Wednesday 25 August 2010

Frank Turner, The Venue, Derby

Frank Turner is everywhere, he seems to be always performing somewhere, always touring. So much so that the options to see him were quite diverse for his upcoming December tour, from the large new Leicester Academy to the, by comparison, tiny Sheffield Plug. Then he announced a couple of warm-up gigs for his Reading and Leeds Festival appearances. Derby's excellent The Venue being one of them. Sold.

First though a Turner wannabe and perhaps apprentice, Ben Marwood. Who appears to have taken a couple of days off work and travelled for five hours up from Reading to be here tonight. After tomorrow’s appearance with Frank in Kendal he intends to be back at his boring desk job on Friday morning. That’s some schedule.

We are glad though that he took the trouble. He describes himself as ‘either a rubbish version of James Blunt or some kind of deity, depending on who you listen to’. Tonight Derby thinks it’s the latter and he seems quite taken aback by the reception he gets and deserves. It is the quality of the real life tales in his lyrics that make his songs so strong, the music accompaniment coming only from his acoustic guitar.

There are so many great lines of his that I could quote but ‘I will still be this cynical when I get paid and I’ll be this way until I get laid’, somehow stands out, from a track called ‘Oh My Days’. He does though, seem to have an obsession with ‘Get Cape, Wear Cape’ and whether they actually stole his sound or not... There may be a story to tell here but it’s not one he divulges tonight. It’s mentioned on his MySpace and in his second song tonight ‘Question Marks’.

His ‘moment’ though is probably his penultimate song ‘Singalong’ which is sheer genius. He endeavours to get the crowd to sing with him and of course succeeds with the great singalong chorus ‘Tried to write a singalong but we all forgot the words’. Marwood seems to be a bit of a star in the making, one to watch out for I think.

Talking of a deity, here’s Frank, with his punk folk songs straight from the heart. Opening with ‘Eulogy’, a great little new song and I mean little; it’s very short before ‘Poetry Of The Deed’ kicks off what proves to be an exceedingly hot and sweaty gig. It’s serious hot being amongst the crowd but it must be worse on stage and the band are soon dripping with sweat as they pack a lot of songs in early before Franks reverts to storytelling later, as he slows the pace.

His following seems to be ever increasing but one thing you don’t seem to get many of is the casual fan. The sold out crowd tonight are buzzing and just as fervent as every other Frank crowd I’ve seen. They know every word and can keep up, even in the fast bits such as on ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ which comes early. I can’t.

He explains the story behind ‘To Take You Home’ about a French girl who wasn’t that into him but he wrote the song about her anyway. He went all the way to Paris on the Eurostar to play it to her but before he could even tell her about it, she dumped him. So he says he swore never to play it... well we can’t keep all our promises can we.

For ‘Dan’s Song’ he needs a harmonica player and a girl in the audience has her hand up before he even asks, so she gets the gig. A plant? I don’t think so, just an avid fan who clearly knows the form and she clearly been practising, she’s very good.

Then a new song and a chance to ‘f**k off to the bar’ as Frank puts it. It’s not so new that it hasn’t been on YouTube though, a lot of the audience know it and are more than willing to join in when asked. A bit subdued at first but once Frank points out at how loud the Germans were last week, the volume is upped. As he says a touch of xenophobia works wonders.

Then the very sad ‘Long Live The Queen’. A song in memory of a good friend of his who died from breast cancer. It is such a powerful song, so well written and heart breakingly sad. Her death was a tragedy but yet the message is to celebrate her life, as she lived it to the full and that's what everyone should do.

As usual as the show draws to its close, Frank thanks everyone, his band of course but also all his crew as well. Then Ben Marwood joins him on stage for the closing ‘Photosynthesis’. A good job too, someone has to play acoustic guitar on it as Frank has shredded yet another guitar string.

Frank comes back solo for one more song but not before he’s requested that a shot of Jamesons be brought up from the bar. That’s not a shot; it looks like at least a double. Whiskey in one hand, lager in the other, he embarks on another of his long stories before he invites everyone to settle down with him around the ‘kitchen table’ without a mic for a communal rendition of ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’.

This is supposed to be a festival warm-up, ‘f**k the festival’, he proclaims, ‘the shows here’ where we ‘have all the best stories to tell...’. Too right.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Summer Sundae Weekender (Sunday)

Day three. It’s sunny. The mud has baked nicely dry and its firm enough to sit on, as many folk do as Jose Gonzales's band Junip take the main stage for a spot of Spanish guitar laden electro from Sweden.

Indoors it’s instrumental band Errors, a pounding mix of synths, guitar and drums. We’ve seen a few like this recently. They are excellent but instrumental just doesn’t do it for me... they need a vocalist. Wonder if Mark E Smith is still in the building.

We’re back at the main stage just as Low Anthem go totally acoustic and shun all modern forms of amplification. This is fine at your typical spit and sawdust intimate venue but a main stage outdoors... The consequence is that most of quite a large assembled crowd have no idea what’s going on as they perform to solely the first five rows.

Once they plug back in, they have their moments but we want to get front row for Los Campesinos!, so we hurry back indoors, where we hear Gareth sound-checking with a few Mumford swear words, who headline the main stage later.

Sunday was on paper the best day at the festival. Drowned in Sound have sponsored today’s indoor line-up and it’s a pretty good one with LC! followed by Frightened Rabbit and then The Futureheads.

As Los Campesinos! take the stage a quick head count confirms that they are eight strong today. Thankfully there’s lots of room for them on stage this time, plenty of room for Gareth to show off his lack of dancing skills, unlike last time we saw them at the Musician. They turn in a typically perky set, perfect festival music which is perhaps why they pull the biggest indoor crowd of the day.

Their only other previous trip to Leicester, that show at the Musician, is where Gareth tells us they had their merchandise stolen. Now he has another reason to remember Leicester... During the closing ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’ Gareth gestures to the crowd to clear a space for him to jump into. Then as he leaps he seems to catch a foot on the barrier and goes down head first. If only they’d been someone there to catch him... The band, such professionals, play on regardless and Kim picks up the vocals, meanwhile the crowd peel Gareth off the floor boards and the splinters out of his face. Thankfully he doesn’t seem to be in too bad a shape.

Local Natives are now on the main stage and are livelier than I expected. The big news is though that the real ale has run out, so it falls to Frightened Rabbit to lift my rapidly sobering mood. They are another band we've only seen on tiny stages, so also must be revelling in the extra space. They also come now with added polish, a feature of playing so many gigs I suppose.

Scott tells us the rabbits were indeed frightened by a scary flight into Birmingham this morning. They play an oddly short fifty minute set, shorter than LC!

Mumford and Sons’ sound probably suits the outdoor arena. Though I’m not sure how they’ll stretch their limited output to fill a headline slot but there’s plenty of people willing to find out. We linger a while and they sound good, their album transferring to an outdoor arena much better than I thought it would. We have divided loyalties though and nip back indoors to catch the onslaught that is the Futureheads.

Their simple rock sound is a punchy and fitting finale to the weekend.

Saturday 14 August 2010

Summer Sundae Weekender (Saturday)

I send my partner off ahead to the festival as I take in the football. Her mission, should she choose to accept it, is among other things, to report back on X-Factor ‘star’ Diana Vickers... Audience dividing might be a polite way of putting it. She doesn’t watch for long, nor does she linger long in the company of Paul Simon’s offspring Harper either. Though she does brave the front row and the rain for Turin Brakes, who I’m reliably informed were excellent ‘Summer rain, dripping down your face again’, how apt... whatever that song’s about.

I arrive soon after and we rendezvous outside the knitting tent, where else, where I’m told we’re heading inside for a spot of tongue... I mishear, she says Tunng. Which turns out to not be a Norwegian fish dish being sold by one of the many eclectic food sellers but a UK band specialising in something they call folktronica. The hall is packed and it's not even raining, at the moment. Brilliantly quirky.

Then we wade through the mud to the main stage for the hotly tipped Stornoway. Who are more folksy than I expected and pleasant but also rather empty sounding.

Back indoors, Canada’s Caribou take an age to set up but I guess it’s their own stage time they’re wasting. ‘Inventive funk grooves’ my programme says from a chap called Dan Snaith who’s been around in many guises for a decade or more. Seems he can’t make his mind up about his sound and still hasn’t.

That said all the bands indoors are sounding better than those outside in the wind and the rain. Funny that, acoustics are a wonderful thing. Why would any band plump for the outdoor stage?

Then to the continually full Musician Tent from which a pair of female lungs in full flow can be heard. I like a bit of girl rock, so we battle our way inside for the first time and to the front, where we discover Tiffany Page on the far too low stage.

Visibility is still close to nil even near the front but at least you can feel the sweat and the spit off her and her band. I approve but I get tugged away from this rock chick and instead we head to the Rising Stage and a US band called Fool’s Gold who specialise in African rhythms. They deliver a lively and colourful show but they’re not Tiffany...

Nor, back on the main stage, are Brighton’s The Go! Team, who rather appropriately go on a bit, so we head back early to the Musician tent to see who's next to grace the soggy stage left behind by Tiffany Page. We bagsy a good spot in time to see Sunderland’s Frankie And The Heartstrings, who are a kind of 80’s style rock 'n' roll act. We almost make the front row but then get pushed back. It seems you are guaranteed front row only if you have a big camera and maybe a press pass. Note to the Musician, next year can we please have a bigger tent, a higher stage and a press area like they have on the other stages.

Indoors it’s packed for The Fall. I think this is the fourth time I’ve seen The Fall, each one being approximately ten years apart. Perhaps this is the correct spacing for Fall gigs. You either like what Mark E Smith does or you don't. Though sometimes the band are only as good as the musicians Smith assembles around him. Tonight his band are awesome. All they need is a more conventional vocalist... only kidding, that would be missing the point entirely. Despite the blinding musical backdrop the focal point remains Mark E himself, who ambles around the stage bellowing out the lyrics to go with terrific sounds being produced by his band. It’s a good blend.

The crowd, a mix of the devoted, the confused, the appalled or the simply enthralled (that’s us) lap it up or pop outside to wait for Tinchy Stryder. The tracks, I understand, not being a Fall aficionado, are drawn mainly from their latest album ‘Your Future Our Clutter’, which must be some record. Smith wanders around the stage, twiddling with things, and at one point turfs his wife, Elena Poulou, off her keyboard and then goes on to show why she’s playing it and he isn’t. Then in the end he simply decides the band have done enough for one night, puts his jacket back on and exits stage left. Top that Tinchy...

Which I suppose he may have done... but I doubt it. Though we’re again too rock n roll to stay and find out, as we head off for our train.

Friday 13 August 2010

Summer Sundae Weekender (Friday)

We’re doing the whole music festival thing on the cheap this year. Well, on a smaller scale at least, travelling only to Leicester and the Summer Sundae Weekender in the grounds of De Montfort Hall. A festival that is now in its tenth year and if, like us, you’re used to huge festivals like Leeds this one is much cosier. You can walk around the entire site and all five stages in around ten minutes. They even sell proper beer. We’re so hip we’re even here for the whole weekend and we have the wristbands to prove it.

This is a festival like no other... perhaps... it has a garden

A knitting tent

And of course the sundaes

And where wellies and mini-skirts are the order of the day

(photo withheld)

And a few bands.

Kyt, a local band and the winner of the BBC East Midlands competition get the honour of opening the main stage. Their music is unfamiliar to us of course, apart from ‘Solsbury Hill’, yes that one. It’s an interesting version. They weren’t bad, drawing a reasonable crowd but the elements intervened and the first of several bouts of rain drove us and many others indoors.

One advantage of Summer Sundae is that De Montfort Hall itself is on hand as a safe haven from such weather but I certainly don’t envy whoever has to wash all the mud out of the carpets come Monday. Nottingham’s Spotlight Kid are the first band to grace the indoor stage. Three guitars, bass and a girl vocalist, more 90’s shoegazing retro but they prove to be the best of the local bands we see across the weekend.

Leicester’s Musician venue have their own tent and we stumbled across Kirsty Almeida in there. Her jazz n blues n stuff seemed very popular with the sat down chilled out crowd, although this might be because of the rain. The Musician presumably had a hand in the nearby real ale tent as well, which is a very welcome sight compared with the usual beer desert that festivals are.

We venture back outside where Charlie And The Martyrs are dabbling with another odd mix of styles on the main stage but it soon starts raining again, so we switch our attention to another Nottingham band Swimming on the indoor stage. They are another band who can’t decide whether they want an 80’s guitar sound or an 80’s keyboard sound and consequently mix in too much of both.

The Phoenix eFestivals tent is mainly for comedy and showing films but when we pop in there for a change of scenery there are some weird choir rehearsals going on. Apparently for a performance later on during the weekend.

There are a few no shows today, artist wise, and quite a few artistes switching stages. We get caught out when we wander back to the main stage to see Fanfarlo but apparently they are stuck on the motorway, allegedly and we get the Mercury nominated Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan instead. The sun comes out for him but he does little for me.

Following him though, come the Sunshine Underground to brighten up my day, delivering a typically excellent forty-five minute set and it even stays dry for them.

After which we try a couple of Lou Rhodes songs for size but leave after only one. She’s so pleasant it's painful. Off for a pint instead.

Which I sup listening to comedian Adrian Poynton in the eFestivals tent. He turns from your average unfunny comedian to suddenly quite amusing once he started ad-libbing and picking on his audience. This improved his act no end but did nothing for audience retention as people started to leave out of fear of being his next victim. We move on... to see Teenage Fanclub who haven't changed much since I saw them at Trent Poly decades ago.

They jangled along merrily and inoffensively then and did so today as well, there were even a few tunes I vaguely remembered.

Back to the Musician tent which is packed for Danny and The Champions Of The World. So packed we can't get in, which is a feature of the Musician tent all weekend. It's a riot in there for Danny and co, so I guess he must have been good.

The find of the day are Sheffield’s Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor, collectively known as Slow Club, who are excellent until she stops singing and starts talking. Crikes that accent. Stick to what you’re best at Rebecca, singing. My partner is so impressed she goes home and orders the album.

All that is left is a choice between headliners Roots Manuva (indoors) or Seasick Steve (outside). We choose Seasick Steve and walk out after two songs. How rock n roll of us. Can’t see the appeal to be honest, yes he was unique and impressive with his guitar playing when he broke through on Later with Jools a few years ago but now... just another blues act or perhaps I just don’t get it, as he seems popular tonight. His guitar playing being whisked away on the gathering wind as we head off for our train home. Nope, we’re not camping.