are so strong they do not need any embellishment. Her chat in between the songs was very nice too. Another one in the long list of grand country dames I have seen at Cambridge (Emmylou, Lucinda, Rosanne, Nanci Griffith, Kathy Mattea).

5. Glen Hansard

Glen had a huge band with him and played a blinder. His enthusiasm is so infectious. It is like he is still a busker at heart. There is a real carpe diem vibe about his performance. I particularly loved his cover of 'Astral weeks', with just Glen on guitar and his bassist playing. Eugene Hütz said later, in his inimitable Ukrainian accent, that it was “a real honour to play with Glen – respectus maximus”. Glen brought Lisa O'Neill on to sing 'The Galway shawl', as he said he was sorry to have missed her set earlier in the day.

6. Solas

As with Kíla, I am a fan of Solas, rarely miss a gig and I have everything they ever released. This was a top notch trad gig; a great mix of songs and instrumentals. It was my first time seeing them with new singer Moira Smiley. She is good, but then so were all her predecessors.

7. Duncan Chisholm

Due to an unfortunate clash I only saw half of Duncan's show. I had planned to leave halfway through Mary Chapin Carpenter to go to stage two, but Mary was so good that I stayed. The 25 minutes I caught of Duncan's gig were still absolutely beautiful. There are many good fiddlers out there, but it is the fact that Duncan writes all these amazing tunes himself that makes him stand out. I bumped into several of my friends at the CD stall immediately afterwards, so I wasn't the only one who thought this was extraordinary.

8. Le Vent Du Nord

I love the Québécois music. So much so that I actually went there a few years ago. I had a lovely time but was disappointed not to find any of this music. “Ah yes, we believe zis is very popular in Europe”, people would say.... Oh well, their loss. Le Vent Du Nord never disappoint. Despite the early hour (they were on at 11:30 a.m.) it was full in the tent for their gig.

9. Chris Wood

One of these artists that never seem to come to Ireland, so I have to catch him when I can at a festival. Chris is a great songwriter, storyteller and performer. During his songwriting talk he had said that he never really took to playing with a band and quite frankly he does not need one. His was one of a few gigs at stage two that suffered badly from sound overspill coming from stage one, which was most unfortunate.

10. Imelda May

I was in doubt whether to go and see Imelda, because I had seen her before and when you have seen her once you have kind of seen her. I knew that she recently went through a divorce and I wondered if it would be different as a result. It certainly was. She looked fantastic for a start, kind of Shirley Manson meets Chrissie Hynde. Not only was it 'a bit different' – it seems that the split fired up her creativity and the new songs were great. Nice talk in between the songs as well, about how lucky we all were to be standing in a tent listening to music. True of course. She finished with a cover of U2's 'All I want is you', during which she got half of the audience to sing 'Walk on the wild side' and the other half 'You can't always get what you want'. It worked wonderfully well.

11. Lisa O'Neill

This was my first time seeing Lisa with a band. I first saw her in Whelans quite a few years ago when she supported Joe Pug and she has gone from strength to strength. Another great stage personality with very dry humour. She finished with a cover of Jefferson Airplane's 'White rabbit', which really suited her voice.

12. John McCusker Band

One of trad's greatest. I had seen him play many times with others, but this was my first time seeing John McCusker front his own band. Heidi Talbot sang a few songs, as did Kris Drever. I love Heidi's voice, have never quite taken to Kris. Graham Coxon also came on as a guest. Top gig from start to finish.

13. Kate Rusby

Last time Kate played I left halfway through as I wanted to see something else, so this time I was keen to catch her entire set. She has the most beautiful voice and her own unique way of making you feel like you are sitting in her living room listening. She did some old songs I knew ('I courted a sailor', 'Awkward Annie') and a number of new ones, one of which ('Big brave Bill') I have not been able to get out of my head since (“The hero who drinks Yorkshire tea all the time.....”).

14. Darlingside

A vocal harmony quartet from Boston. They found themselves suddenly in a prime time slot on stage one as Charles Bradley had called in sick. Every year there is one act who takes Cambridge by storm, is on everyone's lips and sells out all of their CDs and this year Darlingside was that act. The boys looked charmingly chuffed with the overwhelming reception they got. Their singing was very beautiful indeed (CSN-style) and very humorous in-between-song-chat as well.

15. Jon Boden

From the 11-piece beast that was Bellowhead to performing completely solo, Jon Boden headlined the Thursday night. It was good, but maybe I had expected more, because I liked Bellowhead so much and indeed Spiers & Boden as well. This is a new venture for Jon. It took me a while to warm to Bellowhead, so no doubt this will get better as the tour progresses.Cambridge being Cambridge, what lurks outside the top 15 is still top quality stuff: Michael McGoldrick, the Afro Celt Sound System, Leyla McCalla, Megson and O'Hooley & Tidow.

One thing I will be mentioning to the organisers about was the new lighting on the Cherry Hinton campsite. These lights make it seem as bright as day in the middle of the night. Who wants that? My tent was under some trees so it was not too bad, but there is no need for lights that you can read by when you actually want to sleep.....

Finally a big thank you to my friends. It was great watching bands together and talking music with you. Hope to see everyone again next year.

Helen Minnes.

Steve's notebook from Shefield

Friday 22nd July

Clay [Leadmill] - 4 piece pop band from Leeds who although describing themselves as 'indie' played groove based songs (from their new EP 'Heaven') sounding all a bit sub-Friendly Fires/Jungle. Very young band, attracted a good female following

Inheaven [Leadmill] - Definitely of interest, not least because this 4 piece South London outfit have sealed Julian Casablanca's approval via release of their debut single 'Regeneration' on his Cult Record label in the US. And I can see why, lead singer James Taylor has the Strokes front man's style and intonation. Latest offering on single is the doom-laden 'Bitter Town'. Worth seeing again.

Virgin Kids [Washington Pub] Forgoing Meilyr Jones (as he's at EOTR), I plumped for this band. I can see why the NME would champion them. Playing 3 minute slabs of garage rock in what I can only describe as a pub corridor they really went for it. The comparison to Black Lips isn't too far off the mark, and their 30 minute set covered songs from their album 'Greasewheel'. Powerful for a 3 piece, I enjoyed them - well worth a viewing again

Saturday 23rd July

Holy Esque [O2 Academy] - Glasgow based 4 piece who sadly didn't draw a crowd - there must have been about 30 of us. As such they were pretty sullen, especially singer Pat Hynes. They played songs from their 2016 album 'At Hope's Ravine' which were pretty good - worth a second look when they don't have to do a set at 4pm maybe...

NARCS [City Hall] - 4 piece Leeds/North England band who aired songs from their current album 'A Thinking Animal'. Part Indie punk interspersed with anti-Tory political rants involving the lead singer jumping into the crowd to get his point across, they have had some airplay from Tom Robinson and Steve Lamacq. Plenty of energy but it wasn't their crowd, as I discovered the majority had come to see....

Yndi Halda [City Hall] - What can I say - a revelation! Sounding to me like a cross between Sigur Ros and BSP [when Abi and the band 'go melodic'], they couldn't have been more suited to the massive City Hall ballroom which had fantastic acoustics. I spoke with guitarist/singer James Vella who said that him and the band are friends with BSP so understood the comparison to the instrumental stuff. He also said that they made a tacit effort in their song writing to 'not be as electronic as Sigur Ros' and it certainly works for them. I immediately purchased their 2 offerings, 'Enjoy Eternal Bliss' from 2006 and their new 2016 release 'Under Summer'. They finished their set playing bell-like glockenspiels, and here's a rarity for a gig these days - the audience (100+) didn't make a sound. The highlight of the 3 days for me.

The Crookes [O2 Academy] - Home town gig, so the audience was with them from the start and this was their 7th consecutive Tramlines appearance. Very polished, but the songs seemed to be written for maximum sing-along appeal. Not my cup of tea. If The Crookes were footballers they would be described as 'journeymen'. Too Kaiser Chiefs....

Mystery Jets [O2 Academy] - Second highlight of the 3 days, they were fantastic, benefitting from a huge crowd. Sheffield doesn't get many bands like this - they tend to by-pass Sheffield for Leeds, so they were surprised by the reception. Playing a full set which included songs from 'The Curve Of The Earth' such as 'Bombay Blue' and 'Telomere', I was chuffed that they still include 2008's 'Young Love' in their set which originally featured a very young Laura Marling. They were great - top value.

Sunday 24th July

Eliza & The Bear [O2 Academy] - A crowd pleasing band first and foremost; their anodyne lyrics and nursery rhyme tunes all rushed headlong to a chorus that typically included 'ooh, ahh' instead of WORDS. Sadly, the crowd: 200+ loved 'em. What do I know.

Silver Wilson [The Harley] - Nottingham based 3 piece pop band who were excellent considering they looked about 12 (they aren't). Shades of Bombay Bicycle Club and Kajagoogoo type pop resulted in a slick 30 minute set from a stage area in a an intimate setting. Nice Sunday pop.

Reflecktor [Leadmill] - Doom laden electronica/psychedelica with guitars who I actually quite enjoyed. The guitarist had a bit of The Kills Jamie Hince about him. They aren't a band as such, more a collective of musicians/DJ's and Producers.

High Hazels [Leadmill] - Sheffield based band who had more carefully constructed songs than most, with a story telling based set along the lines of Richard Hawley. Early days, and the songs weren't that memorable yet but I'd like to see them in a year's time.

Johnny Lloyd [Leadmill] - You get the impression this ex-Tribes man was born in a leather jacket - he oozes rock 'n roll. Songs such as 'Hello Death' - produced by Jamie T - and 'Happy Humans' were perfectly crafted classic indie. Big crowd for him, and he was up for it too.

Gaz Coombs - A massive crowd for Gaz who played an acoustic set aided by drum machines/electronics. Drawing from 'Matador' and 'Here Come The Bombs' he put an acoustic slant on songs such as 'Hot Fruit' and 'Matador' plus - my personal fave song - 'The Girl Who Fell To Earth'. The crowd went nuts for him and he played a full 90 minute set. Excellent.

So, that's it. A great event and I'll be back next year.


Festival Website

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