I am sure it was just coincidence that in the same week a major finance company crowned Birkenhead as the ‘Trendiest Town in the UK’, FestEVOL start the first of their triumvirate of local festivals in the town. When you’re hot, you’re hot I guess. And it’s not just the town that has garnered plaudits. Today’s venue is quickly developing a reputation for the quality of its sound and lighting systems, staff, and ecological ambitions – I doubt that there is another venue in the country that has had as much written about its air filtration system as Future Yard has. That system was tested to the max with a sold out festival utilising both the Live Room and an outdoor stage in The Garden.
I have been to a number of all day festivals where the audience starts off few in number and gradually builds as the event progress. I’m not sure if it was a sign of our collective yearning for the blessed relief of live music, or an affirmation of Future Yard’s belief that a live music venue in Birkenhead would be well received, but a decent sized crowd had assembled for the days opening band – Razzmatazz. As this was the band’s first ever gig I had no idea what to expect. If you go to see Razzmatazz here’s what you can expect – Madchester rhythms with Merseyside attitudes; songs about the hazards of finding your own way home after a few spliffs: all delivered by an Andy Weatherall haired, Adidas tracky wearing lead singer who brims with attitude and confidence.
The festival organisers had done a great job with the stage timings for the day. With bands alternating between the indoor stage and the large, wooden pergola, garden stage, it meant that in theory you had the opportunity to see every minute of every band or artist. First act to grace the garden stage were The Merchants. I had seen the band once before, supporting one of today’s headliners – The Mysterines – and had been impressed by them then. Todays’ performance reinforced my original impression. The garden at Future Yard is a big space, and singer Harry Bowness immediately demonstrated his stage management skills by motioning the crowd toward the stage before launching into their first song – Castro. The Merchants’ style of indie-guitar rock is blues-flavoured, with a Latin touch provided by guitarist Ernesto Sandoval, topped off with Harry Bowness’ raspy, trebley vocals. They can do slower tunes – Forbidden Fruit – as well as more in-your-face songs like the energy-filled Hostile.
Next on up in the Live Room were suppliers of Electronic/Indie rock – MiG 15. Singer Adam Bray is the focal point of the band. He has a vague look of Michael Hutchence, a vocal delivery like Gene Pitney or Tony Christie, and the mannerisms of Brandon Flowers. MiG 15’s overall sound is that of a less anthemic version of The Killers and they have some decent songs, well delivered – the lively Cowboys And Indians with it’s galloping horse tempo, and the more sedate Dials.
Discovery of the day were the tremendous trio Mexican Dogs who started their set to a sparsely-filled Live Room. Word seemed to spread quickly and the stragglers from outside soon piled into main room. In return for their presence, they were treated to a blistering set of proper rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Surprisingly, this was Mexican Dogs first live outing. More surprisingly it was bass player, Sonny Winder-Rodgers’ first ever live performance – You would never have known. The trio of Winder-Rodgers, singer-guitarist Gaz Wilcox, and drummer Carl Rooney supplied their own mash-up of heavy blues and glam rock, Cream-Rex if you like. Top point of the set was Run Run Run, a song that starts with a sustained chord-like start of The Beastie Boys Fight For Your Right, before it’s joined by a barrage of cymbals and a bungy-jump bass line, all very The Black Keys.
Back outside in the garden it had been mild but overcast until Hushtones appeared. I can say with some certainty that their soaring harmonies and sublime melodies beguiled whatever deity you may believe in, and charmed him/her/them into bringing out the sunshine. This must have caused some discomfort to guitarist Joe Dillon who was wearing a sheep-skin coat. Their set of soulful, Scouse, indie-pop tunes was basically the tracks from their expectantly anticipated debut album – Greetings From The Other Side (out now!) – with a couple of omissions. My high spots from the set were State of Mind where the band appear to be channeling Café Bleu era Weller, and the latest single release Sinking – the song I woke with in my head the next morning. A good way to gauge a bands performance is by listening to the reaction of their peers. During the entirety of Hushtones set I was stood next to the lead singer of another band. Two thirds of the way through he turned to me and said ‘Just how good are they – brilliant’. Enough said.
The sun had gone back in by the time Seatbelts took their place on the outdoor stage. But when you’ve got great tunes like the bouncy, angular Hey Hey Tiger, the quirky Keep Your Mind on The Feeling, and the melodic Spanish Songs, Seatbelts were always going to bring their own brand of vitamin D to the party.
One person who has never been averse to promoting the delights of ‘The One Eyed City’ (Birkenhead – to the uninitiated) is local artist Zee Davine. Today in the garden he changed tack slightly. He played his set of dystopian techno tunes, accompanied by two characters dressed in the costumes of ‘Plague Doctors’ carrying placards proclaiming ‘God Hates Birkenhead’ and ‘Death to Fake Birko’. The ‘Plague Doctors’ cavorted in and out of the at times bemused crowd, creating a diverting piece of theatre. It was certainly a talking point.
If there is a musician performing on the planet, happier than Peaness drummer Rach Williams, then I want to meet them. She never stopped smiling throughout the entirety of their shiny, happy, thoroughly enjoyable set. The Chester trio (Williams, Jess Branney and Bella Balbenta) played skinny, fuzzy, indie-pop songs that they enjoyed and the crowd in the Live Room enjoyed too. Songs like the wonderfully catchy Kaizen, and the jangly Oh George, a song about betrayal and a broken relationship that makes even going through that experience seem not all that bad.
Before the days of Britain’s Got Talent, there was a TV show called Opportunity Knocks whose USP was it’s ‘Clapometer’, a device which measured the audiences appreciation of the acts. If such a thing as a ‘Loveometer’ existed then it’s needle would surely have touched 100 during Zuzu‘s performance. From the moment she stepped on stage the affection was tangible. It was like people were watching their sister, favourite cousin or best mate performing and were wishing all the best for her. Zuzu and her band delivered. They played a wonderful set of swaggering, tuneful, hook-filled songs whose lyrics espoused themes of hope, resilience, and fortitude. The packed Live Room crowd joyfully joined in with songs like What You Want, and listened entranced to the heart rendering new single My Old Life. All the signs are that Zuzu‘s debut album Queensway Tunnel, to be released in November, is going to be one of the ‘must have’ albums of 2021.
During points in The Mysterines headline slot, the team at Future Yard must have feared for their state of the art air-circulating system and their eco-friendly roof, as it seemed like the band were going to tear it off. It was my first time seeing the new four-piece version of The Mysterines. The songs have a greater texture but have not lost any of the power, energy and aggression. Lia Metcalfe delivered her usual forceful, soulful vocals. Bass player George Favager was an ebullient force in perpetual motion, resplendent in the most rock-star pair of shoes I have ever seen (they were sparkling with diamante and had flames coming from the toes along the uppers). As The Mysterines assaulted the crowd with their brand of pounding, bruising rock and roll tunes – Love’s Not Enough, Take Control, I Win Every Time and crowd exploded into life. There was also an appearance of the usual crowd surfer. Unusually, the crowd surfer was the singer from another band. He had curly hair and an Adidas tracksuit on. It seemed like we had come full circle. FestEVOL had fully revolved.
Birko Uber Alles indeed!