Festival review: Live At Leeds 2015

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The award-winning Live At Leeds music festival celebrated its ninth year on with a line-up of more than 200 acts performing at 20 venues across the city. Here are our reviewers’ thoughts on Saturday’s bill.

Duncan Seaman’s Live at Leeds

Lawson at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Lawson at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Gaz Coombes’ intimate in-store set, delivered to an audience of around 50 people at the Dr Martens shop, on King Edward Street, may be something of an aside to the main action going on at Live At Leeds but it successfully whets the appetite for more music-making.

Featuring highlights from the two solo albums he’s released since leaving Supergrass, it’s an object lesson in minor chord songcraft, with a touching version of The Girl Who Fell Earth and a sparky Hot Fruit being standouts.

Song writing with depth sadly does not seem to be high on the agenda for Manchester producer Oceaan at the HiFi Club. Atmospherics and modishness seem more important in a succession of tracks that draw heavily on the same mannered R&B, dubstep and garage influences as Mercury Prize winner James Blake.

He politely apologises for technical issues, citing the inadequacy of a 15-minute soundcheck, but it soon feels time for us to move on.

Hookworms make the trek up to Leeds Beckett University in the pouring rain more than worth it. The Leeds five-piece, who shun full names for mere initials, play drone-rock of the type favoured in the past by the Velvet Underground and Spacemen 3.

Keyboard player and producer MJ’s lyrics may be inaudible but the sheer ferocity of their attack is impressive to behold. Where Spacemen 3’s music previously made 80s audiences sit on the floor cross legged, Hookworms’ combination of repetition, feedback, motorik beats, computerised bleeps and extremely loud volume prompts some to form a mosh pit. It’s no mean feat.

Over at the Belgrave Music Hall, there’s time to catch the final three numbers by Birmingham outfit Ekkah. Formed by Rebecca Wilson and Rebekah Pennington, they make perky disco-pop with a spring in its step and a smile on its face.

While it might have been nice to have heard more guitar and keyboards above the bass, it’s hard not to tap a toe to the likes of Last Chance To Dance.

“How does it feel when someone’s stripped you bare? How does it feel when there’s light shining on your every intention?” enquires Laura Doggett at Holy Trinity Church. Her song Old Faces – recently used in a trailer for the TV series Broadchurch – is one of the highlights of a set that’s full of ruminative romantic angst.

The 21-year-old, from Bath, is a likeable performer, who’s full of expressive hand movements; her band’s amplified set-up however is not ideal for the delicate acoustics of this venue, with unintended feedback taking some of the sting out of their performance. Nonetheless there’s enough here to convince that Doggett is a name to watch out for in the coming months.

Although our best intention to see George the Poet shortly afterwards at the HiFi Club may be been thwarted by his tardiness it little matters. Live At Leeds, in its ninth year, is as enjoyable as ever.

Phil Harrison’s Live at Leeds

After a late start to LAL2015 we started our day off at the O2 Academy with Stornaway.

While the tunes were pleasant enough, there were occasional sound problems in the 20 minutes that we stuck around for and, worryingly, the hum and chatter of the largely inattentive crowd sometimes made it difficult to hear what was actually coming from the stage. Never a good sign.

Missing the end was inevitable after we were lucky enough to gain entry to a pop-up show by Gaz Coombes at the Dr Martens shop in King Edward Street.

While fighting the temptation to invest in a pair of paisley docks, the short five-song set by the former Supergrass star was bliss - the highlight being The Girl Who Fell to Earth.

A quick yomp saw us creep in through the back door at Beckett University’s main stage where we caught the last 10 minutes of Menace Beach who had clearly gone down a storm in a packed hall - capitalising on a great year which saw their debut album Ratworld released to wide acclaim.

While it would have been easy to stay here for the rest of the day – Hookworms, Eagles and The Thurston Moore Band were all due on – we only stopped for one more.

Gengahr – so impressive a year earlier at the Belgrave Music Hall – soon took our minds off the dubious burger and chips my friend had purchased for us both, once more delivering some fine pop-drizzled tunes reminding me why ‘Fill My Gums With Blood’ was one of my favourites songs of last year.

We then headed to the Town Hall to take in the Dutch Uncles.

As solid as you could expect a band like Dutch Uncles to be, their lively set – highlighted by ‘Flexxin’ – was marred slightly when the lights literally went out. But, to coin a phrase, the band played on, not only completing the song they were already on but finishing their set, aided in some small way by the lights given off by various mobile phones from the crowd.

Palma Violets followed and their riotous set provided plenty of entertainment, not least for us oldies in the comfy balcony seats looking down on the mass of bodies flailing madly about in front of the stage.

We dragged ourselves away to take in one last band, this time at the Nation of Shopkeepers where Boxed In were just starting up. What we heard was grand but, unfortunately, we exited early on account of my friend’s legs having finally told him enough was enough.

Jonathan Brown’s Live At Leeds

Leeds’s own metropolitan music festival has a great track record in bringing ‘the next big things’ to our city.

Only time will tell whether that will be the same this time around, but, intent on seeing much-hyped spoken word/ hip hop artist George the Poet, we got to the cosy HiFi Club early.

Technical issues had seemingly slowed things up throughout the day, meaning the line-up was more than a band behind schedule when we arrived, so we chanced upon Manchester rock/ rap hybrid Prose early on.

The four-piece stood frustrated on stage for about 40 minutes before they’d even played a note but eventually got underway with some powerful, earthy lyrics over a strumming acoustic guitar.

Front man Mike Murray’s flowing vocal and biographical raps were reminiscent of Plan B’s earlier material, and his punchy bars overshadowed the at-times forgettable backing tracks and choruses.

Prose, who were admittedly held back by a painfully long sound check, finished on a high with Run With Faith.

Another lengthy delay saw Leeds-based Thabo and The Real Deal take the stage, with main man Thabo Mkwananzi having to deliver the news that George the Poet would appear much later than planned.

The band rescued a depleting crowd, swinging into action with a reggae soul mix filled with political messages, camouflage jackets to match, and deep piano chords.

A cool, smooth outfit, Thabo and The Real Deal had everyone on side immediately, with tracks like throwback Hey Mama turning into an infectious sing along.

The laid-back band turned up the volume a bit for another duet with the HiFi Club as they signed off with ‘Yayaya’.

Yet another delayed sound check meant headliner George the Poet didn’t appear until nearly midnight, as opposed to his 9.45pm slot, meaning the venue was only two-thirds full when he entered the fray.

The man of the moment certainly didn’t let that throw him off. A set littered with throwback samples of 90s garage and house was as engaging as it was catchy.

Consuming lyrics were flawlessly delivered by a 24-year-old who appeared polished and focused, and well worthy of his place in the top five of the BBC’s Sound of 2015 list.

Smartly dressed in a short sleeved shirt and backed by a three-piece band, the Londoner, whose real name is George Mpanga, delivered the goods with playful tracks like Grinding backed by a mix of classic phone ringtone samples.

The remaining crowd was hooked on every word, and his better known tracks like 1, 2, 1, 2 showed George the Poet can do fast-paced crowd pleasers just as well as his slow, introspective musings.

Leaving the HiFi Club with probably his best known release, Cat D, Live At Leeds certainly left the best until last.

James Nuttall’s Live At Leeds

Whereas Swedish/Australian twin duo Say Lou Lou graced the Belgrave Music Hall’s stage at 8pm at 2014’s Live at Leeds, the tradition of a blonde/brunette disco duo was continued this year by the wholly British band, Ekkah. Led by former Arcadian Kicks front-women Rebecca Wilson and Rebekah Pennington, their namesake band had a packed house dancing from the very first song.

Thanks to the fantastic vocal range of Wilson, aided by a blistering saxophone solo by Pennington, Ekkah certainly proved themselves to be a formidable live act. Lead by two female multi-instrumentalists, this is not a pop act to be taken lightly.

Fast forward an hour to the Leeds College of Music, and it was a welcome return to 19 year old singer-songwriter, Lauren Aquilina. This year accompanied by her band, Aquilina’s use of humour to lighten the mood in between her intense ballads won over virtually everyone in the auditorium. Those yet to be convinced were soon won over when they heard how Taylor Swift had recently tweeted the Bristol-based singer and invited her to play her Hyde Park concert, this summer.

The Live at Leeds crowd was even treated to a brand new song, which is to be included on her forthcoming debut album.

The ambient indie folk style of Emmy the Great attracted a larger crowd than Aquilina, although the Hong Kong born singer-songwriter didn’t quite manage to endear herself to the audience as well as her predecessor.

After a few false starts, thanks to not having a soundcheck, Emma-Lee Moss, accompanied by two backing musicians, finally got into the swing of things, chatting with the audience and explaining the inspiration for her songs.

The by now well-watered crowd were a little bemused by Emmy the Great’s set, and their ambient folk music was a little too subdued for a few audience members. Nonetheless, this headliner certainly created a tranquil atmosphere and ended 2015’s Live at Leeds on a somewhat weary but undoubtedly mystical note. A wonderfully intimate ending to another successful festival.

Nick Hodgson is to release his first solo album in January.

Music interview – Nick Hodgson: ‘I am essentially a musician – whether it’s playing Elland Road or playing some pub, I just love it’