Sunday 30 April 2017

Handmade Festival, Leicester Academy

Frightened Rabbit, British Sea Power, Honeyblood, Jaws, Gallops, Superfood, Get Inuit, Happyness

Tonight, I’m in Leicester and feeling a bit nostalgic. I’m feeling that way because a trip to see a band in Leicester used to be a weekly occurrence (back in the day...) such was its draw for bands but probably nowhere has been butchered of their traditional gig venues more than the Leicester.

The Granby Halls went before we entered the new millennium, The Charlotte lasted barely a decade longer as a gig venue (but at least it's still there) and the revered Magazine went before I could even get there. All big losses but for me a trip to Leicester almost always meant a trip to one of the city’s two universities.

However, it’s been sixteen long years since my last visit to a Leicester university and that was to the much loved De Montfort Uni Arena (formerly the Leicester Poly Arena of course) to see Feeder (naturally). The Arena was one of the best around for sound and atmosphere, apparently it was loved almost as much by John Peel as it was by me. Sadly, it closed its doors to bands in 2003 and then sat there for a decade or more waiting to be reborn but it never was. It’s been even longer, 1992, 25 years since I was last at Leicester University (Zodiac Mindwarp by the way). That would probably have been in the Percy Gee building, never a favourite of mine and it never got the bands that the Poly did but it was decent enough.

The Percy Gee building is where I am tonight. In 2010, it was revamped as the University got into bed with the Academy organisation that you could say had done so much over the years to put so many venues like those in Leicester out of business. Whereas once a band would climb the ‘ladder’ of venues within a city as they grew in popularity, now they can do it all under one roof. Which is probably why it has taken me so long to make my first visit as Academy visiting isn’t really one of my must-do pastimes.

The four rooms under the Academy roof tonight host the 5th Handmade festival of which it is also my first visit. As I walk in at around 6.30pm, God Damn are playing loudly on the main stage. Apologies to them but they are so not my thing and especially not when my head is still a little tender from the night before.

Happyness upstairs in Academy 2 are better. Yes they’re a bit jangly 90’s indie but still very pleasant to listen to.

Moving back into Academy 1, I have to confess that musically it's a nice venue and ticks most of the required boxes. Unfortunately it has the standard appalling Academy range of drinks. I had hoped they'd have a beer tent as it's a festival and there are plenty of decent food tents outside but no. There's also no access to the Uni's own bar which used to do a decent pint or two but that may no longer the case of course.

One of the reasons I’m here is to see Honeyblood, who are a real favourite of mine at the moment and they are up next. 

Consisting of just singer/guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer Cat Myers with a sound reminiscent of the Belly era but they pack more girl power per pound than many bands with twice as many members. Sadly, they cram just six songs into their half an hour slot but still leave a big favourable impression.

A lot of bands seem to be struggling to set up and sound check in the required window. Superfood back upstairs in Academy 2 really struggle and come on well late but then it probably serves them right for being so arty and technical.

I would have really liked to have seen them again but I give up on them and head back downstairs to the more stripped back Scholar Bar where Superfood’s loss is Get Intuit's gain. They seem to have no such problems getting straight 'into it' and they turn out to be the find of the night.

Their songs are all played with a manic intensity and singer Jamie Glass is a joy to behold. They play a set full of wit and humour along with some pretty decent guitar playing which backs up some really catchy tunes. One of which, their recent single ‘Barbiturates’, is an absolute pop classic.

British Sea Power don't seem to struggle getting their foliage set up with time to spare but getting the necessary wires in the right places seems to take a lot long and they too come on late.

Their new album contributes a large portion of the set and in fact the opening five songs which, from a record that is still only a few weeks old, seems to subdue even their hardcore support. A pulsating combo of 'No Lucifer' and 'Remember Me' eventually restores disorder, then the bears are in the crowd... and everyone's trying to grab them for a selfie, meaning everything is again all right with the world.

British Sea Power Setlist Handmade Festival 2017 2017, Let the Dancers Inherit the Party

As BSP close with their epic instrumental ‘The Great Skua’ I move onto a band with a set full of them. There's been quite a bit of talk about Gallops over the years although mainly because they did the rock 'n' roll thing of making one well received album and then splitting up. Now they’re back and, well, perhaps need to be viewed from afar with the aid of some substance to be appreciated fully. 

Upstairs Jaws are much sweeter on the plate, perhaps too much so. They remind me a little of Haircut 100 or perhaps it’s the Foals sound they’re after. Not my thing either but as they’re already well on their way to stardom they don’t really need my approval anyway.

I haven't seen Frightened Rabbit for a while and I have always been a bit disillusioned by the way they ultimately turned out. For a band build on the misery that Scott Hutchinson spread across their first two albums they have gone on to make that despair quite upbeat and now the band are very much rock stars that have embraced a sound that is bordering on stadium rock. I never thought that would be how they'd go. I’m not sure how you can rewind that and presumably the band don't want to.

That said, classics like ‘Heads Roll Off, ‘Fast Blood’ and real oldie ‘Square 9’ still sound great but whether they need three guitars to pull these off I’m not sure. FR entertain but it still doesn't feel right hearing them rock out so much.

The hardcore fans here continually call for the cult track ‘Snake’ which Hutchinson maintains is just to piss him off (as it's rather naff) but it’s probably more of a call for a more stripped back sound and maybe he should consider embracing the project.  

Hutchinson does further stoke my nostalgia trip when he alludes back to their performance at the much missed Summer Sundae Festival. I was at that one too and while that probably won’t come back either Handmade is certainly a nice additional to be going on with for now.

Frightened Rabbit Setlist Handmade Festival 2017 2017, Painting of a Panic Attack Tour