Festival Reviews

SXSW Sunday 13th March

SXSW is upon us again and Sandra and I have changed things up a bit. The music festival really starts on Tuesday, March 15 and runs until Sunday, March 20, but we have decided to stay in Austin for the entire week...Sunday-Sunday

Sadly that meant we were arriving in the middle of the interactive portion of SXSW. The housing desk that books your hotel for you was unable to book us in one hotel for the duration. Upon arrival we would be staying well out of the city for the first two nights then into the core on the 15th.

There is music events on Sunday and Monday so it's a bit of a hike, but if you have a solid plan it can be done. The solid plan combined with the fact that for the first time in 10 years we could book a direct flight from Toronto to Austin meant getting to town and starting SXSW off well, but ...

Our direct flight left over 5 hours late due to two things, a flight attendant forgot to set her clocks ahead on Saturday (North America moves clocks ahead on the 13th) and then a computer malfunction before getting off the gate.

So....so much for a plan!

We landed quite late...took a taxi to our hotel and dropped our bags, took another taxi to Latitude (home of the British Embassy parties at SXSW).

Arrived in time to see a full set by Hooton Tennis Club. They were on my list so this has worked out well. This little band from Wirral packs a lovely indie rock punch and has succeeded in giving us a boost after today's flight and travel issues. A small crowd has gathered to enjoy the free music and the band play their set loud, and being influenced by everyone from Deerhunter to Guided by Voices, I can see these guys pulling off some solid festival stages all over England in the summer...check them out if you can.

Now that we have had that boost...and with Hooton Tennis Club being the only band we could fit in this late at night...it was time to end the night off with a few pints of Craft Ale at the "Craft" pub on Rainey street. They serve only local Texas Craft Ale and they serve it well. We enjoy a few and as the night ends it's time for the Taxi ride back out to our hotel and hopefully the plan we have for Tuesday will all work out!!

 

SXSW Monday 14th March

Monday in Austin ( or just outside Austin where our hotel is) brings a slight hangover from late night craft ale and some weary travellers trying to get motivated for a full day of rock n roll..so after a greasy breakfast we walk into Austin.

It's a good hour long walk but nothing is scheduled to kick off until after noon so we have time. We walk directly to the convention centre and pick up our music badges.
Then it's off to the parties put on by Strange Brew & Spotify.

First we walk into Spotify and get our free beer tickets and watch BADBADNOTGOOD. The band from Toronto is a mess of jazz fusion and hip hop beats mixed together to form some very solid instrumental songs. These guys are well known in hip hop circles and have worked will everyone from Ghostface to Danny Brown so they are a very tight band and they produce some very catchy and clever songs that go well with the blistering heat of the day.

Now it's time to head across the street to an ideal set up for music lovers...the Strange Brew party. Plenty of bands I knew of, plenty I did not...but there are 3 stages with a main stage outside and two smaller stages inside two separate adjoining bars. You can move from one to the other to find your spot.

We arrive just in time to watch Patch. These local guys are fantastic. Tight little Austin band whose songs are built around the accordion!! and acoustic guitar and drums. The guys play some perfectly crafted indie rocks songs with great voices and lovely harmonies. Great way to start and a fascinating band to watch. This is what SXSW should be about, discovery and enjoying live music.

The day is simple now...just shift between the three stages and see if anything clicks for us. Main stage is Volcano...a two piece electro pop band. Solid singers but on the outside stage, the sound drifts away and so does the crowd. Inside, you have Mirror Travel..a three piece garage rock band featuring three dynamic young ladies. Seems the crowd has shifted in here as well..they are solid, but I must check out the other stage.

There I find Blankus Larry..a solid two piece garage rock band from DC. Now a quick move to another stage and its Daddy Issues...another all girl group doing Breeders like songs. Another solid set outside on the main stage are the hard rocking..pop punk band White Reaper. They are garage punk and suited for the main stage. They are a great live band but inside.

Stonefield are going to be on soon...this is an another all girl group from Australia. They are sisters and they are very very good. Can see why they were invited to play at Glastonbury...lead singer is very confident, playing is quite good and they are one of the better sounding bands of the day.

Again...have to keep moving and we find a lovely surf psych pop band The Deer. This local band play indie pop with a passion that is rare. The lead singer smiles through every song and she can switch from pop to folk to country seamlessly and with a talented band playing with her...they are a treat.

Outside its an odd "chillipeppers" ish band called Purple, the lead singer of the 3 piece is a young lady who is also the drummer...and while I admire their energy, it's not enough to keep me outside because Tacocat are playing inside. Their feminist pop punk goes down rather well on the small stage inside and their set is full of songs I enjoyed from their album.

All of these bands were setting us up for the main reason to hit this showcase, and that is Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires..and they pack a punch. They are experts at southern rock and they kick ass. Their songs confront plenty of social injustices and they beat injustice with some pretty nasty riffs. Well worth sticking around for!

Following dinner..it's our usual trek to Latitude and a couple more Brit bands before we call it a day.

First off at latitude is the lovely Irish singer Ciaran Lavery. Great little songwriter who clearly is a fan of some Americana..not simply a folk singer, it's a mixture of Ryan Adams, and Bob Dylan...but it all mixes into a wonderful blend. He gets a sing a long going with the crowd in the bar, so I would say he was successful.

Up next, is the Crookes. This Sheffield band have been around for some time, but I have never seen them. They are a solid indie rock guitar band with some sweet melodies and some great songwriting. It is a great way to end the night, because we have to get a cab out of the city and get to our hotel, so that we can grab all our gear and shift to the downtown core Tuesday morning!

 

SXSW Tuesday 15th March

Finally...time to shift our gear and move into our hotel in the heart of the city. We head to our hotel, drop our bags and off we go. The plan for the day is a little loose...it's Tuesday and there are not a lot of big day shows so it's off to Spotify House.

It's a pretty easy music day at Spotify ...up first is Lukas Graham, a young Danish pop rock soul singer. He is a big deal back home playing to crowds of 40,000 + so this youngster is used to big shows and the kid has swagger. His voice is solid and the songs all seem to be possible big pop hits, so we believe this kid will be playing huge shows in North America soon.

Kacy Hill is up next...young American singer who was hand picked by Kanye to join his label. She pretty much has it made. Her band is tight and her trip hop/dream pop/ soul style goes over well with the crowd and it's a good showcase for her voice. It's very smooth and perfectly suited to this sunny day

Now it's time for a boost of energy. Jack Garratt hits the stage and the crowd swells. Considering a year ago we saw Jack and he performed to a much smaller crowd, clearly his popularity has increased. This singer songwriter/multi-instrumentalist forms some perfect little pop/electronic songs with quite the kick and it's a fun upbeat way to end the afternoon on a sunny day.

A quick check at the schedules reveal a new addition...NightBeats are playing close by....so...off we go! Playing at the outside stage at Hotel Vegas, we wander straight in and the band goes on. It's perfect Psychedelic garage soul played by 3 wonderfully talented young men. It takes no time with these guys to raise the volume and a wave of sound and heavy guitar hits you in a good way. These guys take no prisoners, it's a heads down full on assault of their instruments and what results is a smooth but loud set of blissful but challenging psychedelia!

Continues in Part 2

Jim & Sandra

What a unique way to spend Valentine’s Day at our very first Australian festival! The Laneway Festival series kicked off in Singapore two weeks ago and has travelled around the major cities of Australia before its final stop of the year in Fremantle.

It's a scorching day in Freo. Four stages (the main stage doubles up with two stages) and everything is well within walking distance. Early arrivals get the benefit of a spacious site to wander around as well as seeing first band of the day, the very talented Fait. Post Rock in the sunshine with big electric soundscapes.

Next band on the next door main stage are High Tension, a metal band who came on to a Stars Wars soundtrack. A big thing to live up to and not quite up to that level yet but, a competent band nevertheless.

The crowd starts to grow and everyone heads to the shade of the trees from where you can still see the main stages. Next up some indie pop from End of the Road festival bound, Methyl Ethel. Then it's a short walk to the Mistletone stage for Toronto's mighty Metz. Just out of bed, into the heat, rocking at full pelt, sweet drenched shirts and body shaking songs. A great set.

East India Youth was on the 'Red Bull Future Classic stage' (both Metz and East India Youth would have been much higher up the bill back home) and again a great set. For a one man show, Will Doyle just gets better and better with each show. It should not take long for Australia to catch on.

DllV prove to be the perfect band for a hot afternoon. Bouncy and lively, bright songs tinged with a surf rock feel. Now the site is getting really packed and the heat remains. Getting close to the main stage starts to become difficult. Best to adjourn to the craft ale bar and watch from afar.

The DMA's, a bit like Oasis meets the Pouges, are a grower in the afternoon sun and a band needing more investigation. Fidlar from L.A. blast away in blazing sunshine with their Garage Rock blend of high octane Rock n' Roll. A very solid set indeed.

Big Scary are on the opposite stage next and are a very soulful 5 piece. One of the most mellow bands of the day. Royal Headache on the Mistletone stage get the AC/DC Bon Scott award of the day. Lead vocalist, Shogun is in inspired form, on the last gig of the tour. Shirtless and rocking, the crowd lap it up.

Late afternoon brings 'The Freemantle Doctor' in (the daily afternoon wind) and a lovely breeze drives across the site. The Smith St Band draw a massive crowd for their anthems, but the band that takes us from daylight into night, is New York's Battles. Still one of the most original bands around, the crowds latch onto the rock, jazz, electronic soundscapes and are bouncing from the off. All the bands seem in party mode, this being the last night of the tour.

We stay at the Mistletone stage into the night, which is more comfortable than the main stages. Our reward is the dreamy Beach House, who play an awesome set.

We catch the last half hour of Chvrches set, and the band seem to have had a triumphant Laneway. They certainly seem to be the most talked about band of the festival. Last band of the evening are Purity Ring, with 2 piece, synths and vocals, a great light show and big songs.

A great day festival which, I reckon, if we looked for a comparison closer to home, would be Field Day, with its mix of indie and electronic bands. Oh and the sunshine!

Pete

Photos

Drill in Brighton was one of the best urban multi-venue festivals of last year – curated by Wire on a rolling basis, this year in Chicago. One Inch Badge, the promoters who organised it, were so inspired by its mix of forms and acts that they set up their own version this year – Mutations!

It was a great first attempt. Inevitably smaller than its illustrious predecessor, the 2 days fell out as Sat = Mostly Country in Hove (Actually) and Sun = Mostly Noise in Brighton, with a Trance Aftershow. Definitely something for everyone! Cleverly they minimised the venue clashes, though it still meant choosing Neko Case over Chelsea Wolfe and Om over Jane Weaver (wrong choice!).

Saturday morning started at 1pm in the Hope and Ruin, an excellent punky pub with good beers and audience face-to-face with bands on the minimal stage. Saintseneca from Columbus Ohio appealed as they were impossible to classify – intense folk rock psych, anyone? It was their first trip abroad! LP ‘How many Blankets in the World?’ should be worth checking out.

Widowspeak from Brooklyn drew a packed crowd but were not my cup of anything – shoegazy dream pop which sent me to sleep. Everyone else liked them. Whereas Willis Earl Beal was very much awake and amazing! Superb soul voice in the vein of Isaac Hayes or JB, and a powerful sense of theatre – tattered cloak, eyeless mask, imaginative use of barstool. Nothing like as bluesy as the recordings I’ve heard, and with a great sense of self-depreciating humour, as he espoused his Church of Nobody and asked us not to clap although falling asleep was fine – not to this gig, bud!

Next, off to church in deepest Hove...which took a while, even by bike, so a tiny audience for first act All Tvvins. Shame as these lively twins from Dublin reminded me of early U2. On tour now with Kodaline. The alcohol free bar didn’t help...I thought churches were OK with wine?

Still, a beautiful venue with great sound...and perfect for the iconic Neko Case. Surely today’s headline act, although third on the bill, many people had come just for her, and she didn’t disappoint. She joked that she had the rare achievement of getting a box set while still alive, the wonderfully named ‘Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule’. She played songs from all her country noir career, including Hold on Hold on and Margaret v Pauline from the classic Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and the beautiful Maybe Sparrow. She referenced John Peel as the man to introduce her to a UK audience before Twist the Knife, which topped the much-missed Festive 50 in 2000. She looked great, in a grey tracksuit, and seemed really happy, laughing with her band. I could have watched her all night.

However, she was followed by a related and also good looking artist whom I enjoyed if anything even more...Josh T Pearson. Gone are the long hair and matted beard, he’s now nattily dressed in a huge white Stetson, attributing his new health to yoga and clean(er) living. His set was a wonderful mix of the heartbreaking and the hilarious...his inter song banter referencing the church venue, the fact that he was single and that he was playing live for the first time for a while as he needed the money. He played Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell like resurrected Cash, and a supremely witty and sad new song StillBorn to Rock, about losing his girlfriend because kids would have ruined his career, which seemed very autobiographical. He ended the set as half of the Two Witnesses, a gospel duo covering extremely Christian numbers from the Louven Brothers and er, Sister Act 2, possibly with just a touch of tongue in that neatly shaven cheek.

It was brilliant, and a pleasure to meet him at the aftershow to find he was more or less the same as on stage, humour and deep emotion combined. Also great to see that he was really into his rock...he had made the trek earlier to see Chelsea Wolfe, whom he praised very highly. We vaguely arranged to meet the next day in Om’s set...I didn’t really expect this to happen, so missed him, but it seems that big Stetson was indeed seen amongst the head nodding crowd.

Maybe a good job we didn’t meet, we may have disagreed about Om. I do like their records, but here they seemed to play the same song 10 times, each version building from similar breathy vocals but never quite achieving a crescendo. Keyboard player Robert did a nice line in tambourine tossing, but I preferred his live work as Lichens.
Sunday was a harder and noisier line-up to ‘enjoy’, though there were many highlights. Anyone playing well in the wonderful Prince Albert is going to be a pleasure, and Lowly from Denmark were a breath of fresh air, sounding quite 80s and foreign, both in a good way.

The singer of Ought from Montreal had real stage presence, definitely one for fans of Pavement. Storm someone-or-other was blasting away outside, but here in the Green Door Store all was mighty hot. So much so that I arrived late for Blanck Mass at the Haunt. It was a measure of just how stunning this show was that even wedged in at the back I was blown away. This solo project from Fuck Buttons B J Power can be hard to listen to on record, but was much more funky live, with transfixing visuals, more like a wild rave than the experimental electronics of the album.

One more highlight awaited...Lightning Bolt! Highly influential, one of the original ‘two blokes with guitar drums and vocals’ bands from before the White Stripes, I first saw them in a riotous Portland Arms in Cambridge many years ago, when they played in the midst of the audience. Luckily this time they stayed on stage, so we could all still see, but the absolute frenzy of their playing is delightfully unchanged. Effects pedals give an amazing intricacy to what might otherwise be just deafening noise, and the highly skilled drummer shouts into a mike embedded in a huge voodoo mask he wears.

Amazingly amongst the sweaty rhythmic charge there’s a lot of humour too...two audience members are sent to the side of the stage for unspecified bad acts, with the punishment turning to a prize as they are given drumsticks and invited to help with the pounding. Sorry to Metz who came on next, but you just cannot follow a band like that!

Kevin Hand

Website

The ninth Derby Folk Festival has expanded to four venues across the city featuring some of the best traditional and contemporary folk from the UK and beyond.

After a short introduction from festival organisers Bob Rushton, Mick Peat and festival patron John Tams, we start Friday evening in the City marque.

The Liberty to Choose are a collaborative project interpreting traditional songs from the New Penguin Book of English Folks Songs with a modern twist or two. The line up tonight consists of Bran Peters, Jackie Oates, James Findlay and another festival patron Lucy Ward (her 3rd album 'I Dreamt I Was A Bird' was released today). Good versions of 'The Mole catcher,' 'The Spotted Cow' , James Findlay does a great 'Barbara Allen'. The highlight for me is an unaccompanied ' The Trees They Do Grow High' which features Lucy and Jackie two of the best female voices in British folk, spine-tingling stuff.

Next is Flats & Sharps , who are a young bluegrass five piece. Whilst they play the music from the Appalachian mountains, they originate from slightly to the East in ... Penzance. They're a great fun band with the traditional set up of banjos, acoustic guitar, fiddle and upright bass. We get to here about their “Gig Granny” as they call her who suppliers them with sound advice and illegal substances (take this with a large pinch of salt). Highlight 'You Can Have Her, I Don't Want Her' is a favourite at wedding party bookings apparently.

Headliners on Friday night are Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, who play a great set of songs from their four albums. It's only when you see them live you truly appreciate how well Kathryn's warm, precise vocals and Sean's elegantly strummed guitar compliment each other 'The Robber Bridegroom', 'Child Owlet' and 'The Banishing Book' being great examples. Kathryn goes solo with piano for the devastating ' The Ballad of Andy Jacobs' which describes the difficult choices people had to make during the miner's strike in order to survive. The most heart-breaking moment is on '52 Hertz' written about a whale who's singing his mating call at 52 Hertz which is lower than other whales can hear so he swims the oceans alone ' 52 hertz, I'm singing a love song that no-one can hear' . All together now, aaaah .

After a rugby-ball shaped disappointing Saturday night I return on Sunday, perhaps unwisely, to see a Welsh band Calan (who only mention the rugby result about half a dozen times but it's all good natured). Today's line up is a four piece of two fiddles, acoustic guitar and accordion missing the usual Welsh harp, who blast through high speed instrumentals to wake the early Sunday morning crowd up. Bethan Rhiannon Williams-Jones provides beautiful sweet vocals on the slower tracks along with some impressive percussive step dancing . Considering they left Wales in the middle of the night to arrive for today's openers slot they're very chatty as we learn about being deported from the States (nothing more sinister than a paperwork issue) and a broke folk musician's tradition of gifting songs as wedding presents such 'Cariad Caerlyr (Leicester Love)' from the new album 'Dinas'. The twin fiddle blast and shouty chorus of 'Tale of Two Dragons' is the highlight of their energetic set.

Next is an unexpected delight The Dovetail Trio in the Derby Guildhall. Another young (this seems to be a trend) trio of Jamie Roberts (acoustic guitar and bv) Rosie Hood (lead vocals) and Matt Quinn (concertina and bv) who present a beautiful set of trad songs split between unaccompanied and full band tracks. 'Poison In A Glass Of Wine' as Rosie said contains a plot spoiler in the title, and her enchantingly, sweet vocals on 'Frozen Girl' about a girl travelling in the freezing winter causes something hard and jagged in the throat and brings a tear to the eye. They have just released their first album 'Wing of Evening' which is well worth checking out .
Back to the City Marque for John Spiers , squeeze box player extraordinaire, member of soon to depart Bellowhead and a duo with Jon Boden for a set of beautifully played squeeze box instrumentals and up-tempo dance tunes which cause the first outbreak of enthusiastic dancing in the aisles including a mother and infant combination which rightly gets a shout out from John.

The good people of Furthest From The Sea , a local arts organisation have been hosting a Festival Fringe stage all day in The Bell Hotel. Isembard's Wheel, describe themselves as “Folk. And then some” play a lively set with a The Levellers, Frank Turner feel. Felix M-B is a local talent with a down to earth delivery in a Nu-Folk style similar to Nick Drake or Laura Marling.

Melrose Quartet consists of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Jess and Richard Arrowsmith, the band are named after the street they all live on in Sheffield, the combination of their four voices is very effectively used on the unaccompanied tunes such as 'Santa Georgia' written about the multi-cultural part of Sheffield they live in and 'Bampton Fair'. Their virtuoso twin fiddle, squeeze box and guitar playing illuminate the full band parts of the set. We hear another two gifted songs on 'Wedding Bells' which Jess wrote for a friend's wedding and 'Margaret Fagan's 50th Birthday Polka' . We get a glimpse into the Kerr/Fagan household when after a lovely version 'John Ball' which celebrates the life of the English radical, Nancy reveals she often sings this to their children as a lullaby ,except when James (who is Australian, but doesn't mention the rugby result) is in charge of bedtime when it's more likely to be AC/DC.

This is only a small part of the great musical events which occur in the city during the Derby Folk Festival, and we're already looking forward to a celebration for DFF10 next year.

Alisdair Whyte

 

My first visit to The Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia was an exhilarating and gritty experience. Based in the Baltic quarter of Liverpool and centred on the Camp/Furnace venues, a few roads had been closed to create the festival site which added a further two stages.

A good selection of fairly priced food, beer and coffee meant no one had to leave the site in search of sustenance, which was just as well as the music flowed non-stop across the various stages from 3pm on Friday and 1pm on Saturday though to 2am the next morning each day.

Not an acoustic guitar in sight all weekend (apart from Slug) Friday blasted off to the sounds of Vuelveteloca, wall of sound merchants from Chile and it was a psych Chilean afternoon as we also had impressive sets from The Ganjas and Chicos de Nazca. New discoveries straight away!

Dengue Fever were their usual fabulous selves but I think they expected a longer set than the 45 mins provided, as a band member was overheard afterwards saying they would have re-jigged the set song wise had they known. not that anyone noticed, it was great set anyway and marvellous to see this unique band again.

Jacco Gardner is a bit of a star these days; tight band, toe tapping great songs and nice voice. Just the perfect package.

Now, what band could make NIN sound like Simon & Garfunkel? That must be Destruction Unit who reduced the audience into wide-eyed submission under bright white lights after just one song. Perhaps the loudest band I have heard in over forty years of gigs!

Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe where far more subtle. A mesmeric set that was one of the true highlights of the festival.

Pinkshinyultrablast from Russia pretty much matched their name with, female vocals, shiny new songs and a lot of shoegazing power.  A great set. After a couple of hours of stage hopping it was Carlton Melton who rounded off Friday with a brilliant widescreen sounding set.

One of the major hightlights of this festival was the light show on the two main stages, which on the Camp stage consisted of having the band on camera and then throwing a load of psychedelic colours around them which, was then projected behind the band and at the back of the venue. This meant that if you could not get anywhere near the front to see the band, you could just turn round and watch the projection behind.

 

 

Saturday kicks off for me with Radar Men from the Moon. Based in Eindhoven, it's more shoegazing/ psych being produced to a very high standard. The Flowers from Hell (well, Toronto and London) were something quite original as well as being the largest band of the weekend. Ethereal voices and a room filling sound was an early highlight of the day.

Meance Beach from Leeds hit all the garage rock buttons and were followed by the magnificent discovery of the quite beautiful sounds of Death and Vanilla, a band with ambient,Sigur ros leanings.

Hey Colossus played to a rammed one in one out District stage and nearly blew the roof off the place

Canada's No Joy had a 'hit you between the eyeballs', no chat, no fuss  set followed by three bands that really again enhanced the feel that this weekend is all about new discoveries; Kandodo3, Cult of Dom Keller and Lumerians from San Francisco, The latter hooded space rock warriors.

Sunderland's Slug, part of the Field Music collective, had a main stage slot on Saturday evening but for some reason the psychedelic crowd were not ready for the bright pop and happy stage banter from this fine band. They gave it their all but it was pretty much a lost cause. A case of the wrong gene of band for the festival I guess.

Jane Weaver packed them in for her set. When she was announced for this festival earlier in the year she was not playing any other festivals. By the time she actually played in Liverpool it must have been around her 10th festival appearance of the summer.

A queuing system was put in place for Hookworms and Spiritualized, which meant I saw the last song of the former and the complete set of the latter which in turn meant missing The Heads for fear of not getting back in for the festival headliners. This was the first and only time I had this issue all weekend and wonder if there was a substantial uptake of day tickets on Saturday evening?

To say that the Spiritualized set was epic would be an understatement. As usual nothing other than a thank you from Jason Pierce but, a tighter band you could not wish for. Standing next to the guy doing the lighting, the amount of effort he was putting in over his board was nearly equally as compelling as watching the band themselves!

So a fine festival all round and one I will definitely return to.

Pete