LIVE REVIEW: Sound City Liverpool, 2021.

For most people attending Sound City 2021 their experience would have had a distinct flavour of Scouse. Red Rum Club played a buoyant Saturday headline slot at the Grand Central Hall. Local artists like Courting, SPINN, STONE, and Pixey, were playing highly anticipated festival slots. For me, my taste buds were left with the lingering taste of a dish from a bit further along the East Lancs Road, some life affirming Hot Pot from Lancashire.

After collecting my wristband from the base for Sound City, the atmospheric St Luke’s, known locally as ‘The Bombed Out Church’, I headed to the low-arched walled cellar of EBGBS, home to a thousand bumped heads, to see Hull band Sweethearts. If you remember Nirvana playing Reading Festival in 1991, when Eugene Kelly took over lead vocals to sing The Vaselines Molly’s Lips, well Sweethearts were like that, but in reverse. Their opening track had a swirly Cocteau Twins edge to it, but most of their songs, like Never Liked You Anyway, had the feel of Kurt Cobain fronting The Pastels. A great start.

Sweethearts at EBGBS

On the advice of a friend I headed next to the basement of The Jacaranda to enjoy the pacey, prickly, pointy New Wave inspired tunes of Brighton five piece Youth Sector. Latest single Self Exile is a prime example of their sound which comes in somewhere between XTC and Devo. In skinny suits, with skinny ties they had a genuine New Wave look to match their New Wave sound.

Youth Sector at The Jacaranda

Over on the Gigseekr stage at LEAF on Bold Street and I was on familiar ground with local five piece – The Sway. The bohemian setting of the upstairs stage at LEAF with it’s high ceiling and large paint-peeling walls is a big space and there was a fair sized crowd in to watch The Sway. I really like The Sway’s blend of melodic, soulful, psychedelic leaning indie guitar music. I don’t know if they know how good they are? They are either supremely self confident or nonchalantly nonplussed. One of the three singer songwriters in the band, Ciaran Smith greets the crowd with ‘We’re The Sway. We don’t talk much, so here’s a few songs for you’, and the band launched into the catchy, riff laden Are You Ready To Be (Happy). A couple of new songs followed –The Dreamer and Time (a tune with a funky chucking guitar rhythm) before they play the joyous, harmonious Changing.

The Sway at LEAF

At this point I was due to see The Clockworks at The Shipping Forecast but one of my friends messaged me to tell me they had been bumped up to play EBGBs at 10 pm. Needing some thinking time I retired to the chippy on Bold Street and thus found myself eating a chip barm, rubbing shoulders with The Lottery Winners. I can confirm that they are as lovely in real life as they are on stage.

The Lottery Winners at Leaf were without a shadow of a doubt one of my highlights of the entire festival. They provided everything you could wish for in a post Covid gig…and more. The Lottery Winners bring the party. There’s humour, fun, joy, personality, and a skip-full of tunes that you can dance and sing along to. No, not can. Must. Main man Thom Rylance is a natural entertainer. He has a great selection of one-liners, ‘Sorry were not as good looking as Red Rum Club…well except the trumpet player’, and ‘This next one is about our guitarist Rob’s willy…its called Little Things‘. But let’s put the showmanship to one side for a second. The Lottery Winners are a wonderful band with fantastic tunes. When I woke up on Sunday morning I had two earworms roaming around my head, both Lottery Winners songs: the glorious hip-hop/Lumineers/Flaming Lips hybrid – The Meaning of Life; and the spiraling, baggy inspired anthem that closed their set –21. Also included in their set were the Frank Turner collaboration Start Again, and Favourite Flavour – opening track from the forthcoming album, out later this month – Something To Leave The House For. Different gravy.

The Lottery Winners at LEAF.

Now it seems that one or two of you have been away from live music venues for far too long and need a bit of gig etiquette reeducation. When the bands on, shut the fuck-up. Especially in smaller venues, like The Jacaranda, where I hoped to see Welsh punkettes Panic Shack. My hopes were dashed by a combination of failed PA system and National Rail timetables. I contented myself by musing over the rock stylings of the band Haig but found myself distracted by the inane babbling of the person behind me. I doubt the people he was bellowing at were remotely interested in his trip to Benidorm, and I certainly couldn’t care less. If you want to gab, take it outside.

My mood was not improved by a change of venue. My enjoyment of Pixey‘s set at The Shipping Forecast was spoiled by the poor sound quality in the venue. While listening to The Mersey Line and California, even from four rows from the stage I had to lip read the vocals. By the time I found a spot where I could hear Pixey’s voice, I could no longer see the stage.

I decided to give up on Slater Street and head to EBGBS to watch Irish post-punk purveyors The Clockworks. I’m glad I did as I managed to catch the end of a vibrant set from China Bears which included Jolene not a cover of the Dolly Parton song, but a tune inspired by a misheard Taylor Swift lyric. They sounded like a less anthemic, more atmospheric The Killers and the lead singer had a moustache that a First World War general would be proud of.

China Bears at EBGBS

I felt slightly disappointed for the The Clockworks. Late Saturday afternoon at The Shipping Forecast with its low ceilings and close crowd would have been an ideal slot on which to showcase their talents. The 10 O’clock slot at EBGBS had them up against local favourites Red Rum Club at Grand Central Hall, and compatriots The Murder Capital up the road at The Arts Club. Factor in Fontaines DC playing a rearranged gig over at the O2 Academy and perhaps it was understandable why the cellar of EBGBS was sparsely occupied. I wasn’t disappointed by the performance of The Clockworks. Despite the small crowd and a minor amp problem for guitarist Sean Connolly, The Clockworks put on a quality show of post punk angst with a set of songs that put me in mind of Gang of Four – prickly attitude and punchy songs about everyday life – Bills and Pills, Stranded at Stansted, Can I Speak to A Manager and finishing with The Future is Not What it Was. Saturday for me was done. My musical appetite sated for the evening.

The Clockworks at EBGBS

Sunday started loudly. Very loudly. You could hear Glasgow trio Dogtooth from well down Bold Street, long before you entered Leaf. Once inside you got to see a band that looked like Ivy Ivy Ivy era Primal Scream, and sounded like an amalgam of The Clash and Therapy? During the first full song I witnessed, lead singer/guitarist John Hewitson breaks a guitar string, continues, and finishes the song on his knees, running a beer bottle up and down the fret board of his guitar. That’s how you start a Sunday.

Staying in Leaf, considering that the Merseyside and Manchester football clubs were all playing against each other all weekend, next up was the most popular Mancunian in Liverpool, Cobain Jones. It’s really hard to categorize Cobain Jones style, he’s a musical magpie who picks up shiny old things and turns them into something wonderful and new. The first song he played, Hooked sounded like it could be by The Hollies. She Plays from his debut EP, produced by James Skelly (what isn’t nowadays?), is Sally Cinnamon period Stone Roses with a bit of The Equals Come Back bass thrown in for good measure. Final song The World Turns has a similar Roses feel, but with epic guitar and bass solos it could be his Fool’s Gold. The crowds enthusiastic show of appreciation for Jones at the end of his set was thoroughly deserved.

Cobain Jones (right) at LEAF

The rest of my Sunday was to spent in the ornate surroundings of Liverpool’s opulent, Edwardian, Grand Central Hall, firstly to see Winsford’s finest – The Luka State, and then some band from Wigan.

The Luka State at Grand Central Hall.

Coming off touring their debut album Fall In Fall Out, The Luka State were on top of their game. I spoke to guitarist Lewis Pusey and singer/guitarist Conrad Ellis about: their new material – It’s like The Clash; their tour – they got a venue in Gibraltar closed down because they played too loud; and future plans – they are touring with The Reytons. Their set today was a powerful, energetic, 100 miles an hour, hi-octane ‘greatest hits’ set comprising Girl, Feel It, Kick In The Teeth and ending with a sweat drenched Ellis lying prostrate on the stage having completed Bury Me.

When I got home on Sunday evening Match of the Day 2 was on TV. In it there is feature called 2 Good, 2 Bad. If the MOTD2 cameras had been at the Grand Central Hall they would have shown what I witnessed at this point. A small altercation occurred on the balcony when an over zealous steward ejected from their seats a group of about 20, mainly women and children, as they did not have the correct wrists bands. Five minutes later the party was hurriedly escorted back in and the steward was seen apologising profusely to the massed ranks of the friends and family of The Lathums.

The Lathums at Grand Central Hall.

Once the formalities of Caravan of Love were out of the way, The Lathums strode triumphantly on to the stage, Alex Moore holding aloft the newly acquired trophy for ‘Number 1 Album’. ‘This is for you’ declared Moore. No it’s not Alex. It’s for You, and Scott, and Ryan, and Johnny. The Lathums start their set with Fight On, I’ll Get By and The Great Escape before three quarters of the band leave the stage. Alex, left alone, plays a majestic acoustic version of All My Life. He doesn’t need to do the vocals, the crowd could do it for him. The other members of the band return and jump in to their albums opening track Circle of Faith. Some people have called The Lathums this generations The Smiths, the band that will bring guitar music back to the masses. This track is certainly the most Smiths-like tune that they have done to date. It’s a song that would not have been out of place on Strangeways Here We Come. During the ska infused I See Your Ghost some 40-something males attempt to start one of those vortex things popular at rock festivals. Wind-in your collective necks. This is The Lathums not Megadeath. A joyous, memorable set was brought to a conclusion with Artificial Screens, the bands not so vailed attack on social media, and the final album track, The Redemption of Sonic Beauty, a song with everything – delicate keyboards, soaring vocals, extravagant guitar solos- it’s a hell of a way to end a set, and for me a weekend.

Festivals like life, will have their ups and downs, they are what you make of them. For me Sound City 2021 had far more highs than lows. I’ll be back. See you next year Sound City. I’ll bring the pickled cabbage and crusty bread.

Ian Dunphy.

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