False Heads @ The Ferret

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First bit of advice: Listen to False Heads new EP ‘Less Is Better’. It’s an absolute banger. In fact you should take the time to listen to their entire back catalogue, because it’s crazy good. In a recent interview, FH’s frontman Luke Griffiths described his songwriting as “somewhere between Kurt Cobain and Noel Gallagher”. That seems like a pretty bold claim, but listen to False Heads and he does kind of have a point. There’s a raw punk rock energy that keeps grunge fans like me happy, whilst simultaneously there’s the melody and swagger of Brit Pop thrown in there to help keep their sound more accessible, with doses of The Libertines and Queens Of The Stone Age also in the mix for good measure. It makes for a great concoction that’s seen them start to gather a fair amount of attention from the British music press.

Second piece of advice: if False Heads play a show near to you, make sure you go along. Unfortunately the people of Preston didn’t heed this advice for the last Saturday in September. Myself and a handful of friends had purchased tickets for this show several weeks in advance, fully expecting that this was likely to get close to selling out (hey, it does happen at The Ferret!!! Manchester rockers The Blinders have sold out the venue for their show there next month). However, with a few days left before the gig the promoter put out a message to say the gig was now going to be free entry, seemingly in an attempt to try and get some bodies through the door. Even then, barely anyone turned up, and of the small crowd gathered I’d be surprised if there were even a dozen that were actually there because they wanted to watch the band.

Opening the night were local band All Hail Hyena. Given the effort these guys put in to putting on a show it was a great shame there weren’t more people there to witness it, taking the stage wearing matching pyjamas and adorning day-glo facepaint, highlighted by the black light they’d set up on stage. There was an assortment of oddities displayed across the front of the stage, and they even handed out songbooks to the crowd in case anyone wanted to singalong. Their song ‘Licky, Licky’ was preceded by lollipops being given out to everyone, so we all had something to lick along with.

The songs themselves were a mixture of catchy poppy rock songs and quirky plinky plonkers that reminded me quite a bit of Everything Everything, with some heavier guitar thrown in there every now and again too, and even a brief stint of death metal vocal. Many of the songs ended abruptly and unpredictably, until the point in the night where the abrupt end became really predictable, but I still enjoyed it and will definitely be along to watch them again some time.

Widnes wrestling loving alt rockers Salt The Snail were due to appear next, but unfortunately had to pull out of the show on the day. A real shame, as they’re another band who are a spectacle to watch, and were one of the reasons I opted to go to the Preston False Heads show and not the sold out gig in Manchester the night before. Again, if STS play a show near you, make sure you get along. You won’t regret it.

And so onto Londoners False Heads. I’ve said for a while now, one true test of whether a band are any good live is whether they can turn it on when the crowd aren’t all that interested. In truth, it’s a test that normally applies to opening acts, the support acts that people aren’t interested in because they want to see the main event. It’s a little strange to apply the same test to the headliners. This was my first time watching False Heads, but having followed coverage of their other gigs I knew what to expect – their incendiary live performances are a large part of how they are managing to grow their following.

I’m happy to report that they didn’t disappoint. Luke was really energetic on stage, writhing about and dropping to his knees, or climbing on the seating to the side of the stage or even up on top of his amp (…please, someone buy him a bigger amp! It will help make the amp climbing so much more dramatic!), whilst Barney Nash on drums provided really tight backing vocals as well as being spokesman in-between songs and keeping the set flowing. Jake Elliot completes the trio, coolly delivering the bass whilst Luke flings himself around the stage.

The set opened with ‘Yellow’ the lead single from ‘Less Is Better’ which with its fast paced punky riff is a great start to proceedings, and set the tempo for the night. They play my absolute favourite FH track ‘Slew’ with its taunting chorus of “You’ll never learn” and outro that showcases the band at their most brutal QOTSA-esque best.

‘Twentynothing’, also from their debut ‘Gutterpress’ EP also gets an outing, as does ‘Help Yourself’ from ‘Less Is Better’, which really reminds me of The Presidents Of The United States Of America, and is another personal highlight. There are also several new songs sprinkled through the set, and my impression is that these all leaned towards the grimier rocky end of their spectrum, which is right up my street.

The one-two punch of ‘Retina’ and then ‘Wrap Up’ were a great end to the show… well kind of… with it now being a free gig and an open door policy there were a handful of drunks who staggered in for the last 5 minutes of the set who then demanded an encore… having seemingly caught the band a bit off guard, there was a slightly awkward few minutes where they were originally going to do a reprise of ‘Yellow’, before deciding instead to close out with a bit of a jam session. It was a pretty awesome jam, and it will be interesting to see if it ends up being developed into a full song – whilst it felt kind of special to watch, the drunken antics of the late arriving punters left a slightly sour taste and I was kind of a bit embarrassed given it was a home town gig for me. The band packed up and left pretty sharply after that.

I really enjoyed their performance though, and it’s left me desperate for a chance to go see the band again, hopefully with a room full of people that will appreciate them a bit more. I really do think False Heads are on the verge of big things, and hopefully one day I can look back in fondness on the time I saw them play such a small venue.

I also hope the people of Preston can wake up to the fact that we’re lucky that a venue like The Ferret puts on so many good bands and if we’re not prepared to support shows like these, the music scene in Preston is going to end up being poorer for it.

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Dinosaur Pile-Up @ The Parish

Anyone who’s read this site regularly will notice that despite the fact I’ve never dedicated an entire blog post to them, the name Dinosaur Pile-Up has come up pretty often. It’s fair to say that I’m a big fan. In fact despite being nearer to 40 years of age than 30, and the fact that I work a mundane job in IT, have a mortgage, and am married with two young children, it’s probably a better description to call me a completely tragic fan-girl.

What’s so good about them? I find it really hard to put my finger on it. I don’t think they’re a revolutionary, mould breaking, genre defining type act. Some people write them off as grunge wannabes. But personally…. I f*cking LOVE DPU! I still remember really vividly the very first time I listened to them. I came across ‘Mona Lisa’ on You Tube (it’s a really cool video, you should check it out here) at the back end of 2010, and I remember listening to it in my kitchen. Within the first 30 seconds of hearing the song I knew they were right up my street. I binged listened to as much as I could get my hands on online, and ordered their recently released ‘Growing Pains’ album straight away.

When it turned up I was not disappointed. It’s an absolute banger of an album packed end to end with big riffs and awesome tunes. I spent my teens listening to 90s grunge, and then rather than fall in to the Brit Pop camp got into nu-metal later on. Off the back of this, I find the music I love the most is music that’s really heavy but still holds a decent melody. ‘Growing Pains’ fitted the bill perfectly, and quickly became my go to album. I went and got tickets to go see them perform as soon as I could, my first show being at Soundcontrol in Manchester in March 2011… And it turns out live, they’re pretty f*cking awesome too.

I’ve been hooked ever since. Album two ‘Nature Nurture’ is a bit more pop-punk, but is also f*cking amazeballs and album three, the slightly darker and heavier ‘Eleven Eleven’ continues the legacy… Unlike other bands that have released awesome first albums but then faded away, DPU have never let me down.

That still doesn’t really do justice to why I like them so much. I guess listening to a banging DPU riff is like someone’s plugged directly into the dopamine receptors in my brain and turned them up to 11. It just makes me happy. Going to a show, jumping around like a loon and singing my heart out to all the songs puts a massive grin on my face and makes me even happier!

But anyways, I’m probably supposed to be reviewing a show or something… Ah yes. DPU announced the massive news this year that they were going to be playing the main stage at Reading/Leeds festival. HUGE!!! To see a band you’ve followed from early on make it to the big stage is amazing, and makes you kind of feel proud. But no way was I going to hit up either festival… I’m waaaaay too old for that shit! They did however, also announce a warm up show the day before their Leeds appearance at The Parish in Huddersfield. WIN!!! They also teased that this show would be the first outing for some of the new songs from their forthcoming fourth record. BONUS!!!

The chance to hear new stuff made me extra excited. Sometimes, watching a band you love playing new stuff is a total drag. You just want them to get on with playing the songs you know and love. I feel differently about DPU though, firstly because, as mentioned already, their new material has never let me down, but also because I have such fond memories of them playing unreleased stuff before. When they were touring ‘Growing Pains’ they used to play ‘Should’ and I remember being really into it from the very first listen. I also have fond memories of “Radvent” where in the lead up to Christmas front man Matt Bigland released previews of demos recorded for ‘Nature Nurture’. ‘In My Room’ and ‘Thread’ (later known as ‘Hanging by a Thread’) were both posted up on Soundcloud, and again, I loved both songs on first play… the only shame being that none of the above songs actually made the cut when ‘Nature Nurture’ was finally released (though thankfully all three can subsequently be found on the ‘Nurtured’ EP that was released a few years later).

Anyways – my ticket to the Huddersfield show was duly purchased. This was my first visit to The Parish. Living in Lancashire, most of the gigs I go to are in Manchester, but I do get across to Leeds pretty regularly. Huddersfield is in between the two, so I’d had my eye on The Parish for a while as a venue I wanted to visit. They book some pretty decent bands, but DPU was the first one that made sense for me to go along to.

The gig space itself seems to be a converted garage at the back of the pub. It’s tiny! Again, regular readers will note that I love a small venue! Despite me being in double digits in terms of DPU shows, this was definitely the smallest venue I’d seen them at. It was a sell out show though, so it was also packed. Perfect!

Opening up were California rockers Teenage Wrist. I’d listened to their album ‘Chrome Neon Jesus’ before the show and I’d enjoyed it without necessarily being blown away by it. Their live performance though carried extra energy, and made it one of those performances where all of a sudden the songs make more sense. There seemed to be a few bona fide Teenage Wrist fans in the audience, but the whole crowd gave them a really good reception, set closer ‘Stoned Alone’ being a highlight.

Then on to the main event. Even during sound checks the crowd were getting excited. Off the back of DPU’s last UK tour a bunch of guys started up a DPU Fanclub page on Instagram (there meme game is hot, you should check them out here). The lads that run it have managed to build a bit of a community around the page, and folk that attend DPU shows regularly are all starting to get to know each other. There was a gathering of that community right at the front. Chatting to guys I found out people had travelled from the likes of Milton Keynes, Birmingham and Manchester to be at this one off show… I once made a three hour round trip to Carlisle to catch a DPU midweek show, so it’s kind of nice to realise I’m not the only DPU nut. There was genuine excitement amongst people about hearing new stuff.

The set opened with ‘Arizona Waiting’ and the crowd were in to it straight away, screaming the words and bouncing along. It was followed by ‘Peninsula’, a song I wasn’t so into when I first heard it, but it’s a live staple and a crowd favourite that I’m now hooked on, and then on to ‘Birds and Planes’ which is the opening track from ‘Growing Pains’ and one of my all time favourites.

Throughout the set there was a decent mixture of stuff from ‘Growing Pains’ (‘My Rock and Roll’ and ‘Traynor’ also got a play) and from ‘Nature Nurture’ (including ‘White T-Shirt and Jeans’ and title track ‘Nature Nurture’) plus a cover of Weezer’s ‘Say It Ain’t So’. I only realised afterwards, that aside from anthemic set closer ’11:11′ there weren’t any other tracks from third album ‘Eleven Eleven’ – perhaps after three years of promoting the record the band are a bit fed up of it.

And then of course there was the new stuff. The band played three new tracks: ‘Thrash Metal Cassette’, ‘Around The Bend’ and ‘Pouring Gasoline’. And they were all face meltingly awesome!

‘Thrash Metal Cassette’ starts with a fast frantic shouty verse that kind of reminded me of the Foo Fighters’ ‘White Limo’, before hitting a more upbeat chorus with a melodic and harmonious “heeeeey”, the best bit being a dramatic pause in the middle of the song where Mike bashes out a beat and then, even though no one had heard the song before, everyone knew exactly the moment the riff was going to kick back in, the room bouncing as one (it gave me a serious goosebumps moment!).

‘Around The Bend’ was another upbeat effort, definitely channeling the band at their Weezer-esque best and ‘Pouring Gasoline’ was more of the same good stuff.

Speaking to all the die hard fans after the show, everyone was really pumped about the new stuff, and I have to admit, Bigland and the boys have done it again.

The very next day a UK wide November wide tour was announced (with Gender Roles as one of the support acts no less) …I’d hoped to get to a handful of the shows, but it transpires that my wife is going to be abroad at the same time, meaning I have to stay home and adult instead. So it looks like I’ll only be able to make the opening night of the new tour in Leeds. I can’t wait to get that next DPU fix though and the chance to hear all the new stuff again. And fingers crossed album four is not far away. Really exciting times for the band. I love watching them grow and go from strength to strength!

 

Pulled Apart by Horses / WEIRDS / JOHN / The Hiding Place @ The Sugarmill

It feels like aaaaaages since I’ve written a blog entry and even longer since I’ve done a proper gig review as opposed to an overview of a festival. I was certainly feeling an itch that needed to be scratched, so when this show in Stoke came up on my Instagram feed, I knew I had to try and get along.

I’m not sure how I missed this one off show in the first place as it’s been promoted for a few months now, but with three bands on the bill I’m a huge fan of, it felt like one I shouldn’t miss, so with a last minute ticket purchased, I set off down the M6 for the 1hr 20min journey.

This was my first ever visit to Stoke and The Sugarmill. There was a car park just over the road from the venue that was only £1 for the evening which was a bonus. The venue itself is big enough to feel like a proper venue, but still small enough to get that intimate feeling, and definitely somewhere I’d be happy to visit again to go watch bands.

First up were local band The Hiding Place. In all honesty they’re weren’t really my cup of tea. They had a kind of emo mixed with hair metal/post nu-metal edge that kind of reminded me of the likes of Thrice, Avenged Sevenfold or Bullet for My Valentine. Their lead singer has a serious set of pipes though, his vocal range being really impressive and almost operatic at times, and the set was pretty tight, even if stylistically it wasn’t my thing. If you are a fan of that style of music they are definitely worth checking out.

Next up were JOHN, one of the main reasons I decided to take the trip. I’d seen them earlier in the year in Manchester and really enjoyed them, and have continued to listen to them since. Based in London, they don’t manage to get up north very often, and in fact myself and a friend were even thinking about trying to get across to Europe in the autumn so we can catch them playing on tour with IDLES.

So how are they best described? Loud. Frantic. Raw. I’m still amazed how much noise they make for a two-piece, and I’m still sure no other drumming front man is as energetic as drummer John, whilst guitarist Johnny cooly goes about his business banging out the riffs.

Opener ‘Balfron’ is a great start to the set and sets the pace for the rest of the performance. Still early in the night, and JOHN still being a relatively obscure act (though hopefully more exposure on tour with IDLES will help with this) the crowd are a little tentative with only a few of us gathering near the front. I enjoyed toe tapping and singing along with the set which included a host of songs from their album ‘God Speed In The National Limit’ including personal favourites ‘Squad Vowels’ and ‘Ghost Printer’ (a song I randomly heard over the stereo in a bar in Bristol the other week!), as well as a new song thrown into the mix (…I’m officially crap at paying attention when a band introduces a new song, so no idea what it was called).

Another really enjoyable set from them and one that’s definitely rekindled the pipe dream of getting out on the continent to try and catch them again.

Next were WEIRDS from Leeds. I find it really difficult to try and pigeon hole this band. A quick internet search brings up the term “psych grunge”, which I’m not sure is a real thing, but if it is, WEIRDS are pioneering it. They combine rhythmic bass lines, dark and eery synthesisers and jangly guitars that break out of to grimy, heavy riffs. I’ve seen them play a handful of times now and the musical cacophony is only bettered by the intensity of the performance. Singer Aidan is not averse to taking a wander into the crowd screaming in the faces of his audience whilst stomping around in an unhinged manner. This was the first time I’d experienced the bass player and guitarist also jumping in to the crowd to finish the set.

I’ve only ever seen WEIRDS in support slots (guttingly, I was abroad when they did a headline tour to promote debut album ‘Swarmculture’ last year) so hats off to them for making sure they put on a real show every single time – these guys never just phone it in. ‘Old World Blues’ and ‘Phantom’ stand out for me as the best mosh-alongers, though I do love the changes of pace and dance beats used in ‘Valley of Vision’, and ‘Weird Sun’ is becoming the customary set closer that sees the performance get more chaotic.

They seem to have been a little quiet of late, so was great to see them back out performing. I’m looking forward to more from these guys in the future.

And so on to Pulled Apart By Horses. By all accounts this was to be the last PABH headline show before they go in to hiding to put together album five. I’ve been a fan since their debut album, but it took until last year and the release of fourth album ‘The Haze’ for me to actually see them perform. This was my fourth time watching them since then though. It really is a cracking album and it’s a testament to it that most of their set comes from it. ‘The Haze’, ‘The Big What If’, ‘Hotel Motivation’, ‘Flash Lads’ and ‘Prince Of Meats’ all get an outing. There are nods to their older material too with ‘V.E.N.O.M.’ and ‘Lizard Baby’ from their respective second and third albums. That first, eponymous album was for me one of THE albums to reignite the British alt rock and underground scene, so I was really glad to see songs from it performed also with ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’, ‘Meat Balloon’ (again! …they played it at Liverpool Calling and I thought it was gonna be a one off) and iconic set closer ‘High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’ all being played.

Again, every time I see PABH play they seem to put in so much energy. Guitarist James Brown is like a coiled spring that periodically explodes around the stage, whilst frontman Tom Hudson is also a really animated performer head banging and contorting his body in time to the music. Hudson is another frontman who seems to like spending time in the crowd, but tonight was the first time I didn’t see this happen, as the Stoke crowd were noticeably subdued, unfortunately not seeming in the mood to reciprocate the energy on the stage. There was no barrier between the stage and the crowd, yet strangely a weird little pocket developed that kind of disconnected the band from the audience. Especially during ‘Meat Balloon’, a song I love losing my sh*t to, I tried to gee people up and try and get people more in to the gig, but it wasn’t to be. Are all Stoke crowds like that? Or did I just catch them on an off night?

Ultimately it didn’t spoil the show for me. I can happily go in to my own little moshing bubble when I’m listening to heavy music I really love, but gigs where the crowd connect both with the band and with each other do definitely leave you feeling more fulfilled at the end of the night.

So it sounds like this will be my last chance for a PABH fix for a while. I’ll await news of album five eagerly, and hoping there’ll be more to come from the WEIRDS and JOHN camps too.

As for Stoke, I’m sure I’ll be back. The Sugarmill seems a really decent gig space and if they can continue to attract line ups like this, I doubt I’ll be able to stay away, but c’mon Stoke peeps, sort your sh*t out and get up for it!!!

2000 Trees 2018

WHAT. A. WEEKEND.

This was my second year at 2000 Trees festival in Cheltenham. Last year, I’d heard so many good things about the festival that I booked my tickets before any bands had been announced. Subsequently a line up that included all my very favourite bands was released including Pulled Apart By Horses, Dinosaur Pile-Up, Tigercub, Jamie Lenman, Black Peaks, Puppy and Milk Teeth amongst others. I had a superb weekend away.

This year, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back or not. Having seen such an amazing line up the year before, surely this year couldn’t be as good? So I decided to wait until the acts were announced… and when they were, I was pretty underwhelmed. Out of the first wave of bands revealed, only Turbowolf caught the eye. Yet I knew how special the festival was. It has a really great atmosphere and a crowd of people that are genuine music enthusiasts, as opposed to just wanting to go get wasted all weekend. I still didn’t want to miss out.

So I made a compromise, and decided to volunteer as a steward. Stewarding involves working a 4 hour shift each day of the festival; a morning, an afternoon and an evening. It means your ticket only costs a fiver, plus you get fed a meal during each shift and you get access to the VIP facilities.

In the lead up to the festival, more bands were added to the bill, and more names that I knew I’d want to see, but ultimately by the time the stage times were announced, there were only 5 performances across the entire weekend that I knew I wanted to go to. Stewarding still seemed like a decent option.

As a steward you’re also required to travel to the festival a day early, which meant being on site Wednesday evening when England played their World Cup semi-final versus Croatia. Luckily they screened the match for us, as well as providing a welcome barbecue and even some free drinks. On checking into the stewarding office they were happy to try and work around the bands you want to see, and I got assigned a shift pattern that meant I could go watch all of the acts I most wanted to.

The next day my festival kicked off with the early stewarding shift from 8am to midday. I got to be the ‘Family Camping Police’ having to tell arriving festival-goers not to camp in the family section unless they had kids. Having finished at midday, the festival didn’t actually officially start until 2pm, so I had chance to wander around and reacquaint myself with the Upcote Farm site.

Music for me started with Haggard Cat doing a short, unannounced set of Nirvana covers on top of a beer van. An awesome start to the weekend.

I got to see so many awesome bands over the 3 days. Too many to properly review, but in short there were two main groups:

  • Bands I already love who smashed it  included Turbowolf, Press to Meco, Sœur (twice), Black Peaks, Haggard Cat (also twice), Gender Roles and a very hungover Demob Happy.
  • Bands I didn’t really know before, but definitely need to hear more of such as Avalanche Party, Forever Cult, Basement and Fangclub (who closed their set with a ridiculously good cover of ‘Heart-Shaped Box’)

My other stewarding shifts were the Friday afternoon, which I spent welcoming new attendees and handing out wristbands, and then Saturday night from 8pm-Midnight which I got to spend at the Forest Stage supporting security. I felt very lucky to see so much good music in-between all of that.

But whilst ‘Trees is soooo much about the good music, I’ve also come to realise that this isn’t what makes it special. I really think the people who go (as well as people working there) help create a really special vibe and almost a sense of community.

For instance, though I went to the festival alone, I actually ended up camping with two guys I’d camped with last year. They were really welcoming the year before, and seeing them again was like bumping in to old friends. We actually ended up hanging out more this year (they were there to steward too), and a few other guys (all strangers before the weekend) also joined in with the group.

Then there were the people inside the arena who just enjoyed good music. I had 2-3 moments during bands when kindred spirits who were in to the same song would make eye contact and before you know it you’re sharing hugs and high fives and maybe even a drink (…props to the guy that was feeding me Red Stag during Sœur’s Neu Stage set!).

And you even get to enjoy some camaraderie with the bands too. I had drinks and even some silent disco dancing with various bands that I’ve come to know throughout the weekend. And that wasn’t even using my VIP access, that was just bumping in to them in the arena, as they seemed to be really enjoying the festival too.

For anyone who’s considering it, I’d definitely recommend stewarding – it’s a really nice way to have some involvement in the festival and without volunteers the event will struggle. Having said that, I’m not sure I’ll do it again, as there’s so much going on over the weekend even if the band line up isn’t to your taste, and it was pretty tiring fitting everything in as well as putting in a shift.

I came away from the weekend with such a buzz. I think I watched less music at this year’s festival, and there were definitely fewer bands that I really knew, yet I somehow came away having an even better time than the year before. And as for next year? Well, I went and bought my ticket already! See you next year ‘Trees!

 

Forever In Debt / Wax Futures / Dead Houses / Deep Shade @ The Ferret

This blog is almost three months old now, yet this is the first time I’ve covered a show at my local music venue The Ferret in Preston. It’s a crying shame, because The Ferret is a great little venue that’s previously put on some great bands. I’ve watched The Wytches and Allusondrugs there, but looking back through their past events on their Facebook page makes for depressing reading when I realise all the awesome bands I’ve missed out on including IDLES, Strange Bones, False Advertising, Demob Happy, Fizzy Blood, Indoor Pets (when they were still called Get Inuit) and, believe it or not, even Royal Blood.

It’s a peculiar little venue because it’s such an odd shape. Kind of an inverted ‘J’ that curves around a half-horseshoe shaped bar that leads to a conservatory and beer garden. It serves a really good selection of craft beer and also does amazing smoked barbecue food (I had a giant beef rib with chicken wings before the gig). The entrance and stairs to the toilet and kitchen are located to the right of the knee-high stage and anyone arriving at (or indeed leaving) the venue or wanting to use the loos has to walk directly in front of the bands. It’s also a strange sight to see a band mid-set when a waiter walks right in front of them with a giant smoked hotdog. It does however get a crowd of good people in it, and combined with the live music it’s a place I genuinely enjoy visiting.

Now anyone who has followed this blog may have noticed that whenever I’m describing something I like, the word ‘grungy’ pops up quite often. I was at The Ferret on the Friday of spring bank holiday because the line up announced that night had a particularly grungy feel to it, so I didn’t want to miss out.

First up were Widnes band Forever In Debt. I hadn’t heard of them before I’d registered an interest in this show, but they’ve recently released an EP ‘Forget Me Knot’ on the label Society of Losers, and listening to them I was really impressed. Now I’m not afraid to admit that I am a huge, huge Nirvana fan. Forever In Debt absolutely remind me of Nirvana, but not the Nirvana that ‘ordinary’ people know. Not the Butch Vig produced, MTV played, radio friendly unit shifting Nirvana. I’m talking about scuzzy, dirty Nirvana that’s hidden away on obscure bootlegs or buried on compilations of b-sides and rarities. For the more mainstream fans, think ‘Bleach’ and the quirky parts of ‘Incesticide’ mixed with the rawest parts of ‘In Utero’. It’s f*cking awesome!

The band open with ‘Billy’ the laid back bass exploding into a rough and ready punk rock riff, before falling into the loud/quite/loud dynamic familiar of so many awesome grunge songs, the track really reminding me of Violent Soho. Amongst other songs the set also includes ‘Without a Sense of Summer’, the opening track from the EP, which for me is the stand out track and more than any other song captures that early-Nirvana vibe. ‘Boyfriend’ is more poppy and upbeat, and then I realise (I think) it’s actually a cover of Avril Lavigne’s ‘Girlfriend’ but with a sledgehammer taken to it. (EDIT: nope… word from the band, it’s not a cover, but an original from their 2016 debut EP… note to self – stop drinking so much beer before the show!)

The most impressive thing is the amount of energy the performance is delivered with, their frontman putting everything into both the guitar playing and the frenetically screamed vocals. It must be hard to do that when you’re the first band on and no one is really paying attention yet – they soon were paying attention though!

They close with ‘Rabbit Hole’ the thudding and hypnotic drumming accompanied by a fuzzy bass and guitar line that builds up to an ear bashing chorus followed by a wall of distorted guitar noise, before fading down to whispered vocals and then one last explosion of noise. Forever In Debt are a band I’m really excited by, and I’ll definitely make the effort to see them again, hopefully in a tiny, sweaty murky room full of people who are really in to it.

Next up are Wax Futures, the band who first drew my attention to this show. It’s my second time seeing them, having caught them at Falsetival in Manchester last month. Typical of me missing out on bands that play The Ferret, this is at least the fourth time the band have played there. I’m going to compare my experiences of watching Wax Futures to sex: the first time I didn’t really know what was going on, but I really enjoyed it, but now, second time around and with more experience I can enjoy and appreciate it even more.

Wax Futures made a massive impression on me after Falestival. Their mini-album ‘The Museum of Everything’ is a wonderful little gem that’s been on constant rotation in my music listening since that Manchester show. Their previous record ‘A History of Things to Come’ contains songs of a similarly high standard.

Stylistically they’re very much of the post-grunge, post-hardcore, English early noughties type sound, reminiscent of the likes of Reuben, Hell Is For Heroes and Hundred Reasons (in fact they’d be a great addition to this years 2000 Trees line up, which seems to be paying a bit of a tribute to that era).

To compare them to bands from a 10 year old, half dead scene seems really unfair though. At the heart of it they’re an alternative rock band with a collection of really well written songs, that sound familiar without sounding cliched. There are pop-punky elements that make it accessible, but never too sugary sweet, and there’s always a face melting metal riff lurking around the corner to make you stand up and pay attention, as well as a decent scattering of witty lyricisms.

I position myself near the middle of the room and sing along all night for tonight’s show, which includes amongst it (and not necessarily in this order), ‘Laser Eye Surgery’ which is a fast paced upbeat number that plays out to an awesome ear crunching guitar riff and ‘(My Body is a) Landfill’ which is just a HUUUGE tune and my personal WF favourite. ‘The 90’s Called It Wants Yr Misspent Youth Back’ bucks the trend for ending with an awesome metal riff by abruptly opening with one instead, the lyrics very much reminding me of my own misspent 90s youth (though to be fair I had a privileged suburban upbringing, and playing too much Alex Kidd in Miracle Land was probably about as misspent as it got). ‘Sandcastles in the Snow’ is another absolute banger, and there’s also a new song which has a title that sounds like ‘Wind In the Willows’, but isn’t that. It’s reassuringly familiar, and I’m pretty sure I heard it in Manchester too. ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’ is the penultimate song, the simple but catchy bass riff being joined by scaling, layered guitars that move into a catchy verse before building to an ending with a brutal metal riff.

The set closes out with ‘Breadcrumbs’, another fast paced song that builds layer by layer. There’s a brief comedy moment when the guitar amp cuts out, but luckily it’s perfectly timed during a quiet pause in the middle of the song, that allows the band to pick up the pace again and build towards the song’s end. It’s a great track to end with, those many layers of sound being gradually withdrawn until the song ends with a solo drum rhythm. So another thoroughly enjoyable Wax Futures show – I only wish I could some how give them a vehicle to get their music out to a bigger audience, as I think there’s definitely a crowd out there that would really appreciate them.

The third band are Dead Houses, another band putting out music on the Society of Losers label. Having listened to their stuff prior to the gig, I have to say, they looked different to how I expected. They have a very bass heavy sound, with eery guitars layered over the top and almost operatic singing that overall has quite a gothic sound that reminds me a little of The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, so I was expecting a band that looked more like that to turn up. These guys looked way more ‘normal’. It’s an electrifying performance though, their lead singer bouncing around the stage, or sometimes in the crowd, moving and contorting his body to every chord change and drum beat. Beyond the gothic material I’d already listened to, the band also have a metal edge and the gothic crooning gives way to guttural screaming in places, that reminds me of Black Peaks – in fact I think Dead Houses would make a great opening act for the Brighton rockers!

They play both tracks from their recent release ‘Like to Know’ and ‘Greys’ which are both cracking songs, as well as a host of other material that keeps the crowd transfixed. A really enjoyable set in a style of music that I might not ordinarily listen to, but I definitely won’t shy away from going to watch again.

Last on are Deep Shade from Wigan. It’s late by this point, pretty much midnight. I’m not sure how deliberate this is, and whether Deep Shade are supposed to be considered “headliners”, or in actual fact they’re just background entertainment as the venue winds down towards the end of the night. Unfortunately not many people stuck around to watch them and they end up performing to perhaps less than a dozen people.

The blurb on their website sounds mighty impressive citing a “formidable grungy alternative-rock sound that takes from the fundamental elements of Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age and Alice in Chains”; this sounds right up my street. What you actually get is more of a classic rock sound that very much reminds me of Guns N’Roses.

All three members strike me as very good musicians, and at one point I was quite fascinated by watching their bass player working his fret board. The singer also has a great voice reminiscent of Chris Cornell (though perhaps a touch heavy on the reverb during this performance) – the songs however lack any kind of edge, and although well constructed, don’t really do much for me. If you are a GnR fan (I’m not), I’d definitely recommend them, and the performance is at least tight, just not in a style of music that I personally get excited by.

And so the night came to a close – grunge followed by post-grunge followed by goth-grunge followed by anti-grunge… I might even have been grunged out if such a thing were ever possible. More new bands to get excited about and a really enjoyable night that reminds me that I need to get myself down to The Ferret way more often.

Handmade Festival: The good, the bad, the ugly

May day bank holiday weekend was spent at Handmade Festival in Leicester – a truly epic weekend, packed full of great music… far too much music to write about in fact so, this blog is going to be a little shorter than usual and attempt to briefly sum up the weekend and my thoughts about the event in general.

The Good

  • The line-up was epic. Check it out – Screenshot_20180510-203527.png
    A ton of bands I know and love (Dinosaur Pile-Up, Turbowolf, IDLES, Drenge, The Wytches, Gender Roles, Indoor Pets and Black Peaks), bands that I’d heard of and wanted to find out more (Future of the Left, Kamikazee Girls, Strange Bones) and then loads of unheard of’s that are always fun to check out.
  • Of all the bands I made the effort to see, no one disappointed… Strange Bones unfortunately pulled out the day before their appearance, but even their last minute replacement Kagoule turned out to be one of my highlights of the weekend. Other great surprises were Crosa Rosa and Timmas.
  • The venue was conveniently compact. My initial expectation was that I’d end up dashing around Leicester between different venues to catch all the bands I wanted to see, but it transpired that the stages were all actually located in one complex at the University of Leicester.
  • The tickets were great value. I bought tier 3 tickets at £40 – this isn’t a camping festival, so I still had to pay for accommodation on top of that, but I still thought that £40 was an absolute steal.
  • Definitely a big shout out to the developers of the companion app, which allowed you to plan which bands you wanted to see when and helped easily identify any clashes.

The Bad

  • The Union Square stage wasn’t really a music venue… they decided to transform the student union foyer into a performing area. It felt weird, with a Starbucks barricaded off to one side. It’s also glass fronted and has a glass ceiling, and with the baking hot weather, got very hot. During Indoor Pets performance singer Jamie developed giant sweat patches on his knees, whilst Beth from Kagoule and Chris from Turbowolf both looked a little uncomfortable on stage. It certainly looked like hard work for any act appearing before around 8pm, when the sun started to disappear behind the buildings.
  • The Union Square set-up seem to affect the atmosphere somewhat, and crowds felt subdued for most of the weekend. I guess it’s great that they expanded the capacity of the festival, but if that’s at a detriment to the vibe of the event I’m not sure it’s worth it.
  • Set times felt too short. I guess I’m used to the set times getting progressively longer throughout the day, so whilst the small opening acts might only get 25 minutes, by the time you reach the evening and the bands are more established acts the set times are getting towards 40-45 minutes, with an hour reserved for the headline act. This was half hour slots for everyone, apart from an hour for headline acts. The Wytches on Saturday night was just starting to get going, when it felt like their set was cut short. Turbowolf have just released their third album, and they’re Sunday night slot didn’t really feel long enough to showcase enough of their back catalogue. Likewise, Dinosaur Pile-Up played a really well paced set, but it still felt a few songs short by the time it reached the end.

The Ugly

  • My weekend finished on a slight downer when I decided to move from watching IDLES on the Union Square stage to go catch the last 20 minutes or so of Black Peaks playing on the Scholar Stage. After Black Peaks, I planned to move back to the Union Square stage to say a few goodbyes to certain people I’d met and chatted to over the weekend and maybe give a quick hello to the bands too. However, once  IDLES and Black Peaks had finished their respective sets, security locked down the venues, and wouldn’t let people move between them, despite the fact that the festival was still going on in the main Academy room with Circa Waves closing the weekend. It was just a bit miserable really, and denied the opportunity to share some last moments of camaraderie with people who had been involved throughout the weekend.

Conclusion

So on the drive back up to Lancashire, the question me and my friend Pie asked ourselves, was whether we’d go back again next year? Personally, if the line up was good enough, yes I probably would. However, given that most of my absolute favourites played already this year, it’s unlikely that the line up will be as attractive next year.

Contrast that with 2000 Trees; I was a bit underwhelmed when they made their first band announcements for 2018, but I decided I’d go along anyway because the event itself had such an awesome atmosphere about it when I went last year (…and then they smashed the bands announced in the second and third waves, so I’m really excited about the line up now!).

Handmade felt like it lacked something and almost didn’t really feel like a proper festival to me. The crowds seem to lack energy, the security staff didn’t really feel like they were a part of the event and I felt slightly short changed by lengths of some of the band performances.

I still had an enjoyable weekend, and I wouldn’t deter anyone from getting along to this event in the future, but I haven’t come away feeling enthused about going back again next year either.

Haggard Cat @ The Alma Inn

One thing’s for sure, I never intend for this blog to get too serious, and I’m definitely not going to let the fact that I plan to write a review afterwards actually get in the way of me enjoying myself at the gig in the first place. With that in mind I can only apologise if details of last Thursday’s Haggard Cat show at The Alma Inn in Bolton are a bit hazy.

I met up with a mate I’d not seen in ages for a bite to eat and a few beers beforehand. When we got to the Alma, given that the venue is sponsored by Fireball Whisky, and given that Haggard Cat frontman Matt Reynolds also works for said cinnamon flavoured liqueur company, we figured we’d do shots …and we went on to do them every round …and I’m pretty sure the venue threw in at least one complimentary round as well. The morning after was pretty hungover.

This was my first visit to the Alma. They put on some pretty decent acts, and I’d intended to get down for a while, but never gotten the opportunity. It’s much smaller than I was expecting, with bands playing at floor level in a sunken area of the pub that must only hold 40 or so people when it’s full. Tonight’s performance is to an audience of only around a dozen or so, but that’s exactly the way I like it.

Mr Shiraz take the stage before Haggard Cat. The five piece from Huddersfield play an upbeat and tight set, but the show is totally stolen by their frontman, whose banter and antics in between songs has me and my mate in stitches. It’s a fun way to get the night started.

Haggard Cat didn’t take the stage until gone 10pm, which means I had plenty of time to get more drinks. For anyone not familiar with the heavy blues two piece, they were originally a side project of Matt Reynolds and drummer Tom Marsh from post-Hardcore rockers HECK (previously known as Baby Godzilla before big wigs from the Japanese film industry had something to say about it). They have a record available online, ‘Charger’ which was supposedly recorded in one night long drinking session back in 2013, and with HECK deciding to call time on the band last year, it seems Haggard Cat has now been resurrected, with a new album ‘Challenger’ released earlier in April.

It’s my second time seeing the guys perform, having seen them on tour with Jamie Lenman last May. On that occasion the set focussed mainly on new and then unreleased material. It’s a really pleasant surprise this time round to see them throw in a few more tracks from ‘Charger’.

The set opens with single ‘The Patriot’ which was released early last year and was the first signs that Haggard Cat (originally called Haggard Cat Bothday Present, and then briefly being known as HCBP before settling on Haggard Cat as their name) were re-emerging. We get performances of all of the singles taken from ‘Challenger’ to date, including the mind boggling riff of ‘Goldberg’, bop-alonger (and cowbell banger!) ‘Boneshaker’ and latest release ‘Bad News (Travels Fast)’. Mid set sees ‘Intro’ and ‘Alligator Tightrope’ the opening two tracks from ‘Charger’ which are two of my personal favourites, and a real treat as I thought that the ship had sailed on me seeing either track performed live.

There were definitely some other songs too… maybe ‘Gravedigger’ and I’m sure there was another ‘Charger’ track as well, but I was having too much of a good time having a drunken one man mosh pit to pay enough attention!

The set ended with ‘American Graffiti’ which is my stand out track from ‘Challenger’ and made for a great finish.

So, a fun night with good laughs, good music and too much booze. Will definitely check out Mr Shiraz again, and will be good to see the HC boys at 2000 Trees in July.