I’m a Birkenhead boy, born and bred, so I was delighted to find out we’d got our own festival. We’ve always had great bands, but lack of decent venues has always held back the capital of ‘The Leisure Peninsular’. We probably peaked in the early eighties when Half Man Half Biscuit opted for Tranmere Rovers over The Tube, and when Morrisey sang about a ‘tattooed-boy’ from here. Now, thanks to Future Yard, ’The One-Eyed City’ is back.
As it is festival time, I’ll be using the Halfway2Nowhere copyrighted scoring system to review the bands and artists.
HHHHH –Unreal, HHHH –Excellent, HHH –Great, HH – Met expectations, H -Poor
The first artist of the day for me was singer/songwriter Tori Cross (HHH) in the stunning setting of Birkenhead Priory Chapel. Standing at the alter end of the chapel, bathed in coloured light streaming in through the restored stained- glass windows, Tori treated the seated audience to wonderful set of soulful own compositions like ‘Midnight’ and ‘Woman’, and a great R & B reworking of the Bob Marley classic ‘Is This Love’. The Medieval chapel was an ideal venue for Tori to perform her melodic songs, ably assisted by guitarist Tom Anderson from the band Venus Di Milo.
I moved outside to the priory main stage and caught the end of an interesting set from Welsh electro pop artist Ani Glass (HHH). It’s a challenge to review someone singing in another language, my Welsh is not as good as it used to be pobl bach. There was a definite Kate Bush meets Enya vibe about her performance, and again the setting, with the stage backed by the facade of the old priory tower, with appreciative crowd sat on the grass adding to the ambiance of Ani Glass’s haunting, spiritual sounding vocals.
I’ve never reviewed an installation before? In the priory refectory there was a musical installation piece PYLON (HHH). A collaboration between Forest Swords and The Kazimier, it looked like a 12-foot-high Christmas tree made from percussive cymbals that used computer data to play themselves. There was a smoke machine, coloured light was naturally supplied by the refectory’s stained-glass windows, and there were bean-bags to lie down on. It was an ideal place to escape the hub-bub outside. I can’t say I understood it, but I could certainly appreciate it. I liked it a lot.
It was time to move on to another venue. A five-minute walk from Birkenhead Priory, and an 850-year travel through time, is The Bloom Building, a new multipurpose venue on the edge of an industrial estate. This would be my base for the next few hours. I turned up just in time to see the last song ‘Anticipation’ by local band Uncle Jane. Judging by this one song, I was sorry I didn’t turn up earlier. If there was an award for ‘Most Ubiquitous Band of the Day’, Uncle Jane would have won it hands down. They were everywhere supporting other artists.
The first band I got to see properly in this venue were Dry Cleaning (HHH). I was looking forward to seeing this London four-piece, whose latest single ‘Magic of Meghan’, an homage to The Duchess of Sussex, has been getting some radio air-time. They didn’t disappoint. First song played was ‘Midnight’ an acerbic post-punk, diatribe about memories of dead cats, near death experiences, Saw II, and unspeakable goings-on in Travel Lodges, delivered in a sprechgesang style by vocalist Florence Shaw. Brilliant stuff. They played a set of spikey, danceable, New Wave songs that got the Birkenhead crowd moving. Not an easy feat. Florence Shaw gives off an air of disassociation with the crowd, staring into the middle distance, avoiding eye contact with anyone throughout the whole set. However, she let her mask slip between the final songs, when due to guitar technical difficulties she was forced to fill for a couple of minutes. She regaled the crowd with a story about buying some tights from a motorway service station. She let us in a bit. She seemed nice.
Next on in the same venue were Canadian/UK band Pottery (HHH). I’ve seen their musical style described as ‘Guitar basedangular post-punk’. Angular does not come close. If Pottery were a shape, they’d be a dodecagon. Their music sets off in one direction, then sells you a dummy and moves in another way. Songs speed up, or slow down at the drop of a hat. Rising scales suddenly drop and bring you down again. It all works to great effect. You can’t drop your guard for a second. I managed to grab a word with singer/guitarist Austin Boylan and asked him if this constant change was a deliberate tactic to keep crowds on their toes. He put it down to being diagnosed with ADHD. He writes what he wants, when he wants, and sees how it fits together at the end. Well however he does it, it works. Stand out tracks from the set for me were ‘Spell’, and the excellent ‘Lady Solinas’ a song that sounds like a slowed down version of The Sex Pistols ‘EMI’.
I’ll let you into a secret. I’m not normally alone when go along to theses gigs. Mrs D comes along too. She’s a great sounding board as she usually has no knowledge of the bands we see. She is a blank canvas. Post-festival, on our way home I asked her who were her favourite band? Without hesitation she said, ‘Eyesore and The Jinx (HHH)…once I got over that voice!’. ‘That voice’ belonged to bassist and singer Josh Miller. He sounds a bit like Woody Guthrie on helium. Like Guthrie, Miller’s lyrics are politically charged, only instead of depression era America, we hear about broken Brexit Britain, a land of ‘Body Shamers’ and ‘Instagram Famers’ in songs like ‘On an Island’. Drummer Eoghan Robinson provides a solid, dependable beat for their punkabilly sound. Guitarist Liam Bates certainly knows what he’s doing. He enjoys speaker generated feedback in the right places and gives a brilliant punked-up Bo Diddly style performance in ‘Gated Community’. Judging by the crowd reaction to Eyesore and The Jinx, Mrs D’s opinion may have been shared by others.
Watching Working Men’s Club (HHH) in the Bloom Building I was put in mind of the 1974 Holland World Cup Team and ‘Total Football’. Everyone kept changing places and seemed to be able to do every job well. Like ‘Total Music’. Sydney Minsky-Sargeant was the guitarist/singer, then cowbell player, and then mosh-pit reveller. Drummer Jake Bogacki doubles up as another guitarist. Giulia Bonometti starts on keyboards, moves to guitar, and then on lead vocals. Only bass player Liam Ogburn sticks solidly to his task. He must be a goal-keeper. Sonically, that’s just as well, the bass does a lot of the heavy lifting on song’s like ‘Bad Blood’, a song that sounds like the missing link between a Joy Division song and a New Order song. Minsky-Sargeant’s vocal style has been likened to Mark E Smith, all clipped endings and elongated vowels, certainly on recordings you can hear that. Live, I found the vocals to be slightly less harsh, more measured. There’s currently quite a buzz about this Todmorden based band, new single ‘Teeth’ which we were treated to, has made it on to the 6 Music playlist and their live shows are getting glowing reviews. On today’s performance I can only agree with the buzz.
It’s a big weekend for headliner Anna Calvi (HHHHH). On Sunday she supplies the soundtrack for the new series of ‘Peaky Blinders’. Tonight, she gets to play the packed concert hall of Birkenhead’s Victorian Town Hall! Everyone at the festival had made their way to see Anna Calvi. Atmospherically back lit by banks of red lights, occasionally punctured by blinding white light, Calvi delivered a beguiling, electrifying set. Calvi has said of her music that she thinks of the instruments as colours. I sometimes struggle with this ‘unity of the arts’ idea, but with Anna Calvi’s music I think I get it. There must be dark to see the light. You need the silence so you can then hear the sound. You need contrast and texture. You can’t really pick highlights from a performance like tonight’s, but the glorious ‘Don’t Beat the Girl out of My Boy’ with it’s simple drum beat allowing Calvi’s soaring vocals and swirling guitar would be up there. She held the crowd spellbound during the operatic ‘Hunter’, as she did with ‘As a Man’. If you looked up at the vaulted, decorative ceiling of the Town Hall (but you would be mad to take your eyes off the stage) you would see the names of famous composers, Elgar, Purcell painted there. If they were looking down, I’m sure they would be nodding appreciatively. An outstanding night for Birkenhead’s music scene was rounded off with Anna Calvi’s encore of ‘Jezebel’ and her version of ‘Ghost Rider’. In a shipbuilding town a suitable adjective for Calvi’s performance would be ‘riveting’.
She also cracked it with the Peaky Blinders stuff too.
I have got to say how impressed I was with Future Yard. Venues ideal, bands excellent, people friendly, organisation great. I hope it was a financial success too because that will probably have the greatest effect on Future Yard’s continuance. If they are back, I’ll be back.