Festival Review: Liverpool International Music Festival

Liverpool International Music Festival

August 29th-31st 2015

Words: Gary Lambert
Photos: Gaz JonesGAZ_4663

For those of you who don’t know the recent history, Liverpool International Music Festival (LIMF to its friends) came about when Liverpool City Council decided that the behemoth of tribute acts which was The Mathew Street Festival was a bit of a blot on the landscape.  I could not have agreed more with this.  A Bank Holiday Monday which saw Liverpool City Centre be closed off and one day a year drinkers would descend in order to be Scouse and sing about The Beatles in heavily stretched accidents.  Trust me, I am not coming close to explaining how horrendous it was.  The exchange to LIMF has been worthwhile to say the least – and in my opinion needs a bit of perseverance and a lot of small tweaks to become an event that is not just a bit of free entertainment.

The primary focus of the weekend was Sefton Park with three days of music over four stages with additional entertainments too in terms of a funfair, skateboard ramp, family area, silent disco and an exhibition on the musical links between Liverpool and New York.  This exhibition was held aptly in the beautiful settings of The Palm House at Sefton Park.  I say aptly as outside of the glass dome The Palm House has a number of statues celebrating great discoveries over the ages including one of Christopher Columbus with the wonderfully poetic and honest slogan engraved on the plinth “The discoverer of America was the maker of Liverpool”.

Before events in Sefton Park though, LIMF started off with a grand affair at St George’s Hall to celebrate the life of Gil Scott-Heron.  This was a mixture of ticketed gig and industry celebration and on a personal level a wonderful example of the community and cultural integration of Liverpool which has Britain’s oldest Chinese and African communities and has been the home or transshipment point to millions of immigrants in its history.  In an aside, if you have never been to St George’s Hall – do so.  It is a wonderful symbol of Liverpool’s grandeur and confidence.  It must have cost a King’s ransom back in the day, but local businessmen got together and funded the construction opposite Liverpool’s gateway of Lime Street Station so that people would be in awe as soon as they got off the train.

Anyway back to the music…  The headline act for the party was Aswad who performed with all the style, rhythmic coordination and class that you would expect from a band who have been performing since the 1970’s.  As Aswad are not one of my all time favourite bands, I felt no need to be at the front so chose to wander around and watch their set from a few different spots in the hall so that I could see how the different groups of people were reacting to the band.  Regardless of who I stood by be it industry insiders, 80 year old Caribbean couples, 20 year old lads and girls from Liverpool the reaction was the same.  Everybody danced!!  They danced in their own ways and wore distinctly different clothing but dancing and enjoying the music was all it was about.

Following on from Aswad was probably the best DJ Liverpool has provided Britain with since John Peel as Craig Charles brought his Funk and Soul Show home.  If you have not listened to Craig Charles’ 6Music show then you are missing out on a treat.  The listening figures for that should be massive as everybody I know who is a music fan tunes in at least a couple of times each month.  Craig’s knowledge of obscure pieces of brilliance is fantastic and after the opening thought of “this is Dave Lister / Lloyd from Corrie”, you wonder how the acting world ever got him when he is this good on the radio.  And performing his show in public is exactly same.

The main event on Friday was the Routes Jukebox showcasing some of the finest talents Liverpool has to offer, headlined by Dave McCabe and The Ramifications.  This sold out event took place at the criminally under-visited Epstein Theatre with demand well outstripping the small venue.  As the press list was full I had hoped to get a ticket on the door after work but alas I had foolishly misjudged the demand and was left forlornly outside as I arrived just as the Sold Out notice was being stuck up on the door.  Rather than lament my misfortune I was pleased to see this.  And don’t worry Popped people, there are reviews of a number of the acts on show that night in our recent Festevol reports so check them out.

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Saturday was the shortest day of music at Sefton Park with only the Central stage playing a handful of acts, but was headlined by festival staple Basement Jaxx.  “You know what you are going to get with them” sounds a horrible music snob thing to say about a band who have had a multitude of hits, headlined Glastonbury and produced enough tunes that your milkman could whistle for the rest of the year.  It is not a sneer though.  Basement Jaxx were exactly as I expected and it was wonderful.  In a short set of around an hour they went through hit after hit and got young and old in the crowd dancing and singing along to as well as being wowed by the traditional Basement Jaxx ability to put on a show with fabulous singers in wonderful outfits alongside eye catching dancers and lights.

Prior to Basement Jaxx was Artful Dodger but rather than the producer who introduced Craig David to the pop scene and came up with some classic pop hits such as Movin Too Fast and Rewind, we were, ahem, treated to an MC throwing in a few of those hits but then entertained the audience by trying to lead karaoke singalongs to Wonderwall and Seven Nation Army.  Given that a large chunk of Saturday’s audience was so young that even their parents couldn’t have gone into a pub when Wonderwall first came out this section fell a bit flat.

This brings me around to my major complaint about LIMF.  The Central stage was sadly a large scale advert for sponsor Juice FM and the music they regularly play.  I can understand completely how it is only fair that the sponsors are given reciprocal treatment for the support they provide the festival, but you cannot tell me that a local act such as Tea Street Band would not have been better suited in that slot.  The local bands were given their own It’s Liverpool and Academy stages which is brilliant for them, but it keeps the big crowds away from them.  In my opinion, we could have had some great pairings with say Tea Street Band followed by Basement Jaxx; Xam Volo or MiC Lowry followed Labrinth; and the sheer no-brainer of Hooton Tennis Club followed by Echo and The Bunnymen.  This would give an opportunity for some of our local acts to get experience at playing in front of a massive audience.  I’m sure within a year HTC will definitely be moving up to those sort of positions in festivals so it would have been great thing for LIMF to have got there first.

This could also act as a bit of a spurring on tool through the year as local bands who have pushed on to a wider audience know that there is a reward coming if they can be the pick of the crop.  You could even turn it into an unwritten competition with a judging panel deciding who they wanted to invite to the slots.

Anyway this a review not “The Popped Plan – LIMF next year and beyond!” so we will talk about music and more until I feel another idea come along.

Whilst Saturday was only a main stage event, Sunday and Monday saw full utilisation of the stages and spaces in the park.   There were three stages added to the full day event with the It’s Liverpool, Academy and Bandstand stages.

The Bandstand itself is in a glorious location in the middle of a small lake with the audience separated across the water (there is a solution to your stage climbing problems).  Curated by Mellowtone, this was a wonderfully relaxed opportunity to see some acts that you maybe hadn’t seen before if you like your music plugged in and loud.  Indeed this is a perfect setting for a Mellowtone gig so being able to watch the likes of local acts Rosenblume, ME and Deboe, Grace Hartney and more whilst lying back on a picnic blanket is sheer bliss.  If it wasn’t for it being free of charge it would actually feel quite decadent.

The Academy Stage was filled with up and coming talent of a variety of styles.  It was a pleasure to catch the synth pop delights of Seattle Yacht Club.  With both Tom and Dennis forming the band in nearby Southport, they had great backing from the audience and matched it with some well written electro pop.  However on this particular day the band’s harmonies did seem slightly out even though both voices worked well.  A problem like that can be easily worked out in rehearsal though, so they are definitely listed as a future gig to go to.


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The other standout performance at the Academy stage was the fantastic Go Fiasco.  I personally thought they deserved to be higher up the bill, but the timing meant their set clashed with nobody else I wanted to see.  If you haven’t seen them yet, Go Fiasco are a traditional indie rock band but with a power and grit that caused Alan McGee to describe them as “an amazing band” which I would fully agree with.  The star of the show is undoubtedly lead guitarist Jamie Roberts who treats every gig as though he is covering for Keith Richards.  If you have not yet heard this band, you should treat yourself to a listen to Master Crime on Soundcloud.  Dark and magnetic, this standout track drags you in whether you want it to or not.  And even though it is menacing and brooding, there is still enough in it to get the audience moving.

Then it’s Liverpool stage was curated jointly by local music media outlets Bido Lito and Getintothis.  Featuring many of the acts who had played Festevol in the last month, it gave people for whom a visit to The Kazimier the opportunity to see such favourites of ours as Xam Volo, Tea Street Band and She Drew The Gun.  In particular, the latter played almost my favourite set of the weekend with a performance brimming with confidence and swagger.  I even forgive Joanna Roach for her woeful goalkeeping skills later on in the day as she failed to stop a football slamming into my recently massaged back.  See!  She was that good.

The highlight of the weekend musically was Echo and the Bunnymen.  As the kids today would say obvs.  But if you put the biggest ego in Liverpool music in between a huge crowd in South Liverpool where he was brought up and the wonderful Liverpool Royal Philharmonic Orchestra there is going to be only one result.  The years melted off McCullough’s voice and it was as smooth and dreamy as it was in 1983.  Young and old were united in celebration.  It felt perfect as they ran through the hits.  With the shortened set time there was no room for anything other than the favourites so whilst Nothing Lasts Forever we hoped they would Never Stop.

In amongst the likes of The Bunnymen; the surprisingly fantastic Labrinth who blew this particular reviewer away with the sheer quality of his singing performance; and guilty pleasures such as the four set pop blast from Aleesha Dixon and the crowd pleasing, hi-energy Katy B, we had three standout sets on the Central Stage.

Laura Mvula produced some wonderful British urban jazz which left the kids in the crowd scratching their heads but the rest of us purring with delight.  If Laura doesn’t sing a Bond theme in the next few films someone has missed a trick.  Word was spreading too about how excellent she was as many more flooded into the field to catch a bit of her act.

Rae Morris brought the tracks from her heartfelt debut album Unguarded to Sefton Park and turned in a set that played to both the ears and the soul.  With a touch of understandable angst in her voice given the subject matter of her songwriting, she entertained at a gig she seemed very proud to play.  As she is a Blackpool girl, many of her formative gigs were played in Liverpool and she admitted there was a special resonance to playing in front of so many people in the city.

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Popped Music’s most recent interviewees, Sunset Sons, had an early slot on the main stage but with their confident stadium sound and some heady tunes they could have been playing in a much more prestigious time.  Despite the Juice FM presenter announcing “if you love Red Hot Chili Peppers, you will love Sunset Sons” (no we don’t get it either), the crowd latched on to the band and cheered them throughout, especially though picking up on track Teenager.  I think Liverpool and the rest of the country will be seeing a lot more of Sunset Sons soon.  Singer Rory has a voice very much like Caleb Followill when Kings of Leon decided to take a shot at the big time.

Overall LIMF was a success but there are still a few things to iron out such as how to avoid the groups of drunken teenagers running through the park, but it must be kept going as there is an opportunity to do something special and permanent which could pull in music fans from all over Europe.

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