Monday, October 22, 2012
A CAREFULLY PLANNED FESTIVAL Day One October 2012
If you’re going to start anywhere for a 100 band two day weekend festival, start big. Scotland’s Second Hand Marching Band today are a thirteen-piece ensemble who make a beautiful, stomping and boisterous noise in the basement of 2022nq. The band sound like a Caledonian collision of Beirut and Woodpigeon with added kick-drum clout. They switch from loud ecstatic unison and massed chanted choruses to just a lonely wandering accordionist and heartbreak. What a marvellous start to A Carefully Planned Festival #2. Send their first EP to someone for free here.
Sitting with one leg crossed over the other in the back room of the Castle Hotel, Tekla Szerszynska played a set of entrancing songs about pitter-patter rain, Jekyll minds and parks. Her chiming harp-like guitar picking and halting vocals were much more grounded than it sounds; a song about “dig your head out of the clouds” summed up her more down-to-earth approach neatly.
After many failed attempts today was the day I finally saw Plank! live. And they did not disappoint – despite viewing from the back of a packed Soup Kitchen. There was a static back projection of the festival poster and no lighting changes so on the face of it ‘not much going on’ but the muscular prog-pop instrumentals rippled and switched direction with a ferocious precision. Final song ‘La Luna’ with swift fingered fretwork was particularly immense.
Then to Kraak to see Anguish Sandwich. What a treat. Lofi slacker rock and surf scuzziness meets Television Personalities in an energetic, shouty embrace with great, pummelling drumming. The Northampton trio were selling their debut EP: “what else is it about?” asked a doleful Chris East. It was immediately bought and carried around for the rest of the day; an inconvenience worth putting up with. It’s ace.
In the Castle Hotel I caught the end of Rubicava from Kidderminster (“we say Birmingham because no-one’s ever heard of Kidderminster”) before seeing late addition to the bill Songs For Walter. Laurie Hulme’s tribute to the lives of his grand-parents, domestic and romantic, was here performed as a three-piece and with four songs not on this year’s “Meet Me At The Empire” EP. The newer ones, including a single released in November ‘Tougher Than A Soldier's Boots’, show his attentions moving away from his grand-parents but retaining their effortless charm.
“We’ve a 12 year old drummer normally but he’s in Paris”. Kiran Leonard’s band is frighteningly young – he’s a teenager himself – even without this revelation. A lack of years is no boundary to exploration though as his four-piece backing band and the twitchy Mr Leonard navigate an agitated set that makes Frank Zappa, Of Montreal and The Mars Volta look wanting in ideas. It includes a silk-wrapped saxophonist, kitchen utensil percussion, medal-giving and a dance performance that brings the audience to their knees. Insanely off-the-hook but with songs like ‘Port-Aine’ and ‘A Purpose’ the hyper-restless Kiran Leonard shows he can be emotionally devastating too. I filmed his solo rendition of ‘A Purpose’ but it was in near darkness. Instead go and listen to the version of his album “Bowler Hat Soup” performed on an 1898 American reed organ. Stunning. And Kiran Leonard is now working on a 25 minute song called ‘End Of Times’ about the apocalypse. Expect it before Christmas.
I caught a few songs from Leeds band Just Handshakes We’re British at Soup Kitchen: pleasing indie-pop songs but on this brief encounter they have not matured as much as I hoped since seeing them last January supporting Allo Darlin’. Maybe I need to listen some more - they went down very well with the dancing crowd.
Then to The Castle for Easter. Here bass-player Gavin joins Thomas Long on guitars with a new bass-player taking his place and ”we still have the same drummer Andrew”. Whatever the adjusted line-up, Easter are still fiercely loud and fiercely exciting. Such an intimate – and packed to the gills - venue adds to the intensity but that’s to take nothing away from the band – energetic holding-nothing-back playing from all concerned. Another highlight of the day.
Then to Free Swim’s debut North of England gig in the upstairs room of Gullivers. The band are on-stage and eager to start but soundman Dennis (how apt) is absent. The band’s foot-on-the-accelerator impatience is palpable and once out of the traps, on Dennis’s return, they are unstoppable. Heavy riffing for opener ‘The Eureka Moment’, foot on monitor theatrics, bass solos played by a giant panda and pumped-up playing by the freshly inked four-piece. The crowd has a who-are-they moment before embracing the Surrey band (“any Southerners in?”) whole-heartedly. At the end Free Swim are not allowed to leave without an encore (at a festival?!) – a cover of Lit’s ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ – and then finish with an ecstatic queue on stage of women wanting to have their photograph taken with Yolanda the Panda. Wild times.
Free Swim set list: The Eureka Moment / Croydon Fernandes / The Smell Of Pregnancy / I Want To Be A Mountaineer / Swooping Swoopily Like A Swooping Swooper / Scoring Bamboo Shoots / Rubix Rue / My Own Worst Enemy
Walton Hesse are a more subdued proposition after this noisy excitement but are no less engaging. How the Manchester-based six-piece are not signed to Loose Records or a similar Americana-friendly label is beyond me. Their restrained country-rock oozes quality. A great finish to an exceptional day.
I would have paid a tenner to see pretty much any of these bands. As it was, I paid £10 (early bird weekend price) for two whole days. Astonishing carefully planned value that beggars belief. Day two to follow.