Still the best 1-day festival for emerging talent, Live at Leeds continues to shine as a must not miss opening to this year’s festival season.
Words and Photos by John Hayhurst
The anticipation is over, the 2019 festival season opens annually for me on the first Saturday in May for Live at Leeds (LAL). Having been a regular attendee for the last 10 years this metropolitan festival, where they open the doors of around 25 venues in the city and each put on 6-12 artists for 1 wristband ticket price of £40, is a must attend event.
It’s a great chance to see some new artists and visit different venues. It isn’t surprising that there has been a huge take up this year with the likes of Sam Fender, Tom Grennan and Sundara Karma added to the line-up. For the chance to see an indoor music event in one day, for half the price of a normal festival day ticket, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else this May Day Bank Holiday weekend.
However, the one thing you need to fully prepare and plan for is the distance between some of the venues, and if all you have is your own two feet then they are likely to be very sore by the end of the day.
For instance, the “walk” from the Brudenell Social Club to the Wardrobe is a long 2 miles! So, there are two schools of thought here when planning your LAL experience, Do I base myself in one area for the day, chill out and take pot luck with who plays those few stages? or, do I plan this like a military operation and end up running around like a mad person from venue to venue to see everyone I really want to see. Yes…I’m more of the latter type, and whilst it’s a 12-hour marathon and not a sprint, I’m actually jogging between venues at times, so that I can catch a glimpse of several bands. It doesn’t always work though as the attendance this year felt bigger than the previous years, and very quickly security had to put in place a 1 in 1 out rule at some venues, so sadly the plan had to be re-written early in the day.
However, I’m not mad enough to start with a big walk to the Brudenell, so in the car I go so that I can get in for 12:00 and Leeds very own Tallsaint who looked immaculate in her lilac kimono trouser suit and white trainers. Louisa Osborn is a talented artist I’ve followed for a number of years, from Witch Hunt to Actor and now Tallsaint. Louisa’s mesmerising voice combined with this new dance orientated sound is incredibly hypnotic and I’m glad I’ve picked some soothing dance sounds as an opener rather than my other plan of VANT at the Wardrobe. Year 2000 synth sounds are expertly layered over some choppy guitar and bass. Great gig, if you like Little Dragon or Goldfrapp, then you really should check them out!
We get the news that one venue is cancelled – The Stylus had a burst water pipe in the night and is ruined for the day, most bands are moved to another stage in the University complex, except Metronomy who we are advised are no longer playing. That’s a shame for the festival as they are a major headliner, but it’s an even greater shame for the hundreds who don’t know this until they arrive there later – a Twitter storm will ensue no doubt.
We head to a tiny basement venue that looks like it had its own leaky roof water problem at one point too – The Hyde Park Book Club basement is tiny! And it’s a good job Pearl Harts are only a two piece as I doubt more band members would fit. Their set was a wakeup call for the senses and ears as it was LOUD!! Guitarist and singer Kirsty Lowery was hungover and looked like she was full of cold, trying hard not to puke on stage the show went on and they crashed through ‘Lara’ and ‘Black Blood’ with Kirsty on her knees and drummer Sara Leigh Shaw onlybeing held back by a breezeblock in front of her kit. This power duo from London sent my ears ringing all the way to The Key Club where one of my anticipated highlights of the day were performing at 2pm.
Saint Agnes were my find of the year at Kendal Calling 2018, an independent band who have now only just released their debut album ‘Welcome to Silvertown’ the day before LAL, and to celebrate they play at the Key Club which was a date they had to postpone from their UK tour last year.
I had 3 artists on my ‘must not miss’ list and I really don’t like the Key Club, the stage is too small and low, and you only get a good view if you are in the front rows, however, for certain bands I will make the effort. Saint Agnes did not disappoint, at the front and centre of this band you have a rock goddess in Kitty Arabella Austen – she shimmies, screams and stomps and then hurls herself over the audience to crowd surf during their last number.
All this is backed up with Jon Tufnell’s ‘Jack White’ styled guitar work, outstanding punchy blues-based riffs and songs worthy of a Tarantino bloodbath western soundtrack. When the constant red lights and dry ice finally melted away Clint Eastwood (in Good, Bad and Ugly mode) could have been standing there and we wouldn’t have blinked an eye. ‘Diablo Take Me Home’ and ‘Witching Hour’ were stand outs from a short but seedy, dark and electric set, and I still have the bruise on my shoulder where Kitty’s boots landed as a memento.
Crossing town for 30 mins to catch Sophie and the Giants at the Oporto was the biggest mistake of the day, we wasted so much time in getting there to find it was one in one out and a big queue waiting, vowing we wouldn’t do that again we caught an Uber to Leeds Beckett Uni campus, there were 2 stages, food and a bar. What a set-up, not surprising that some people just stayed here for the day!
A sensible hub spot as you had the larger O2 Academy and the Church/Chapel venues a short walk away. It dawned on us we were doing this all wrong, so we ripped up the plan and stayed here for an hour or two. We caught Dream Wife and Saltwater Sun here who were both in pop punk mode. Dream Wife were in some glitzy silver outfits and cheeky smiling frontwoman Rakel Mjoll who asked for all the “bitches to the front” please for some safe moshing to tracks from their self-titled album. A big turnout for them although it could have been due to the O2 Academy already full for Drenge and Sam Fender later.
Saltwater Sun were up from Reading and played the smaller stage at Beckett, but played it like they owned it, and as ‘Hot Mess’ has been an earworm for me for weeks it sounded even better live, all pop sugar melodies with a bit of indie guitar thrown in. Much more enjoyable than the Church experience with The Mysterines.
After a brief look in to the main Beckett room for some subtle, and sadly slightly bland Gengahr we took our first trip to the Church, stopping off fleetingly at the Chapel for Swimming Girls, who apparently weren’t swimming today due to some technical difficulties, they had a late start so we missed most of their set.
The Mysterines, are a Wirrall 3 piece fronted by Lia Metcalfe, she’s angry…really angry, and whilst that may be part of the image, we couldn’t really see it as there were no front lights at all working at The Church. Just this beautiful stained-glass window and a noisy mess of grungy bass, guitar and drums. For a Church, the acoustics and lights were shocking – we cross it off our list of venues, never to return (today).
By this time we were seriously flagging (It’s only 6pm !!), so instead of trudging through the town to a venue further away – we went back into The Chapel next door for Retro Video Club from Edinburgh. They were visibly taken aback by how many had turned up for them and provided a bit of a surprise highlight of the day. Proper rocking indie boy tunes in the style of The Enemy were had for an enjoyable 30 mins, maybe this whole lad rock thing isn’t dying out after all.
That burst of energy from the Scottish 4 piece was the kick I needed to get me down to the Oporto early to catch the 2nd of my must not miss artists – Zuzu.
Singing in your natural regional accent is mastered by this scouse lass, who, when she sings “I don’t speak the language or the TOUUNGUE” the accent on that last word is magnified ten times and I love it. Her band only just fit on to this tiny Oporto stage and she has to walk through the crowd to get to it. However, she had half the audience already in the palm of her hands when she sound checked to a verse of Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ and to top it off it’s her birthday today, which prompts an expected singalong moment at the end.
Weaving tales of space aliens and planets in ‘Dark Blue’ and ‘All Good’ interspersed with a few admitted technical issues that we didn’t really notice, it was a great set and a shame again that it was only 30 mins, we could have handled double that time plus my favourite track ‘Beauty Queen’ wasn’t played. Her guitarist and producer Kurran Karbal tried to hold himself back but managed a couple of mini pogo moves, and surely it won’t be long before Liverpool’s ‘boss’ kept secret is selling out the O2 Academy or Beckett here in Leeds.
That left one final push to the Brudenell Social Club for the rest of the evening, and for my final top3 band to see – Dublin’s The Murder Capital , having witnessed them at Manchester’s Neighbourhood Festival (Similar 1 day event in October) last year, they completely blew me away with the stark intense feeling in their stage presence.
Tonight, was a replica of that show with all the band members, suited and booted, staring out at the audience as if they were waiting for someone to start the fight. The music is initially bare and stripped back to bass and drums before the wailing and crashing guitars build and then the whole thing explodes. There’s a stop/start approach and some light before the anger overspills to pure punk thrash overtones.
Lead vocalist James McGovern stares out the front row, sometimes sitting on the monitor within inches of the crowd who dare to get close,, and then he goes into a trance like state as the chaos of band members crashing into each other all happens behind him. Bass player at one point puts his guitar down to just stand and stare menacingly – this is different, this is an art -punk genre that they seem to be creating, with a strong message of the need for culture change, they are very serious about this – despite only forming just over a year ago, such a young band with masses of potential.
The brooding feeling on stage is unbelievably contrasted by this guy who brings a pizza in and decides to put it on the stage, and then eats slice after slice. It felt like I was in some strange dream sequence with a mass brawl about to start in front of me and baseball cap Joe gulping down his 5th slice of pepperoni. ‘Green and Blue’ their latest record is a superb example of their work, watch that video and then get a ticket for one of their shows, you will not be disappointed. Without doubt my top band of the day and possibly the year so far, I can’t wait to see how far they will go.
After they played, I felt completely drained and thought no one can top that experience – so that was my finale. Live at Leeds you did it again, a great start to the festival season, some surprises, loads of fun and very very tired legs. See you next year – May 2nd 2020.