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Bearded Theory - Day Two

 

Waking up to see exit polls predicting a landslide for the Repeal movement back home is a great start to the day. I feel warm inside even if the skies are overcast. Equally, the promise of seeing Idles, Sleaford Mods and The Winachi Tribe today stirs excitement in my guts that is unrelated to the festival hot dogs.

After a few showers, the sun finally shows its luminous face just in time for the ska/punk/metal hybrid of Random Hand. Their road crew entertain the crowd by name-checking the various food stalls for soundcheck. Hopefully the band are as much fun as their support team are. Singer/trombonist Robin Leitch points out that the main stage is much bigger than the stages they usually play. Accordingly, the sound is shit down the back, but the energy of the band is enough to draw us in closer where the superior sound and the skanking oldies put a whole new complexion on things. “Most of you won’t have heard of us but we’ve been playing a long time and this is the nearest we’ve played to an ice cream van. And it’s definitely the most people who have seen my flies come undone”, he says as he fixes the furniture. Riotous stuff!

UK Subs are a band that I know more through reputation than through experience. They are more familiar from t-shirts than from their music but after 40 years and 26, alphabetically titled, albums, I am anticipating a masterclass in punk entertainment. What follows is an adequate approximation of punk but I suppose you can excuse that in a band that has been doing this longer than half the crowd has been on the planet. To be honest, Random Hand had as much of an impact on me, in a shorter set, but ‘Down On The Farm’ takes me back to the old Guns 'N' Roses cover and it’s one more band off the bucket list.

From what punk used to sound like, we move very swiftly to what it currently sounds like. I’ve been listening to Idles’ debut album, Brutalism, for over a year now and it is imprinted on my brain. The chance to see them live was my main motivation in coming to this festival. I hide my pale, easily burned skin in the shadow of the bar while they soundcheck. If there were a lot of photographers for Pins last night, then I will need the thesaurus for the proper collective noun for this pack of paparazzi.

They open with the ferocious ‘Heel Heal’. Lead singer Joe Talbot has his own version of the moonwalk. When he spills his water on the stage and the crew come on to clean it, he insists on doing it himself as it is his mess. He and a crew member get down on all fours and he continues to sing as they mop up the spillage. A 10 year old boy named Isaac is drafted in to sing ‘Mother’, “This is our future” says Talbot of the boy. He dedicates the song to the crew and to the toxicity of masculinity. I hesitate to use the clichéd term “capturing the zeitgeist” but it seems particularly appropriate for this band. Idles’ musical approach is as representative of our changing society as is the unfolding result of the referendum.

There are a handful of new songs that bode well for the forthcoming album. They note that it is “An honour to open for Sleaford Mods; the best band in the country right now”. Having seen the Nottingham duo a few times recently, it is hard to disagree with that sentiment. Idles are the only band who look to challenge them for the crown. It’s difficult to write anything about them as they play. Their performance is so overwhelming that they all sweat through their shirts and the veins are visible on their faces and necks. Even watching them is exhausting. I had intended to see Fun Lovin’ Criminals next but I think I need a lie down before Sleaford Mods.

Sufficiently recovered from one onslaught of socially conscious invective, I return to the main stage to see Andrew Fearn and James Williamson let loose. The prolific pair pepper old favourites amid the newer cuts. “Are you enjoying it?” asks Williamson, “For a lot of people, you’ve very quiet. Are you fucked up?” If you haven’t seen these guys before, then you should make it a priority to rectify that. Their unique performance and material never disappoint. Williamson’s manic delivery and physical tics are a statement in themselves, but the juxtaposition of Fearn’s affable, tracksuited loner bobbing along to the laptop, while nearby an angry man spits invective, is visually arresting. It’s reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s artfully aggressive dancing on ‘70s TV. Aside from all that, it’s just hard not to get caught up in the stark, thunderous, post-punk beats.

There’s dancing of an altogether different sort over at the Showcase stage with The Winachi Tribe. I've been following these guys for a couple of years now but it's the first time I've seen them live. They don't disappoint. They're a slick, funky groove machine. The fat rumble of the bass guitar slots in with the dancey drums and percussion, laying sound foundations for the smooth vocals of Liam Croker. We spoke recently about their new single and he gives me a shoutout when introducing it; a nice ego boost for a Saturday night. You wouldn't get that from Robert Plant. The showcase tent fills quickly with the band's accessible sounds drawing in passers-by. Hopefully we'll see them on one of the bigger stages next time.

Whether it was the Black Dragon cider, the beautiful music, or the general good vibes, I'm not sure, but the next thing I remember is being woken by a nearby roll of thunder. I'm a city boy, and not usually an outdoors type, so being in a field under a nylon/polyester tent in a lightning storm is a new experience for me. The initial surge of awe and excitement that greets the sights and sounds of nature's brilliance fades very quickly when you're in such a precarious position. Thunder, at sufficient proximity, is not just an aural, but a visceral phenomenon. I went from enthralled to shitting myself in seconds flat.

After putting all my clothes and electronics into a waterproof bag, the only logical next step is frantic googling. This is only mildly reassuring, insofar as there's little you can do in this situation with no adequate shelter nearby. But deaths by lightning are relatively rare: more common than shark attacks (little chance of that in rural Derbyshire) but less so than being shot by a toddler in America. 90 minutes of wishing I had a God to pray to, and counting Mississippis, later and all that is left to do is wish I'd properly covered up my boots before the rain started.

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Bearded Theory - Day One

 

It’s a historic day in Dublin as we finally get an opportunity to decriminalise abortion. I’m celebrating by following in the footsteps of the 4000 Irish women each year who have to make the trip to England. Thankfully I have a happier reason for travelling ...

Bearded Theory festival is back at their iconic home of Catton Park nestled in the National Forest for their 11th outing. They have six main music stages; The Pallet, Magical Sounds, Woodland, Maui Waui, Convoy Cabaret and One Big Showcase. They have several smaller venues including Something Else Tea Tent, The Ship, Rogues Hideout, Magic Teapot, Alpaca and Creative Intentions.

The line-up is pretty great with legends like Robert Plant, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Jimmy Cliff, The Membranes and Therapy? Other festival staples like Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Jesus Jones, The Coral and Altern-8 join the relative newcomers like Sleaford Mods, Idles, Jake Bugg, Rews, Pins and The Winachi Tribe for a very promising three days of dancing and merriment.  The Winachis are headlining the Showcase stage on Saturday night, and we spoke with singer Liam Croker over here about the festival, headliner Robert Plant, and the band’s adventures in Hollywood.

The sun has been splitting the stones all week in Dublin, and it continues to do so through Wales, but by the time I reach Derbyshire, it is grey and drizzly. Good festival weather so. After a bit of exploring and sampling the strong cider, it’s time for The Coral on the main stage. The rain starts to come down harder just as they’re getting in to the swing of it, so it seems like a good opportunity to check out the sheltered Woodland Stage.

Rews have just started. The English/Northern Irish duo play a guitar/drums set that is heavy on the pop rock. They’re a bit like The White Stripes but with more of a groove and sans the pretension. The clearing is loosely populated and it’s worth getting to the front to experience Shauna Tohill’s gut-shaking guitars. They are obviously enjoying themselves here and, on this evidence, it’s easy to see why they are attracting so much attention recently.

There’s a significant coterie of photographers in the pit as Pins run through their linecheck. Perhaps it’s in hope of an appearance from punk godfather, Iggy Pop, who appears on their new single. Or perhaps it’s just because the Manchester quintet look, and sound, uber cool. In particular, the visual contrast between the synchronised, twin drummers at the back of the stage, clad in black and moving in concert, and the trio of singers in white out front, is immediately arresting. All of which would mean nothing if the music were boring, but the constant swirl and underlying menace of the tunes make them utterly compelling. They play with a deserved swagger. The venerable Mr. Pop has chosen his collaborators wisely once again. This crowd are bleeding deadly.

As the sun begins to set, ‘90s throwbacks Jesus Jones have the task of following Pins. They sound remarkably modern. They looked like taking on the world in the post Happy Mondays / Screamadelica era and had a number of transatlantic hits. Their combination of techno blips and baggy alternative tunes has (mostly) worn well. “Your parents might remember this”, quips lead singer Mike Edwards, as they break out ‘International Bright Young Thing’. ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and ‘Real Real Real’ still sound great and get the enthusiastic crowd moving, but the material from the new album, Passages, is much more interesting musically.

The festival sold out weeks in advance but it still feels spacious when moving around, until we try to leave the Woodland arena. With only one narrow entrance /exit point, it swiftly bottlenecks, and it takes significant intervention from the security staff to get people out. After a long day's travelling, the warm, dry tent is a welcome sight at the end of the evening. Tomorrow looks like the most exciting lineup of the weekend with Idles, Sleaford Mods, and the Winachi Tribe topping my list of must-sees.

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Hidden Door Festival, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh - Sylvan Esso


Arriving late due to my indecision on what to wear that night (what?! My weather app says it’s supposed to be 17 degrees but it’s colder than winter with that damn haar out there! Tshirt? Under three layers? Sweatshirt?) we walked in on the E M I L I E quartet. Not too many people had congregated on the floor as the night was still young and maybe everyone else was stuck at home in their own clothing indecision. We took the opportunity to roam around Leith Theatre to look at the installations. By far my favourite one was lurking in the basement. Video work by Clara Hastrup showed humour and skill behind all those images. Red hot bacon frying over lime green forest fires: Clever. The music filtered down through the building; it blended in well with the surroundings, enhancing the experience of looking at the artwork.

When we popped back up to ground level, Emilie Atkinson and her three were winding up their set.  It was a good introduction to the night of electronic music.

As I looked about me, I noticed the crowd this second night was noticeably younger than the crowd from the previous evening. Maybe the older kids didn’t feel like putting on their dancing shoes or perhaps these kids were more savvy with what was going down in the world of electro pop, indie pop and all the other electro words and pop descriptions needed to define what we were hearing.

After an hour’s wait (it must take a long time to unplug and reassemble the stage according to the musicians’ needs) Happy Meals showed themselves, backlit and two shadows, ready to perform. Apparently, the mid-calf black pants suit is the costume of choice for musicians this season as Suzanne Rodden was sporting a flared trouser leg version of this season’s wardrobe staple. She excited the crowd by joining them, hopping over the ineffective fence. We lost sight of her several times, sometimes for several minutes. She was also doing this barefoot which was either brave or crazy. Crazy brave? There was hair flipping, hair twirling and a few back bends. The music would rush forward to find the faster beat it needed for the next number. For the final crescendo, Lewis Cook and Suzanne disappeared in a puff of smoke after a scream. Right. That’s Happy Meals then.

At this point I needed to pop outside. As I exited the building, I noticed a bank of people all staring roofwards. What do you do when you see loads of people looking up? You look up too to see what they’re all staring at. Apparently, they were all gazing up towards Kathryn Spence and Tess Letham as they danced dangerously close to the edge of the roof. It was beautiful when you were within earshot of the music, however, when you were out of it - for example queueing up for the portaloo – it looked a bit bizarre. One needed the other.

It was finally time for the headliners to show themselves. The floor was packed, as was the upper lever where we were sitting directly across from the stage.  When the door to the back of the stage opened, the crowd went wild…only to realise it was a stage worker. The crowd cheered again when another shadow appeared. Er. Still neither Amelia Meath nor Nick Sanborn. Take three, crowd went wild and yes, this was what we were waiting for. This was my most favourite act of the night. I loved the banter with the audience (we learned a new word for ocean breeze – Haar!) to the quirky dance moves (both) and yes, a black mid-calf jumpsuit. Hearing them at home compared to seeing them on stage are two very different experiences; things are amped up several notches and far less mellow in their on-stage performance. They very clearly have a big following here in Edinburgh and it is easy to see why. I was already a fan of their music but this experience has made me a fan of them as performers. Lots of fun, lots of energy and rockin' dance moves. If only she would make a How To Dance Awesome Like Me dance video. I would sign up for that.

Hidden Door continues until June 03 - further details here.

Further images from this show can be found here.

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Hidden Door Festival, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh - Opening Night

Tonight was a triumph, albeit with a slightly odd running order making for a disjointed start.
 
The billing of Gwenno, Dream Wife and Nadine Shah together was an excellent mix of the new and the maturing. Only the placing of Stina Tweeddale (one half of Honeyblood) as the second act rather cooled things off after the initial fine start.
 
Gwenno and band were on sharp at 19:00 and turned in a great performance, full of anecdotal chat, very well received renditions of tracks from current album Le Kov (including the audience chanting along in Cornish about cheese) and earlier material. Clearly pleased to be part of the festival she was full of good cheer and thoroughly at home in the excellent venue.
 
Change over times were decent tonight, with some contemporary dance going on on the auditorium floor at a couple of points just to divert the attention. Doubtless this would have proved difficult if the event had sold out. Stina Tweeddale was therefore not too long in coming onstage to do her best with solo versions of some Honeyblood tracks. To her credit she at least kept it electric. Shorn of their drum parts, however, the tunes too often didn't do the business (unlike when seen here). As the opening act or in a more intimate setting she'd have been fine but, whether to meet a promise to appear or whatever, this wasn't the most inspired programming.
 
Thankfully the threads of excitement remaining from Gwenno & gang's performance were easily grasped & pulled tight by Dream Wife. Currently on the crest of a wave the quartet were brimming with energy and all too happy to unleash it upon the appreciative crowd. Obviously relishing the space afforded by the theatre's stage singer Rakel Mjöll in particular bounded about its entirety, striking balletic poses now and again when returning briefly to a standstill. Less controversial than sometimes reported when headlining they stuck pretty much to entertaining, with just a brief attempt to conflate the social mores of not quite 100 years ago as reflected backstage at the theatre (changing rooms denoted by gender as well as place in the company - instrumentalist, singer etc.) with modern gender bias. Depends I suppose who you're happy disrobing in front of at work although I doubt it's a free-for-all at the Royal Lyceum or elsewhere.
 
I last saw Nadine Shah in 2015 (here) but she seems to have undergone something of a change, into a rather more vampish stage presence (although in no way camp or pretentious). Being fed up singing "about my crap lovelife" maybe has something to do with that. Current album Holiday Destination is though (probably) her most political to date so all black attire, Doc Martins and a serious bob make more sense. Coupled with her easy engagement with the audience and clear pleasure at finally playing Edinburgh she and the band could do no wrong, evening managing to mention the negative aspects of nationalism without getting heckled before later eliciting a resounding cheer for deriding Brexit. All in this was the performance we deserved after the mostly great work put in to prime us for it and it capped off a great introduction for those of us who'd not previously partaken of the festival's musical programme.
 
Special mention should be given here to the lighting onstage at Leith Theatre. A lot of thought has clearly gone in to the displays used during the performances and that, coupled with the very well mixed and balanced sound (helped along by the great acoustics) contributed a lot to the overall show. Further evidence that there could have been some great shows staged here in the 30 years of it's ludicrous period of disuse but a very positive pointer to what can be achieved from now on. Well done to all concerned.
 
Hidden Door continues until June 03 - further details here.
 
Further photographs from this part of it can be found here.
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TRNSMT Festival Preview

 

TRNSMT Festival is back for a second round this summer, with the likes of Stereophonics, Liam Gallagher, Arctic Monkeys and more spanning over two weekends.

Last year, TRNSMT hit the ground running with a stellar line-up including Kasabian, Radiohead and Scotland’s own Biffy Clyro.

Taking over Glasgow Green for five days this June and July, festival organisers have extended the event beyond a three-day weekend: June 29 – July 1 with additional dates on July 6 and 8.

As well as headline acts like Queen and The Killers, the extensive 2018 line-up ensures there is something for every festival goer on the Main Stage and King Tut’s Stage.

More acts are still to be announced, but here is the line-up so far:

Friday June 29

Main Stage – Stereophonics, The Script, James Bay, Kodaline, Jessie J, Picture This

King Tut’s Stage - Tom Walker, Pale Waves, Marmozets, Anteros, Sam Fender, The Ninth Wave

Saturday June 30

Main Stage - Liam Gallagher, Courteeners, Wolf Alice, Krept X Konan, Shed Seven, Gerry Cinnamon

King Tut’s Stage - The Sherlocks, Iamddb, Kyle Falconer (Full band), The Snuts, Bas

Sunday July 1

Main Stage - Arctic Monkeys, Interpol, Blossoms, Nothing But Thieves, Declan McKenna, Miles Kane, Tom Grennan

King Tut’s Stage – Sigrid, King No-one, Dermot Kennedy, Confidence Man, The Magic Gang, Island

Friday July 6

Main Stage - Queen + Adam Lambert, Texas, The Darkness, The Temperance Movement

King Tut’s Stage - TBC

Sunday July 8

Main Stage - The Killers, CHVRCHES, Franz Ferdinand, Friendly Fires, Jessie Ware, Lewis Capaldi, Hudson Taylor

King Tut’s Stage - Nina Nesbitt, Walking on Cars, Jane Weaver, Gang of Youths, Juanita Stein

Tickets for TRNSMT can be purchased here, with a variety single day, VIP and bundles available.

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Edinburgh International Festival Finalises Contemporary Music Line-up

As mentioned in our initial news piece covering the Edinburgh International Festival programme launch the contemporary music element was only to be finalised on May 02. As that was yesterday the full line-up is now available.

Joining the already publicised John Grant & St. Vincent shows in the city during August the Edinburgh Gin Seaside-sponsored Light On The Shore performances will feature shows from homegrown talent in the shape of Mogwai, The Vaselines, The Jesus And Mary Chain, King Creosote, Django Django, C. Duncan, Karine Polwart, Honeyblood, Spinning Coin, Happy Meals, Fire Engines, The Pastels, Sacred Paws, The Van Ts and Bossy Love

Guest curators Neu! Reekie! play host to Lydia Lunch and Michael Rother, along with poet Linton Kwesi Johnson whilst electronic-folk pioneers Lau oversee a home and away list of performers in their Lau-Land presentation - Joan As Police Woman, Egyptian electronica artist Nadah El Shazly, folk singer Alasdair Roberts, the psychedelic sound of James Holden, the traditional pipes of Rona Lightfoot and Brighde Chaimbuel, chamber-folk quartet RANT, acapella traditional singers Landless and the Whitburn Band.

Performances will take place across 14 nights at the Leith Theatre, which is re-emerging after 30 years of neglect thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Leith Theatre Trust and Hidden Door festival. As well as Edinburgh Gin Seaside the programme of events is supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund, Leith-based technical partners Black Light and The Warehouse, and in association with the National Museum of Scotland’s exhibition Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop.

Tickets and further information for all performances can be found here from 10:00 on 04/5/18.

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