4th May 2019
With hundreds of bands playing twenty stages in sixteen venues, any attempt to report on the bands is doomed to failure. Just as any attempt at planning is likely to fail. You haven’t heard of most of the bands, you can’t possibly look them up and the odds are that any bands you actually want to see will be playing at the same time. None of this matters.
That’s right – it doesn’t matter if you see the hot bands or the bands you’ve heard of. With twelve hours or so and thirty minute sets, a random wander will catch any number of adequate bands and a few excellent ones. If you start with a selection of your favourite venues, particularly the ones with good beers, the path will change randomly as you go, fuelled by instinctive finger dabs at the festival leaflet or festival app. And, as a bonus, it’s indoors, the toilets aren’t on fire and you aren’t hostage to a dodgy burger van and a caravan selling vegan noodles.
I made a lazy 3:30 start and an early retreat at 10:30, since Metronomy’s venue was flooded. In that time I caught 8 bands in five venues, four of them excellent, three good and one excerable (you know who you are, Sundara Karma). Let’s track my journey as a sample of a day.
I have happy memories of the last time I saw The Lottery Winners. Their front man is possibly the funniest man in pop and, whilst their songs aren’t all time classics, I still recognise a few of them from a couple of years ago. Songs like Always Falling Down With You, Twentyone and Elizabeth are very decent indie pop. Meanwhile, the crowd is falling about with Rylance’s schtick as he asks the “single girls who have a thing for fat lads” to sing along and offers to take the best singer out for a Nandos so long as she pays her own way. His Nan should be proud of him. The Wardrobe’s cellar is a welcoming place to see them.
Ten minute’s walk up the road we realise the best band option nearby is back at The Wardrobe. We turn round and catch jangly Liverpool pop played on a Rickenbacker with Larry from the Three Stooges on guitar, a Thin Lizzy perm on bass and a floppy gent from 1983 channelling Morrissey’s youthful feyness. Spinn, from Liverpool, need time for their act to mature but their songs are pleasantly affecting.
Ten minutes up the hill, at The Key Club, the renowned Death By Unga Bunga initially fail to impress but get better and better as the set goes on. The lack of any decent beer choices here is made up for by the very old school pop-punk, unreconstructed guitar solos and hidden sense of irony. These Norwegians introduce a song as about how “we are all dying every day”. The well thought-out set culminates with all three guitars being played behind the band’s heads and who can’t applaud that? Tiny, packed clubs are a bit special.
A detour for a kebab at Zam-Zam’s (who have the best flatbread in Leeds this side of Esfahan) sets us up for a longer stride up to Leeds Beckett’s University for Ellis Island. Decent song-based dance music from a three-piece pleases the ears and feet.
Up the stairs to the stage round the corner for Lion. A festival discovery, Lion appears a touch nervous as if this is her biggest crowd yet. People keep arriving as they hear her amazing voice from the bar. Like Suzi Quatro meets Bonnie Raitt meets Janis Joplin, this is a great blues voice. Her hard rocking band supports her story songs and, as she blasts into the big choruses, all uncertainty disappears from her face and she lets rip.
Back down the steps again for Ibibio Sound Machine. We’d never heard anything by this band before and were gobsmacked by the steaming afro-funk. Heavy on the afro-cuban beats, this percussion-led ten piece band were visually stunning, with their Nigerian lead singer and dancing backing singers. A rock guitarist provided stinging lead guitar and the twin percussion kept the pace up. Three horns punctuated and no-one complained when the band over-ran to fifty minutes. I don’t think anyone in the venue wasn’t dancing.
Five minutes away was The Academy, home to the most expensive piss-beers in town and the only venue welcoming us with a metal detector. We managed nearly two songs from Sundara Karma, who I had hoped would be better live. They’ve come a long way and now make indistinguishable arena-style guitar pap. At the back of the venue was a skip, ready to haul their Indie off to the local landfill.
Ten minutes downhill led to the very cool Hi-Fi Club for Menace Beach. A good choice of beers and a cunning fusion of Krautrock, electronics, off-tune synths, shoe-gaze guitar, grungey riffs, rinky-tink keys and disaffected vocals made for an effective end to the night. The alienated light show was welcome and I decided that I could live without the cancelled Metronomy.
A busy seven hours, some pavements navigated and a stack of new bands explored. That’s what this festival is about – wander, explore, try it out and be surprised. My only tip would be to focus on the smaller venues.