Alsager Music Festival has long been a staple of the Staffordshire and Cheshire music scene, although only recently has it begun to make real waves for itself. The organisation, professionalism and raw passion for live local music of the highest calibre, secures the festival as being one of the best free local music festivals, in the county.
With four stages on site on the Saturday, five venues dotted around the town and over 5000 people in attendance, Alsager Music Festival 2017 was by far the greatest weekend of them all.
S A T U R D A Y
M I L T O N P A R K
Things were just getting started as I arrived onto the festival site shortly after 12pm. I headed straight to the Sunken Garden, to catch Tim Lee open the acoustic stage to a lovely receptive crowd. He performed tracks from his current album ‘Hermit & The NotWe‘ including ‘Modern Life Will Make You Ill’ and ‘I’m Just Gonna Be Me’, which gained the participation of the small crowd that had gathered to watch his set.
But it was his brand new song ‘Sophie Draw’, written about the childlike innocence that is lost as we age, that really stood Lee out from the rest. With emotive lyrics and heartwarming writing that really did pull on the heartstrings, ‘Sophie Draw’ left everyone with something to think about.
At the main stage, The King’s Pistol were setting up for their slot in front of the growing crowd. Despite sound problems, that caused vocalist and guitarist Julian Casewell’s microphone to periodically cut out, The King’s Pistol were on fine form and ready to roll. With Casewell under strict instructions to not swear, the band opened their set with ‘Sweet Brier Grove’ and ‘Paperback Road’, rocking their audience in their usual hypnotic way.
Concluding their set with the fire-powered ‘Black Jesus’ taken from their new album (“it’s like The Everly Brothers on acid”), the three-piece ensured that they kicked ass until the very end.
The crowds grew rapidly throughout the day and by 2pm, near enough the entirety of Milton Park was covered in people of all ages and all group sizes. On the main stage, bands such as 80’s rock inspired five-piece The New Breed and Captain Stingray’s Groove Machine, a colourful musical fusion of reggae, pop and funk, made sure that there was something for everyone.
CSGM’s very own djembe connoisseur Gaiostopher Maine’s infectious rhythms and beats, worked their way under everyone’s skin and stood strong as a defining moment of Alsager Music Festival 2017.
The marquee stage, known for its showcasing of young bands and potential main stage acts, had been busy for most of the day. Having been opened at midday by The Science Of Words and with bands such as The Vectors and China Tanks drawing in large crowds, the marquee was a popular place to be.
This was most certainly the case when The Red Kites took to the stage, shortly before 4pm.
Their set, which consisted of favourites ‘Heavy Crown’, ‘Monkey Back’ and ‘Don’t It Make You Sad’, filled the marquee instantly, engulfing everyone and everything in its path. The psychedelic infused melodies were more than the marquee could take, ensuring that you didn’t have to be inside to join the party.
Moitessier followed on the main stage, reforming only, it seems, for Alsager Music Festival although this time they were two members short. That didn’t affect their performance however and the band comfortably wooed the main stage crowd (now larger than ever), with a selection of their classic tracks.
Walking away from the main stage and down to the back of the park, to where my day had begun, was where you would find the acoustic stage tucked away in the Sunken Garden. People stood, sat and gathered in every available space in front of the stage and surrounding areas, in a way that I’d never witnessed at the festival before. But then again, I’d never witnessed a set quite like Scribble Victory’s before.
Describing themselves as a “dynamic acoustic duo” from Derby, Scribble Victory were like nothing I’d ever encountered. The loveable personalities of Jamie Thompson and Tom Ward made them instantly likeable, both as people and as musicians. For two musicians armed with an acoustic guitar and downsized percussion kit, their sound was colossal.
Performing a combination of covers including The Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’ and originals such as ‘All The Best Comebacks’ and ‘Lucky’, they created quite the atmosphere and are by far, one of the most exciting emerging acts I’ve witnessed this year.
A late addition to the lineup saw heavy rock duo Dirty Rotten Souls perform as the penultimate act on the marquee stage. Another act with an uncaged off-the-scale weight of a sound, Dirty Rotten Souls were (and are) on form. Performing new tracks ‘Pure Bliss‘, ‘You Could Have Been An Angel’ and ‘I Smell A Rat’, as well as currently unreleased tracks ‘Woolworths’ and ‘Be My Turpentine’, Mark Bailey and Danny Nicholson were at the strongest and tightest I’d yet to see them.
Dripping with sweat and grinning from ear to ear, the pair knew that they’d just performed their strongest set yet, leaving everyone with the fuzzy sound of Dirty Rotten Souls ringing in their ears.
Stepping into the atmosphere that Dirty Rotten Souls had left hanging in the air, were Release. Alsager Music Festival was something that the band held close to their hearts, more so for frontman Caleb Allport who’d performed at the festival several times before.
Their set in the marquee was wild and so was their audience, who spilled out through the entrance in order to be part of the moment. Highlights from their set included ‘The Inevitable’, ‘C U Next Time’ and ‘Ip Dip Dog Shit’, which more than pleased their crowd.
But by far the greatest and most set-defining moment, happened between drummer Tom Price and violinist Jack Mitchell, who filled a short moment of technical error, with an upbeat and rather bizarre Irish-jig themed instrumental. Their set proved that Release are more than ready to tackle the main stage, mainly due to their popularity and talent, but also because I’m not sure that the marquee stage can quite handle their set for another year running.
The sun was setting over Milton Park, but the first day of the festival wasn’t over yet with popular ABBA tribute band UKBjorn still to headline. Despite a series of brain-melting and patience-testing technical difficulties, which led to a frustrating string of sound problems on the main stage, the crowds had stayed and the festival had powered on. But luckily for organisers, they’d chosen Greg Murray & The Seven Wonders as their penultimate main stage act, one of the happiest (and biggest) bands to exist in the local music scene.
They were the perfect choice for the main stage, easily gaining audience participation from everyone around. Their set consisted of originals ‘I’ve Never Been So Lonely’, ‘Mystery Machine’ and ‘You Could Have Torn my Heart Out’ and the band performed them to a blissful high standard.
As their set drew to a close, Murray invited members of the audience to join him on stage, reminding everyone of why Alsager Music Festival exists.
S U N D A Y
T H E L O D G E
The final day of the festival took place outside at The Lodge, a family friendly pub situated just outside of the main festival location. After the heavy numbers of festival-goers that had taken to Milton Park the day before, it was anyone’s guess as to how popular the Sunday would be.
Arriving through the rear entrance of the garden, my ears were met by the sound of Pete Shirley, a tremendous folk musician with a heart warming writing style and personality. He performed tracks old and new including the much-loved ‘Greasy Greens’, taken from his album titled ‘Sunset Katy And Other Stories‘. His songs eased everyone into their afternoon, providing a calming interval of music of the highest standard.
It seems like an age since I last saw Gary Wilcox and Phil Hulse grace a stage together, but as soon as Wilcox:Hulse began their set at The Lodge that afternoon, everything fell, as it always does, effortlessly into place. With songs from both their ‘First Born‘ and ‘Second Chance‘ EP’s littering their setlist, as well as brand-new tracks from their upcoming debut album such as ‘The Man With The Thin Skin’, referencing “everyone’s favourite orange faced American” and featuring a guest appearance from Matt Plant on viola, Wilcox:Hulse breezed through their performance with confidence.
And just when you thought that Gary Wilcox’s time under the Alsager Music Festival spotlight was over, he reappeared with members of The Taskers to perform an acoustic set as Don’t Call Me Ishmael. As a band DCMI have had a spectacular year, launching their second album ‘I’m Broken, But I’m Fine’ and beginning work on their third and their set at The Lodge, proved why they deserve the attention they’re receiving.
They performed tracks such as ‘Sum Of My Parts’, ‘Giraffes’ and ‘To The Moon’, before the unavoidable grey cloud of sound difficulties, which appeared to be following organisers Pete Weatherburn and Stath Kyrantonis around, reared its head in the final few moments of their set. It meant that guitarist and vital DCMI member Jack Tasker, had to perform their final number ‘The Provincial Athlete Throws A Race’ in a dramatically reduced format, but it didn’t draw from their set and they carried on nonetheless.
Much like Wilcox, DCMI members Jack Tasker, Sophie Bret Tasker and Robert Haubus jumped effortlessly between bands, as they joined violinist and vocalist Laura Ellement on stage for their set as The Taskers. As another band who have gained much respect and notoriety in recent months (thanks to side project DROMA Records), The Taskers are by far one of the most talented and versatile bands on the local scene right now.
Performing songs from their back catalogue of releases including ‘The Wolf’, ‘Raptors’ and ‘Feeling’, The Taskers well and truly owned the stage, gaining a great reception from the growing audience before them. With five years of history behind them, the four-piece stand strong amongst local music heavyweights and are a band that we hold close to our hearts.
The standard of music never faltered once, with bands such as The Blue Yellows and Double Denim taking their places amongst the talented lineup of musicians. With the weather dry and sunny and blue skies overhead, the second and final day of Alsager Music Festival was surely going to be a memorable one.
As the penultimate act of the day, Nixon Tate & The Honey Club were an obvious and fitting choice. Falling into a slot that was given to them 12 months ago at the festival, when they were asked to stand in for The Taskers, Nixon Tate & The Honey Club knew this venue well. As they performed songs from their current EP titled ‘Roses & Bones’ such as ‘All Over Now‘, ‘Dancehall Blues’, ‘Joyce’ and currently unreleased tracks ‘Won’t Let You Down’ and ‘Grubby Kids’, the band seemed to grow and flourish before my very eyes. I’ve seen NTHC perform more times than I care to mention, but something about the way they perform their set, makes every time feel like the very first.
The electricity between each of the members was felt deep within the audience, making you want to get up, dance and let your worries melt away. As the band performed their final track of their set, the dark and brooding ‘Honeytrap‘, accompanied by a reworked instrumental section, the world outside of Alsager Music Festival seemed a distant memory.
It’s been said before but it’s worth saying again; Nixon Tate & The Honey Club are giants within the scene, worthy of far more recognition and appreciation than they currently receive.
Closing the final day of Alsager Music Festival 2017 were Camens, a band that had had a very tiring and very stressful previous few days, to say the least. A disastrous journey to Latitude Festival on the Thursday, that had resulted in a written-off van and broken guitar, a long with a tiring journey back to Alsager that afternoon, had left the band feeling physically and emotionally drained. But without previous knowledge of this, you’d have never have guessed from their performance that this was the case at all.
In fact, as the band opened their set with their current single ‘Redolence‘, energy levels seemed high and the trials and tribulations were (for the time being) behind them. Camens performed a set full of brand new tracks, including previous single ‘Boys Will Stray‘, ‘Wasn’t I Enough?’ and ‘Away From The Sun’, alongside ‘I’m A Stone’, the only track to survive from their LazyEye days.
But by far my most favourite moment of the festival occurred when the band were encouraged to perform an encore, something that had the left the band feeling rather taken aback. Drummer Luke Brightmore confessed to the crowds that Camens had performed every song in their catalogue, although those who remember the band formerly known as LazyEye will know that that isn’t strictly true. A quick exchange of words between the band saw the rest of the members exit the stage, leaving frontman Scott Powell alone with his guitar. He quickly taught the audience a few simple “sha la la’s” and then proceeded to play a stripped back version of LazyEye’s ‘Killer Ooh’.
This moment, this simple unrehearsed encore, with everyone present singing along, made for a perfect finale to Alsager Music Festival, that finished much like it started, with a single performer and a guitar.
It had been an eventful weekend for organisers Pete Weatherburn and Stath Kyrantonis and their faces showed it. There’d been stress, sweat, tears and frustration, generators that didn’t do what they should have done, inputs that had given up the ghost and setbacks that had left schedules running behind. But there’d been music and lots of it. Friends, families, couples, musicians, children, teenagers and elders had flocked to the festival site to be entertained, in the way only Alsager knows how.
All hail Alsager Music Festival, the place where music flows, happiness grows and memories are made.
Until next year, AMF.