According to the programme, opening band The Fellons, were due to take to the stage at 3.30, although on making my way down the hill through the shopping centre from the car park with a good ten minutes to spare, their sound already filled the air. The Fellons are a Rochdale outfit who formed out of “The Ironwaters” after the tragic, sudden death of their close friend and sax player Bob Fell. The main stage position earned by winning a battle of the bands contest and worthy victors they sounded. I only managed to catch a couple of numbers, including set closer, a cover of the Nina Simone song “Sinner Man” even in that short time, they impressed with their brand of rhythm heavy jazz funk, incorporating a strong female vocal from Emma Ellis. I’m not sure the low slung crotch style jeans suited bassist, Pete Gilchrist, perhaps slightly too advanced in years for the look, but that apart, The Fellons entertained an impressive early crowd setting the tone for the day. www.facebook.com/thefellons
Next up, BBC 6 music favourites Doyle and the Fourfathers. The Southampton four piece based their set around debut album “Man Made” and their eponymously named EP, although a couple of new songs were also given an airing including “Fingerprints” and “Welcome to Austerity,” the latter exhibiting a movement towards more politically lyricism. A very middle England, slightly eccentric indie kid cool surrounds the quartet, their sound and lyrical dexterity influenced by The Divine Comedy and Pulp. The focus falls readily on lead vocalist William, his stage presence and mannerisms reminiscent of a young Jarvis Cocker. A flamboyant and natural performer, he engages easily with his audience, the majority being introduced to his band for the first time. At one point, he dons a fez, leaps upon a flight case and proceeds to play a keyboard perched on his haunches.
Doyle and the Fourfathers won over the crowd from a difficult position on the bill, which led to a few merchandise and CD sales after the gig, proving the trip North definitely not wasted. www.facebook.com/doyleandthefourfathers
A complete change in tack and musical style subsequently arrives, the more reserved Ellen and the Escapades appearing. For the second time today, we are treated to a strong female vocal, on this occasion backed with a lilting country / folk sound. After the theatrics of Doyle and the Fourfathers, Ellen with her Escapades provided a chance to relax in the rain and take in a much more restrained and subtle approach.
Highlights of the set “Preying on your Mind,” “This Ace I’ve Burned” and a faithful, although possibly overly optimistic cover of The Beatles “Here Comes The Sun.” Smith is a very humble, almost shy performer, struggling between songs to develop a real connection with her audience, although this doesn’t detract from the melodic beauty of the material on offer. www.ellenandtheescapades.com
Connection with an audience, especially the younger females gathered today isn’t a problem for Frankie and the Heartstrings, in particular lead vocalist Frankie Francis. A giggle of fawning girls appear behind me at the barrier, obviously possessors of debut album “Hunger,” enthusiastically singing along to all the words. At one point, Francis announces Rochdale may not have been aware of their music previously but “We’re all friends now.” The gasp of a young teen who countered loudly “I wish we were” summed up the love in a particular section of the audience for Frankie, who maintains real elements of Morrissey in his performance. Hailing from Sunderland, both Francis and drummer Dave Harper exude a roguish, although instantly likeable North Eastern charm, inclusive much on stage banter between the two, Francis needing to admonish the drummer for swearing in front of the younger members of the audience at this family festival. My initial surprise on reading they have developed a friendship with Leeds hardcore band Pulled Apart by Horses is dispelled within minutes, I can well imagine lively nights out having taken place during this year’s festival season.
Don’t be fooled however into thinking Frankie and the Heartstrings are just a band of chancers, looking to live the rock n roll lifestyle to the full with no musical substance. Their debut live EP was self released through Pop Sex Limited and the North East has once again produced a top quality spiky guitar, indie pop act, the band playing a lively and highly entertaining afternoon set, running through tracks from the album, with great versions of “Photograph,” “Ungrateful” and a brilliant set closer in “Fragile.”
Their songs take on a more forceful aspect live through the energetic drumming of Harper and especially Mick Ross, at one point assaulting a 12 string Rickenbacker, forcing sounds to ring and emanate, a further charge of GBH could have been foisted upon him as he attempts to asphyxiate the life from a whammy bar.
A fantastic live performance ensured Frankie and the Heartstrings the title of another band to win over a number of new fans today......and long may they continue to do so. http://frankieandtheheartstrings.com
It can never be the easy option as a solo performer, no band members to hide behind, no one to take up the slack if you’re experiencing an off night. Just you, your instrument of choice, (ok and a loop machine in this instance) fully exposed to your audience, the focus on you completely, any mistakes easily recognised. Add in following a band who just played a blistering set and the pressure must increase, trying to maintain the momentum. This is the situation Damon Gough, AKA, Badly Drawn Boy finds himself in, although in a career spanning 10 years, perhaps not that uncommon. Gough does have a reputation of sporadic performances, the quality very much down to mood at the time. Tonight he appears relaxed, in good spirits and as the localish lad with an expectant crowd awaiting, all’s looking good. Whenever I think of Badly Drawn Boy, I immediately conjure an image of a U.K Bob Dylan, which his dishevelled, woolly hatted appearance does little to dispel. He could be the guy next door, the bloke stood at the end of the bar, a genuinely pleasant, polite and humble person who still finds it difficult to understand how he’s managed to reach his respected position in the musical world. He may not be the greatest singer in the world, he may not be the greatest guitarist in the world but simply, Damon Gough is a wonderful song writer, a passionate and timeless lyricist with a complete grasp of melody, which can’t be refuted.
To suggest he’s a maverick may be stretching a point, but Badly Drawn Boy doesn’t play by the rules. He slopes on stage with the light failing and to the assembled masses, awaiting a rendition of one of their most treasured tunes, instead, relates a tale of attending the Leeds Festival last week with his kids and being extremely angry with The National for not playing his favourite song “Runaway.” Therefore, he’ll just play it himself breaking into the cover, one of three played during his performance. It’s immediately obvious Badly Drawn Boy is on form, the reception he receives is akin to a returning local hero and he revels in the worship. Even the occasional obligatory mistake, opening with the wrong verse for instance, is met with a laugh. And that is a complete part of the essence of Badly Drawn Boy, he doesn’t play CD perfect versions of his songs, glitches happen, which make him appear all the more human and only serve to bring him even closer to his fans.
The set revolves around his most popular and recognisable tunes, only two songs from most current album “It’s what I’m thinking Pt.1” and one new song “Another Day, Another Night” being played live for the very first time. from a forthcoming soundtrack album to a new film starring Robert De Niro, or Bob, as Gough suggests he now refers to him. The setting as dark falls standing in the shadow of Rochdale Town Hall clock tower, seems absolutely perfect whilst “Silent Sigh,” “Everybody’s Stalking” or the second cover of the night, a stripped down version of The Stone Roses “I Wanna Be Adored” ring out across the square. Badly Drawn Boy is literally spell binding tonight, with a performance, I and I’m sure the majority of the audience will remember for a long, long time to come.
As if to further enhance his completely individual persona, he ends in completely bizarre fashion with the third of his covers. A song that completely changed his life aged fourteen, he sings Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” as a tribute to Clarence Clemons, to a backing tape in karaoke fashion. In any normal circumstances, it can’t work, especially after witnessing Badly Drawn Boy’s first signs of frustration, struggling with the mike lead whilst putting on his coat, nearly missing his cue, the mike stand finding itself roughly discarded to the floor of the stage. Somehow however, Gough made this appear the most natural of endings to a gig roaming the stage, fists clenched and arms held high in victory salutes.
During our pre- performance chat, Damon Gough had suggested people might not be aware who he was, or know any of his songs, which seems ridiculous. To sum the man up even more, he asked my name, after I’d replied, he shook my hand and said, “Pleased to meet you Andy.. I’m Damon”................ Funnily enough Mr Gough, I already knew that. www.badlydrawnboy.co.uk/
If Badly Drawn Boy is the local hero, headliners Fun Lovin Criminals, are Rochdale’s adopted sons. The Criminals have always maintained a faithful and fervent following in the U.K, completely apparent tonight. As a roadie gives the universal torch flash signal, all’s good to go, the stage is turned into a 70’s disco, spotlights dancing across the floor to the sound of a heavy backbeat. What immediately becomes even more obvious, from the trio of adopted sons, Rochdale has one particular favourite, as the cries of Huey.... Huey....Huey......Huey fill the air. After a storming opening of “We the 3,” the object of attention Mr Huey Morgan steps back, accepts the rapturous applause, appearing genuinely taken aback at the crowd’s response. The secret of Huey Morgan’s draw isn’t difficult to work out, he’s a personality who appeals to both men and women in equal measures. The women fancy the pants off him, the men want to be that cool..... simple. And that air of cool surrounds him completely, in his movement, his New York drawl and the cheeky, raised eyebrow facial expressions, here’s a guy who knows how to work and play an audience, not through histrionics, just by being.........I’ll have to say it again.....cool. An additional aspect I noticed, Huey Morgan’s skill and dexterity with guitar in hand is extremely impressive, his style completely different to that of Mick Ross’s earlier antics. Rather than assault, Morgan coaxes and caresses sounds from his instrument, his playing is easy, relaxed and fluid, when Huey uses a whammy bar, it’s a tender and loving action, carefully extending and distorting the notes. His method sums everything The Fun Lovin Criminals currently stand for, they are the consummate professionals, their art tried, tested and honed over many years, producing a complete show.
Resplendent in suits, open necked shirts, Nike trainers and Vans, the trio look and perform the real deal. Whilst Morgan is the obvious focus, both Frank Benbini and Brian Leiser amply play their part. Benbini keeps up the solid rhythms on drums, even finding time to play one handed, enjoying a drink at one point without missing a single beat and multi instrumentalist Leiser moves readily from keys to bass to trumpet. There’s an obvious rapport between the three and the sheer enjoyment and party atmosphere radiates from the stage, a roadie preparing cocktails atop an amp, which the band proceed to down in one, Morgan nonchalantly discarded his plastic cup over his shoulder on more than one occasion.
As you would expect and hope, the hits take pride of place and receive the most enthusiastic receptions, the crowd screaming the words to “King of N.Y,” “Southside, ”Scooby Snacks” and a tumultuous closer of what else “The Fun Lovin Criminal.”
Having Huey and friends headlining proved an inspired choice, an American band the U.K has taken to their bosom and afforded the position of adopted Brits. Rochdale wouldn’t have it any other way.
And so ended another Rochdale Feel Good weekend, questions arise annually around the validity of so many festivals within the U.K during the Summer months, increasing prices leading to dwindling numbers in difficult times. Conversely, Rochdale provide a completely free festival, a chance for all to celebrate live music for the cost of a few quid parking, which can only be encouraged.
The line-up proved absolutely perfect for an event of this nature, local opener, new bands exposed to the majority for the first time, a Manchester legend and a highly adored headliner. The organisers should feel proud, providing a musical feast capable of being enjoyed by everyone, even Ainsley Harriet couldn’t produce a more digestible delight. Bring on 2012.Review and video by Andy Barnes