Sunday, 30 May 2010
Escobar began hosting live music June 22nd, 2004. By the time i finished University in 2005 it had already become a central part of a thriving scene in Wakefield. Buoyed by the growing success of The Cribs, then onto their (relatively) breakthrough 2nd album ‘The New Fellas’, and emergent future hopefuls such as 'The Research', in the process of creating their fantastic debut 'Breaking Up', aswell as the post-Libertines explosion of young guitar bands, Escobar was at the that time one of the only places in Wakefield where you could hear Indie music of pretty much any variety. Its success was primarily two fold and was due in great amount to the hard work of the promoters there; Chris Morse and Stephen Vigors began hosting nights under the ‘Louder Than Bombs’ title, and had pretty much free reign to do as they pleased. This meant DJs playing Pavement and The Pixies, The Rapture and Radiohead, Sonic Youth & The Strokes; unheard of in a city consisting of Stag and Hen party friendly horroshows, lined up along the main street Westgate like speakeasys in a Western. It also meant some astounding live shows. I will never forget Morsey telling me to make sure i got down one night, because the band on were gonna be massive. It was Arctic Monkeys. The next day there were footprints on the roof. It was just one of a line of emergent stars that we were lucky enough to have come visit; Kate Nash charmed us all, Glasvegas blew our heads off and others such as The Enemy, Frightened Rabbit, Reverend & The Makers, Carl Barat, The Pigeon Detectives, all came down to say hello.
But the second element to Escobar’s success was its support of, and support from Grassroots artists and musicians. It offered one of the first venues in the city dedicated to giving the bands centre stage. Partly due to the odd architectural layout, you were forced to watch, or at least listen from round the corner to whatever was on that night. It wasn't the back room of a dingy pub, or the upstairs function room; it was taking up half the floor space, and it was in your face. This meant it drew a crowd of enthusiastic, supportive people, who would often come, regardless of whether they knew who the bands were, because it was a unique opportunity to see live music in the city, in a friendly environment. Landing a gig there was a major achievement for a band just starting out. But, most importantly, it felt like it was ours. There would always be someone in there you knew, someone to talk with about the latest music, knowledgeable people who cared and supported the scene without question. That’s the kind of dedication money cant buy.
The initial success of the Louder than Bombs nights had led to Escobar being bought out by a new owner. It was refurbished and, it seemed, a positive effort was made to 'grow' the Escobar ideal. A Mythology was begun; professional, framed photos of the most famous bands that had played began to spread around the walls. Signed posters and T-Shirts with lovely personal messages, also appeared. 'Louder than Bombs' expanded to become a record label, releasing excellent 'Wakefield compilations' and records by local bands. There were also legendary sets by The Cribs. They even managed to remove the ridiculous pillar that once sat in the middle of the stage, meaning for the first time in its history, the bassist in a band would be visible (though obviously for some bands this was a disadvantage).
But the tide had started to turn. One of the major problems was that Escobar was never really a place you would go for a quiet pint. So entangled with the idea of Live Music was its image, that if no bands were on (which they often weren't Sun-Thurs), no one would go in. Attempts were made to get nights going on Sundays and Mondays, but there was a sense it was beginning to spread itself too thin. The closure of local Club 'Buzz' affectively put an end to 'student night', killing off a lot of the Monday Night Trade in the city. The effect of the closure of Bretton Hall as part of Leeds University in summer 2007 cannot be underestimated; the campus, in the grounds of Bretton itself, was a major provider of young enthusiastic music lovers to Wakefield, as well as income.
Behind the scenes, finance became the driving issue at Escobar, as owner and promoter began to see different futures for the venue. Though the effects of the 24 hour licensing had initially being rather minimal, Escobar was the first to establish itself as THE place to go after all the other bars and clubs had shut, and maintained this reputation until its closure. Often, bands would play between 8 and half 11, then the venue would be near empty until 2/3am when it began to fill again. A quick look at the money taken in the second half of the evening, compared to the first must have spelt out clearly where its financial future lay.
Money issues began to creep into other areas of business too. The owner decided to stop serving pints, only bottles and cans, at £3 a go; pretty steep for a venue supposedly catering for your average Indie fan – but this was ‘business’ after all. Entrance fees began to shoot up too. And where support bands playing used to get at least get a few beers paid on... nothing - not a penny for appearing. Further stories of the owner insisting the DJs play more 'Killers and Kooks', resulted in said DJs walking out. And the owners insistence that it wasn’t against the law to refuse you tap water and charge you £2 for a bottle... All these elements grew to push out the grassroots support it had gathered over the years and gain it a reputation of been mean-spirited and against the music. Which perhaps would not have mattered when it was the only venue in town. But it no longer was. Others had started 'band' and 'Indie' nights, some cynical and short lived, but others genuinely inspired by what Escobar had set out to achieve. And so the grassroots moved on. Newer bands, just starting out didn’t feel the connection to it (in part because, against the promoters best advice, the owner did not want underage people in, even just to watch the music).
The decline had well and truly set in. Whilst quality bands would still appear sporadically and great nights still be occasionally had, the idea of 'poppin down to see what’s on' had vanished. It had lost the trust of its supporters. Often a band would play just to the fans they had brought down, or to just the other bands. The pictures and memorabilia on the wall suddenly made it feel like a museum, one that existed purely for the amusement of the 'pissed up at 4am' demographic. It was a perfect demonstration of how to squeeze the life and soul out of a once unique venue. The sense of frustration felt by the promoters, who had started the whole exciting adventure in the first place, was starting to spread…
The recent economic problems of the UK as a whole hit Wakefield hard, yet against all odds it seemed that Escobar had ridden this wave with the announcement that it was opening a second venue in Leeds. But only at the very end did it become clear it wasn’t an expansion of the original Escobar; it was its replacement. Promoter Chris Morse's last act working with Escobar was to book The Fall to play, over at Balne Lane Working Mens club. As a major Fall fan, it was a great scoop, not just for him, but for the city. However, he was advised by the owner of Escobar that finances dictated he couldn’t afford to be kept on. In a bitter last twist of the knife, come the night of the gig, Chris was told he wouldn't be allowed entry to the gig. That night, a sign had appeared in the white washed windows of Escobar stating it had been closed due to non payment of rent. On May 26th a Facebook announcement confirmed that after 6 and a half years Wakefield Escobar had shut its doors for the last time.
For a few years, Escobar was an essential venue in Wakefield; as Indie lovers it was all we had. It helped the city develop past its once traditional Punk and Metal origins into something more diverse. It inspired musicians by giving them somewhere to play and somewhere to meet like-minded individuals. It was part of a city wide awakening, another off shoot of which was the creation of your very own 'Rhubarb Bomb'. But it only happened despite itself. Begun almost as an experiment, the owner failed to realise what he had in his hands. It saw itself as a success, but failed to understand why it had become successful in the first place. Cultural significance was of no importance, used only as a promotional commodity, an approach that can only ever lead to ever diminishing returns. The attitude was driven totally by money; the initial supporting of the local scene - though it was not clear at the time - was pure coincidence. It was the hard work of the promoters that made the difference, and grew its reputation. Eventually the hard-line, risk free, money above all else strategy pushed away everyone who had ever cared about it. In the end, it was just a bar, another of the non-descript bars on Westgate that it had stood up against in the first place.
So in the end, the 'spirit' and the legacy of Escobar is not with the owner and his profit driven vision. It is with the bands that played, the promoters who booked those amazing bands, the punters who came in, rain or shine to support the scene and make friends. That is something that lives on strong in Wakefield. And whilst that ideal was once housed within the confines of one small side-street venue, it has now spread its wings and covers the city as a whole. So thanks for the memories, but I’d rather remember the people that actually made it happen. And look with them to the future. Oh, and Escobar Leeds? Well, Leeds is welcome to it.
Words: Dean Freeman
Live Photography: Dan Barber
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Just a dead quick one... as you know, i work tirelessly to supply you with your quarterly hit of Rhubarb Bomb, all for the pure enjoyment of it. We never aks for a penny. Well, if you are feeling generous and charitible, may i invite you to sponsor myself as i set forth on a journey from Southport to Hornsea, covering the Trans Pennine Trail in aid of Cancer Research. Im doing it on my pushbike and will set off on June 27th. I will be reaching the other end on June 29th, after 215 miles of achey legs and a sore arse. Im really not cut out for it, im not a fit person at all, so really need some lovely people like yourself to sponsor me and help raise some money for Cancer Research!
Seriously - every little helps. If you can afford to give anything at all, please do so here>
Thank you very much!
I turn up early at Balne Lane Working Mens Club in anticipation of grabbing an interview with The Fall frontman and end up catching the band sound checking. It’s a fair old racket they are producing, but there is one key element missing. Mr Mark E Smith is nowhere to be seen. I’m told by the tour manager he’s ‘wandered off’ and he’ll try find him. 10 minutes later a familiar face pops out from side stage and the band instantly halt their noise, like a piano player in a western when the new sheriff in town walks in the saloon. He looks around and pauses for thought. ‘Turn mikes up’ he says. The band members then quickly test each microphone. He’s happy and leaves them to it.
Later that evening, Balne Lane is full, with bodies and anticipation. Which Mark E Smith would we get tonight? Would it be 30 minutes of angry grumbling before a swift disappearance? Well, after 5 minutes of them hitting the stage I realised that any chance of me giving this the ‘normal’ review treatment had completely flown out of the window. There’s plenty I could talk about. Mark singing with two or threee mics at once throughout, throwing them aside when he’s bored. Turning up the guitarists amp (at the right points too, in my opinion), stealing a mic from keyboardist and wife Elana in the middle of her chorus, holding some handwritten lyrics for the guitarist to sing to, the most diverse moshpit I’ve ever seen with young girls and old hippies bouncing around, and just the pure heaviness of it all, the almost non stop, incessant drum and bass driven sound that is still bouncing round my head now, almost a week later. And then the encores; the first with Mark sat in the small room at the side of the stage, completely out of view. Then the second, where he rejoined, and shouted out - I’m sure I didn’t imagine this – ‘I Love you all’. Wow.
It was chaotic and incomparable to anything else I’d seen. And impossible to recount in words really. Its one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments. And if you weren’t, why not? The whole thing about them being so many years old, and so many albums old, and onto their 50th member or whatever – it all seems nonsense, because I saw the passion of a band doing their first ever tour, a brand new band full of confidence and focus.
And we did get that exclusive interview. It’ll be in Rhubarb Bomb Issue 1.3
Words: Dean Freeman / Photos: Joel Rowbottom
p.s. A MASSIVE amount of respect is due to Mr Christopher Morse, who managed to book The Fall to play Wakefield in the first place. Good work. He’s promoting nights at The Hop in Wakefield now, so keep an eye on what he’s got coming up.
A highly respectable crowd has gathered on the top floor of Waterstones, Leeds to hear Richard Herring discuss his new book, 'How not to grow up'. The seasoned comedian has a career stretching back to the very start of the 1990's, and throughout that time has managed to make a living as a stand up, blogger, script editor, author, panel show guest, and most famously as comedic partner of Stewart Lee. The new book is said to cover Richards thoughts at turning 40, so we can surely expect a mature and insightful pondering from a well respected, and well travelled 'veteran' of his profession? A member of staff asks us to offer him a warm hand, and the applause beckons him to the stage: 'Thanks for the warm hand' he says 'I'll be using that later...'
And so it goes, Richard Herring, his year of sporting a Hitler Moustache at an end, is back to his chirpy, cheeky, completely immature self (though as his talk makes clear, he's never been away from it). He opens with the intro to his book 'Ive always been immature. Ever since I was a small child' which then proceeds to explain a growing, nagging feeling he had; that being so immature was perhaps not normal. Looking at his parents he saw how, by 40, they were married with children and nice houses and had proper hobbies like 'making elderberry wine'. The question rose in him whether this was some deficiency on his part, or had he actually done well to still be living the carefree life of a student, who makes his money out of cracking 'nob jokes'? Richard reads a few chapters to us, but generally talks his way through his thoughts and the experiences that occurred over this period of conflict. He talks about hitting his late 30's depression and recounts addictions to Flumps and deep fried chicken, laughing mockingly as he passes the sad lonely late 30's figures in the window of 'Chicken Cottage' on his way to the much more upmarket KFC where punters en route to Nandos would equally mock his sad and lonely state. 'I can laugh about it now, and it sounds quite humorous' he says 'but at the time, it was a genuine low period'.
Essentially the book splits in two, he tells us; the first half him being a general idiot, hanging out 'with 22 year olds and still wearing converse allstars' and living the life he's lived since leaving Uni. But then the realisation slowly dawns on him that in less than one year he will hit 40 and he is forced to evaluate his life. But this isn’t purely a book about turning 40. 'You can hit that point at anytime in your life. When you realise something has to change. It can happen at 22, it can happen at 40'.
Its not surprising that he's not had time to take stock of his life before. From completing Uni, writing for Ianucci / Morris project 'On the Hour' and co creating Alan Partridge, to a mass of mid 90's TV work with Stewart Lee, and in this last decade he has toured a brand new stand up show pretty much every year, as well as writing a hugely successful sitcom, and more recently a blog every single day, loads of podcasts with Andrew Collins... in short, a very busy man. He estimates that 60% of the things he does now are for free, and almost everything he does is 'self made', i.e. his own writing or performing, as opposed to appearing on TV panel shows, or guesting in other peoples work.
But despite this exciting and seemingly busy lifestyle, he admits the majority of his time is spent sat in his pants eating monster munch and playing computer games. He says he has managed to stay 'artificially young', though admits this is more a generational thing, a shift in society that has taken place over the last few decades - not laziness, but more a freedom, and a choice, and the ability to delay those massive life changing events, if required. Or avoid them altogether. But, is childishness such a bad thing? And isn’t it inherent in us all? 'Having childlike wonder in the world is a positive thing' he states. 'But 'mature' people are still childish, they just have the negatives of the child, like selfishness and insecurity'.
Its an interesting point. And goes someway towards Richard justifying his continuing interest in pushing himself further. As you may have seen in our interview with him in Issue 1.2, he is truly thankful that he never became ‘absolutely massive’ - he now has a strong fanbase who will accept and enjoy whatever he does, whilst also having the creative freedom to tackle whatever he wants. What I admire most is the refusal to rest on one thing; he is constantly trying his hand at so many things. He writes countless Sitcom scripts for pilots that always get rejected. 'Obviously "Big Top" (appalling BBC sitcom based in a circus starring Amanda Holden - see it was only on last year and you’ve already forgotten it) was a lot better' he comments, and it is sad that someone so talented doesn't get the chance to allow his work to be seen by a larger audience. But he doesn’t mind. He knows what he produces is good, and besides, as he says - he still gets paid for a rejected script. That seems to be the unofficial moral of this story – realising how lucky he is, and that actually, things have worked out pretty well, so far. Yet there’s no sense that he’s been gifted this way of living, while the rest of us continue with our drudgery. He gave up a lot, pretty much all the things his parents have, to make his way as a Comedian. It’s the risk you take, but only now, it seems, is he aware of the different path his life has taken and this book sees him weighing up the pro’s and cons of that decision.
And so this talk, and the book (which I've yet to complete) is a strange alternate view of that busy, creative man bursting with ideas. He is clearly a very intelligent guy, and a genuinely nice one too, he just suffers from that self imposed pressure that he simply isn’t doing enough with his life. But it seems over the course of producing this book he has come to terms with who he is, what he does and, possibly, where he's going. I think that’s something we all need to figure out at some point and a challenge we can all relate to. And i guess the point is; you might as well have a fucking good laugh while you're at it.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
'Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton, they always used to say to me, you've got to give something back.... i didn’t think at the time, they meant give everything back...' Peter Hook, sat in a cream leather chair on the stage of Wakefield Theatre describes the civic pride he feels towards Manchester, and how that sculptured the rise of The Hacienda. But he's only half addressing the audience; by his side in a matching leather chair (in a setup that somewhat recalls an Alan Partridge chat show) is legendary drug smuggling author, Howard Marks, tonight’s compere and, you cant help but feel, moral support. I’ve only ever seen photos of Marks, and I’m surprised to find he has turned into his own uncle; a greyer, sweeter, bushier eyebrowed version of what I had expected. His style is sublime, a full on counter culture Parkinson, delivering his questions in soft Welsh tones and giving the impression that he is slyly drawing little gems from Hooky, despite the fact they clearly do this every night. It feels natural and relatively spontaneous, especially as Hooky approaches the apparent criticism he’s received for living off his past. He describes 'a future out of talking about the past' (possibly a Tony Wilson quote, many stories start with 'Tony Wilson once said to me...') and reasons with us that 'when you go for a job, you don’t pretend you've never done anything, you don’t wipe yr CV clean'. 'Well', says Marks 'I usually do...'
Before the two tread the boards, the stage itself is opened to the public. It is filled with all manner of paraphernalia; an Ebay sellers Aladdin’s cave. There's Hooky first ever bass, Ians guitar from the 'Love will tear us apart' video, Factory posters and Hacienda conceptual prints; even the Umbro England shirt a sweaty Peter Beardsley gave him at the 'World in Motion' video shoot. But perhaps most interesting of all, tucked away at the back of the stage are two glass cabinets containing the real treasures; the boyhood memories. A hand written receipt for 'one transit van to Peter Hook - £137.50', cassettes with 'The Damned' scribbled out and 'Warsaw' written in its place and various Joy Division tour plans and lyric sheets.
Appropriately, the poor sound quality at Wakefield Theatre accurately recreates the hiss you would encounter when listening to said cassette tapes. Its almost unlistenable, and amusingly the projections that open the show, a 5/10 minute film collage of live footage and a Zane Lowe interview, are projected backwards. Peter is welcomed to the stage by Howard, and then proceeds to play 'the cheapest and then the most expensive tracks' New Order ever recorded on his bass to a backing track. I dunno, perhaps to a non musician this would be a wondrous site, but for me it kinda reeked of a man 'jammin' in a guitar shop. There's no doubting the mans genius. Perhaps that’s why it was a little sad to see him performing in this manner, alone on a theatre stage, without his band.
Inevitably it is an evening that dwells on the past, but after a slightly shaky start, things settle down. Hooky reveals himself to be an open and cheerful recounter of short sharp anecdotes, albeit relaying them to Marks and not the audience. He's clearly honed them through the writing of his recent book 'The Hacienda: How not to run a club' and this is essentially a retelling of that. Initially it almost feels as if yr snooping on someone else’s private conversation, so little does Hooky acknowledge the audience, which adds to the intrigue. But Marks' witty and homely asides draw us in, and by the second half Hooky is happily fielding questions from the audience, which means we don’t get the tale told in filmic chronological order. We dart from the tragic to the absurd and usually back again.
But there is something special about hearing the names of Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson et al echo around the theatre. Stories of seeing the Sex Pistols at The Free Trade Hall - legendary gigs we all know about, yes - yet there's something about this much older man recounting these days of his youth that strikes me - its like World War I veterans talking about the trenches; one day there wont be anyone left. Curtis / Wilson / Hannett have all left us far too early. And for that reason, it seems essential that those times are documented, and spoken word is definitely the most effective way of expressing the excitement of the times. Its fascinating to hear of his meetings with the whole cast of characters: Johnny Rotten, embodying punk, spitting and swearing 24/7, even when there's just two of them in the room; Mark E Smith been a general awkward bastard winding up ex wife Caroline Aherne, even Paul Gascoigne excitedly supping from two bottles of champagne then trying to rap during World in Motion. (He also recounts how, at every World Cup they are asked to rerecord WIM. The only time they agreed was in 2006 when Beckham was lined up to do 'the rap', purely for the hilarity of hearing him tackle it. Sadly the FA vetoed it, in favour of a much more artistically credible alternative: Ant & Dec).
He talks with pride of how prolific Joy Division were, and recounts Ian introducing the band to Kraftwerk, pondering the inevitable question of how Blue Monday would have sounded with Ian singing. Hooky has been sober for 5 years, the once legendary rock and roll nuisance now much calmed, and appropriately its a sober retelling of the tale. He's not emotional, approaches subjects with good humour. He gets on his soapbox slightly, rallying against illegal downloads. An error on the site for his new Freebass album resulted in punters paying for the album... then receiving nothing. 'Well, see how that feels!' was his sensitive response. He also describes how been in a band was 'easy' in the 80's and 90's, with labels wrapping you in cotton wool and doing all the work for you. He has sympathy for new bands now, as, the way he sees it, the bands have to do all the work, get all the gigs, do all the promotion themselves. Which may well be tainted by his admission that him and Bernarnd Sumner have had trouble getting signed for their respective Freebass and Bad Leitenant projects. This does go against his earlier praising of Ians strength in pushing the band to get the gigs, do the promotions etc etc in the early days of Joy Division. I would have liked to have heard more about the very beginning of Joy Division, of the cultural landscape at the time. We can read on Wikipedia what Joy Division did and when, but i wanted Hookys impression of the times, the famous Manchester backdrop in which the story is set.
Bravely, the second half of the show was opened up to the floor. Things started pleasantly enough; for the record he didn’t really rate Ralf Little's interpretation of him in 24 Hour Party People, his favourite JD song is 'Atmosphere' and he wears his bass low 'coz it looks cool'. Talk moves to his new club FAC 251 in Manchester. He speaks passionately of providing somewhere for unsigned bands to play for free, as opposed to the rise of 'pay to play' in Manchester, something he describes as 'a disgrace'. However, one audience member poses the provocative question 'So when FAC 251 dies, will you be resurrecting to the Golden Goose - New Order?' He responds jovially that he's made more money from FAC 251 in 2 months than 16 years at The Hacienda but the point seems to have touched a nerve. He speaks of the traditional perception of Bassists being the ones who want to work, something I wasn’t especially aware of, and which probably says more about his own opinion on a bands work ethic. He bemoans the remaining 8 tracks from the last New Order sessions being left to waste and craves to stick them on the internet. This tour, playing bass by himself on a stage, pushing to get his 'bass super group' signed, it all suggests a man desperate to continue living the rock and roll lifestyle, to keep on working. So the dig that New Order is somehow merely his cash cow seemed to sting somewhat.
Events turn slightly more uncomfortable as members of the audience start shouting out; one asking 'Hooky, when you gonna put yr bass on?' insistently, others angrily enquiring why their mates band hadn’t got on at FAC 251 and accusing him of not supporting unsigned bands. 'Have you seen myspace?' Hooky replies 'There's quite a few unsigned bands out there'. But the badgering continues, with 2 members of the audience, rather worse for wear by the sound of it, both ask questions while simultaneously arguing with one another. Peter is patient with them, asking them to repeat and answering where he can, but as they start speaking over him, he feels the need to raise his voice from its calming ponderous tone for the first time: 'Tony Wilson once said to me that the Taxman was my best friend - because he keeps me miserable. But tonight you've taken on that role, so why don’t you SHUT THE FUCK UP!' Cue round of applause. Welcome to Wakey, Hooky.
The night is wrapped up with Hooky strapping on his bass once more to play a Freebass track (that’s his band with other famous bassists Mani and Andy Rourke) with Howard Marks joining for some spoken word. Its pretty good actually, and rounds the peculiar night nicely. It was strangely paced, almost completely unstructured, yet you cant help but feel; completely honest. Hooky came out and told some great stories and allowed us to ask whatever we wanted of him, which I respect hugely. Although I was hearing a lot of stories I had read about before, it was a great experience to hear them from the man himself. I’m still not 100% sure of Hookys motives for this tour, or what he gets out of it, but I’m glad he visits us. Perhaps most tellingly, as he dashes from the stage, Hooky gentle brushes the face of an Ian Curtis portrait lingering on the stage edge. There’s no encore.
Friday, 14 May 2010
It dawns on you that time is not linear, but as a being condemned to live it’s existence in the third dimension, you have no power over the fourth, and time passes you by, day after day after day, like a video tape.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
‘We didn’t expect anyone down, so we’ve gone for a just out of bed look’. So say James Graham, Singer with The Twilight Sad. Despite being on so early in the day, the next great Scottish band manage to pretty much pack Brudenell Social Club and kick into their howling wall of noise. And it’s real loud. I wont say unbearable so, because I don’t want to appear soft in front of the scary, seemingly possessed Scotsman wistfully screaming in front of me. But it packs a punch and it’s exhilarating. Sound wise, I’ve always thought of them as ‘a good Glasvegas’, and this afternoon they live up to that; epic, pounding but strangely sad and tender too. They blast through songs off last years ‘Forget the night ahead’ and seem genuinely touched that so many people have turned out to see them, the daunting front man eyeing the crowd from the front of the stage for the closing minutes of squalling instrumental close the set. As he leaves, he can’t help the smile spreading across his face. Great start to the day, even if my hearing has been utterly hammered.
My path briefly crosses with Stevies; I manage to squeeze my head in the door to catch the last 2 songs of Piskie Sits and they do indeed sounds like they’re really hitting their stride. We moved on next to The Well for Leeds high-flyers Middleman. Sticking my head round the door, I saw another packed room. Nipping off to get a pint, by the time I return its chaos; people are now queuing almost to the door – of the venue, not the back room. They were always popular, sure, but it seems fresh from their jaunt to South by SouthWest, they are now official MASSIVE. My photographer chum assures me the place was literally bouncing in there, a frantic, sweaty fun filled gig. It seem Middleman are slightly more about that these days; less MCing, more big pop grooves, a more streamlined sound, and a major pre-occupation with giving the crowd a night, or in this case, an afternoon to remember. Fantastic
Benjamin Wetherill, today with ‘the Trumpets of Death’ at Holy Trinity Church. What could be more lovely? I kind of presumed ‘the trumpets of death’ part would be a little backing band for Benjamin, maybe a horn backing for that splendid cover of Queens ‘Good old fashioned lover boy’ I heard him do once. Or… perhaps something completely different. Admittedly, I’ve not seen him in a while, so if this isn’t new, forgive me. But gone is the ukulele. Gone is 1920’s music and attire – tonight he is wearing a T-Shirt for Gods sake. Pretty much a brand new band, they perform discordant, unsettling, freeform pieces, the first containing wailing monk like chanting and half hearted drum fills instead of a steady beat. The second has more structure, with MBV feedback and an insistant 2 chord drone running throughout, the incessant, rolling rhythm giving the whole thing an apocalyptic stoner vibe. Benjamin’s once sweet vocals are much less to the fore; in fact at one point the other vocalist creates some sort of sound that seems to replicate a distorting guitar by howling and battering his chest, which I found amusing because earlier I could have sworn Twilight Sad’s guitarist was producing the sound of a man howling from his guitar. What does it all mean?!
In some ways I’m glad that Benjamin has moved on and is experimenting with new forms, I just feel a little bit let down as I was expecting some pleasantness in a beautiful church. But for surprising me – well done.
Then, over at Stylus we caught Loops Haunt, one man and his laptop, mixer and all kinds of sampling gear. Mainly beat driven with not always a lot else going on, its back to basics IDM. There’s a nice use of minimalist, mysterious synth and backwards samples throughout that gives it all a special, slightly spooky experience, though this may well be down to the fact that the smoke machine at the side of the stage was on, none stop / full blast for the entire gig. The fractured beats, were perhaps a bit too broken up; from the balcony I could see people in the audience getting their groove on, only to be forced to stop quite regular and find a fresh groove pretty quick. So’s the nature of the beast I guess. Still an enjoyable and very apt warm up for my chosen Live @ Leeds Headliner.
65daysofstatic took to the stage hot on the release of their new album ‘We were exploding anyway’. The album has a slightly straighter edged, more techno element than previous albums, as was hinted at on their last single ‘Dance Parties’. Still, live, they were always closer to the Post Rock tradition of keeping quiet and letting the music do the talking. But something’s changed. Yes, they rock out and yes, its still all instrumental, but what’s this? Guitarist balancing his guitar on his chin (for an impressive 30 seconds or so) just for a laugh? And repeated sightings of said guitarist pulling off some dance moves mid song that I am quite certain have been patented by one Mr Thom Yorke, circa 2002? And then it clicks; these boys are having fun. And they want us to too. Down at the front the crowd is starting a mini riot, as crazy as any punk gig I’ve seen. The new songs are heavily driven by the beats and there are up to four drum set ups around the stage to make sure you’ve got something to dance to.
Admittedly the songs kind of blend into one, but in retrospect, I think this may have been the point. There’s no real ‘hits’, a song each off the first two albums, and no ‘Radio Protector’ and where once each song was like a massive slap round the face, this is more about the atmosphere, the mood, the energy rather than simply playing the ‘best’ songs. From more of a DJs perspective. Part of me missed the gentle, subtle, and then less gentle and subtle dips and peaks of the old static, but this was new, different and great fun and I still rate them as one of the best live bands around. I only wish it had been louder. But that might be down to The Twilight Sad rather than Live @ Leeds organisers, who, it has to be said have done another splendid job in terms of getting some great bands in, and organising the whole thing. A lovely and tiring day out.
Live at Leeds has got bigger, with more venues, more bands, more fans and thankfully more organisation. Futuresound, who with the help of half of Leeds' promoters, put on this event and they are learning with every year. Perhaps the increased use of Leeds University has spread the crowd out sufficiently to prevent queues from being an issue.
I opened my day in a room above the Packhorse and saw two Wakefield bands - The Spills and Piskie Sits. You should be familiar with them. The Spills do anger and grunge with youthful finesse, where as the Piskie Sits do slacker indie with nonchalant grace. The room was ridiculously busy for two dinner-time slots and the fact that it is just a room without a stage means that those under six foot tall and stood three 'rows' back were unable to see. The sound was rock solid and was complimented so by the Piskie's lead singer Craig Hale.
Mine, which is part of Leeds University, is a splendidly shaped room for gigs, equipped with a side balcony and steps at the back which means viewing the stage is easy. I watched a band from Hull called The Neat. I was told that they sounded like The Fall, which they did. I was told that some of the lyrics were akin to the words of Mark E Smith, but I found no way to substantiate this due to muffled, suffocated vocals that were hiding behind wiry guitar and dinosaur drums.
While I was at Leeds University I took a stroll down the corridor to see Lightspeed Champion. He opened with a Beatles cover (I forget which, possibly due to inebriation) and it all went down hill after that. Songs built to nothing, like a French film about a man who owns a patisserie and lives a fairly uneventful life. Halfway through the set I went to Fuji Hero - a nice noodle bar that probably takes the prize of my number one recommendation for the day (It's down the side of the Merrion Centre if you're interested in sampling Japanese cuisine).
The next band I caught a substantial amount of was Wild Beasts at Leeds Metropolitan University. Two albums of mildly pretentious yet sonically superb wordy, falsetto, ethereal art have come from this Kendal four-piece, who now live in Leeds. They began with second album opener The Fun Powder Plot, which is a low-key song to start with, but the audience appeared entranced none the less. They seemed giddy during Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants, the bands' tour de force thus far.
I then sprinted up to The Faversham to catch The Sunshine Underground, a band I keep missing for some fateful reason. Fate was against me again as their set was blighted by technical difficulties. The guitarist Stuart Jones kicked over the drums in anger. They left the stage a few times as the PA seemed to capitulate persistently beneath their behemoth of beats and bass. When they returned for their last stand they squeezed in some crackers. Fan favourites like Put You in Your Place almost brought the place to its knees. More people seemed to be jumping up and down than not and afterwards there were many sweat-soaked revelers.
When the bands were over the drinking begun properly, for me at least, and created a headache almost as painful as that the organisers must suffer from when they are putting together this beast of an event. For that you've got to be grateful. What a day.