Now celebrating its fifth anniversary Liverpool Sound City continues to go from strength-to-strength. Based on the same template as Leeds Live, the Dot to Dot Festival and the Salford’s Sounds From The Other City whereby a multitude of venues both large and small, host all kinds of bands over three music packed days. It must be a logistical nightmare for the organisers to pull it all together and make it run relatively smoothly, but thanks to meticulous planning no major catastrophe occurred during this year’s event. Based around the Seel Street area of the city, it’s great to walk around and hear great music being played on almost every corner. Obviously with such a smorgasbord of musical delights on offer, there’s too much to take it all in so one has to be selective and choose a set of bands that you really want to see or just sound interesting. So, with our itinerary carefully mapped out Mudkiss editor Mel and I set off on our Liverpool Sound City journey.
First on our list is the Mystery Jets at a packed Liverpool Academy of Arts. It’s strange to see a band this big play so early in the evening, but still the crowd lap up Blaine Harrison and friends big tunes. It’s a good show though I’ve always thought that this band is strangely static on stage for such high profile.
Last Dinosaurs from Brisbane, are not a band I’ve seen before but I really enjoy their set at the Garage. Whether I’d take the next step and seek out any of their recorded stuff I’m not sure, but for the time I spent listening to them play it was good.
It’s been great to see Stealing Sheep grow in confidence and stature over these last couple of years. Constant gigging has really let these three girls hone there art, though it’s not just perspiration that have given their songs a certain sparkle; it’s also steams from inspiration and some of the music that rings out from this band is simply inspiring. This is the first great performance of the festival for me.
Though we have our map in hand, as strangers to the festival it was difficult to find exactly where the places we wanted to go were located. It might have been a good idea to have enlisted some easily recognisable volunteers to offer direction to those that have lost their way! Still thats just a small criticism of an otherwise well organised event.
Why isn’t Jessie Rose a massive star? Here’s an artist who possesses everything; memorable songs, great musical ability, stunning looks. Yet when we watch their set at the tiny Brink venue, the place is far from full as Jessie zips through her collection electric guitar laden torch songs. She’s also incredibly comfortable on stage and bounds up onto her amps when the spirit of the song moves her and the thought strikes you that this place should be packed to the gills for such a gifted artist. For us this is the first gig we watch and enjoy in its entirety before heading back to the Garage to see the Chew Lips.
Still a three piece, though the band has exchanged a drummer for a keyboard player, Chew Lips have melodies in abundance. Vocalist and front woman Tigs is still a formidable presence and you sense that this year could mean big things for the band. They’re songs benefit greatly from the live drummer as it gives the music an ability to turn corners a lot quicker now rather than being tethered to the clinical beat of a drum machine. The original model was good but this new and improved version of Chew Lips has potential to go all the way.
After Chew Lips it’s a quick dash to The Shipping Forecast to see Morecambe four-piece The Heartbreaks. It’s an exciting time for this band; they’ve recently released a new single 'Delay, Delay’ and there’s a buzz about them that’s hard to ignore. However their set tonight is bedevilled by technical problems and is marred by probably the worst sound it was our misfortune to hear during the whole of the festival. Shame really because these lads deserve much better.
We leave well before the end to get back to the Red Bull Garage to check out Django, Django’s synth heavy psychedelia. Playing a set of tracks cherry picked from their self-titled album. It’s experimental but always lashed to a groove which keeps the feet moving. Give it a chance and it soon becomes mesmerising and you can hear why the smart money is saying this band are gonna be something very special. And that brings the first day to a close. On the whole really pleased with the quality of the bands and enjoyed the day immensely.
DAY TWO: FRIDAY 18/05/12 - BY PHIL KING
Friday we’re back again for more! Mel and I go to a fancy restaurant, which has probably the worst service in Liverpool, but compensated by the most brilliant decor to plan the evening ahead. We pick our bands then set off back into the fray. Dead Wolf Club are the first real find of the festival for me. We catch them at the beautiful little cafe bar Mello Mello where they tear through their set with some wonderful aggression. The singer looks deranged and ends the performance lay on the floor, howling in tongues. I’m so impressed I buy their eponymously titled debut CD off them and have been playing it ever since.
We’re on a roll, so we head towards the Binary Cell to check out industry favourites Iktsuarpok - apparently it’s an Inuit Indian word that describes that feeling of anticipation that leads you to keep looking outside to see if anyone is coming, so now you know. Hailing from Southport, Tom Dale and Denis Brice mesh together to create some catchy songs but because the place is relatively empty, and almost devoid of lighting when they’re playing it’s difficult for them to generate any real excitement which is a necessary ingredient for great live music. One’s to watch but sadly not ones to watch today.
Following the incendiary start to the evening we zip across to the living room sized Wolstenholm Creative Space and dive headlong into Brisbane's Inland Sea, another band that puts on a really strong show. Comprised of an assortment of boys and girls, this ten strong folk/rock hybrid is a joyous affair complete with guitars and fiddles and drums that race each other to the end of each song. There’s also some luscious harmonies ladled into the mix and if Dead Wolf Club was neat malt whiskey, then Inland Sea would be a fine red wine; a different kind of intoxicant for sure but no less potent.
We hang around the Wolstenholm for Liverpool’s Bird, another band that comes highly recommended. Fronted by Marina (of the Diamonds) look-alike Adele Emmas, they float through a lovely set of songs that conjure up nights spent looking for long-lost faces in a log fire. There’s an ambience about the band that smoulders and keeps the fifty or so people who have gathered to see this band keep dead silent while the music brightens up the room. A real highlight of the festival for me.
We pass a rammed out Liverpool Academy of Arts that is hosting The Temper Trap on our way to the Attic to go joyriding with Catfish and the Bottlemen. All the way from North Wales these young men like to rock and there’s a room full of people here who are of the same persuasion. If anybody there wasn’t a friend of they boys before witness the bands blistering set, then by the end of they were best of buddies.
I guess it’s always novel to see a band in a small intimate setting just as they’re on the cusp of moving up to the next level, but the reality is bands like The Jezabels are better suited to larger stages. Tonight they play in the Zanzibar Club and while it’s okay, you feel yourself wishing that the festival organisers would’ve put a band of this calibre in a place that would’ve allowed their sound the space it needs to breathe. Not that it’s a bad gig, far from it; it’s just that there’s something missing from the experience of seeing a band this good when it’s been shoehorned into a place that doesn’t enhance their music. This is where this kind of festival is found wanting for me and The Jezabels are not the only band that would have benefited from being placed in a bigger venue.
After seeing White Denim play a storming set at Batley Live Festival last year, I can vouch that this band is definitely worth checking out. However again it all feels constrained, because now White Denim are used to attracting crowds considerably larger than the capacity of the Kazimer will hold, it all becomes too uncomfortably crowded. Quickly grabbing a sneaky shot as they set up, then we leave before the band start into their set.
We scoot over to the Garage to see Charlie XCX. Not someone I would choose to see given the choice, but I find myself really enjoying her show. Is this what’s known as a guilty pleasure? And this is a strength of a festival like this, being exposed to music that you wouldn’t normally go out of you’re way to listen to. Will I listen to Charlie XCX again? Probably not because she isn’t really my cup of tea. I prefer whiskey or red wine, but in small doses her music’s certainly not unpalatable.
DAY THREE: SATURDAY 19/05/12 BY CHUMKI BANERJEE
Mel and Chumki's excellent adventures: Having spent two days and nights walking the streets, I expected to find Mel in puddle of deranged muddle, gibbering zombie, eyes and ears bloody from sleep deprivation and aural destruction, when I picked her up at Lime Street, for her third and final immersion in Liverpool Sound City. Far from drooping blossom, I found her blooming, buoyant, and buzzing, feet ready to tread the beat which throbbed our streets. We leapt into musical maelstrom, a city renowned for its ingenuous, euphonious embrace, melting pot of music, more than usually drowned in sound of colliding celebrations, many voices raised in rapturous refrain, praising the gift, lifeblood of this extraordinary place. Best intentions thwarted by impenetrable excess, we never got to hear the recommended, awaited, feted and exulted but plethora of unanticipated pleasures peopled our meandering path; A few we met along the way, on an inspirational day (and night)
St Luke's The Bombed Out Church: Tacking up Hardman Street to Philharmonic Hall, we rest awhile at the alter of St Luke’s. Though steps to this renowned relic are rickety and steep, my legs were not turned to jelly by their ascent but rather in anticipation of unexpected date with destiny, the privilege of an interview with soul legend, P.P. Arnold who awaited us at the top of the hill later that evening. St Luke’s, proud, statuesque, skeletal survivor never ceases to attract attention, beckoned by sweet sounds drifting free, sky its roof, nature its carpet, an organic, wild rambling rose of a venue. Bombed in the Blitz, burnt out in blazing inferno of incendiary shell, arrow to core, just after midnight on 6 May 1941, clock hands stopped at 03.36 when fire reached bell tower and historic bells tumbled clamorous from belfry, though physical heart torn out, bells silenced, St Luke’s metaphorical heart still beats strong, stridently sings its song, defiant hymn to life in capable, nurturing hands of Urban Strawberry Lunch.
As we enter St Luke’s ‘cathedral of light’, we encounter this delicious guardian hosting its Sound City event, in guise of appropriately named Ambrose, angel Gabriel of curls, luminescent eyes; Lapis Lazuli set in weather beaten bronze, as blue as the blue tit he tenderly observes, flitting to and fro, from tiny, hole in the wall, home, as Jamie Lawson floats his dulcet tones to heaven. Jamie’s acoustic guitar and emotional vocal, though gentler than ‘Nightmares in Wax’, ‘Pink Industry’ and original incarnation of ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood’, bands which ‘Angel Ambrose’ [from Urban Strawberry Lunch] pulsated with bass. Our world rocked by this ethereal venue, perfectly suited to Jamie’s beautifully expressed, melodic style “...hope you meant every letter that you never sent...”, natural resonance of the venue amplifying poignant expression, wrapping audience in its thrall.
Returning later, on a second trip up the hill to the Philharmonic Hall, this time for an illustriously star studded homage to Sandy Denny, we stood entranced as strains of Golden Fable’s ‘Always Golden’ emanate like heavenly choir, to hang in air, bringing literally and dramatically to life my March review for Mudkiss, “...Rebecca Palin's bell like soprano soars stratospheric spires, showering silver, mingling with echo of itself...”. Perfect band for this venue, roofless, walls vibration chamber, giant speaker, airwaves boosted echo on echo to float ethereal over Liverpool, Rebecca Palin’s voice, struck just the right frequency and with no glass to break broke free to waft us up Hardman, on beatific wings, Cocteau crossed with Cranberries, now even more a favourite band, serenade to serenity, perfect start for a date with Sandy Denny’s soul.
The Brink: This venue on Parr Street is, in more ways than one, phoenix from ashes, rebuilt from burnt out remains, staffed by recovering addicts, it illustrates resilience of human spirit, even on brink of destruction, and hope, which illuminates this pretty little room, flooded with light and humour, lime and blackcurrant velvet armchairs, alcoholic temptation replaced with fruity delectation, feel good embodied, brimming with supportive love and, on this afternoon, sounds from a refreshingly clear sound system.
Peggy Hsu, as sweet and innocent as the strawberry smoothies we supped, is slick, pitch and picture perfect personification of ‘china girl’ both Bowie’s and of the porcelain variety but there is stylised steel in this girl. Part of a Taiwanese contingent which hit Sound City with its showcase of three bands, she has a doting following, loyal and infatuated enough to travel from across the country and world to listen enraptured. Together with her band Le Cirque, it is easy to hear why this five piece has won so many awards, their playing is technically faultless, prodigiously proficient though perhaps slightly formulaic, music perfectly attuned to sing -song Western idioms from an earlier, more tranquil era, nonetheless conveys wistful reverie, sweet as syrup, sage vocal, weaving with electric ‘cello, mouth melodica, conjuring spirit of their home country, which seems to hypnotise and entice her mainly youthful and Chinese audience, who hang on every word and mob her afterwards. Sadly, for less multilingual listeners, the music is not expressive enough, in itself, to translate lyrics, possibly in Mandarin, which obviously engage more knowledgeable followers. Perhaps a Taiwanese Mary Hopkins, she certainly made the day for those who had travelled from far afield to worship at her lips.
To follow, Blunt Truth and the blunt truth is, this brave band, though musically proficient, sadly struggled to coalesce, despite Debbie Harry crossed with New York Dolls attitude, energetically displayed by funky, phallic bass, strident guitars and bruising street wise drums, feisty female vocals failed to cut, without broken glass edge of Harry, awkwardly distracted, juggling keyboard and guitar, femme fatale failed to flow, resolute but drowned in sound of her band, only to emerge briefly on ‘Objects With Personality’, which glimpsed intrigue of inner character, surprising touch of Bjork, chained and restrained which perhaps should be set free.
Mello Mello: Mello Mello, on Slater Street, rises from Cream’s demise, which saw it forlorn and neglected for many years; shedding its synthetic skin, reverted to as nature intended, with grass roots food, beverages and music, gurn turned to smile which welcomes warmly, without prejudice. Following Pied Piper pan pipes, or rather, increasingly ubiquitous mouth melodica, of the Taiwanese showcase, here we encountered another sweet voiced chanteuse, Waa Wei, and her, again astonishingly polished, proficient band, this time more stripped back with acoustic guitar and folksy, Indie feel which, though embracing Western sensibilities seemed to draw more directly from traditional Chinese folk music, in spaced out instrumentation and melodic structure, detoured via charming, whimsical, fragilely beautiful version of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, Waa Wei endearing in wanting to sing “..something everyone knows...”, before returning to her native language for ‘Bubble’. Long, slightly kinked hair, eyes tightly shut, immersed in her art, gently reverential, meandering yet melodically tightly structured meditation, winner of many an award in her native country, Waa Wei has a touch of Yoko Ono, completely captivating her overwhelmingly Chinese young audience, crammed close to the stage.
Even without language barrier, I cannot pretend to understand the musical development and sensibilities of the likes of Peggy Hsu and Waa Wei, but, what shines abundantly bright is their professionalism, commitment and adoration of their fans. A fascinating insight into how music of another, ancient culture has developed, when increasingly exposed to Western influence, and an honour that they thought enough of Liverpool to bring this showcase here.
All of which brought us closer to home, though not comprehension, in form of mysterious, marvellously intriguing, musical maverick, Barry Sutton, ex La’s, nursing a coffee and an enigmatic looking band of rather beautiful boys, stylised as Taiwanese contingent, these dandies could have stepped straight out of the Monkees. Calling themselves The Carousels, over from Aberdeen to play the Cavern, sadly caught up in musical mayhem, I missed hearing them live but having listened on line can confirm Barry’s enthusiasm for this talented, psychedelic bunch, so look out for a Mudkiss review over the next few months and catch them when you can. Of course, such beauty cannot go unrecorded, so we, I am blaming it on Mel, dragged the boys down a dark underpass, for an impromptu photo shoot, new crusaders striding purposefully past shadow of ex Cream nightclub, towards new horizons. More than pretty faces but you can still take an ogle.
As for musical exploits of ‘The Sutton’, enigmatic as ever, seems he is venturing into new territory, learning to play the piano, results of which I look forward to with anticipation, as eager as that which led feet to our next musical assignment later that evening, a homage to Sandy Denny at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, a review of which you can read elsewhere on this site.
The aftermath- picking up trade in the Adelphi lounge: Stunned, stupefied by an intensely musical day and night, soul full of emotion, teary eyed, Mel swept away home while I staggered the streets, seeking solace, music drenched the air, cheap perfume mingled with more exotic odours, every variety flowing from every pore of this passionate city, made my heart overflow, could take no more. Seeking refuge in the Adelphi’s magnificent tea hall, a friend and I sat in reflection but even here music tapped its insistent beat, wedding party in full swing, playing eternal hits for jiggling bits. Surely a sorry end for an overwhelming day but once again, fate dealt an unexpected hand in form of quietly effusive Irishman, sidling up to our couch, blarney stone polished to perfection, his were not ordinary words of endearment nor enticement, there was something behind those young but world weary eyes, the power of music, which gave him courage to engage, observe, describing himself as ‘social anthropologist’, he had travelled from Ireland to hand out his CD to whoever would accept but now, empty handed had none for us and no guitar to sing his tune. However, as demonstrated by this wonderful day, music has no barriers, so flying on the wings of time, down electronic highway at speed of light, quietly arrived some beautiful music from Derek Campbell, emotive and emotional it summed up spirit of the past few days, where there is musical will, there is a way, where there is disharmony, music brings ultimate unification.
Though, where Karaoke is concerned, night cap disturbed by its loud blast, seems some disharmonies are insurmountable. I must admit, I adore anything which brings more music to my doorstep and without a doubt, Sound City certainly does that, in bucketfuls but, overflowing with delights, it is difficult to catch more than a few drops, time runs away, collides, so unless you possess the ability to simultaneously coexist in multiple dimensions or have power of time travel, the £45 price tag would not appear to deliver just rewards, for artistes and admirers alike, leaving me with more than nagging regret at those I had missed. None the less, an event inexorably enjoyed.Reporting by Phil King and Chumki Banerjee