Festival Review: Bingley Music Live 2016
Bingley Music Live 2016
Words: Gary Lambert
Photos: Graeme Watt
Bingley Music Live is a wonderfully strange event. Popped Music, and this writer in particular, are big fans of it. For one, it is a really small festival which means a wide variety of bands can be seen without doing too much damage to your feet and soul. Secondly, it takes place in the heart of the town of Bingley and everybody pretty much seems to know each other so there is such a friendly vibe throughout.
The Friday evening of the festival was bathed in sunshine which boded well for the rest of the weekend. Bingley prides itself on the mixture of old and new in the lineup and some of the highlights of day one showed off that. Very early on Alias Kid showed Yorkshire some of the best Lancashire has to offer in up and coming music, and they did the Red Rose county proud. The size of their sound is growing fast just like the size of their audiences and festival slots. On the Discovery Stage, we had the brand new pop of Anne-Marie who pushed her youth and vitality out in a performance which was smart and fun. You can see why on the Spotify Playlist of Hot New Tracks released that day she was the very first artist on the list. The crowd really picked up the party mode too when she played Alarm. In fact the reaction was enough for a few thousand people let alone the few hundred who can fit in front of the Discovery Stage.
Back on the Main Stage it was all about the legends. The night was headlined by Echo and The Bunnymen, but before that Ian Broudie took the field on a journey back to 1993-1996 when he seemed to be able to fire out an instant pop classic every time he went near a recording studio. The power comes from the structure of tracks such as Sugar Coated Iceberg, Lucky You, Pure and Life of Riley which take you on such an unstoppable pleasant ride that you miss out on the simple beauty of lyrics such as “Now you’re crying in your sleep, I wish you’d never learnt to weep”.
Now, Ian McCullough’s voice has changed over the years yet probably because of The Bunnymen’s lack of a song that crosses all the boundaries, it actually allows the sound of the permanently self-declared Best Band in The World to evolve over time. Nobody is there to hear the sounds of that holiday in Newport back in the day, but rather to watch Echo and The Bunnymen. They do play their best known songs because their best known songs are generally fabulous, but they are played in such a way that Crocodiles sounds like it was written yesterday and when they bring on Ian Broudie to play in Do It Clean, it feels almost like a studio jam session where the producer is about to rush in and say “you’ve got your next single guys”. At which point they would probably turn around and say “nah, we don’t like that song, people will like it too much”. They’re not the best band ever though. They’re not even the best band from their hometown. Unless you are Ian McCullough.
In fact, I think the sunshine took too much notice of the majestic gloom of Echo and The Bunnymen and decided to go through a goth phase as dark skies were in place all day on the Saturday. I would love to say that it did not affect the festival one bit, but that would be a lie. The end of the summer holidays energy of the previous day had dispersed for most of the day until mid-afternoon DJs took things into their own hands and worked the crowd up well. At that point though the one act that would have fit perfectly with the early doors miserablism came on the stage. Bill Ryder-Jones managed to divide the press tent into two groups; photographers who wanted someone acting like Van Halen, and the writers who thought the set was one of the best of the weekend. Personally, Bill Ryder-Jones does not write songs and tunes, but he writes music instead – and the half hour he performed on the stage was unsuited to the young teenagers at the front of the field but will be one of the most beautiful times their ears will be treated to. Heartache and compassion flows from every cracked vocal and soul-shearing sound. Bill Ryder-Jones, our passion is so lucky to have you.
Another band to seem brilliantly out of kilter with their surroundings were The Membranes. The old punk trio led by John Robb and supported by a choir seemed to be ancient in comparison to the audience, but the band seemed to thrive on the opportunity to give a load of kids their first sip of the elixir that is punk. Energetic and passionate they did not let up for a minute. I had thought that the choir was going to soften the band, but instead it brought a cinematic feel to proceedings as though Hammer Horror had decided to make Never Mind The Frankenstein, Here’s The Dracula.
Afterwards I was talking to John Robb about this approach to punk music and interestingly he explained that it was influenced by the modern psych sound and that he wanted the choir to act like a drone on the music, and every inch of him showed passion and excitement for music. And especially new music as he does not want to re-create what has gone before and referenced up-and-comers such as The Probes and Red Rum Club as being real hopes for the future.
There are certain buzz locations that every generation has like Seattle in the late eighties / early nineties, London a couple of years later, and it seems that Stockport is having its own resurgence. No Hot Ashes are the latest band to come from the streets of SK on to the stages of our gigs, but if you are expecting a Blossoms copy then you will be feeling let down at the end of the set. However, if you are ready for a slightly more minimal version of Happy Mondays famous funky yelping then these could be the band for you. It is not just in terms of the sound that reminds me of Shaun Ryder’s most famous band, but the guys on stage in their vintage tracksuit tops having that same working class scally image. And if you are expecting the Blossoms sense of civic pride, well “we’re from Stockport, it’s shit” definitely would not suit a t-shirt on the merch stand.
The Discovery Stage was once again proving to be a worthwhile place to spend some time. Often festivals will focus on getting too many similar acts to play at a stage in order to give it some flow and keep the audience there, but for me a festival should have a slice of organised chaos to it which is how this stage felt to me today. There were generally common themes of bands having guitars in them and being young and enthusiastic (apart from the headliner who we will come to shortly), but nobody sounded too similar to the band that had preceded them. Glasgow’s Brownbear came down and played a chilled out, acoustic set as the rest of the band had to stay up in Scotland. The sparse stage was also unfortunately matched in the crowd as the heavens opened to send the manager of the real ale tent running all the way to the bank.
Kagoule, a band named for playing in the rain and who gave me the opportunity for a great bit of cheesy social media work, as people in kagoules were watching them, were recommended to me by the drummer of a heavy rock outfit who has a stated ambition to perform a gig with twenty six other drummers. I was not expecting anything other than noise and feedback, yet whilst Kagoule definitely have their guitars set to rock, they have a sound which is accessible yet not desperately anthemic. With all members of the band strong performers on stage, there was an excitement emanating from the Earache Records stars. Another new band, Inheaven, showed why they are comfortably riding high on the Next Big Thing Predictions table. There is a very modern yet traditional feel to this four-piece. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen them play a few times, but I always feel that I know their songs for longer than they have existed. I hate to be so vague, but there is just something about them.
On the main stage Tinie Tempah absolutely blew the competition away with a set that was perfectly balanced to win over the crowd who were unfamiliar with his work and send his fan base into raptures. Standing by the side of the stage the noise from the crowd was enormous and hearing thousands of people join in with him doing anthemic rapping was amazing. With stagecraft, pyrotechnics from the off that left the crowd on the barrier missing their eyebrows and confetti cannons saluting the finish, it turned out to be a breathtaking musical adventure. And I bet for a few youngsters the best day of their lives.
The penultimate act, Sigma, made me think that if Apollo 440 were starting up today they would soon become one of the biggest bands in the world. Sigma, whilst most definitely not to my taste, built the crowd up from the get go and proceeded to keep them in a frenzy for an hour. A mixture of dance party and rock posturing meant that only the coldest of hearts could not enjoy it.
Like Sigma, there are bands that are made for festivals and getting the crowd going. Barenaked Ladies are the definition of that. Their set was filled with covers, bounce, fun and a few tracks that people knew off by heart. Whilst their take on Pure Imagination in honour of Gene Wilder was sweet and tender, the biggest moment of the set was the thirty seconds which makes up the theme tune of The Big Bang Theory. Even if you had walked into the field after a life without music, you would not be able to avoid the excitement created by these multi-million selling Canadian wonders. Although you might think by their enthusiasm that they also wrote My Heart Will Go On (which goes straight into the top five of covers I didn’t expect).
As great as singing en masse is, for the serious music fan there is nothing more exciting about festival season than discovering an act that you are not expecting anything from who happens to blow you away. Jake Isaac was just that. The South Londoner with limited fuss and showmanship fired off a series of summery beauties as easy as if he was sitting in the back garden with his acoustic guitar with a beer and a few friends. This is an act you must check out on Soundcloud. Popped’s orders!
After the wild times of Tinie Tempah, Sunday morning was definitely in the festival tradition of a mass hangover. This actually worked well in way for the performance of Cattle and Cane. Without excited teenagers bouncing around, the chilled out vibe fitted the country-without-western folk sound of this family band. You could not help to be impressed by their use of harmonies and musicianship. In fact, if it had been at a festival with an older demographic I think that the Teesiders would have gone down a storm and been for many people one of the surprise highlights.
Another band who faced the apathy of hungover families, undeservedly so, was Blaenavon. With loud, indie rock on the menu, they performed impressively and showed that the talk about them is well deserved. However, with only the three piece there, I could not escape the feeling that this set would have been even better if they had put the Blaeners on the Discovery stage where the band could have been in closer proximity to each other. Big stages take a lot of work to get right and for me the band didn’t seem to fill the stage. In time they will though. It is all about organic growth.
Which is why the set of Clean Cut Kid fit in perfectly as the last band before the well known acts came on. This summer has been a learning curve for them, and I feel this gig will have been too as it was hard work to play to a primarily young teen audience who were probably happier when the between-set DJ played the likes of Seven Nation Army and Will Grigg’s On Fire (sic). With the band paying some attention to a group of young fans that they had met on the train to Bingley (I told you, it’s that kind of festival), it gave the opportunity for other youngsters to join in cheering them on without any kind of social awkwardness. Still for a band who have been pretty much everywhere this summer in terms of playing and being played, it still felt a bit awkward when their instant pop classics brought polite cheering only.
But if the crowd didn’t get Clean Cut Kid, I still cannot work out what they must have made of Black Grape. I still can’t think of what I made of Black Grape. No, that would be wrong. I thought it was horrific, tedious, boring, confusing, disappointing and with some of the finest pre-recorded song intros known to man so every song on their set list started with excitement that “this will be the one” and inevitably to fifty year old fellas attempting to tunefully shout at each other, but fail.
Nostalgia bands can be the source of some good times at festivals though. Take All Saints for example. They performed a set that was fun, professional and entertaining, keeping all the memories of the nineties intact and still sounding pretty good. The best thing about All Saints was they offered a now version of All Saints. Yes, the dance moves weren’t the most complex or perfectly timed; but twenty years is a long time in choreography and, in fact, that made them feel more real. The focus was still on the quality of the songs and the singing rather than the glitz and sheen of a pop band. I Know Where It’s At, Never Ever, Booty Call and Pure Shores still stand out as fresh as the day in about 1997 when a generation renounced the Spice Girls as being for kids and went to buy combat pants. The way All Saints performed felt like a victory for the Britpop generation – even if they were definitely just pop.
As Britpop faded, Travis rose and filled the gap for a few quick years until garage rock and New Yorkers in leather jackets shook the music world and made everything change. However whilst Travis’ star may not have been shining as brightly, the songwriting talent did not dim and they have continued throughout the years to play and release like a band should. As they launched into opening number Sing, it hit me how good Fran Healy’s voice still is. The years are there, it’d be weird if a singer’s voice was the same over two albums let alone this long, but actually his voice has more warmth and less whine to it now. But if the voice has changed slightly, the amazing simplicity of their perfect pop songs have stood the test of time, without the slightest erosion. In fact, this presented the opportunity for me to have a personal re-evaluation of the band. They are a brilliant band who I hope will be a reference point in the future like The Kinks. Everybody feels like they can sing along with Travis – and everybody wants to do it too.
Sunday evening on the Discovery stage was a bit messy as Passport to Stockholm had been delayed getting from their gig in Gibraltar the day before so people were not quite sure what was happening. In the end the dapper looking men of Tempesst brought their set forward and played their English-Australian crossover rock very, very well. It could have felt rushed, but instead the gang strode into the slot and made sure that no more of the Discovery Stage’s audience drifted off to the bigger field.
Anybody who did drift off to the BML stage missed Hidden Charms. Now we know all about Hidden Charms already, but these Londoners are turning into a very, very serious proposition. Every time I see them, the stage seems to shrink and the audience dwarfed by the band who are growing into giants. Last time they felt more of a rock band, this time it felt like The Doors reincarnated. Whilst they have a great frontman in Vincent, there is no reliance on him to drag the team through the set. Instead each member of the band is worth watching. It is a musical unit preparing to conquer the world. Their co-headline tour in October with The Vryll Society is going to be well worth the investment in a ticket. By the time next summer comes around, you will not want to say that you have missed out on watching Hidden Charms at a venue where you can see the whites of their eyes. Soon enough they will not be playing those venues.
Obviously I wasn’t the only person watching Hidden Charms, but it was wonderful to see the Lord Mayor of Bradford or Bingley standing there in his gig going clothes nodding along after earlier being shown around the site wearing his suit and big gold chain. Bingley Music Live is the kind of festival where that happens. Fortunately it is also the kind of festival where great music happens too.
Check out our BML 2016 Photo Gallery here: