Festival Review: Liverpool Psych Fest

Liverpool Psych Fest

psych fest25th-26th September 2015

Words: Gary Lambert

Photos: Gaz Jones

Welcome to the fourth Scouse of Love as The Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia returned to its home at Camp and Furnace an expanded version of the previous year as is its wont. If you are expecting Top Shop plastic flower hair bands and girls making peace signs you are sorely mistaken. PZYK, as it is much is easier to type, is not for people trying to phoney on to the hippy movement of 1968. Instead it is for people on the stage, in the organisation and definitely in the crowd who take music very fucking seriously. I cannot stress that enough. There are no novelty acts, no stag or hen do fancy dress and most definitely no room for those looking for a party in a field that may or may not have bands playing on it. That is not to say there is not fun and pleasure, far from it. It is this which makes PZYK such an important part in the Liverpool music calendar. This is an event for people who love music passionately.


What you would classify as “psych” crosses so many musical boundaries that this event acts as a call to arms for music fans across the nation and beyond. Take, for example, Zhod. A Germany band with a taste for sixties riffs and raw rock vocals. Playing Blade Factory, the white room in the bottom corner of Camp and Furnace, they thrashed, yelped and banged along at a frightening pace of garage rock. You almost expected Andy Warhol with his Tim Burgess haircut to be videoing them. It was a wonderfully charming and rough way to start. After the simplicity of Zhod, the complex sound of Los Angeles’ Dengue Fever was mind blowing. Taking structures and rhythms from across the globe and mixing it with a textured rock sound it was a treat for the ears and the dancing feet. It was magical to listen to and be part of. I thought it was completely cruel though for them to have song called Shave Your Beard, but I danced nevertheless.


Next up was one of the acts I had personally been most excited about Jacco Gardner. After a special performance here two years ago on the back of his wonderful Cabinet of Curiosities album, he returned and pulled in a big crowd who were rewarded for being there with a wonderful performance from a supremely talented songsmith. Chameleon from his previous album was an obvious highlight. At any other gig this would have been a glorious singalong, but in front of the psych audience it was appreciated in rapturous silence. For the uninitiated, imagine Love’s Forever Changes without the brass instruments. When Jacco Gardner plays it is musical bliss, Tom Bombadill with an amp.


I do not like feeling scared and gigs are not really the place for that to happen unless Kanye is going to sing and the autotune is on the blink. However, Evil Blizzard and their horror film masks and stage demeanour did almost that. With setup problems delaying the start of their set, their limited in number but highly committed fanbase jokingly berated them and built the tension like a Mexican standoff. When the band were finally able to get going we saw heavy rock played with anger and tension and violence. It was frankly fantastic, however gimmicks are not my cup of tea and getting a mop in the face from a man wearing a pig mask was tedious and discomforting.


tess parks copyright gaz jonesHow to follow that bizarre example of live music? The live performance of artist-in-residence, Antonne Newcombe in collaboration with Tess Parks seemed the ideal way. Whilst continuing the theme of LOUD which permeates through the weekend like butter deliciously melting through hot toast, this set, based on their recent album Nothing Really Matters, was far more designed on musicianship than showmanship. Whilst Tess Parks’ voice was wonderful I was overall left feeling like an interloper in a locked music studio as there was no room within the intense crowd for a curious passer by. I would say it was a case of the sound of the band not being to my taste as there is no doubting the ability. The Brian Jonestown Massacre leave me feeling similarly perplexed. I’m sure Antonne will not have lost any sleep on this matter.


I followed a recommendation next to take in Graham Massey’s band Toolshed. Coming on stage I had high hopes for this collection of old men dressed like school Nativity play Three Wise Men, however as soon as they started playing I thought of the worst four letter word in existence. No, not that one! And not that other one either. The worst word of the lot… Jazz. I had to leave straight away. I can cope with any genre except for Jazz. It is my bete noir, my musical nemesis, my “turn that off right NOW”.


There is a fantastic atmosphere throughout at Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelic Music as the bands who play are as into the variety of music. I was able to talk with members of Hookworms and Dead Sea Apes without playing the “I’m going to write about you card”, we just struck up conversations about music. It is not important to people what has brought them here, just that they are here and able to watch music which takes you away from reality and cocoons you in a shell of notes and wonder.


Day Two of the festival was another sunny day with rain avoiding the Baltic Triangle as though the vibrations of the drones and beats had shook Mother Nature from slumber to let her celebrate the official end of the summer music scene. After that it is six months of glasses steaming up walking into venues well before getting in mosh pits, queuing up in the darkness before the gig and getting soaked dashing for the last train home. As well as Madness / The Pogues doing Christmas tours of course starting mid-November in order to grab every bit of the party season.

jane weaver copyright gaz jonesJane Weaver celebrated her resurgence with two sets at PZYK. The first set saw her performing the soundtrack to an old cartoon.  This was a special moment for all those who were able to squeeze into District to attend as beyond the gorgeous music being played the spectacle of the event was even more so.  Sat at the side of the stage Jane played looking up at the video screen for her cues and the audience too watched the video rather than the artist.  Combined it created a very relaxing set in the middle of this psychedelic carnival.  The second set was more along the lines of recent expectations for Jane Weaver as she took to the stage like a subtle messiah and commanded the audience towards the height of PZYK.  This felt like a celebration of the recent successes of Jane’s re-found career and with fans coming from far and wide to celebrate it in her hometown, it was exactly as she deserves.

The sounds of summer filtered through buildings into the grunge and surfer rock (but nothing like Pixies) sound of Menace Beach. Through the twanging guitars and thunderous bass we had a male and female vocal duo teasing their way into the maelstrom. It was powerful and soft, raucous yet mellow. The combination was perfect for the early afternoon slot. The band took the issues setting up their keyboards in good spirit despite the difficulties presented and produced a few great tunes in Super Transporterreum and Elastic. Of all the bands I watched over the weekend, these were the ones who I wanted to make sure I invested a bit of time into listening to them afterwards.


Blade Factory had seen one band drop out, so a bit of re-jigging was required to the timetable. As a result people were still pouring in to watch Altered Hours set fifteen minutes in. In a perfect expression of the quality of their music fans were happy literally looking at a blank white wall as long as they could get to hear a selection of some of the finest riffs and white noise on offer.


A wander around the site saw me bump into Simon and Rachel from Southampton and Liz and Matt from London who convinced me to see a band I hadn’t intended to see. They did this with the offer of a place to sit down for five minutes and by referencing musical genres I have never heard of (whilst commenting on the official programme having a seemingly imaginative take on psych genres – it’s a minefield of weirdness, trust me). As a result I was stood in front of Virginia Wing as she entertained the growing crowd with a thoughtful mix of choral vocals alongside some loud pulsating rock and some really quite curious vocal performances which reminded me of Blondie’s attempts to rap.


Whilst Virginia Wing played on the more arty side of loud, Hey Colossus are positioned on the noisy end of that spectrum and were all the more enjoyable for it. With a packed District including members of several other bands there was a feeling in the air that this was going to be worth watching. And they did not disappoint in the slightest. With a desert rock rumble reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age they were hypnotic and angry and deserving of the response they received from a packed audience.

strange collective copyright gaz jonesStrange Collective reminded everybody that psychedelia is not just about bombast and musical whirligigs but sometimes there is nothing that anybody can want more during a gig or a festival than a blast of scuzzy garage rock.  Considering the band have only released their first single this year, there is such a strong personality to their live performance which makes watching them a must.  Every time I see them they get better and better.  Considering they were playing after a much-vaunted set last year surely we are looking at a band who are going to grow with PZYK.

It was an aural escape to cross to the bigger rooms and check out Slug. Being in the more traditional style of making songs that people could sing along to they were a sorbet to cleanse the palette to the more challenging styles available throughout the weekend – and the calm before the storm of last two acts of my PZYK.

Hookworms are a band I have seen on numerous occasions and they never disappoint. This time though I felt a fresh intensity in their play as they pounded and drove the audience into the darkness. Throw a couple of lasers in and they could have been orchestrating a rave. It was fantastic. And would have seen me happily leave the festival for the weekend except for the final band…

Everybody has a band that they have never seen but have wanted to for years. My band is, or rather was, Spiritualized. Ever since I had heard that opening phrase “ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space” aged 17 they have been on my mind and a big favourite in my record collection. I was excited, but I had been informed by several people that Spiritualized can be brilliant or awful depending on the mood of Jason Pierce. I couldn’t tell what his mood was like, but they were wonderful. And loud. Obviously. Jason Pierce stood  The crowd was in awe of performance to such an extent that the niceties of PZYK were forgotten about during an epic version of Come Together which saw people singing along and hugging each other. There was no room for tutting though as it was a real celebration of the love of music.

Then that was that! But to be fair that was more than enough for all but the most hardened music fan. PZYK had left me happy and drained like a musical marathon. But next year I must remember my earplugs!





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