Live at Leeds has been nominated in no less than four categories at the 2022 UK Festival Awards. After attending this year’s event, it was easy to see why. It was well organised: wristband collection was simple; entry to venues was smooth; and there were few places where you could not get in to see your chosen artist. Add to that 150 of the country’s best new and established bands and singers, playing across 16 characterful venues, all for the princely sum of thirty English pounds – what’s not to like?
My Live at Leeds 2022 experience started at lunchtime in the packed surroundings of Nation of Shopkeepers with London based Chappaqua Wrestling. They opened their set with their most recent single Wayfinding. While midday mothers pushed prams outside the big bay windows of Nation of Shopkeepers, singer Charlie Woods belted out vocals with such force you could see the veins in his neck standing proud.
With songs like Plant Trees and Full Round Table Chappaqua Wrestling had an all too pleasing, all-encompassing transatlantic indie sound, sometimes Radiohead, sometimes Lemonheads. They finished their set with a song that gathered pace and volume in a manner that put me in mind of Patti Smith‘s Horses and was still ringing in my ears long after I left the venue. Way to start a festival!
I don’t care where the festival is, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, if The Lottery Winners are there, so am I. You go to a festival to have a good time and Leigh’s finest never fail to deliver. Their 30-minute set at The Wardrobe consisted of only five songs. But what five songs! It opened with Meaning of Life and Favourite Flavour, ended with the funky, Madchester infused 21, and in the middle contained the sing-along Much Better and the anthemic, Frank Turner co-written Start Again. The band have been touring incessantly and as a consequence they are as tight as Joe Singleton’s snare drum. Singer Thom Rylance was on top form with his audience participation patter and was only slightly peeved by the love being shown to ‘trialist’ guitarist Rob Lally.
Staying in The Wardrobe, it was my first-time seeing Midlands four piece The Clause. It won’t be my last. They are one of the better ‘three lads with guitars and a drummer’ indie bands out there. They played some proper three-minute, hit and run indie bangers like Electric, Sixteen, and Element. On this showing Liam Deakin is up there with lead guitarist of the calibre of The K’s Ryan Breslin, and The Stanleys Jake Dorsman.
It was time for a bit of dark synth-pop in the big room at Leeds Beckett in the shape of Manchester quintet W. H. Lung. That space was packed and bouncing along to big tunes Pearl in the Palm and Somebody Like You. There is a New Order/ACR feel to W. H. Lung, rhythmic and electronic but not soulless, and singer Joe Evans knows how to deliver a vocal. His performance during Showstopper channelled Lydon at his PiL peak.
The first thing I noticed about those Scouse rascals RATS as they stepped on to the stage was that there was one too many of them. Usually a four-piece, now they were joined by an additional, new guitarist Chris. This freed-up the irrepressible main man Joe Maddocks to be even more expressive.
Their set opened with the catchy Figure It Out and the funky Jenny. Judging by the new material on show – Section 60 and Sirens – RATS have been subsisting on a healthy diet of banging dub reggae. Being the good democrats that they are RATS left the choice of final song to the crowd. Weekend narrowly beat Jack to the title. As I left the room, from behind me I heard one impressed wardrobe punter say to his friend ‘I don’t know who’s on next but good luck following that!’
I only had time for a brief view of the Working Men’s Club set at the O2 Academy. I’m a big fan of WMC’s industrial synth-pop sound having seen them a few times previously. On those occasions it had been at more intimate venues where singer Sydney Minsky-Sargeant’s brooding presence had been all-pervading. On a bigger stage, with the rest of the band’s statuesque performance, no amount of T-shirt pulling angst could carry the whole room. Get up close and you could feel the energy and power as WMC played irrepressible tunes like Teeth and Widow.
Another of the excellent smaller venues in Leeds is the subterranean The Key Club on Merrion Street. It was here I headed next to see Welsh classic rockers CVC. Coming on to the stage the six members of CVC looked like they had raided Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young‘s dressing up box. They played a blistering set of tunes including Good Morning Vietnam, the bluesy Docking the Pay, and the massive Captain Beefheartesque Winston – a rambling epic of a song, full of three-part harmonies and incongruent time changes.
Apparently, The Skinner Brothers have three levels of performance – Support Act, Festival, and Headline. I had witnessed level one when they supported the aforementioned Rats at Liverpool’s iconic Cavern Club. I had been completely won over by their performance of songs like Away Days and Mountain High. Powerful and gritty nuanced stuff full of light and dark, and bursting with hip-hop, punk and indie-rock influences.
Watching The Skinner Brothers in The Wardrobe (level two performance) was on a different scale. The main difference appeared to be the addition of the band’s videographer Connor. Dressed in black, wearing a beret and sunglasses, he looked like a hybrid of Professor Griff and Captain Sensible. He had a Bez-like vibe-creating role (only instead of maracas, his instrument of choice was an illuminated handy-cam). For the converted in the mosh-pit his presence had the desired frenzy heightening effect. I’m not certain I could cope with a level 3 Skinners gig! A feisty set was brought to a close with Put Me Down as a Maybe.
Spector are a real enigma of a band. They’ve been around for over ten years now, had three Top 40 albums, performed at Reading and Leeds, and Coachella, and supported Florence and The Machine and Suede. For many bands that may be enough, but you get the felling Spector have unfinished business. The packed crowd in The Wardrobe was split 50/50 between hardcore fans and people who had fuzzy memoires of the band and songs like Chevy Thunder and Celestine and wanted their minds unfogged. On the night Spector certainly blew the cobwebs away. Singer Fred Macpherson has a honeyed rock and roll voice that inhabits a space between Joey Ramone and Ian McCulloch. Jed Cullen’s guitar riffs were simple and memorable, and the band’s keyboards hark back to the golden days of power pop and easy listening electronica. Songs like All The Sad Young Men and I Won’t Wait have thoughtful verses and anthemic choruses. In the unlikely event that XTC and The Vaccines ever formed a ‘super group’ they’d sound like Spector.
For thirty pounds, as they say in Yorkshire ‘That’ll do’.