Birmingham’s amazingly diverse festival of ‘adventurous’ music, is 10 this year and had a great party! There was custard – it’s in the old Birds factory – and lots of cake, and more…Hard to pick highlights when the genres veer from metal via electronic and folk to totally unclassifiable, but here are some of mine:

Jarboe – in the wonderful high-ceiling whiteness of the Old Library (shhh!) the ex Swans and Skin singer performed stripped down songs with only backing singer Renee Valentine Nelson on piano. Jarboe’s voice…at 60? is still amazing, capable of so much pathos, plus vocal tricks that make you think ‘how did she just do that’? She looked stunning too, in black cocktail dress, long wild blonde hair storm tossed as she sang. She spoke infrequently, to joke about a Southern Baptist feel on one track, and to apologise for words wrong on a Swans number after a long tour. An artist to savour on cold dark evenings by the fire…

Pathos of another kind from Oxbow, this time in a cavernous warehouse with, stunning blue lighting. The Californian duo were backed for this special performance by an 10 piece orchestra, which included the doom tuba and horns of Ore duo Sam Underwood and Stuart Estell. They reworked their back catalogue, songs of passion and sadness complemented by the classical backing, alternately powerful and ethereal. Singer Eugene looked like a Stax soul singer, and delivered painful and ecstatic verses as if in the throes of an exorcism, gradually removing more and more of his Saville Row smart suit and tossing it aside.

Perhaps the most well-known performer was Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. She performed as experimental guitar duo Body/Head, with free noise artist Bill Nace. Very low-fi, her vocals strong and mostly indiscernible, but she has such a stage presence. Lots of teasing and powerful guitar, against a ultra-cool black and white video backdrop of a couple in a trendy apartment. Kim also contributed Reverse Karaoke, a yurt full of recording gear where you could make your own CD; art with a good use at least.

Friday night is ‘dance’ night, with the PCM reunion, featuring ex Pop Will Eat Itself guitarist Richard an undoubted highlight; their wild dark drum n bass live in full effect. New Berlin label Small But Hard took over another warehouse. Based around the amazing DJ Scotch Egg, (now known for some reason as Scotch Bonnet) and his talented friends, it comes across as a real family concern, from the lovingly crafted cassettes to the many onstage collaborations.

Devilman were a bass heavy delight, featuring Mr Scotch and Taigen from the excellent Japanese psych/metal band Bo Ningen. One of the few negatives of the whole weekend was the cult rapper Sensational, once associated with the Jungle Brothers – capable of original work on record, but not a great idea to try to bum drinks of your fans then get so out of it that you cannot perform. Still, at least he turned up; Daddy Freddy, the worlds fastest rapper, preserved his title intact by missing his slot with the Bug completely. Still, they did have Flow Dan from Roll Deep and the lovely Israeli reggae rapper Miss Red, so they coped.

On a personal note, I was delighted to be the impromptu guest of Jo, from Cambridge’s imaginative Bad Timing nights, at an Alice in Wonderland tea party to celebrate the 10th anniversary. Suitably Supersonic, it took place on the top floor of the old factory, super sunny Brum cityscapes below, with tea cups full of champagne and tea pots of new Purity Brewery beer.

Several guests wore Hieronymus Bosch masks and did not move for an hour. These were the Out crowd, who went on to ritually distribute festival-goers good wishes on rice paper into the River Rea as it flows through the site. Just your average tea party then; DJ X of PCM won pass the parcel, and Stuart from Mogwai joined in on kazoo to sing Happy Birthday. So, raise a teacup to many more years of bizarre eclectic art and music lovingly curated by Lisa and her gang of Supersonic volunteers.

Kevin Hand

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Fifth visit to this lovely festival is greeted by early Friday morning sunshine. A few changes to the site but nothing negative, indeed the path from the field where cars are parked has now been nicely laid with tarmac to ease our entry. Much appreciated! 

The vibe this year seems even better than normal. Many smiling faces, everyone seemingly happy to chat, and musically there was plenty to chat about over the weekend.

 

Friday 31 Aug

 

First stop on a sunny Friday afternoon is the dark dry-iced stage of the Big Top tent for Lawrence Arabia, who gave us a very pleasant start with some sweet songs. Back out into the daylight for Fleet Foxes offshoot Poor Moon. Definitely some Fleet Foxes harmonies there from a really decent band who also mixed it up with some sweet rock n’ roll from time to time.

 

The replacement for an unwell Peter Broderick was the rather excellent PaleSeas. Nice indie tunes and harmonies. One to watch! In the California (Dorset) sunshine, next up was Jonathan Wilson with his 70’s style West Coast sounds, just perfect.

 

Finishing off the afternoon session was Van Dyke Parks, playing a rare show as part of the Bella Union 15th anniversary celebrations, and he was a true delight. Relaxed and humble, full of humour and musically entertaining.

 

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A break to the rather fabulous Black Crow pub which had a tremendous selection of very drinkable micro brewery ales all weekend, before the evening session kicked of with John Grant who was on fine form, delivering some new material as well.

 

An impressive VeronicaFalls headlined the Big Top and blasted through a forty five minute set of sixties-influenced indie pop. Headliners on the other stages were Beach House and a returning Midlake. Both excellent and well received. Midlake took the opportunity to stretch the legs of some new songs as well.

 

The beauty of festivals lies in the unexpected – whether acts, emotions, or indeed, weather. 

After 3 days of sun and good music, Sunday looked like a quiet relaxing day…but it held the best parts of the weekend…

 

The Staves were lovely; 3 sisters from Watford sounds like the start of a folk limerick, but their harmonies and understated simple playing made them probably the best discovery of the festival (maybe with the Moulettes – similar but with more strings!). And although they looked like butter wouldn’t melt, they had a nice line in raunchy inter-song banter – apologising to the families in the audience for the use of a word in a song about relationships, suggesting they swap it for ‘dang’ or ‘duck’! Then again, they have done backing vocals for Tom Jones.

 

They just avoided using another expletive when the heavens opened, thunder and lightning crashed overhead. Still, we were in a dry tent, so no problem…until we left. Where once there had been picnics and folding chairs, now all was mud and rather deep pools…and some very soggy chairs, and people.

 

At long last it’s starting. The build-up is over. Over a billion people are expected to watch tonight’s opening ceremony (a day after it started) at the duck pond. Soon now the Olympic ale flagon will be carried across Cambridge, via the Bacchanalia off licence staging point, to the grand ceremonial drinking of ‘the first pint of the day’.. .Yes, its Folk Festival mania! 

In last nights ‘session before the opening session’ we started with lovely Megson, doing lots of children’s songs and one in the Olympic spirit about supporting rubbish football teams.

 

Then there was James Vincent McMorrow, sorry, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who brought a delightful fan base of screaming young girls, which prompted my neighbour to put her ear plugs in. Many shouts of ‘We love you’ which he replied to with a downbeat ‘thanks’. Don’t think was that interested in teenage girls. At first his songs were good but all sounded the same, heartfelt and wordy, but he gradually won me over as his band started to kick in, and sealed the deal with a powerful solo song about his Aussie Gran dying. Hard not to like him after that.

 

Dry the River were one of those bands the purists here hate – ‘what’s that got to do with folk?’. Head banging, volume and searing guitars - Where are those ear plugs Mabel? – interspersed with sudden bursts of Fleet Foxes angelic singing. A bit schizophrenic but definitely strong and good songs.

 

No doubt about the nights highlight though, it’s Billy Bragg doing Woody Guthrie. In between many of the best songs off the Mermaid Avenue sessions, he detailed Woody’s life and work in that funny/serious way he speaks. I learnt a lot about 40s New York scene, and his raunchy sense of humour and double entendres –‘Ingrid Bergman’ is pretty smutty! Billy ended with a song of his own, a whole new version ‘Great Leap Forward’ with updated lyrics about the political scandals of today…lots on the Olympics!

 

Ended the night with the old busking stalwart Peter Buckley Hill, who also had lots of new songs. A great night now, looking forward to Friday!

 

Kevin Hand

 

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The thought on everyone’s mind pre-festivals in the UK is ‘what will the weather be like?’ and in 2012 you can pretty much predict rain and mud. How much mud, and how much stamina is required to navigate it depends on the size and layout of the festival. 

It seems the days of lying on the grass in the sun listening to a band are long gone. Standing in wellies in the mud seems the norm, and this has had a knock-on effect on ticket sales in the U.K festival market, with many not selling out.

 

Having said that, Saturday at Latitude with the ever popular Elbow must have been close to full. Friday and Sunday were less busy. By Sunday, the weekend campers seemed to be weary from the effort of the previous two days.

 

So on to the music. Not much happened on Thursday other then the entertaining Cafe & Theatre tent so it’s Friday when the music action kicks off. I should just say at this point that Latitude has a whole myriad of entertainment going on: arts, literature, poetry, cabaret, dance, opera etc but for this review, it’s music that we concentrate on.

 

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There is nothing you can do about the weather. A festival will generally go ahead come rain or shine. From the punters point of view though, the festival takes on a different dynamic depending on the conditions. 

Imagine turning up at the inaugural No Direction Home Festival in the grounds of Welbeck Abbey in Nottingham in glorious sunshine, leisurely putting up the tent whilst sipping on an ice cool lager. Back to the reality of a British festival summer; cold, wind, torrential rain, everything and everyone soaked by the time we head into the site. When the rain let’s up its teatime.

 

Luckily on a site roughly the size of the Park Area at Glastonbury, everything is close to hand and the place is not overcrowded.  We are greeted by the sight of the Somerset Hot Cider Bus and truly fortified we head for the main (Lake) stage (pretty much the Garden Stage at End of the Road) for Newcastle’s majestic Lanterns on the Lake. The songs from the debut album still sound good and ring true, but the band are just at the point of needing new material.

 

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Future of the Left ripped it up with a solid 45 minute set. A capacity crowd inside with eager hopefuls queued up outside for the 1 out 1 in rule to open up a chance of getting in but for most, it didn't happen so the die-hard loyalists joined the overflow in the street craning for a peak inside.

 

Click on the Youtube clips below to catch a glimpse of the fervour, in lieu of actually being in the room. Incendiary vocals shared between Jimmy and Julia with Andy switching between guitar and bass for a few songs. The pulse of the room was raging and the crowd was a fist pumping, lyric belting swell of raucous energy.

 

Future Of The Left’s upcoming album, The Plot Against Common Sense, will be the group’s third full-length release. 

 

Scott Pappas / Christina Eichelberger

 

'Small Bones, Small Bodies' 

"Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues" and "To Hell With Good Intentions" 

Website 

myspace

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Last day. Feet are tired! First showcase of the day...it’s a long one!!! Mohawk patio again, and once the doors open, the long line moves quickly.  First off...is Silent Comedy A 4 piece of power, firecrackers these guys. Great dirty rock n roll whiskey soaked gospel tinted raucous and joyful and fantastic. 

Back outside for Gary Clark Jr...Great guitarist, tight band, great songs and great weather!  Next up...War on Drugs. Great layered waves of sound and clever songs, I do love the cd.  Blitzen Trapper is up next. Another great rock band ,with superb harmonies.  

Inside for the Cloud Nothings.  Packed small room, sweaty messy loud. Just the way you would expect them.  Is the drummer insane?  Maybe. Now outside for Bob Mould playing’ Copper Blue’  start to finish.  Bob and his band have been doing the same show a few times lately so they have it down.  Loud and smooth, a great album performed on a sunny patio can’t get much better than that. We decide to move before Roots begin and we head out in search of another show. 

We stop by Latitude and lucky enough, Dunwells have just gone on.  5 members,5 part harmonies, some very solid songs and a sound that goes over well with me, Sandra and the crowd   Dutch Uncles are up next.,crazy mathematical layered sound of mayhem...interesting and noisy and rather fun.Time for dinner.

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Day starts heading to Mellow Johnny’s bike  shop to catch Pickwick only came to know this band when doing some SXSW research and really glad I did.  This kid has got it, band is great, not sure how to describe him but, his voice is stunning and I would suggest to anyone, go and check out the band and their KEXP radio station videos. 

Now it’s off to Cedar Street to see Of Monsters & Men and Ed SheeranOf Monsters & Men are fantastic. Very similar to our Canadian band the Stars, great harmonies, clever songs, from Iceland!    Ed Sheeran is up next, and this guy is pretty darned entertaining.  He does have a great voice, and by his last song, he has got the entire crowd doing an audience participation song, while he loops some self-created beats on his mic, he has a split crowd singing parts of the song. He is a showman and must admit, I quite liked it! 

An attempt now to go see Dry The River failed as the W Hotel patio where they were to playing only holds 100 people and its well past  full.  So....back to Mellow Johnny’s for rockabilly band JD MacPherson.  New cd coming out on Rounder, this fellow and his band mates know what they are doing.  A great showman with a spectacular band. Big keys, stand-up bass, saxophone, great upbeat party going on at Mellow Johnny’s 

Now we return to Cedar for the sweet harmonies of Grafitti6 and Fanfarlo, both great patio music, especially when you are on Cedar St Courtyard! 

Dinner time!  A little rest then mayhem! Here is where I throw in my opinion ....watch out....don’t hate me!! 

 

Again...the plan changes ……We check out the Google/YouTube party line-up...none!  Easy access for badges so, we decide to go see Nick Waterhouse and Lee Fields at the Hype hotel.

 

Nick Waterhouse comes on with three backup singers, saxophone and a great rock-a-billy blues sound. A rocking band and a great start...the kid really gets the people moving!

 

Next up, Lee Fields!  He is like a smaller version of Charles Bradley...but with more energy!  This young/old guy sings for the ladies and they sing back...if only I had half of this senior citizens soul or charm!!  Fantastic set!!

 

Then a quick run up to see Cults and Frankie Rose at the aforementioned You Tube/Google party.  Cults are perfectly dreamy and a great sunny band to listen to in the beating sun!  Frankie Rose fits right in as well; though everyone including the band seems to be suffering from the night before, and that morning feeling but, both bands get a great response.  

 

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Wedneday ...first full day in Austin...lets jump in! 

Start off by wandering up toward Mohawk to see django django but we have a little time. Why not go into Paste magazine party, get some early cool sounds and beers. Sandra shops for lovely Tretorn shoes on display and then listen to a kick ass New Orleans band called mynameisjohnmichael   fantastic horns, great New Orleans blues rock sound with a dynamic energetic little singer who has the spirit of some great performers in him like Springsteen.  It’s great how these little side trips turn out so well

 

Now to Mohawk.  django django are first on, club offers some great viewing spots so crowd looks sparse but by the time the band gets into their 3rd song...everyone is paying attention   I did love the record so am particularly happy that they can pull it off live, great fun, like a funky Byrds at times, fun to watch especially when 3 of the 4 band members play keyboards at once and everyone agrees!

 

Inside Mohawk its Husky performing. I didn’t know much about these guys but they are a solid 4 piece with beautiful harmonies. and a great front guy

 

Outside now for Kindness, a funky awkward long haired white guy singing funky pop songs ...good band and back up singers, they have their moments.

 

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Realised after dinner that Campfire Trails show did not start until 9pm so got antsy and decided to push my luck and hit another club first.  

Hype hotel with a huge line was starting Tuesday night and first band of the evening was Oberhofer..lots of buzz about this Brooklyn band so we took the chance, and though there was a huge line, badges went on in.

 

The spirited, Strokes"ish" Oberhofer hit the stage and these kids were fantastic, highlight of the evening for sure. Young but very polished, energetic little fellas, floppy haired and rocking. it was a hoot. 

 

Then it was off to Bat Bar for Campfire Trails night. First off,. Apache Relay.  Almost Dry the River but not quite there, their set was haunted by what I thought was no vocals audible for the first few songs. This turned out to be an issue all night.  Good little band with a little Springsteen thrown in with a cover of State Trooper. 

 

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