Alsager Music Festival 2017

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.

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Captain Stingray’s Groove Machine – Credit: Chris Brian Hollingworth

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.

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James Biddulph Jnr of The Red Kites – Credit: Chris Brian Hollingworth

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.

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Release – Credit: Chris Brian Hollingworth

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.

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Greg Murray & The Seven Wonders – Credit: E Major

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.

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Wilcox:Hulse – Credit: E Major

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.

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The Taskers – Credit: E Major

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.

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Camens – Credit: E Major

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.

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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.

E.

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Ashcombury Music Festival 2017

After the roaring success of last year’s festival, Ashcombury Music Festival returned to Ashcombe Park Cricket Club once again, with a lineup stacked full of local and national talent. There were some noticeable differences at this years festival; the increased stage size, outdoor bar and perfect summery festival weather to name but a few, as well as the larger crowd that seemed to grow throughout the day.

Instrumental three-piece Umbrellabird began proceedings, nearly one whole year after they performed their very first show as a band, at exactly the same festival.

They were quickly followed by Alma, a bright young thing of a band with the attitude of a cool-kid teenager to accompany it. I was unsure about what to expect from their performance. The last (and only) time I’d seen them live was at The Underground, when they were taking their very first steps as a band; there was no real sound and I wasn’t convinced that this band wanted to be taken seriously.

But a very different version of Alma stood before me at Ashcombury Festival and I was pleasantly surprised. Their development was evident in their set and collectively they are a band with a sound that is likeable and has great potential. Alma are a band I won’t be letting out of my sight ever again.

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Mosley Bar were up next, an indie/alternative rock band I was yet to encounter. The Liverpool based four piece performed songs from their recently released EP titled ‘Royalties’, including ‘Philip’ and ‘Torn Apart’ which were well received by the audience.

Over on the acoustic stage, which was situated inside the main building (and in front of the bar), Oli Ng was preparing for his solo acoustic set of originals. Despite his limited audience, Ng performed his latest single ‘Run and Hide’ and b-side ‘Worlds Apart’ to an astounding level of perfection. Watching him perform and hearing his music, is like climbing into a bed with fresh sheets; regardless of how many times you may have heard his music or seen him live, every time feels like the very first time.

Whether he’s backed by his band or going it alone, Oli Ng creates music that is hard not to adore. His set was quality, his performance was to the book and I can’t wait to see him tackle the main stage next year.

A band who were happily conquering the main stage this year were Camens, formerly known as LazyEye. Having only recently returned from their musical silence and with a brand new identity and style, Camens were an obvious and almost perfect choice for the festival. They performed an entirely new set which featured brand new singles ‘Boys Will Stray’ and ‘Redolence’, ‘Violent Video Games’ and ‘Wasn’t I Enough?’, along with the only LazyEye song to pass the test of time, ‘I’m A Stone’.

Their casual nature and laid back attitude, along with their summery sounding singles and well-rehearsed set, put the band in the forefront of people’s minds. Camens are a band that are hard to ignore at the moment and their set at Ashcombury proved it.

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The sun was shining down on Ashcombury Festival when Divenire stepped onto the stage. Sunglasses, shorts and socks with sandals was the only dress code, leaving those that braved last years mid-summer downpour, wondering whether it was all just a bad dream.

Divenire were the answer to everyone’s prayers. Fronted by Dom Morgan and containing talented and passionate musicians, Divenire strode on through their performance with confidence and enthusiasm. Fresh (or slightly groggy) from a career defining headline gig at The Sugarmill the night before, the band were on an obvious high that carried them through until the end.

Their set consisted of their two singles, the popular ‘Caravan’ and ‘Arcade’, as well as tracks from Morgan’s solo back catalogue such as ‘One Last Time’. It seems that with a little help from Divenire, Morgan has stepped into his own sound and the band work well together, with an evident onstage rapport to back it up.

Back at the acoustic stage, John Dhali was singlehandedly pulling in an audience with his personality alone. His cheeky grin, perfect sense of humour and refreshingly positive view of the world, are just three of the factors that make it quite literally impossible to dislike him. And then you hear his music; you wonder what it is that’s making the amplified stomping accompaniment and question whether you’ve ever really listened to music before, especially of this calibre.

Dhali performed his set of life affirming songs, old and new, including ‘Come Home’, ‘Ballad Of A Holy Man’ and current single ‘Here’. John Dhali is an acoustic artist like no other. He’s more than just background music. His songs are coated in his personality and that’s what sets him apart from the rest. He made the audience stop in their tracks, listen to what he had to say and then applaud him like no other act on the lineup.

One of the stand out acts of the day and one that everyone was left talking about, were Release. Like a clenched fist full of angst and frustration and as though he’d been locked away in a cage since his last gig, frontman Caleb Allport took control of the stage and knocked everything out of focus. Highlights of their set included the mighty ‘The Inevitable’, ‘Back To The Old Routine’ and ‘Publik Urination’, which woke up the crowds that were sat on the ground before them. They were loud, they were rowdy, they were over-confident and they were everything that you’ve come to expect from the band and their live shows.

But the main talking point of their set and one that seems to linger on everyone’s lips after seeing them live for the first time, is Jack Mitchell’s incredible violin skills and how he ever managed to fall into a band like Release. That’s a story for another time.

As the evening wore on, the alcohol began to set in for most of the crowd who’d set up camp on the field, with picnic blankets and camping chairs littering the place. There was an overpowering community feel about the entire festival, that never once seemed to falter.

Manchester based rock trio Sly Antics took to the stage towards the end of the day, making good use of their chance to show Ashcombury Festival what they were made of. Performing tracks from their ‘Captive City’ EP including ‘Lights Go Down’ (complete with insane drum solo and funky chorus guitar melody) as well as their brand new single ‘Motion’, there’s no doubt that Sly Antics gained new fans, who walked away with their music ringing in their ears.

As the penultimate act of the festival, Stu Whiston and his band were more than ready for their moment under the spotlight. Whiston’s signature vocals rang out across the field, as he performed ‘Silver’, ‘Run Away’ and a brief rendition of The Righteous Brothers classic ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, which smoothly transitioned into his popular single ‘There Was A Time’.

His adoring (and slightly drunk) crowd were raucous until the very end, when Whiston asked for their participation in performing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, a song that has come to define the hope of the people in recent weeks. Stu Whiston raised the bar and kept it there for his entire set, his music flowing through everyone in the audience.

Headlining this year’s festival were The Killerz, the UK’s No. 1 tribute to the real thing. Before wheeling out a large light up letter ‘K’ and performing their set of Killers classics, a word of thanks was issued by one of the organisers, to everybody who’d managed to make the festival happen, but most importantly to organiser Rich.

He’d spent most of the day running between stages and for Rich and the rest of the team, as the festival drew to a close, it was like crossing the finishing line of a long and very stressful race. Months of organising and planning had paid off. The people had flocked, the sun had shone, the beer had been poured (and drunk) and everyone would walk away feeling giddy with that summery festival feeling we all crave, when we’re sat in our day jobs watching the rain roll down the window.

Ashcombury Music Festival. We came. We saw. We conquered (and we didn’t get rained on once).

E.

 

Lymelight Festival 2017

We waited patiently, for a whole 12 months. We attended gigs, we played our music loud and we counted down the days until we’d be back in front of that stage once more. We watched with excitement, as the lineup, the headliners and the last minute acts were announced. We planned our May Day bank holiday weekend accordingly and then we headed for Newcastle town centre, cagoule in hand and hopes high.

The fifth annual Lymelight Festival ran from the evening of Friday 28th April through until late afternoon on Monday 1st May and by all accounts, it was spectacular. Opening with sets from Captain Stingray’s Groove Machine, Vidorra, 10o’clock Chemical and Akahum, it seemed that from the get go, this would be more than just your usual local festival.

S A T U R D A Y

It was dry and sunny on the morning of the 29th of April and in Newcastle town centre, crowds were gathering for the beginning of the first full day of music. Acoustic singer/songwriter and winner of Signal Radio’s Star Search 2017, Callum Mountford, performed a selection of popular covers including ‘Ho Hey’ by The Lumineers and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ by Johnny Cash, as well as some of his own original material including ‘Warn Out Clock’. Mountford seemed at ease on the stage, occasionally engaging in light on-stage conversation with his parents, who stood looking on in pride, making the entire set feel extremely intimate.

Next up was four-piece rock outfit Don’t Call Me Ishmael, with their set of supercharged originals taken from both their debut album and their brand new second album ‘I’m broken, but I’m fine’. They pulled in a crowd to be proud of, entertaining passersby with songs ‘King and Queen of America’, ‘The Provincial Athlete Throws A Race’ and ‘Sum Of My Parts’, with one young member of the audience promptly bursting into an improvised breakdance mid-set. DCMI were exactly what was needed for the lunch time bustle in the town, kicking the festival up a gear and causing quite the stir. Following them in a much more reserved format, was Emily Kate. A young, floaty, feathery light vocalist and guitarist with a combination of covers and original material, Emily Kate ensured that the sunshine remained throughout her set, thanks to an elegant cover of Katrina & The Waves popular hit ‘Walking On Sunshine’.

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael Credit: Chris Brian Hollingworth

Over on the acoustic stage, situated in the wonderfully reverberated York Place, dark folk rock duo Bluebyrd could be found performing their haunting debut single ‘Uneven Ground’. Their beautiful acoustic surroundings lended themselves perfectly to the pairs’ sound, which completely filled the space in and around them. Back at the main stage, Jay Johnson was entertaining those who had gathered before him to hear his set of acoustic music. Playing through songs from his current EP ‘Summer Morning’, Johnson’s noticeable vocals echoed through the streets, enticing those close by to stand and listen. By the time The King’s Pistol took to the stage, the number of listeners had increased significantly. Maybe it was because it was hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind that  was Lymelight Festival 2017, or maybe it was because word of just how good The King’s Pistol are live, is spreading fast. Whatever the case, revellers came from all around the town to catch their set, which featured KP classics ‘Paperback Road’ and ‘Host Of Bones’. Rounding off their set with ‘Black Jesus’, a brand new power ball of a track, The King’s Pistol walked away with a firm place in everyone’s hearts.

Due to a last minute cancellation and a quick switch around with stage positions, everyone’s favourite electronic artist, Macious, bagged himself an impromptu set on the main stage. Watching him perform is visually engaging for various reasons; not only does he skilfully switch between tracks with ease, but he also visibly enjoys what he does and that enjoyment is extremely contagious. Smiling at the audience as he left the stage, he thanked his crowd for lending their ears to his music. Stepping up to fill the Macious shaped hole were Divenire, an alternative/indie four piece fronted by former acoustic soloist Dom Morgan. The band really seem to have developed their own original sound, which can be heard in their recent singles ‘Arcade’ and ‘Caravan’. Divenire kept the Lymelight momentum flowing, making those around want to hear more.

One of John MacLeod’s aspirations after his performance on the acoustic stage at last year’s festival, was to bring Attack Of The Vapours to the main stage – with a full band. On Saturday evening, that is exactly what he got to do. With an interchangeable list of members and a popular debut EP under their belts, Attack Of The Vapours are very much an interesting and unique outfit. With John MacLeod fronting the entire thing and a successful, albeit hilarious, performance on the acoustic stage earlier in the day, AOTV main stage set was by all means a success. MacLeod’s confidence was noticeable, as was his enjoyment, as he performed a strong set of originals including newer tracks ‘Sierra Bravo’ and ‘Forty Eight’. In his final number, MacLeod even managed to gain audience participation from the crowd, ensuring that the band left the stage with smiles all round.

As the evening crept on, it was the turn of one of Stoke’s most popular duos to do their thing. Elliot Wilcox and Jim Windsor were on top form as they demolished their set, right in front of their heavy crowd. Playing through older tracks as well as their upcoming single ‘Power Of The Sea’, Indigo seemed unstoppable. Harnessing a sound that is so colossal, you sometimes forget that you’re listening to a local band, Wilcox and Windsor are an exciting rising bubble of loud, screeching, foot stomping riffs and rhythms that you can’t help but get caught up in.

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Indigo Credit: Chris Brian Hollingworth

In a similar vain, King Kula (formerly known as Lost Soul Experiment) and Thieves Asylum caused quite a scene that evening too. King Kula’s slithering bass lines snaked through their tracks, as they gave one of the strongest performances of the weekend. Their current single ‘Strange Love’, stood out of their set like a blinding beacon of light, piercing the evening’s atmosphere and bringing everything up a notch for the final few acts to compete with. The same could be said for Thieves Asylum, who played one of the best sets I’ve ever witnessed them perform. They’re the band that you’ll hear a lot of people talking about, if you spend enough time in the Stoke music scene at the moment and it’s quite obvious why. Tracks ‘IKYKIK’ and most recent single ‘Reflections’ put Thieves Asylum up there with the best of them, as a truly mesmerizing and mind-blowing local band.

Wrapping up the Saturday night of Lymelight Festival 2017 were Moscow, a band who are rarely seen out of hibernation. Vocalist and local music figurehead Nic Andrews, was (as he always is) on full frontal frontman form. He’s a real showman with the entire package required to front a rock band, including underrated and, frankly, some of the best cow bell skills I’ve seen in a long time. Performing a set which included tracks from their ‘Pack Animals’ EP, Moscow had everyone’s eyes and ears firmly fixed on them, bringing the second night of the festival to an outstanding close.

S U N D A Y

Three days into Lymelight and we were yet to witness any signs of the traditional bank holiday downpour. This was something that acoustic singer/songwriter John Dhali was delighted about, after his performance at last years festival caused his audience to dwindle and his stage to dampen. Dhali is a awe-inspiring musician to behold. His happy-go-lucky, affectionate and loveable nature, along with his talents as a lyricist and guitarist, make for a wonderful live music experience like no other. With his trusty stomp box lying beside his feet, Dhali performed tracks from his brand new EP, due for release later this year, including ‘Straight Talking’, current single ‘Here’ and the Music Awards of Staffordshire and Cheshire “Best Music Video” winner ‘Only One’, which gained a tremendous amount of audience participation.

Taking to the stage after Dhali was Ingrid Schwartz and her band. Although originally Stafford-born, Schwartz had traveled from Leeds to perform her set of alternative floaty folky originals. Her track ‘Give It all’, a highly emotional and extremely personal song dedicated to her mother, captured the attention of everyone stood in front of the stage, as her lyrics struck hearts and souls. Schwartz provided the perfect easy listening sunshine set, for The Taskers to step up and trample all over. Their confidence was evident as they took their places, turned up their amps and gave their greatest performance yet. Their set consisted of a range of songs from their five year life as a band, including opener ‘The Wolf’, ‘Trials’ and last minute on-stage addition to the set list (thanks to a surprise crowd appearance from “rock royalty” Nixon Tate) ‘Pleasure Point’. The four piece even performed a brand new track titled ‘Heart That Bleeds’, which is set to be released later this year. The Taskers are very much on top of their game, creating some of the best sounds they have done, to date.

Umbrellabird were given the challenge of following The Taskers. An instrumental three-piece, with almighty thought-provoking pieces, Umbrellabird were most definitely the best band for the job. Wherever you go at the moment, whichever circles you mingle in, you’ll almost certainly hear the name ‘Umbrellabird’ and ‘great band’ in the same sentence. They’re an incredibly tight, well rehearsed group of musicians, who seem to be growing in popularity and musical strength with every gig they play. They drew a large audience at Lymelight Festival, performing their own original music as another of the strongest acts of the weekend.

It feels as though it’s been a very long time since we saw Megan Dixon-Hood accompanied by her incredible force of a band. Although still a huge talent as a solo performer, Megan Dixon-Hood’s music takes on a whole new form when backed up by her trio of musical comrades. As some audience members chose to sway and dance to Megan’s mournful music, she smiled with excitement and quickly encouraged her audience to dance to ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ – “it’s the only upbeat song we have, so if you want to dance, now’s your chance!”. They concluded their set with ‘With Time’, making listeners wish they could play her set over and over again.

A little later into the afternoon saw the turn of Shakedown Stockholm, a popular rising band from Winsford. Complete with a heavy seven-piece line-up (including two female lead vocalists), Shakedown Stockholm were nothing like any of the acts that had taken to the stage before them. Their tracks ‘Forgive, Forget’ and ‘Who Says I?’ rang out across the town, ensuring that they could be heard from miles around. They’re a band worthy of your attention and even more worthy of the Hippy Hippy Shake Company, naming a Lymelight Festival milkshake special after them (which is still available, by the way).

Local rockers The Manalishi were up next, with their usual blend of high energy material including ‘Outta The Blue’ and ‘Scream’, both taken from their current album, along with newer tracks ‘A Little Less violence’ and ‘History’. Their crowd, made up of fans old and new, sung along loudly and proudly to ‘Tell Tale Signs’ as vocalist and guitarist Josh Alcock resisted the urge to sing out their sweary accompanying chant. With a new album in the pipeline and the band’s popularity growing in Manchester, it appears as though the next few months will be extremely important for The Manalishi and their career as a band.

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We Few Credit: Chris Brian Hollingworth

A little later into the evening saw We Few play their last set with current drummer Chris Williams, who took the time to acknowledge the band that will forever have a piece of his heart. Their sound was immense, the onstage chemistry visible, as they breezed through their set which included the popular track ‘Push’. It was the perfect way to see off Williams who quite clearly didn’t want the night to end, as he hung around on stage long after they’d finished their set, soaking up what was left of the atmosphere they’d created.

Stepping through the lingering smoke of We Few’s set were Dirty Rotten Souls. Now appearing as a duo, with new songs frequently arriving for our listening pleasure, Dirty Rotten Souls are in a very good place indeed. Performing an entirely new set of songs, including recent releases ‘Pure Bliss’ and ‘I Smell A Rat’, Mark Bailey and Danny Nicholson were louder and heavier than ever before. It’s hard to imagine how this is possible, from a band made up of a drummer and a guitarist, but watching them is a real spectacle and something that I encourage you to do at your next available opportunity.

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Psyence Credit: Chris Brian Hollingworth

The penultimate act of the day were The Gurus, performing songs both from their current EP ‘A Good Idea, At The Time’ a long with some of their popular back catalogue, including ‘Dogmatic’ and previous single ‘I Don’t Mind’. As frontman Jimmy Hackley’s vocals rang out into the night, the festival’s first drops of rain began to fall, soaking the crowds that had gathered at the front of the stage that night. Some ran for cover under nearby balconies but many stayed put, choosing to be damp all for the sake of local music. Thankfully the down pour lasted all of five minutes and by the time Psyence clambered up the steps and onto the stage, it was hard to believe we’d even experienced it. Psyence were the perfect headliners for the third day of Lymelight Festival. Stephen Pye’s reverberated vocals oozed out over the crowd, covering everything in sight, as they played through tracks such as ‘Cold Blooded Killer’ and ‘You Will Never Know’. Pye, visibly taken aback by the sizeable audience in front of him, addressed the crowd directly, commenting “this is a great turn out for a Sunday” and he wasn’t wrong. Energy levels were sky high until the very end of their set, when the five piece bowed out of the festival with the earth shatteringly good ‘Falling In Love Again’.

M O N D A Y

It was hard to believe that we’d witnessed two full days of local talent, by the time the final day of Lymelight Festival 2017 rolled around. We were exhausted; our bodies ached from standing all day long, but we were entertained and we were far from beat.

The skies were overcast, but there wasn’t a single drop of rain in sight. Acoustic soloist Kez Liddle opened the final day of proceedings, with her usual blissful bundle of songs taken from her self-released collection of demos titled ‘Rain Songs’. Her crowd, although relatively small, were welcoming and appreciative and Kez Liddle performed her songs as effortlessly as ever, her guitar resonating all around.

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Crowds grew throughout the day, with the repositioning of the stage for this year’s festival attracting more people than ever before. This was definitely the case for The Red Kites, who performed their psychedelic infused set inside warm rays of spring sunshine. Now with a fresh lineup including Jim Richards on bass and the aptly named Djembe Alan on (you guessed it) djembe, The Red Kites are producing the best live sound they ever have done. And to top it off, their brand new single ‘Set Me Free (Killer Groove)’ is chocolatey guitar goodness. Their set at Lymelight attracted a strong crowd, with tracks from their ‘Gamechanger’ EP (‘Monkeyback’ and ‘Don’t It Make You Sad’) causing the best reaction. Samantha Lloyd ensued, performing her popular single ‘Now That You’re Gone’, along with newer personal tracks ‘Without You’ and ‘Trouble’. Lloyd has a country-pop acoustic sound, that is simplistic and instantly likeable making her the perfect addition to the Lymelight lineup. Throwing in covers from Adele, John Legend and James Arthur, that had various audience members singing along, Samantha Lloyd provided a fun filled acoustic performance to the day.

As the hours ticked by, the talent kept on coming. Taking to the main stage a little after 2pm were young rockabilly’s The Runawayz, a talented high energy three piece who completely stole the show. Popular amongst the rockabilly scene and with a rising following to go with it, The Runawayz performed a combination of classic covers from The Clash, The Rhythm Hawks and The Stray Cats, making the large crowd that stood before them bop, sway and toe tap in time to the music. They were note perfect, swapping instruments and engaging with their audience like professionals and yet another highlight of the weekend.

Greg Murray and The Seven Wonders (although there were actually eight of them), in complete contrast, were a warm dusting of folk bliss. Their collection of original tracks are the perfect soundtrack to a summers day and the Lymelight crowds couldn’t help but adore the Irish frontman. The band filled out across the stage, as did their very full and well-rehearsed sound, which spread outwards from the audience in a mist of colour and vibrancy. ‘I’ve Never Been So Lonely’ and ‘I Wish I Was In Love With You’, with their hooky choruses and upbeat rhythms, as well as ‘Mystery Machine’ complete with hand actions from the audience, created a wonderful on-stage atmosphere that could be felt all around the stage. Greg Murray and The Seven Wonders may have nearly caused a heart attack for organiser Lee Barber, thanks to their ever-growing lineup of musicians, but they were truly magical and “wonder”-ful to observe.

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Nixon Tate & The Honey Club Credit: Chris Brian Hollingworth

As the final act, Nixon Tate & The Honey Club were the perfect choice. With usual drummer Tom Bishop about to become a father at any moment, the band enlisted the help of Peter Richards (brother of guitarist Joe Richards) who quickly became an honorary member of the band. If you weren’t aware of the swap beforehand, you’d certainly have never have guessed the difference, as Richards gave his all in an attempt to fill Bishop’s boots. The band performed all of the tracks off their current EP, as well as currently unreleased songs ‘Porch Light’ and ‘Never Be A Boy’, to which the audience lapped up. The four piece were as tight as ever, with onstage rapport noticeable and enjoyable to watch. As they reached their final song, a wave emotion flowed through me and, for the briefest of moments, I was frozen on the spot. Three full days and one evening of local music was about to come to a close and everyone who’d seen it through, knew that they’d be wishing to be back in this moment, when they returned to their mundane lives the following day. As the final notes of ‘Honeytrap’ punched through the speakers and NT, Tom Ray, Joe and Peter Richards concluded their set, a noticeable feeling of accomplishment hung like the elephant in the room.

When Lymelight Festival 2016 concluded, we were left longing for more. I still remember the way I felt, as I walked away from the stage on that sunny Monday afternoon. I thought nothing would ever top it; that what I’d witnessed, was the best the festival would ever be. Walking away from the festival site this year, I was filled with much of the same feeling. Lymelight 2017 had blown 2016 out of the water, sending it spiralling into the air, before landing far away from the bar raised by this year’s event. Richard Buxton, along with the hardworking team of individuals who’d organised the weekend, had done it again. As the stage crews took over the site to dismantle the stage, moving the remaining Lymelight stragglers away from the area, my soul was sad but my heart was proud. For three days, I’d been entertained. My feet may have ached, my eyes may have been heavy and it might have taken me nearly a whole week to truly recover, but if I could relive Lymelight Festival 2017, I’d do so in a heartbeat.

E.

Your City Festival 2017

To the uninformed, walking around the streets of Stoke-on-Trent over the bank holiday weekend, would have felt like any other weekend. The rain fell before the sun shone, the shoppers gathered and then retreated home and the roads snaked through the historic city, as they’ve always done, delivering families, couples, friends, to wherever it was that they needed to be. But in the bars and venues in and around this cultural hotspot, a musical revolution was happening. The very first Your City Festival was about to take the city by storm and no-one could have guessed just how significant it would be.

Created from the combined minds (and hearts) of a group of local music figureheads, Your City was the first of its kind in Stoke-on-Trent. Hosting free gigs in nine different venues across Stoke-on-Trent, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the buzz around the festival had been building for some months, gaining interest from local and national press, as well as further cementing the City onto the cultural map.

F R I D A Y

THE EXCHANGE

It all began on the evening of the 14th April at two venues; The Sugarmill and The Exchange. Both sporting excellent lineups of local and national acts, it was a tough call as to where I’d begin my Your City experience. Over at The Sugarmill, Filth, Alma and Divenire were kicking things off to a flying start, with headliners Bonsai packing out the venue and blowing everyone away. With guitarist Joe Hough unable to do what he does best, thanks to an untimely broken arm, but still present on stage for backing vocals, frontman Chris Hough stepped up to the mark and took on the guitar, making for an unforgettable night at The Sugarmill and an enthralling beginning to an exciting festival.

I decided to spend my night at The Exchange a venue that is rising in popularity, thanks to gigs hosted by Rebel Bear Precinct and the return of the weekly indie night, through Come Together. Opening up the night were two acoustic acts Steven Dale and Chris Abramovs. Dale, also in the seldom seen Moitessier, performed a very raw collection of tracks, picking up his banjo mid set and adding a whole different feel to his performance. Dale was quiet and withdrawn, unlike Abramovs whose looping pedal and intertwining guitar melodies and rhythms (yes, rhythms) filled the room instantly. As a person, Abramovs appeared nervous, although his music was confident and contagious. Although occasionally slipping, Abramovs’ Ed Sheeran inspired set was promising, making him an exciting new name on the scene.

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Chris Abramovs

In a weird turn of events, which saw a headliner drop out in the final few weeks, Your City organisers were faced with two Liverpool-based bands performing on the same night, at the same venue. The Jackobins were confident. Frontman Dominic Bassnett certainly was, clad in tight white t-shirt and dark sunglasses (which he wore indoors), Bassnett was the full showman package. Performing at Your City as part of their Nightfire tour, The Jackobins were more than ready to grace the stage. Their set was supercharged and their audience were receiving, giving them a comfortable beginning to their tour. Their fellow Liverpudlian friends, Shy Billy, were quite the opposite. A raging machine of sound, with loud beastly melodies and guitar riffs that cut deep. A stand out of their set was ‘Digi LUV2.2’, which saw vocalist and guitarist Henry Pulp appear completely and utterly possessed by the music he was making. The band also performed two brand new songs, that were only a day old and had only been played three times – well, four if you count their recital to the crowd at The Exchange. Shy Billy were a treat for the ears and are my new favourite out-of-town band.

S A T U R D A Y

THE EXCHANGE

With the night before still ringing in everyone’s ears, it was time to kick things up a gear. Saturday 15th would see five venues, in and around Stoke-on-Trent, host even more acts for free. It was the biggest day of the weekend, but organiser Ben Nixon seemed at ease. After the previous night’s success, Nixon appeared to be excited as he told me “I’m not nervous. Not now the first night is out of the way!”.

Back at The Exchange and the crowds were gathering. It was the middle of the afternoon, the sun was shining and the wind was ripping around the old building, but local music fans had arrived to be entertained. As I began my decent to the downstairs room, the sounds of rock newbies GOYA reverberated up the stairs. It wasn’t until I walked through the double doors, that the real force of their sound hit me. An instrumental trio with colossal riffs and head-banging rhythms, GOYA wowed crowds and left their name on everyone’s lips. Following them and somehow attempting to fill the hole that they’d blown in the ceiling, was Attack Of The Vapours – or rather, Attack of The Vapour. Longstanding original member and musical mastermind behind the whole thing, John MacLeod took to the stage armed with a set list of favourites and his acoustic guitar. He didn’t beat about the bush, opening his set with the “song about a house share gone wrong”, titled ‘I’ve Still Got Your Blood On My Curtains’. A mighty version of this track is present on his current EP ‘Here Comes The Brim’, complete with a raging guitar solo from Stafford’s finest Jack Tasker. But even as a stand alone acoustic track, and as with his entire set, MacLeod managed to make it work in a way that was both entertaining and engaging. Performing new tracks ‘The Ghost Of Hope’ (“it’s about people shouting at me in the street”) and the beautifully bittersweet ‘Sierra Bravo’ which saw MacLeod reveal his hidden vulnerability, John MacLeod made us laugh with him at a world that is becoming increasingly hard to live in. He rounded off his set with ‘What You’ve Lost In Job Satisfaction, You’ve Gained In Meaningless Aphorisms’, gaining sing-a-long participation from the audience, a moment which is sure to stick with MacLeod forever, and new adoring fans at the same time.

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Umbrellabird

Returning to the instrumental trios, although this time, in a slightly softer on the ears sort of way, were Umbrellabird. Combining drums, bass and piano, as well as a few samples for good measure, Umbrellabird are one of the most exciting local acts in the scene at the moment, simply because they’re unique. I first spotted them at Ashcombury Music Festival last year, when they blew me away with their thought provoking tracks and standout performance. Opening with ‘The Victorious Dead’, Umbrellabird seemed to have the same effect here, as they did on the audience at AMF. As their set progressed, they enticed listeners to stop and stay a while, inviting you to open your ears to their sound.

PILGRIMS PIT

A few miles down the road, at another Your City venue, things were heating up. Revellers poured out of Pilgrims Pit and onto the pavement, as did the music that flowed out of the PA in the small room. Approaching the venue was like walking to a house party; the faraway thuds of the bass could be felt in your chest, the sound of voices and laughter ringing louder.

When Sonic A.M. took their places behind their equipment and everyone decided to huddle together in the tiny room, Pilgrims Pit appeared to transform in front of my very eyes. It was a strange choice to host a selection of punk bands, yet also seemed extremely fitting, being a DIY establishment. Sonic A.M. appeared not to care in the slightest, crashing into their set with songs from their ‘What We Do When We Do Nothing’ EP, enveloping everyone and everything in sight with their organised chaotic punk sound. Watching them is tiring in itself, as they move about the stage in a carefree and uncontrollable manner. They make you want to go out and set fire to things in frustration, as every good punk band should (although I don’t recommend doing so). Maybe just lock yourself away and play their EP at full volume.

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Camens

Following them were Camens, a dramatic difference in sound. Arriving only ten minutes before they were due to go on, yet setting up and sound checking quicker than anyone else on the bill, the band seemed more than ready to perform. After their recent name change (formerly LazyEye) and release of their brand new single ‘Boys Will Stray’, this short and sweet acoustic set for Your City was the first gig for the four-piece since last year. They played one of the strongest sets of the weekend with tracks old and new, including ‘I’m A Stone’ and ‘Away From The Sun’. As the band turn over a new leaf and with more new music due to be dropped in the coming months, Camens are most definitely on the right path.

THE SUGARMILL

At The Sugarmill on Saturday night, although slightly tamer than the night before, people of all ages were braced for yet another evening of entertainment. Groups of young music fans flocked to the front of the stage, where Rewenge, a brand spanking new band, were performing. Complete with trippy projections and strobe lighting, that were last seen at Psyence’s EP Launch at The Exchange, Rewenge gave it their all. If their popularity with the young crowd wasn’t already evident, they even managed to acquire a few stage invaders in their final song. Musically they’re still finding their feet, but they performed a memorable set and are a band to watch. Next up was an acoustic Stu Whiston, who began his set by performing to the leftovers of Rewenge’s audience. But slowly, like creatures appearing from the night, the crowd returned and by the time Whiston concluded his set with a cover of ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis, he had a sizeable crowd before him. His original music was what struck me the most, however. Tracks such as ‘True To Life’, ‘There Was A Time’ and ‘Money’ (“a song about being skint”), filled the room, giving him an added spark that set him apart from other male acoustic acts.

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Stu Whiston

As Whiston packed up and headed off stage, it was time for the Saturday night headliners to ready themselves. Sherry Counsellors looked like caged animals as they walked onto the stage, frontman Keith Mellor in particular. It was as though they’d been wound up and let loose, as they begun their Your City set. And possibly one of the greatest sights to see, was that of the young Rewenge crowd taking their places at the foot of the stage, dancing, singing and immersing themselves in local music. Sherry Counsellors played a blinding set of originals, including ‘This Could Be It’, ‘The Hunter’, ‘Lucky 13’, ‘Sunshine Symphony’ and brand new single ‘Elixir’, which they gave free copies to everyone and anyone who’d take them off their hands. The pinnacle of their set was ‘Twisting Me Around’, which saw bassist Chris Reynolds on the trumpet and Mellor on the triangle. It was a wild sight to observe and it kept the interest of the crowd until the very end.

S U N D A Y

THE GLEBE

And on the third day… Your City Festival organisers took a deep breath and prayed for a smooth final day. By Sunday 16th, we were over the hill and we were cooking on gas. With six venues hosting a range of acts across a diverse spectrum of genres, the third and final day would ensure that Your City Festival went out with a bang.

I spent my Sunday at The Glebe catching the acoustic talents of many local acts – some I’d seen before and some I hadn’t. As I walked into the old pub, the delicate and dainty vocals of Helena Raby were swishing through the air. You could have heard a pin drop, as listeners silently gorged themselves on her feathery light talent. Raby was a real delight to watch and to listen to, her infectious smile and hushed vocals making her instantly likeable. And that theme seemed to continue well into the afternoon, as Kez Liddle replaced Raby to perform her own captivating originals. ‘Enough’ and ‘Not Love’, taken from her current EP ‘Rain Songs’ were simplistic bliss, making it hard not to listen to Liddle’s painfully real and often relatable lyrical content.

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Kez Liddle

Picking up the pace from where the acoustic acts that had gone before them had left off, Wilcox:Hulse seemed a perfect fit for The Glebe. No strangers to their welcoming surroundings, Gary Wilcox and Phil Hulse charmed and entertained listeners with their politically themed songs and humorous rapport. Wilcox proudly stated that this would be the first time they’d ever performed ‘Upon’, a song written about Stoke-upon-Trent, in a festival based in Stoke, something that seemed to hang with some significance. The pair breezed through their set which included tracks ‘Gallows Humour’, ‘From The Top Down’ and ‘Victoria Avenue’, taken from their two EP’s, whilst laughing off a minor slip up and announcing an album release later this year. Wilcox:Hulse rounded off their set with a cover of Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds Are Burning’, leaving everyone wanting a little but more.

Luckily for the audience, a little bit more is exactly what they would get. The Taskers were a member short, with key member Sophie Bret Tasker being unavailable for the gig, so friend and fellow musical comrade Gary Wilcox, stepped up to play a very hairy version of Jack Tasker’s sister. Accompanying them both was the wonderful Laura Ellement, whose vocal strength became evident when the trio reached ‘Misery and Me’, a song written by Ellement herself. Wilcox tried his best to fill SBT’s shoes, but nothing could quite come close to the sheer force that she brings to the band. The three-piece played a fantastic set, with Jack Tasker swapping his usual axe for an acoustic, to tear through ‘Litas’, ‘Trials’ and a brand new track titled ‘Everything Spins’.

A little later into the evening and it was time for Megan Dixon-Hood to do her thing. Her music was as alluring as her voice, which slithered out of the old pub and into the night. She was calm and carefree, whipping up her own storm of emotions through the goosebump-inducing ‘With Time’. Every single listener sat in adoration, as she made us fall for her over and over again.

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Megan Dixon-Hood

The penultimate act of the evening were The King’s Pistol, but with a difference. You’ll usually find them somewhere between Americana and English folk, but on the final night of Your City Festival, the Pistol did something unexpected: he went electric. Resisting the urge to shout “Judas!”, I watched, as did the rest of the room, as the band performed electrified versions of tracks from their two albums ‘Long Was The Road, Dark Was The Night’ and ‘Songs From The Ghost Road‘. It put an interesting slant on their sound, but made me wonder whether it was a little too much too soon, in terms of just how prominent the guitar was. In spite of that though, The King’s Pistol played a strong selection of songs. Closing their set with a brand new track, that was perfectly suited for the screechy electric guitar, the trio could leave with their chests puffed and heads held high.

As we entered the final hour of the festival, a feeling of anticipation fell about The Glebe. The last three days were about to come to a close and there was only really one act, that seemed fitting enough to shut it down. Nixon Tate & The Honey Club strolled, coolly, into the pub as The King’s Pistol were taking their places. To the untrained eye, they appeared to be nothing more than a group of local music revellers, arriving at the venue simply to enjoy what remained of the festival. But as soon as they stepped onto the stage, everyone knew exactly who they were and what they were going to do. The band was on form, as they always appear to be, with a good receptive crowd before them. Playing songs from their current EP ‘Roses & Bones’, the four-piece gave everybody exactly what they wanted and needed. ‘Dancehall Blues’, ‘All Over Now’ and ‘Heady Redwood Days’ stood strong, as well as ‘Joyce’ which pulls hard on the heartstrings of anyone who listens. NT encouraged those that knew the words to sing along and before he knew it, the whole room was singing the very lyrics that he’d written many months ago. Looking around the room at that moment made my heart flutter with love and pride. This is what local music does to people; it brings us together, it makes us happier than we’ve ever known and it puts us in a moment that we never want to end. This is definitely how Nixon Tate & The Honey Club left us feeling, when they wrapped up the weekend with ‘Honeytrap’, closing the festival with a mighty bang.

Y O U R  C I T Y  2 0 1 7

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It lasted for two and a half days but once it was over, it felt like it had finished far too soon. The first Your City Festival had been, by all accounts, a huge success and each and everyone involved in putting the weekend together should be commended, for their hardwork and dedication to the scene. I’d watched 19 acts, visited 4 different venues and only driven a tiny amount of miles to witness it all. Your City proved that Stoke-on-Trent is about more than the bad press it receives. It’s about more than the grey filter that is forced upon it by the misinformed outsiders in the media. This brilliant city is a cultural hub of vibrancy and potential, with a thriving music scene that isn’t ready to sink back into the background anytime soon. Stoke-on-Trent, I salute you.

E.

Ashcombury Music Festival, Ashcombe Park Cricket Club, Cheddleton 27/08/16

It was bank holiday weekend, so I should have known better than to expect anything other than rain. Looking back at previous events held on bank holiday weekends this year, it was quite obvious that whatever you did and wherever you went, you were probably going to get a little bit wet.

This was definitely the case for all those attending the first ever Ashcombury Music Festival in Ashcombe Park, Cheddleton. It was already looking good for the festival, as they announced that they’d sold out of tickets for the event a couple of weeks before.

The festival site itself was a good size for a first-time festival. At the front of the park stood the main stage; a small, raised platform covered by a green gazebo, with a large “Ashcombury Music Festival” sign raised high above the front. At the opposite end, there was a large children’s inflatable slide and bouncy castle, with an ice-cream van, food stalls and bar situated around the outside. Inside one of the buildings was the acoustic stage, where later in the evening, four acoustic acts would step up to the mic.

After a few alterations to the line up (the brilliant Dom ‘Chuck Berry’ Band having to pull out last minute due to illness), the festival was underway and the people were flocking in. Metal band 5 Point 0 were the first band of the day, performing a heavy set of originals from their brand new self titled EP. They weren’t the kind of band I’d have chosen to perform so early in the festival’s line-up, but the growing audience appeared to enjoy their set and they began proceedings as loud as they could.

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Grace Murphy Photography

Next up was Umbrellabird, the new name for Staffordshire based electronica band In View Of Humans. Having never come across their sound before, I was immediately struck by their powerful instrumental tracks, which combined jazz rhythms and nostalgic piano melodies so beautifully. Umbrellabird produced the kind of music you’d listen to whilst enjoying the sunshine and although this wasn’t present in their set at Ashcombury, they certainly brought it with them through their truly magical setlist.

In stark contrast to them was Release, a band who I’ve watched grow and develop over their time in the local music scene. Having recently released their brand new single ‘The Inevitable’, Release seem to be onto something amazing. Performing tracks such as ‘Neat Seat’ and others from their two EP’s, Release seemed completely at one with the music. This was most appropriate for front man Caleb Allport, who spent a lot of his time off the stage – both standing and lying on the soggy ground at the front. Immersing himself entirely in everything, Allport and the rest of the band gave 110% and remained a real highlight of the day.

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Grace Murphy Photography

Another highlight was seeing Dirty Rotten Souls live for the third time this year. Looking sleep deprived but sounding killer, DRS pretty much blew the plastic sheeting off the speakers and made many want to dance in the rain. At this point, the rain was hammering down on the people of Cheddleton, with vocalist and guitarist Mark Bailey observing that it was “perfect weather for ducks”. It seems that the three piece are always on top of their game, even if sometimes they definitely don’t feel it. Playing a setlist that included ‘Galley Of Skull & Bone’, ‘Cocaine Submarine’, ‘Jaguar Blood’ and ‘I Bet She’s Filthy’, Bailey, drummer Danny Nicholson and bassist Mike Williams gave their all and managed to hold a sizeable crowd, despite the damp conditions. This was something they seemed extremely grateful for, thanking listeners on several occasions for sticking it out for their set. Ending with their current single ‘You’d Look Better With A Bullet In You’, DRS could leave Ashcombury Music Festival safe with the knowledge that they will always be a crowd favourite wherever they go.

It’s hard to follow a band like that, but somebody had to do it. Fears Chella took their places behind their instruments and microphones, looking ready for anything. The four piece only reared their heads in May of this year, but are already tipped to be the next best thing since sliced bread. They opened their set with their current debut single ‘Cool’, a track that has gone down extremely well with radio stations and music fans alike. It was a great way to open their set, which only seemed to grow in quality and confidence as each track progressed. It’s hard to believe that we were Fears Chella-less this time last year, but I think it’s easy to see where this band will be this time next year. Performing a range of originals that can only be heard in their live sets, Fears Chella gave their all and became yet another highlight of the day.

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Grace Murphy Photography

At this point, the rain had begun to soak through my many layers of supposedly “waterproof” protection and after water began trickling down my leg and into my Doc Marten boots like a babbling brook, I decided to call it a day and head home. As I left Ashcombury, Leeds based band Citrus Heights could be heard entertaining the crowds, with more people arriving as the night drew closer. And later in the evening, The Manalishi, Moitessier and headliners Delamere would play their sets and the audience would obviously go wild.

And why wouldn’t they? Ashcombury Music Festival had pulled together a bunch of the local area’s most talented bands and performers, for a day of quality live music. Organisers could sit back and observe the success for what it truly was. Not only had they managed to pull off a festival in some of the heaviest rain we’d seen this month, but they’d also brought together a community. Music: 1. Rain: 0.

 

You can check out E Major’s interviews with James Fitchford of Delamere, Caleb Allport of Release and rising grunge pop band Fears Chella, by clicking the links below.

James Fitchford                                    Caleb Allport                                            Fears Chella

 

E.

Lymelight Festival 2016

It was both exciting and intriguing to walk through Newcastle town centre on Friday 29th April at lunchtime. Near The Roebuck Centre, a white gazebo was in the process of being erected whilst various different people ran backwards and forwards, between a large stage and a transit van. Watching it all from the window of the perfectly positioned Hippy Hippy Shake Company, was the man behind it all – Mr Richard Buxton.

It was of course the beginnings of Lymelight Festival, a three and a bit day music extravaganza featuring an abundance of local bands, soloists, duos and choirs from every kind of genre and every kind of style. This year was set to be the greatest Lymelight yet, with three stages packed full of some of the greatest local musical acts around.

And it all began on that very same night, with Poliptik taking to the stage as the very first band to play at Lymelight 2016. The Gurus and Dirty Rotten Souls followed swiftly behind, playing strong sets with more than enough for the crowd to get their teeth into, with headliners Sherry Counsellors having a similar effect.

So as Friday night turned into Saturday morning, the weather remained relatively grey and everyone held their breath for a sighting of the sunshine.

I entered Newcastle via the Roebuck Centre and instantly felt the Lymelight atmosphere gliding around the shopping centre, bouncing off the walls and mirrored on strangers faces. The muffled sound of a kick drum, baseline and what sounded like the vocals of a man enticed listeners to stand and observe the Rebel Bear Main Stage in all its glory. And glory it was, as two huge banners attached to the crowd railings proudly displayed the iconic bear logo, that’s fast becoming as well-know as some of the acts it was displaying.

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Samantha Lloyd was cold, something many of the passers by reciprocated. The sun had made its glorious entrance and then vanished as quickly as it had appeared. But she seemed in good spirits as she played through ‘Heartbreak at 22’, ‘Now That You’re Gone’ and the emotional ‘Everybody Can’t Be Wrong’. Later she would tell me that the low temperatures made her more nervous than usual, but her set remained strong and her vocals faultless. As was young soloist Callum Jackson, who drew in a fair number of listeners with his acoustic-pop sound, complete with backing track, drum pad and adoring fan girls.

At this point, it appeared as though the weather was on Richard Buxton’s side as cracks of blue appeared in the otherwise murky skies. A brief walk through the festival site led you to the “secret” location of the Lyme Lounge, where acts from the festival played a mini-set that was live streamed on the Rebel Bear website. Lee Barber, the father of RBP, could be found at either location or somewhere in between. This was a big moment for RBP but an even bigger one, for the man who pours so much time and energy into the local music scene.

The heavens had opened onto Lymelight Festival and everyone had gotten pretty damn wet. The music continued to flow on the main stage however, with the likes of Megan Dixon-Hood, John Dhali and Arcadia all delivering astounding performances of the highest standard. Not one act seemed phased by the damp conditions- even John Dhali, whose dedicated listeners braved the rain to catch the soloist do his thing.

The Signal 1 Acoustic Stage seemed slightly over shadowed by the bellowing sounds of the main stage, but it didn’t seem to affect any of the acts, least of all Chris Reale. Minutes before taking to the stage, he’d borrowed my pen to quickly scribble down his set list on the back of a train ticket. “It’s in my head, I just haven’t written it down yet” he told me. His set was well received by the relatively small audience, that stood huddled in front of a run down restaurant, sheltering from the rain.

Back at the RBP stage, In The Cards were ripping through the loudest set of the day. Vocalist Amy Colclough appeared entirely submerged in the music, with the entire band relishing the opportunity to be back on a stage once again.

As the night drew closer, it appeared as though the volume was gradually increased as each band took to the stage. By the time 10oclockchemical had their chance to show Lymelight what they were made of, the beer in the hands of the crowd seemed to dance right out of their plastic cups. It was undeniably a loud night of music of the highest standard. The highlight of it all was witnessing Exowaves play possibly their strongest set yet. They moved about the stage with a rockstar attitude and a carefree demeanour, snatching the night from the hands of headliners Lazyeye, before they’d even had a chance to tune up. Luckily and oh so cooly, the Lazyeye boys recovered their headlining title like stealing candy from a baby. The crowd that evening would have walked away feeling extremely entertained and eager for more.

And more is exactly what they got. Lymelight continued on into the remaining two days of the bank holiday weekend. By the time it reached its final day, there seemed an air of calm from Richard Buxton and Lee Barber, although this was only ever so slightly noticeable. They were over the metaphorical music festival hill, but in order for Lymelight to be an overall success, it would have to go out with a bang.

Bank holiday Monday began with Oli Ng and his band The Vagabonds, performing tracks off Oli’s current EP ‘Into The Dark’. Although he was the opener to a disappointingly sized crowd, his set was easily one of the best the RBP stage had witnessed as his talent and confidence shone through.

The acoustic stage was in full flow once again and John MacLeod of Attack Of The Vapours, enjoyed a rare chance to play a solo set of AOTV classics. “This one’s about a guy I used to house share with” declared MacLeod, before playing a tremendous acoustic version of ‘I’ve Still Got Your Blood On My Curtains’. Shortly after, the heavens opened and remained open for the entirety of Dirty Money No. 5’s set on the main stage. Their music managed to draw out a few people who looked like they’d taken a shower fully clothed, and the band put on a memorable performance of tracks that wouldn’t be out of place on your summer playlist.

And then there was a decision to make for fans of easy-listening folk. Greg Murray and the Seven Wonders on the RBP Main Stage or Wilcox:Hulse on the acoustic stage? Both brought some of the biggest crowds of the day, with everyone clapping and singing along to a backdrop of glorious sunshine. It was long overdue and clearly both acts felt the same, with Gary Wilcox of Wilcox:Hulse excitedly observing that they had indeed brought the sun out of hiding.

The final day came to a conclusion far too quickly, but on the high that festival organisers always aim to achieve. Local favourites Six Towns wrapped up proceedings with a modest yet well rehearsed performance, which isn’t surprising from one of the longest running bands in Stoke-on-Trent. They seemed at home on the stage and even managed to sneak an extra track into their set.

And just like that, Lymelight was over. The blood, sweat, tears and many months of planning and organising had paid off. Richard Buxton looked relieved as he told me with a smile, that the hard work was about to begin. Dismantling the stage and the huge clean up that would begin in the moments after Six Towns played their final chords was a huge and slightly depressing task, but one that was imminent and unavoidable. As I walked back through Newcastle town centre at Tuesday lunchtime, there wasn’t a single sign that Lymelight Festival ever took place. Richard Buxton was back behind the counter of The Hippy Hippy Shake Company, Lee Barber was supporting the newly opened Hounds, and every act, volunteer and supporter that had witnessed the success of Lymelight Festival, was sat somewhere wishing they could go back and do it all over again. All in good time.

 

E.