Gig Review: Heavenly 25, Liverpool

Heavenly Recordings 25th Birthday Party

heavenly 25The Kazimier, Liverpool, 5th July 2015

Words: Gary Lambert

For a record label so closely linked to London, it seemed a strange choice for Heavenly Recordings to set their 25th birthday celebration in Liverpool, but with a number of Liverpool bands signed up to the label and the Liverpool scene bristling at present it was rather fitting to hold the event far from their spiritual home.

Duke Garwood started things off with a half hour of bourbon soaked bayou blues and murder ballads. Hypnotic, dark and most definitely moody this grabbed the audience immediately. For the early set time it was impressive to see so many people make the effort to turn up and cheer on the opening act. Indeed the crowd were stood in respectful, appreciative silence through the starter slot. Whilst at a festival this would usually be the result of overindulgence the night before, the catalyst for this was purely enjoyment of the act performing in front of them. Duke Garwood was an imposing performer with a healthy dose of the Wild West’s mysterious stranger to him. A simple comment of “the wind is up” whilst tuning his guitar sounded an apocalyptic premonition from a Louisiana horror film. The rain that accompanied the latter songs of his set was disappointing from an enjoyment perspective but so fitting with lyrics about “happy hour in hell” and “dust rising up like angels”. Finishing on a song called Burning Seas in order to help the crowd feel warm, there was humour in the darkness too. If only a beer garden in Liverpool had a heady southern states temperature to go with it everything would have felt perfect. But as a start to the Heavenly Recordings celebration near perfect was good enough.

In the time between Duke Garwood’s departure and the arrival of Gwenno for her set, the rain had altered from unpleasant to heavy. So whilst the soundcheck was taking place stage hands were working to waterproof the stage with mic stands and duct tape being used to secure the guttering at the back of the roof in place.

Photo: Gary Lambert

Photo: Gary Lambert

A former member of Brighton-based girl group The Pipettes, Gwenno started off her set with a sombre mix of electronic noise and confusion and Welsh language vocals (it was to be an all Welsh and Cornish language set), but followed up by with upbeat electronica which uplifted the crowd amidst the forces of nature. Her third track, Patriarchaeth was about Patriarchy and how in her words it is rubbish. The song fortunately was not and so she continued her one woman and a keyboard assault against the elements for the mood of the crowd. The follow up to that was on the subject of ownership of information in the digital age called Calon Peiriant (Heart of the Machine). Whilst the lyrics of the song may have been lost due to the language barrier, Gwenno ensured that her message was passed across by explaining that the theme of the song was about what you do with information now it is easier available such as the British government recently giving the Israeli government £4,000,000 to buy arms. These were not simple songs about Friday night booze ups and Internet dating as Golau Arall (Another Light) showed with its celebration of visual artists. Playing her new single Chwyldro (Revolution), Gwenno professed her comfort with playing Liverpool with its Welsh connections and heritage. Indeed at the turn of the century there were 50,000 Welsh speakers in Liverpool. Entertaining and informative! After starting off with a very artistic and awkward number Gwenno’s set moved more and more into the poppier end of the spectrum and kept the spirits high despite the rather serious nature of her subject matter. The final song continued the theme with the inspiration being a 1970’s Welsh sci-fi novel called Y Dyadd Olaf (The Last Days) which forms the title of Gwenno’s soon-to-be-released album which was about the death of human life on Earth as the robots turned them into clones. The song itself was recorded in Cornish titled Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki. There were no frowns at the thought though at the end of a set which made me think of Cerys Matthews using her romantic Welsh tones to front St Etienne – who released their debut, a cover of Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart on Heavenly Recordings, and who have since returned back to the label.

As the rain died down, the photographers got ready to take advantage and get plenty of snaps of Kid Wave. This female fronted and drummed indie rock band were as bang on time to inject some speed into proceedings as Serra Petale was on drums throughout their set. Opening up with Baby Tiger, the band were tight and fast and hard without moving to heavy. Female rock vocals at times are a fantastically underused element of the genre and Swedish singer Lea Emmery should be used as an inspiration to those girls looking for some. A juxtaposition of soft yet raw she had the crowd lapping up every word in conjunction with some very fine, summery guitar from Mattias Bhatt and Harry Deacon which brought memories of eternal festival favourites like Feeder and Reef. This set was an example of a tight band doing what they do best in not the easiest of circumstances with the rain once more falling during the set dampening the party atmosphere. After wishing a happy birthday to Heavenly Recordings the tempo dropped a more languid pace for the aptly named Sway. This was only a temporary relaxation in proceedings before the beats kicked in again reaching a pinnacle with set-closer Wonderlust with a controlled raucousness which made me certain that Kid Wave are made for future early evenings live on BBC at Glastonbury.

Photo: Gary Lambert

Photo: Gary Lambert

The outdoor events were finished off with the premiere of Merseyside’s art rock heroines Stealing Sheep’s latest piece Legs. The trio play with a Kraftwerk style simplicity, yet everything comes together to leave the audience and in particular this member of it spellbound every time, so seeing the first play of a new work was highly exciting. Nothing prepared me for how brilliant it was going to be though as the band were joined by six teenage human robot dancers who spent the set in non-symmetrical coordination in front of the stage and then to the side of the band. It was mesmeric and strange and discomforting and truly, truly wonderful. The 30-minute long instrumental track was an absorbing, obviously Stealing Sheep number which both kept you alter and soothed you into relaxation. It has been said that Stealing Sheep are a band for critics, whereas I would counter that with the claim they produce music for art lovers. This is music as an art form produced to make you question, analyse, discuss and wonder. I may be biased, but I have a theory that Stealing Sheep are the greatest thing on any bill they are ever on. They might not be your favourite thing, but they are the best. The evening was going to have to be beyond special to ruin that hypothesis. It was approved by the skies too as for the first time through the session we had an all dry set.

So we all then had a bit of an interval as the festivities moved from The Kazimier Garden to the much loved and soon-to-be-demolished club itself. Admittedly via the local chippy to keep energy up as the food available didn’t contain anyway enough grease for my appetite. Going through the front doors on my return it hit me that this could be one in the last ten visits I make to this venue which has been a massive part of the Liverpool cultural scene since its reincarnation in 2008. I’m hoping that I will fit in more than nine more gigs and events before New Year’s Day, but however many more times I step foot over the door I will always want one more.

The evening events kicked off in a heavily darkened Kazimier and a psychedelic stompalong from The Voyeurs. With a sound cut from the same cloth as The Jam, The Stranglers and other denizens of the pub rock scene of the mid seventies such as Dr Feelgood, they were the antithesis of the previous art house set. The darkness, 1800 set time and steadily intoxicated audience combined to help send the audience back in time as they bounced along with the tunes to start with. As the set progressed though the overall feeling for me was one of apathy as the sounds were not complex sounding enough in order to justify the lack of interaction with the audience in terms of spoken or kinetic engagement; nor were the songs catchy or powerful enough to electrify the crowd. I felt like there was an invisible partition between the band and the audience. But my counterpart, Popped Music snapper Gaz Jones, and the packed crowd thoroughly enjoyed it so who knows! In fact, I feel like I am the one who missed out on entertainment rather than the band missed the opportunity to entertain.

Before we move on to the next act, local favourites Hooton Tennis Club, a quick word or two about the audience for this Heavenly Recordings birthday shindig. Such is the size and enthusiasm of the Liverpool music scene almost everybody drinking and/or dancing is in or has been in a local band, promoted locals bands, wrote about local bands and/or photographed local bands. With representatives of The Farm, The Coral, Tea Street Band, All We Are, Veyu, Bird, Rongorongo, The Loved Ones, Strange Collective, Circa Waves… the event was like a family birthday party. Except without disharmony and a mad auntie or two.

Photo: Gary Lambert

Photo: Gary Lambert

Then it was the time for the boys from “over the water” to return to a venue that loves them as one of their own after a recent performance at Glastonbury which saw thousands of music fans want to check out a much spoken about act readying to release their first album, Highest Point in Cliff Town. Hooton Tennis Club came on the stage seemingly with the intention of blowing everybody away. And with songs like Kathleen Sat On The Arm Of Her Favourite Chair and Jennifer they have the tools in their armoury to do it. And it was no surprise that they did just that with a performance of great confidence and spirit and a American college rock sound getting closer to Pixies than Pavement minus the shouting. Every time I see Hooton Tennis Club at the moment their sound signature seems to have altered slightly, but rather than coming across as uncertain, it feels like a band growing in self belief and sharpness. Finishing off with the heavy punching combo of their Heavenly Recordings debut single Jasper and the delightful Always Coming Back To You their fans were satisfied and ready to cheer the victors off stage before heading to the sanctuary and fresh air of the beer garden for some much needed R+R.

With King Gizzard and The Wytches to come as well as the excellent DJ work of Bernie Connors in The Kazimier and Heavenly Jukebox providing the earlier entertainment this was shaping up to be a day that would be spoken about for years to come.

Another band who had took to the stage at Glastonbury was the awkwardly named King Gizzard and The Wizard Lizard – or just King Gizzard to friends. I had not heard their work before although I had heard of them, the name alone is unforgettable. After the hook-laden guitars of Hooton Tennis Club we were treated to an even more complex which was completely understandable given there were seven band members on stage. Four men were playing guitars, two were drumming and one talented individual seemed to be playing keyboards, harmonica, tambourine, maracas and providing secondary vocals. The lead vocalist was one of the guitarists and also managed to fit in a bit of flute playing too. If all that wasn’t enough to create a maelstrom of music, the vocals were heavily effected too. Because of the effects on the vocals I was unable to make out the song titles nor much of the banter between the band and the audience, but really there was no need to as what was on offer was a fantastic party of music generating a celebratory vibe in the crowd and a mosh pit that grew throughout the set. Of all the bands I saw at the event, King Gizzard are the ones I vow not to miss next time I get a chance to see them. These could become one of the best live acts from these shores in many years.

How do you follow such brilliant complexity? By simplifying everything down to a two-word named three piece perhaps? Well if you did choose that option, you would be following the same thought process of today’s organisers. The Wytches with their guitar, bass and drums setup came out and played fast and loud. And then faster and louder once a problem with the guitar had been solved. Opening up with Holy Tightrope, it is seems obvious to me that their trajectory has got to include slots topping the bill at Reading and Castle Donington. Finishing off the set with closer Tricks and Dance, the band downed tools and walked off stage to polite applause as the crowd so used to faked encores expected a return and finale. After the house lights came up, the next record was dropped on the sound system AND the roadie told everybody that the band wouldn’t be coming back did the inevitable dawn on the disappointed audience. Great work lads! Keep ‘em wanting more!! America does good rock bands brilliantly, but Britain does great rock bands better and with the right stroke of luck here and there, mixed with good advice and decision making, they could become the band a sleeping giant of a genre has been looking for. A band that will unite the various scenes and sub-cultures and swipe away the mundane and the populist from headline slots across the country. I believe in The Wytches and absolutely loved this set.

But Stealing Sheep were better. Obviously ☺

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