Monthly Archives: June 2011

Culture Vulture: I Love West Leeds Arts Festival

Originally published on Weds 29 June 2011 at theculturevulture.co.uk

Seven years in the running, I Love West Leeds Arts Festival (1-24 July) is a staple in the arts calendar of the city.  Hosted in dozens of quirky places across Leeds’ western edge, this year’s events span a wide range of activities for all the family, taking in airstream caravans, converted garden sheds and even a swimming pool!

I asked director Jane Earnshaw about some the things we can expect to find at what promises to be the biggest and most exciting festival yet.

 

“A big part of our programme is the Festival Day, which moves around the area every year.  For 2011 it’s going to be at Bramley Falls Park, on 3 July.  We’ve got a load of sheds – regular, garden sheds – but we’ve crammed them full of artists instead.  They’re going to be filled with all sorts of things – there’s a pedal-powered shed full of music and gadgets, some potting sheds, and there’s a festival tattoo parlour!  Don’t worry, it’s temporary – but you can’t leave without one!

“We’ve got Chol Theatre coming over from Huddersfield, who’ll be bringing a bright orange dome, complete with a series of plastic arms poking out the top, to stage a quirky theatre show.  There’s also a 1950s Airstream caravan! It’s going to have an old-fashioned sweet shop inside, and all the sweets will be free.  But – there’s a catch.  In order to get free sweets, you have to exchange knowledge.  I won’t say anything else – you’ll have to find out more on the day!  Plus, some fantastic singers from Bramley Elderly Action will be transformed into The Viking Grandmas – all kitted out in Viking gear, horned helmets and all!  Plus, much, much more, with tipis, tents and arts and crafts for all the family.

“There’s so many new things in the festival this year, but one of my favourites – and it makes me laugh every time I think about it – is Dog Art, an exhibition we’re doing for dogs.  Not of dogs, but for dogs!  Rather than things all being in one place, we try and do things out in the community, and there’s often lots of dog walkers, and lots of lampposts!  So we’ve been collecting photos of things we think dogs might like to see – bones, toys, dog food – and of course, other dogs’ bottoms!  We’ve been sticking these on lampposts around Bramley Falls Park and on Rodley Town Street.  It just makes me laugh every time I think about it.

“Also new this year is a roving cinema.  We’ve done film screenings before, with drive-ins and bike-ins, but this year we’ve got a huge inflatable screen that’s going to be popping up all over West Leeds.  It’s about 20 feet tall!  There’ll be four films screening over four nights, all of which will be free.  But we’re not content with just having the screen, so a team of us handmade about 25 beautiful camping chairs to go with it.  We’re a bit nuts, really.

“The Wild West Music Trail is two fantastic musicians called Harry and Sam.  They’ve been travelling around West Leeds performing music in outdoor spaces – woods, fields, tunnels and so on – then recording it to see how the spaces makes the music sound different.  After that they put their music on the web, and devised a little trail around West Leeds consisting of QR codes on lampposts and walls.  These are things that look like funny little squares, but you can scan them with your smartphone – just point your phone at it, and experience lots of lovely music.  It’ll keep you fit too – the trail’s about 10 miles long!

“Four cafes in Armley will be taken over by four artists for a whole week as they make some takeaway art for customers.  It’s called The Full Artist’s Breakfast, and they’ll be drawing art on windows, tablecloths, and there’ll be a set of badges to collect from each cafe that’ll make up a Full English breakfast – get your sausages from one place, your eggs from another, and so on.  I’m so excited by that, I’ll be eating my own body weight in breakfasts around Armley!

“Finally – but this isn’t all – we like Bramley Baths.  It’s a fantastic old Edwardian swimming pool, which has quaint little changing cubicles around the sides, and a beautiful balcony curving round the wall above it.  We’ve teamed up with the West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra,a fantastic group of people who love taking classical music to the public.  But we’ve gone one further – we’ve decided to build a stage, slap bang in the middle of the swimming pool, in the water!  The orchestra will be on the stage, performing Handel’s Water Music, and the audience will be in there with them.  For those who don’t fancy donning the speedos, there’ll be seats up on the balcony, and some cake too.  It’s been quite a mammoth task to set up – we have a wonderful team of people working with us.  We’re really honoured that all the staff at Bramley Baths, the orchestra and the crew have offered to do this for the love of Bramley Baths alone – I’m truly grateful to all of them”.

The festival begins this Friday 1 July at Armley Mills, with Active Crossover, a sound installation at Armley Mills Industrial Museum.  Discover much, much more about I Love West Leeds Arts Festival, and download the complete programme, at ilovewestleeds.co.uk.

First Croon piece: British Wildlife 5.5 preview

My first Croon piece was published last week –  a preview of British Wildlife 5.5, an all-day event at The Brudenell Social Club.  It is, obviously, a little out of date now (it happened on 18 June), but here it is nevertheless.

Originally published on Friday 17 June 2011 at http://www.croon.co.uk/news/british-wildlife-5-5-kicks-off-this-saturday-18-june

You know it’s going to be a good gig when the official website describes it in terms of fruit and toothpaste. “When you want apples, you go the greengrocer. When you want toothpaste, you go to the chemist. When you want a full day’s worth of some of the most interesting underground noise-rock and experimental music, you go to British Wildlife”.

Kicking off this Saturday 18th June, British Wildlife 5.5 is the latest incarnation of one of the most exciting music events in Yorkshire. Forget Leeds Festival and the £4-a-pint tepid lager. British Wildlife follows in a rich tradition of homegrown DIY events, and over the past five years has been treating discerning music fans to wonderful new noise from around the world.

In March this year came the British Wildlife 5 weekend. Standing out among the many artists were the incredible Three Trapped Tigers: imagine the essence of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher being forced through three amazing musicians. The whole weekend cost a fraction over a tenner, with around 30 bands performing in a host of reasonably-priced drinking holes for that money.

For 5.5, there’s just one venue – the Brudenell Social Club. A legendary location, it’s pretty much the place to go for anybody wanting to experience the freshest live music in Leeds. The line-up: artists with impressive names (The Hills Have Riffs, Guns or Knives), and, overall, a pervading air of experimentalism. The Trumpets of Death, for instance, are not so much a conventional band as an experience. Yet they nestle comfortably with headliners Silent Front, a trio of extremely heavy riffers from the capital, and solo performances from members of Shield Your Eyes and That Fucking Tank respectively.

Besides the music, there’s some homemade falafel, cake and films, plus the legendary Brude bar prices (£1.80 a pint). For just £5.50, what better way to spend your Saturday?

– Doors at 3pm at The Brudenell Social Club, Queens Road, Hyde Park, Leeds, LS6 1NY. More info: britishwildlife.info.

Croon.co.uk

I’ve started writing for a site called Croon.  It’s a really good idea – it aims to fuse the different online aspects of a local music scene (message boards, band websites, ticket outlets, videos and so forth) into one location.  Even more interestingly is the way it’s being launched: in a ‘scene-by-scene’ basis, rather than as a national blanket website.

It begins in September, initially focussing on the West Yorkshire hubs of Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Huddersfield and Halifax.  However, founders Matt Sweeney and Vicky Wilson aim to expand it to cover most of northern England within the following months.  Then, the aim is to cover the capital, followed by rest of the country.  It’ll be a national site, but very much rooted in localism.  A good analysis of its structure might be to think of it as a musical Gumtree, or Drowned in Sound with a city-by-city emphasis.   It’s all very exciting stuff.

I’ll be posting things I’ve penned for the site here, along with my other work.  In the meantime, visit croon.co.uk, discover more about it, and spread the message!

Belle and Sebastian review in the Leeds Guide

Originally published on Thursday 16 June 2011 at http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/live-review/belle-and-sebastian/18747

“Well, it’s been a while, Leeds”, Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch announces by way of introduction. The sea of bodies at the O2 Academy is not hesitant in agreeing, as sections of the audience begin to shout, confusingly at first, “1998! 1998!” “I suppose that some of you might not have been born back then,” he replies, forlornly. “I’m always the oldest in the room”.

1998 wasn’t long after Belle and Sebastian released their debut, Tigermilk, as part of a low-key project at a Glaswegian college. Although they’ve achieved global success in the intervening period – picking up a BRIT Award and a Top of the Pops appearance on the way – they’ve always managed to remain refreshingly at odds with the mainstream chart, making music as if the horn-and-string-drenched sunshine pop of the 60s never faded away.

Tonight is the last night of a long world tour in support of Write About Love, their first album in four years. Before they arrive on stage, there’s a tense atmosphere: will they be spent from several months of solid touring, in locations more exotic than this fine metropolis?

No, is the answer. They’re fantastic, and boldly kick off with some new ones, including the delightful ‘I’m Not Living In The Real World’. Here, guitarist Stevie Jackson teases a little audience participation out of the room, carefully highlighting the song’s four key changes by asking the crowd to sing the melody line in four different ways. This is achieved with a surprising measure of success.

Some of the band’s ‘greatest hits’ make a much-appreciated appearance, including ‘I’m a Cuckoo’, ‘Sleep the Clock Around’, ‘Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying’ and their “top 15 smash” (Stevie’s words), ‘Legal Man’. All are immeasurably enhanced by organs, pianos, a trumpet and a string quartet, with most band members swapping instruments at least once.

Three lucky fans are invited up on stage during ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’, and all proudly display massive grins as they dance idiosyncratically about the stage. As the song ends, Stuart presents each fan with a medal and a handshake by way of reward, which seems to be entirely appropriate. Any other gesture would seem deeply wrong. A fourth medal is bestowed on someone Stuart spots at the front, who “has come to every gig on our tour”.

This crystallises the essence of Belle and Sebastian. Unlike so many other big acts, their music and performances don’t seem at all forced: they are genuinely delighted to be around their fans, who in return are equally delighted to be around them. In fact – and this is in the nicest possible sense – they seem to revel in a wonderful sense of nerdiness. And they make excellent music, too.

As evening draws to a close, Stuart takes the time to introduce and thank every single member of the crew and band, before a splendid encore of ‘Me and the Major’. Then, they politely wave, bow and exit. Lovely. Here’s hoping Belle and Sebastian make a return visit – hopefully before another 13 years go by.

Belle and Sebastian played the O2 Academy on 3rd June.

Co-producer credit

Recently, along with my friend Lee McCrae and my former Uni teacher Simon Warner, I was invited to work on a pretty interesting project.

As a lecturer in Popular Music Studies at the University of Leeds, a large part of Simon’s academic work deals with the Beat Generation of the 50s and 60s.  Through this professional interest, he has links to Jim Sampas, producer of the seminal Jack Kerouac poetry-influenced album Kicks Joy Darkness.  Released in 1997, the record features contributions from beats William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, alongside Michael Stipe, Lee Ranaldo, Joe Strummer, plus many others.  It’s an amazing listen.

Several albums on, Jim’s latest project is entitled Paint it Black: An Alt-Country Tribute to the Rolling Stones, released on his Reimagine Music label.  It’s a brilliant tour through the music of one of the world’s most familiar bands, interpreted by a range of artists that, it might be argued, don’t sound particularly that much like the Stones – and in a good way.  Among the artists are The Handsome Family, Everest, Great Lake Swimmers and much more from the alt-country/Americana scene.

Both Lee and myself were asked by Jim to assist with publicity for Paint it Black, and we’ve both received co-producer credits as a result, which I’m extremely grateful to both Jim and Simon for, particularly as I think that it’s completely unwarranted (I really don’t think I did that much!)  What a bunch of amazing guys.

So – that only leaves me to say – buy the album!  It’s available on download, and you can find it on iTunes, HMV and Amazon.

Belle and Sebastian

Friday 3 June 2011

O2 Academy, Leeds

★★★★★

“Well, it’s been a while, Leeds”, Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch announces by way of introduction. The sea of bodies at the O2 Academy is not hesitant in agreeing, as sections of the audience begin to shout, confusingly at first, ‘1998!  1998!’  “I suppose that some of you might not have been born back then”, he replies, forlornly.  “I’m always the oldest in the room”.

1998 wasn’t long after Belle and Sebastian released their debut, Tigermilk, as part of a low-key project at a Glaswegian college.  Although they’ve achieved global success in the intervening period – picking up a BRIT Award and a Top of the Pops appearance on the way – they’ve always managed to remain refreshingly at odds with the mainstream chart, making music as if the horn-and-string-drenched sunshine pop of the sixties never faded away.

Tonight is the last night of a long world tour in support of Write About Love, their first album in four years, and as I wait for them to appear onstage, I begin to worry they’ll be tired out from several months of solid touring, and in locations rather more exotic than this fine metropolis.

I’m wrong, of course.  They’re fantastic, and boldly kick off with some new ones, including the delightful ‘I’m Not Living In The Real World’.  Here, guitarist Stevie Jackson teases a little audience participation out of the room, carefully highlighting the song’s four key changes by asking the crowd to sing the melody line in four different ways.  This is achieved with a surprising measure of success.

Some of the band’s ‘greatest hits’ make a much-appreciated appearance, including ‘I’m a Cuckoo’, ‘Sleep the Clock Around’, ‘Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying’ and their “top 15 smash” (Stevie’s words), ‘Legal Man’.  All are immeasurably enhanced by organs, pianos, a trumpet and a string quartet, with almost all band members swapping instruments at least once.

Three lucky members of the public are invited up on stage during ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’.  All display massive grins on their faces as they idiosyncratically dance about the stage.  As the song ends, Stuart presents each one with a medal and a handshake, which strikes me as entirely appropriate.  Anything else would seem, for reasons I struggle to place, deeply wrong.  A fourth medal is bestowed on an audience member Stuart spots at the front, whom he notes “has come to every gig on our tour”.

I think that this crystallises what I enjoy most about Belle and Sebastian.  Unlike so many other big acts, their music and performances don’t seem at all forced, and they seem genuinely delighted to be around their fans, who in return are genuinely delighted to be around them.  In fact – and I mean this in the nicest possible sense – they seem to revel in a wonderful sense of nerdiness.  And they make excellent music, too.

As the band draws the gig to a close, Stuart takes the time to introduce and thank every single member of the crew and band, something I’ve never seen before.  Finally, following a brilliant encore of ‘Me and the Major’, they politely wave, bow and exit.  Lovely.  Here’s hoping Belle and Sebastian make a return visit – hopefully a bit sooner than in another 13 years.