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!

 

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God Damn @ The Flapper

God Damn are one of the bands that have reignited my passion for live music. I first saw them opening for the Foo Fighters at Old Trafford back in 2015, a show where I also realised that stadium shows are just not my thing. As iconic as the Foos are, live music when you’re packed in with 70,000 other people just doesn’t work for me. I was already hooked on God Damn’s debut album ‘Vultures’ by that point, and their performance was the highlight for me that day.

Fast forward a few months and I got to watch them again, this time at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen. The dank underground venue a stark contrast to that first gig, and I reckon there were probably less than 50 people there – it was awesome, and one of my favourite gigs to date.

I saw them once more a few months later as part of an all-dayer in Leeds along side Dinosaur Pile-Up and Heck. That’s over 2 years ago now, during which time the band have released a second album (2016’s ‘Everything Ever’) and recruited a third band member. Since then I’ve managed to cruelly miss every opportunity to see them again, shows always being in the wrong place or at the wrong time.

So, having been quiet for a while, they announced that they would play their only show of the summer at The Flapper in Birmingham as part of the venue’s closing party. I didn’t want to miss out again, so a road trip was duly planned, keeping it classy with a four hour Megabus journey there, and then the night bus home again at 2am.

I’ve never been to a gig in Birmingham before, let alone The Flapper. The venue is located on the canal, split over 2 floors, but you enter on to the first floor via a bridge, with stairs taking you down to a canal side yard and the gig room. With the UK in the midst of a truly epic heatwave, the yard was absolutely rammed. The people of Birmingham are so friendly though, and myself and friend David were invited to sit with some of the locals, who kept us company most of the night.

Venturing inside, the gig room is tiny. The stage is more of a step and the roof is ridiculously low. So many great bands have played here in the last few years including Demob Happy, Tigercub, Dinosaur Pile-Up and Future of the Left. Kind of gutted that I’ve missed out on the chance to see so many of my favourite bands in such an intimate setting.

The land the building sits on is due to be developed in to flats, with the weekend I was there supposed to be being the last the venue sees in operation, but at the 11th hour they’ve been given a 12 month extension on their lease. Moves are still on going to try and secure a longer term future. So rather than a closing party, the weekend was rebranded as a celebration of being awarded the extension.

The line up for the event seemed to have chopped and changed a half dozen times, and unexpectedly first band on are You Dirty Blue. I was only able to catch a couple of their songs, but really enjoyed what I heard, the two-piece producing fuzzy blues rock with a modern twist.

Ghosts of Dead Airplanes are next up, delivering a punky but powerful set. Their frontman plays melodic but heavy guitar whilst he delivers clever lyrics that provide a commentary on modern life, his eyes fixed on the crowd with a slightly unhinged stare. The energetic bass player bounced around behind him in between backing vocal duties, and pounding drums completed the trio. Really loved this set, the band have a real edgy feel to them and I definitely hope to catch them again some time.

After a break for a show from a fire performer in the yard, it’s time for the main event: God Damn. The room was packed. Frontman Thom takes to the stage alone, and greets the crowd with the opening to ‘Skeletons’. Surely one of GD’s best tracks, I’m used to seeing this deployed as the finale to a set. However, rather than the punch in the face that normally greets you at the start of a God Damn show, this felt like a friendly welcome, and it’s evident how many fans are present as everyone sings along to the stripped back and mellow intro… already there seems like a special atmosphere in the room. Drummer Ash and keyboard player James take there place on stage just in time for the track to explode in to the main riff, the crowd also jumping in to life.

What an awesome start to the set, the room absolutely buzzing and the energy levels through the roof. The entire set stayed at this intense level. There was a really good mixture of tracks with a few new ones thrown in to the mix along with several tracks from the ‘Vultures’ album and a couple from ‘Everything Ever’. Personal highlights were ‘Dead To Me’, ‘Silver Spooned’ (which was introduced with the instagram sensation ‘I don’t remember how this song goes’) and oldie ‘Heavy Money’.

This really was the perfect storm of a gig. Band I love, playing in a tiny, dirty, sweaty venue, to a packed audience of proper fans. Thom spent a lot of time in (or in fact crowd surfing on) the crowd, whilst set closer ‘Vultures’ sees a large chunk of the audience invited up on to the stage to sing (and mosh) along. One gig reviewer put it far more eloquently than me (see her version of events  here) when she described it as “there is no us and them tonight, the band and crowd are one, fuelling off one another and having the time of their lives” – the night really did have a feel of community about it.

The world needs gigs like this, which means we need venues like The Flapper. Hopefully planners in Birmingham will see fit to allow the venue to remain. Pretty drunk, drenched in sweat, and with a giant grin on my face, this was definitely a night that’s going to stay long in memory.

 

Liverpool Calling 2018

I attended Liverpool Calling last weekend, but after a hectic week in between it’s only now that I’m getting around to capturing my thoughts about the event. And first thoughts are, wow, what an event. I had an absolute blast! I’d seen announcements about the line up knocking around for a few months, and whilst there were many bands I fancied seeing, I wasn’t sure I was up for the fact the shows were going to be spread across the city at several venues – however, when the stage splits and times were announced it turned out that all the bands I really, really wanted to see were playing the same stage anyway. The only choice left to make was whether to just get a ticket for Saturday, or go along Friday night too for an extra fiver.

I decided I’d drive for the Friday, and the plan was to jump on the train for Saturday and enjoy a few beers.

In principal, this felt like it ought to be a similar event to Leicester’s Handmade Festival, which I went to in May. Myself and the friend I went with both came away from Handmade feeling slightly unfulfilled, without quite being able to put a finger on why. It had an awesome line up, but something about the venues and the atmosphere just didn’t quite click.

There was no such problem in Liverpool – to be fair I only saw a slice of what was on offer, visiting 4 of the 9 venues used, but that covered all the acts I wanted to see, and the crowds at each one were great. The festival had 2 halves really – Friday night was a showcase of local and emerging bands playing small, independent venues in the city centre, whilst Saturday was an all day affair, moving to the Baltic Triangle at the outskirts of the city to see the marquee bands play bigger stages.

My Friday night was spent mostly at The Jacaranda, which has a low ceiling’d basement stage that’s tiny and filthy – exactly the kind of venue I love. My Saturday was spent at Constellations which seemed to be some kind of abandoned factory building which hosted the main stage, but also had a really lovely outdoor yard which had a second smaller stage where mostly folk and acoustic acts played through the day.

I watched an awful lot of bands, so in the interests of brevity I’ll keep the reviews short and sharp. My weekend panned out like this though:

Friday

Exoskeletons – travelling up from Kent, these guys stage banter was so terrible it was actually quite good. I really enjoyed the dual vocal element. Definitely check out their album ‘We Are Here to Make Things Better’, their track ‘Holes’ is going to get added to pretty much every playlist I’m going to make going forward.

Wife – I really enjoyed Wife, their heavy bass driven songs accompanied by various screeching and howling effects. A bit of a sonic assault, but an intentional one. Their drummer was probably the most animated drummer of the weekend, and I love it when a drummer gets a good gurn on. Their frontman needs to stop negging on the band and making out to the audience that they aren’t very good.

Forever In Debt – fast becoming one of my favourites of the North West scene, they played to a jam packed room. There were some technical problems, with the microphone failing for opening song ‘Billy’, and the at various other points in the set pieces of equipment seemed to want to try and unplug itself, but it was still another performance full of energy and banging grunge tunes

Strange Bones – I nipped across to the bigger Phase One venue to catch the first half of Strange Bones set. They’re basically Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, except from Blackpool. They’re hugely entertaining, with a great sense of theatre and the use of several props during the performance. Frontman Bobby Bentham is a bona fide rock star in the making (if he doesn’t class as one already), spending a lot of his time performing in the crowd, whilst moments on stage saw spectacular scissor kicking jumps. I need to listen to this band more!

Chambers – I saw the sister’s of doom duo in Leeds a few years ago and was really impressed, but they’ve kind of passed me by since then. Was great to reacquaint myself with them, and remind me why I liked them in the first place. They’re heavy, sludgy and intense and the performance sounded really tight. Yet another band I need to make sure stays on my radar.

Sweet Deals on Surgery – having listened to their record ‘The Snake and the Snoozer’ previously, I was undecided on SDOS. Now that I’ve seen them live I feel that I ‘get it’ with the raw, punky edge coming out a lot more. Despite obviously being unhappy with their sound set up, and their drummer and bass player having a small falling out on stage, I still thought they sounded really good, and definitely ended up implanting a few earworms, none more so than set closer ‘Take My Hand, Punch Me In The Face’. Will definitely be back for round 2 of SDOS soon!

Saturday

Echolines – best described as “not Dead Houses” who I’d purposely shown up early to see. Turns out Dead Houses had pulled out last minute, and whilst I was trying to figure that out, I probably didn’t give Echolines the attention they deserved, with me ending up leaving before the end of their set so I could go and check in to my accommodation.

Eyesore and the Jynx – I was back in time to catch the back end of their set. Their bass led art punk type sound isn’t particularly my type of thing, and consequently they didn’t really leave much of an impression.

Elevant – my first nice surprise of the weekend, Elevant were right up my street. A nice grungy backbone laced with an element of rock’n’roll swagger, their frontman was a real performer, and I loved his wobbly-legged dancing, whilst watching their bass player working her fret board was impressive. My only complaint would be the lack of that one knock out song that you can tell everyone about, but I will definitely listen to Elevant more and get to know their stuff.

SPQR – quite a big crowd gathered to watch SPQR, and there’s definitely a bit of a buzz about this band. I’d had recommendations from 2 different sets of friends to make sure I go watch them, and I can understand why. They have a great set of songs which have a slightly quirky sound to them and largely play on the quiet/loud/quiet pattern, except the quiet bits are really tender and heartfelt and with sense of vulnerability, which only makes the louder moments sound even more brutal. Definitely check out their EP ‘The House That Doubt Built’.

Peaness – perfectly pleasant pop ditties largely about rather mundane things such as food waste, Wagamamas and living in Chester. Not really one to mosh to, but catchy and upbeat. I loved how smiley the trio were, seeming to be absolutely loving being up on stage performing, and their harmonies were ridiculously good.

Pale Rider – I didn’t really get it. The guitar was overly fuzzy and hard to distinguish and the vocals also seemed drowned out. Three of the band wore smudged black face make up, though apparently the bass guy was too cool to join in. They struck me as being a bit “style over substance”.

Sœur – I’m fast becoming a tragic Sœur fanboy, but I don’t care. I think they’re ace. I was several beers deep at this point, and went and did the same thing I did last time I saw them, which was to head to the front and dance away to myself. Gutted there wasn’t a bigger crowd for them. New song ‘Fight’ to end the set sounds a bit special, gradually building and building to a dramatic finish – can’t wait for new material to be released later this summer!

Will Varley – I’m a big fan of the folk man, but I wasn’t really here to see him today. Was a nice bonus to see him do a couple of songs out in the yard, including ‘Talking Cat Blues’, before I headed in to watch Demob Happy. I already have tickets to see him on tour in October and he’s playing a couple of other events in between that I’m gonna be at, so hoping to take in a a lot more of him over the summer.

Demob Happy – come the end of the year, somebody, somewhere is surely going to give ‘Holy Doom’ an album of the year award? Such a great record, and I love watching the tracks from it live. I got a bit giddy during the set and decided to start making friends with the rest of the audience, and then I danced around the front of the venue without a care (probably looked a bit of a douche, but meh). The crowd really grew in to the set and there was a real buzz about the place by the time they finished with ‘Be Your Man’.

The Wytches – second time this year I’ve seen them live, and the second time I’ve come away feeling underwhelmed. I love The Wytches, but the set seemed short and unengaging, which is a shame, because I’ve seen them really tear it up when I’ve watched them as headliners.

Pulled Apart By Horses – ace! Still absolutely buzzing that they played ‘Meat Balloon’, one of my favourite PABH tracks and a song so old that it precedes them landing a record deal. I’ve never seen them do it live, and kind of presumed it had been retired from their live sets. The whole venue bounced for their performance, and it meant the event ended on a proper high!

And so it ended… There was an after party back at one of the venues in town afterward, but I was well cooked by that point. Hats off to the organisers, because I thought it was a great weekend. Big enough to feel like a proper event, but small enough to retain a certain level of intimacy that helps make these kind of things feel more special. My decision to go along this year was pretty last minute, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for announcements about next year and if they can deliver a line up with a similar vibe I’ll definitely look to get onboard earlier as it was such a great experience.

Wavves and Dune Rats @ Gorilla

Last Wednesday I went to a gig with a little bit of a difference for me. Most of the time I go to watch bands I love. Bands whose back catalogues I’ve listened to to death, and to whom I can sing every word and bounce along to ever beat. But even though they’re a band that have been around for a while (last year’s ‘You’re Welcome’ was their 6th album release) Wavves are new to me. My obsession with Gender Roles led a friend to recommend I give them a go, and I agree that in parts, especially they’re earlier stuff,  they do sound eerily similar. However, they’d thus far failed to make a similar impression on me.

Having said that, when I was asked along to the gig I figured I’d give it a bash. I was free that night, and it was the first time the Californian surf punks had been across to Europe in a while, with them only set to play three shows in the UK. I had a gut feel that with them being a bit of a niche act that it was going to be a special show.

It was also my first time visiting Gorilla, which is located under the railway arches at Manchester Oxford Road station. Tickets listed doors at 7:30pm so we figured that bands wouldn’t start until at least 8 o’clock, but as we walked in at 7:45 opening act Dune Rats where just starting their set. The room itself was a really nice size with the bizarre feature of having toilets and one of the bars actually behind the stage. This means you can get a spot with a viewpoint from actually behind the band, where you’re really close to the action without getting sucked in to a sweaty mosh pit (and it did get very hot).

Dune Rats are an Australian three-piece who had previously toured with Wavves down under. I was pretty surprised at how busy the venue was so early, and also the number of Dune Rats t-shirts knocking around… it looked like these guys had a bit of a cult following of their own!

As always, I’d listened to some of their stuff in the lead up to the show. They play pretty simple, but also extremely fun punk rock songs, with one guy in the crowd who seemed to be more interested in the beer than the music trying to rib them about sounding like Blink-182, which was perhaps a little harsh. The songs are kind of dumb, mostly talking about drinking beer and smoking weed, but they’re also extremely catchy.

Shouting along to beer drinking anthem ‘6 Pack’ whilst swigging from my own can of Red Stripe was great fun and there were are a ton of other really good sing-a-longers in there, such as ‘Scott Green’ (about trying to find weed at a party “Who’s Scott Green?”), ‘Bullshit’ and set closer ‘Dalai Lama’. The crowd really were in to it too, with a large section singing along the whole time. It was a really fun performance and I’m glad we got down early enough to see it.

It’s a pretty quick turnaround in between bands, and befor we know it Wavves are taking the stage. Frontman Nathan Williams is dressed top to toe in Adidas sportswear, including the classic 3 stripe track pants that all 90’s teens owned and even a pair of sambas for trainers. He also walks on with a litre bottle of Jameson’s whisky that he looks to have made a pretty big dint on already, and proceeds to pour himself a large measure. He announces that he’s come dressed as a “scally” and also that he’s pretty wasted.

The crowd get going pretty quickly, and I surprise myself with how many of the songs seem to have stuck in my head. They play ‘King of the Beach’ from the album of the same name really early in the set, which is probably my favourite track, mostly because it’s the one that was my first introduction to Wavves and also because it’s one of the most Gender Roles-esque tracks. But it’s their newer stuff, from last years album ‘You’re Welcome’ which I thought I wasn’t so bothered about that I seem to enjoy most, with ‘Daisy’, ‘You’re Welcome’ and ‘Million Enemies’ amongst the highlights for me.

The band look to be having great fun on stage – a guitar strap breaks early in the set and Nathan has to swap guitars and then in one of the most chaotic moments (and you might have had to be there to understand this) he manages to accidentally throw the replacement guitar across the stage, snapping another guitar strap and breaking a tuning peg as well as smashing in to the pedal board of second guitarist Alex. It’s a genuinely hysterical moment. It seems that they’re travelling light on this tour and so he only actually  had two guitars with him… luckily the guitar tech has mended the first one in the mean time, though there’s still a slight delay whilst Alex sorted his board out and the set was able to continue.

It’s a really great crowd there. At one point me and my friend Pie were worried we were going to be the old foagies amongst a bunch of teeny boppers, as Wavves are quite pop-punky at times, and whilst there were definitely some sections of the crowd like that, it was genuinely a really good mix, with people coming far and wide to check out a band who don’t seem to make it across here all that often.

Having spent most of the set having a dance to the side of the stage in our little faux-backstage area, we also ventured into the pit towards the end of the set too, where the atmosphere was electric, the room erupting into one big hot sweaty pogo-ing mess!

I took myself off for another drink just before the end of the set, but my mate stayed in there to take part in Nathan going for a crowd surf, entering the crowd via a somersault.

And then it was all over… a fun packed, laugh out loud, energetic performance, with a really good crowd and a venue that I think might become one of my favourites. Really glad I went along, and perhaps a reminder that you shouldn’t necessarily be put off going to a gig just because it’s a band you don’t know so well.

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.