Festival review: Live At Leeds

Corinne Bailey Rae at The HiFi Club at Live At Leeds. Picture: Giles Smith
Corinne Bailey Rae at The HiFi Club at Live At Leeds. Picture: Giles Smith
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Live At Leeds, the city’s annual metropolitan musical extravagaza, celebrated its 10th anniversary in style on Saturday.

A testing ground for up and coming acts, with a selection of established names as headliners, this year it involved two dozen city venues and was attended by thousands of music lovers.

Mystery Jets at the Dr Martens store. Picture: Tom Joy

Mystery Jets at the Dr Martens store. Picture: Tom Joy

Here’s what our reviewers thought of the day...

Duncan Seaman’s Live At Leeds

Back in the early days of this festival, bands booked into an early afternoon slot on the smaller stage at Leeds Beckett University were likely to be greeted by a sparse crowd of curious onlookers whetting their palates before the day’s main events.

A decade on it’s a measure of how far Live At Leeds has come that the still relatively unknown Fronteers, from Hull, can now command a full room at 3pm, with queues outside the door. Their youthful take on indie guitar pop, with a large measure of inspiration from Arctic Monkeys, could do with a little more individuality but they have energy and some nice harmonies on their side.

Girl at Live At Leeds. Picture: Ben Bentley

Girl at Live At Leeds. Picture: Ben Bentley

The lack of standing room however sends us briskly off to Nation of Shopkeepers where White Room are in full flow. A five-piece from Brighton, they essay an interesting line in alternative rock and their last number likeably bears some of the hallmarks of The Cult circa Spiritwalker.

Over in the bare-walled, industrial setting of Headrow House are Girli, a female duo who sport tracksuits as pink as lead rapper Milly Toomey’s hair. With their bratty bubblegum anthems Girls Get Angry Too and F*** Right Off Back to LA, they come across like an entertainingly sweary updating of 90s group Shampoo (of We’re in Trouble fame). They wear their feminism on their sleeves too, openly discussing menstruation and handing out sanitary pads to a slightly bemused audience.

Up at the Belgrave Music Hall Seramic prove to be the discovery of the day. An enigmatic electro-soul quintet, who’ve so far restricted their online presence to a single song, People Say, they possess a frontman with a supple, gritty voice, two equally fine backing singers and some very dirty basslines. There’s undoubtedly a Prince influence, some dubstep and even a hint of acid jazz, with a high degree of musical proficiency. Incredibly, their singer declares: “This is actually our first show and I’m glad we spent it with you.” The feeling is mutal.

Down at The Social Ben Roberts, an acoustic troubadour from Leeds, is in decent husky voice, treating us to a cover of Dock of Bay as well as some accomplished numbers of his own.

Izzy Bizu at Live At Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

Izzy Bizu at Live At Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

The impressive quality of this year’s bill is maintained back at Headrow House by Chiara Hunter. An Australian-born singer now resident in London, her powerful, soulful vocals make light work of songs such as Strange Relationship and Hammer. Funk, gospel and contemporary R&B influences also make her a name to watch out for in the coming year.

Fresh-faced Norwegian punk-pop band Sløtface are also a hit at The Key Club. Frontwoman Haley Shea’s vocals stand up strongly no matter how much she throws herself around the stage and their bass player Lasse Lokøy is not averse to leaping into the crowd either. With songs such as Bad Party and Shave My Head, they’re surely bound for glory.

It’s perhaps unfair to expect similar energy levels from York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich in the serene setting of Holy Trinity Church. His songs rely more on atmosphere and a certain ethereality but four numbers in, it’s hard not to feel they’re a bit samey.

At the HiFi Club it really couldn’t be any more packed for the return of Corinne Bailey Rae. An hour-long set culled extensively from her forthcoming album The Heart Speaks in Whispers is ambitious and she is not helped by the constant murmer from the back of the room. Three songs in, she decides to take matters into her own hands and asks the front rows of the crowd to part so she can walk through and politely ask for the chattering to cease.

It only partly works but at least the likes of Green Aphrodisiac and The Skies Will Burst show her songwriting has lost none of its quiet, sophisticated charm in the six years since her last album, The Sea. And the crowd finally do get to sing along to her biggest hit, Put Your Records. A qualified success then but it’s good to have her back among us.

Jonathan Brown’s Live At Leeds

The beauty of Leeds’ ever-growing metropolitan music festival is the variety of bands, venues and experiences available under the established Live at Leeds umbrella.

You can go from fast-paced indie to low-fi reggae or sleepy acoustic ballads within a short walk, which was exactly what we were after.

First on the early evening checklist was the chance to see London five piece the Mystery Jets give Live at Leeds punters their second helping of flawless indie rock within a day. A couple of hours after owning a mid afternoon slot at the O2 Academy, the band played an intimate half hour set that only a lucky few eagle-eyed shoe shoppers will have known about.

The lengthy queue outside Dr Martens, opposite the Victoria Quarter, was a bit of a giveaway at around 7pm when the band were due to play an exclusive second set that was given little more publicity than a few A4 adverts hanging in the store window.

Only around 50 fans and store workers managed to get a spot literally a foot or two from the polished British indie outfit. After an hour-long delay due to technical issues, the band finally kicked off a varied set spanning a decade of music.

Lead Blaine Harrison manoeuvered from his crutches into position and the band launched into a six-song session with the epic, expansive ‘Telomere’ from their 2016 release ‘Curve of the Earth’ - the intro giving just a hint of Harrison’s amazing vocal range.

The tone then changed with a playful trip back to the noughties with a performance of 2008 indie pop hit ‘Young Love’. The catchy winding duet led by equally adept frontman Will Rees, saw Harrison stunningly step into the Laura Marling role culminating in almost barbershop harmonies before a “woa, woa” singalong brought the track to a close.

A roaring rendition of ‘Bubblegum’, featuring rocky undertones and a soaring keyboard chorus, followed but a sure-fire highlight was the measured performance of ‘The End Up’, which came before a booming one-song encore of the bouncing ‘Someone Purer’. Rees’ piercing ‘The End Up’ vocal, backed by an acoustic strum, brought the room to a standstill. Beautiful.

The delayed Mystery Jets gig left us lagging behind schedule, but we managed to nip in to catch the last few tracks from Benjamin Francis Leftwich at Holy Trinity Church. The combination of melancholic folk pop and a grand church venue, beautifully lit with deep purples and blues, was right on the money.

Stood alone in a simple black T-shirt with guitar in hand, Leftwich delivered a series of hits from his 2011 debut album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’ in his signature sleepy style. The slow plucking of his guitar strings, soft keyboard backing and delicate vocal during ‘Butterfly Culture’ showed him at his emotive best.

The Yorkshireman’s ‘Atlas Hands’ finale offered a subtle, reflective send off that left a baying crowd mouthing the words “I’ve got a plan, I’ve got an atlas in my hands” before appreciative applause erupted throughout the venue. The performer, venue and crowd were a perfect match.

We ended our Live at Leeds with another change of pace. We were among the hundreds who swarmed to Leeds University Union’s Stylus Gigwise Stage to see what California indie rock veterans We Are Scientists had to offer.

The American three-piece brought back noughties memories for an expectant crowd by kicking off an engaging set with guitar-heavy ‘The Scene is Dead’, sparking an immediate flurry of half empty beers being thrown into the air to charismatic grey haired frontman Keith Murray’s chants of “go on and get gone”.

We Are Scientists rolled back the years by dipping into a series of perfectly performed tracks from their back catalogue including the anthemic 2009 hit ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ from the ‘Love and Squalor’ album and 2008’s ‘Impatience’ which was brought to life by Murray’s vocal, which is as distinct and ear-catching as that of any of his indie contemporaries.

The instantly recognisable bass intro to ‘It’s a Hit’ brought the house down amid a series of newer tracks including the soaring ‘Nice Guys’ from 2012, which showed the band back at their catchy best. The classic ‘Great Escape’, with a stunning high pitch guitar solo, had the crowd jumping before a flawless rendition of the strumming guitar pop track ‘After Hours’ saw lyrics like “say that you’ll stay” echo the sentiments of a buoyant Stylus.

We Are Scientists, masters of the indie rock formula, were well worthy of the late night headline billing.

David Hodgson’s Live At Leeds

Oporto bar on Call Lane was packed. It was shortly after midday with a disappointed few unable to manoeuvre past the throng, having to make do with listening to the band in the bar.

Occupying middle ground between Franz Ferdinand and Django Django, Man & The Echo’s strong politically motivated set blasted through tracks comprising guitar driven melodic tunes, matched perfectly with keyboards and a tight rhythm section.

Vile as You Want has a fun 60s flavour to it and a chorus with so many hooks in it you can’t help but get dragged in, feet involuntarily moving as you do. These guys are in the studio now and they’re going places, with album Honeysuckle imminent.

Hannah Lou Clark wasn’t having the best day, surrounded by mechanical breakdowns. Her car failed to get her to the Trinity Church then a malfunctioning amp curtailed a set down to a mere three.

Which was all a shame. Clark’s new single It’s Your Love packs a leaden guitar punch with inevitable comparisons to the likes of PJ Harvey and Nirvana style loops.

Live at Leeds never happened for Clark despite the stunning venue and loads of potential. She deserves another chance.

Eddie Prové is technically a very gifted singer. Belgrave Music Hall was somewhat sparsely occupied as Prové ran through a set that has recently been picked up through BBC Introducing. Prové has great control of his voice and songs that are reminiscent of perhaps a Sam Smith but what sounds note perfect and soulful recorded came over as slightly hollow live.

Carnabells are synonymous of what is great about the Live at Leeds festival. Over the past three years they’ve steadily worked their way up the line-up, despite never releasing a full studio album. This was home turf for the five-piece West Yorkshire band, having already graced Glastonbury.

Reminiscent of Suede at their height, the self-confessed guitar thrashing, piano bashing, feet stamping rock ‘n’ roll drew in a strong crowd at the Leeds University Stylus, the front few rows of which were dancing to their recently released song The Belle of the Strutters’ Ball and Turn to Gold.

Carnabells have more and well deserved exposure through a slot supporting Ocean Colour Scene on their Millennium Square gig.

Given the proliferation of guitar based bands throughout the festival, Tiggs Da Author was a welcome departure from the norm. Needing the large stage of the O2 Academy to accommodate his effusing energy, the Tanzanian born singer lifted the venue with a funk, rap, R&B and a smattering of grime laden set.

The most accessible introduction to the singer’s repertoire is the brilliant Georgia, an uplifting jazz infused track that would be as equally as home sat on a tropical beach as much as it was in the wilds of North Leeds. That and the single Run are the strongest indication that this singer should be sought out, preferably on future summer festival bills when the summer is out and your soul needs a jump start.

Izzy Bizu is undoubtedly travelling in a stellar direction already, at the tender age of 22 with her debut album A Moment of Madness out in July, she has already played Glastonbury twice and supported Rudimental and Foxes on national UK tours. Put that alongside her shortlisting for a Brit’s Critics Choice Award and it’s clear that her musical career is only going in one direction.

Her live set explains why. With a voice that wouldn’t have been out of place in any of the previous four decades, she beautifully brings together Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown with modern day sounds like Amy Winehouse and Adele. Her song writing does justice to her voice and results in a set that is as captivating as it is inspiring, filling the O2 Academy.

Bizu will have a successful album later this year and with that will come the opportunity to build upon an already tight band stage set. It will be at that point she will become a major star, safe in the knowledge that she has the raw talent to both make this happen but also enchant an audience if given the most basic of ingredients.