Friday, 1 October 2010

Underground Festival – Gloucester Guildhall 25th and 26th September 2010

It’s hard to believe that it has been a full week since Underground Festival, which turned out to be one of the most exciting weekends of new music Gloucestershire has seen in a very long time. The Gloucester Guildhall was one of the most common hideouts for my friends and I as we were growing up in Cheltenham. It was the closest venue you could see quality bands live on a regular basis. Ironically in recent years roles have been reversed and Cheltenham presents a huge variety of live music on a nightly basis.

Underground Festival is similar in ethics (and to an extent line up) to Off the Cuff Festival at The Flapper Birmingham and offers three stages of incredible music for a very reasonable £25 for both days.

As I boarded the bus to head over to Gloucester on Saturday morning I realised how excited I was to be attending the festival and the half hour bus ride seemed like hours, partially due to the young gentleman who decided to profusely tap my seat for the whole journey.

The first band of my weekend was the ever-intense Nvmbrndthcrmnl who didn’t fail to disappoint with their unique style of shoegaze inspired noise. Their live performance is consistently fascinating as each band member takes their instrument to the limits of its ability to create a rich intense sound. These youngsters are certainly one of the Midland's most promising prospects and recordings are on going for a series of releases in the coming few months.

Frank Hamilton was the first act I saw on the Music Glue Stage which when not being used at a festival is the Guildhall cinema, meaning that the stage itself was surrounded by beautiful carved wood and flowing velvet curtains creating an interesting atmosphere to the stage even before artists began playing. Frank Hamilton had the audience eating from his hand from the opening to songs of his set with a mixture of bravado and sing-along. As his set progressed the honesty and genuine nature of his performance and song writing made it near impossible not to enjoy Frank’s performance.

As I approached my third act of the day I also approached my third stage of the day The Risk and Consequence stage was situated in a tiny gallery amongst an instillation of photographs. The most exciting thing about the stage was there were no amps or mics giving each performance a very personal feel. First up for me was Lost On Campus a charismatic young man from London who delivered an uplifting honest set crammed with clap along percussion. As the set reached the halfway point the audience were led by Lost On Campus to the bar to entertain a wider audience before heading back to the stage ready for a beautiful climax.

Ute were next on my musical feast and delivered an individual sound that left me in two minds as to which part of their unique sound I liked the most. On the one hand the gradual crescendos leading to deafening walls of noise were fascinating to watch develop and on the other hand the tender moments of quiet acoustic guitar led beauty were equally as attention grabbing. The one thing I am sure of was being disappointed when their half hour set was up.

Next it was back to the Risk and Consequence stage which was set to be where I spent the next few hours. The first delight was Candidates front man Gareth Harper who proceeded to charm the audience with his personal and at times humorous lyrics which were backed with a charming stage presence. Sam Little was next to play a few unique songs blending an almost pop style with acoustic beauty and a personal introduction to each member of the crowd. Sam finished his set by leading the audience into the Music Glue stage to show support for one half of Candle Thieves who had never played alone and needed some moral support as the other half was too ill to play the show.

The Risk and Consequence Stage continued it’s dominance of the festival with another fantastic piece of booking in the form of an acoustic performance from two-piece Candidates. Who ensured nothing bad would be said or written about them by presenting everyone in the room with a CD of demos (which sounds incredible). These two balanced quaint lyrics with an eye-catching live style which, included a trip into the audience with a snare drum.

My personal highlight of the day was Men Diamler’s typically varied live performance, which closed the Risk and Consequence stage for the night. If you are unaware of this artist you need to become aware very soon as he is a truly individual performer. Who balanced spontaneity with beauty on a knife-edge for the entirety of his set. Men Diamler is a solo artist who can out perform almost any band on any bill every time, this set was not an exception to this rule as spectacle and sadness were perfectly mixed into a compelling half an hour.

The final two acts of the day for me were Wilder on the main stage who without being over critical to me seemed to be a fantastic example of style over substance and Paper Aeroplanes who delivered a beautiful performance which made up for the previous disappointment. As I left the venue and traveled back on the bus I felt the day had totally lived up to my expectations and did not regret missing the headliners Egyptian Hip-Hop and Chapel Club who in fairness both had very positive reviews when I spoke to people on Sunday. For me neither band make me feel anything which could be a fine example of my own musical snobbery.

Sunday was the day that made me want to attend this weekend festival as looking through the line up created a logistical nightmare before I knew that the stage times enabled every slot to be watched. The day started at 1:30 sharp with Hold Your Horse Is blowing my hangover away with a mixture of intensity and volume. Once again this band proved why I think they are the most exciting band in the country. The level of passion and stage presence this three-piece supply and audience is unrivaled and any band that finish a lunchtime set by throwing equipment deserve to be successful.

Tour and label buddy (on Big Scary Monsters) Shoes and Socks Off was next to take the stage delivering an accomplished yet awkward set. The former Meet Me In St Louis front-man does not look fully comfortable in front of the audience and did not look out into the crowd during his set. This uncomfortable style adds to the personal feeling of his work and adds a further level of emotional intensity. The instantly recognisable vocals are paired with lyrics that scale a thousand emotions and complex guitar parts that range between building electric crescendos to tender acoustic emotion. Without doubt Shoes and Socks Off is one of the most individual sounding performers you will see.

After the musical battering of Hold Your Horse Is and the emotional intensity of Shoes and Socks Off I was ready to sit quietly and enjoy some acoustic music so I headed over to the Risk and Consequence stage which was boasting a feast of Gloucestershire folk provided by Istartedthefire Records, unfortunately both Falcons and Joe Summers were unable to play due to vocal illness but Andy Oleveri, vocalist for Midnight Mile filled in adequately with his faultless vocals and pretty guitar lines. This was the perfect restpite from the intensity of the first two acts.

Tangled Hair were the next act to blow me away with their electronic tinged sound backed by incredible vocals and catchy hooks. Their set was one of the loudest of the day but also one of the most attended sets of the weekend on the Music Glue stage. They were followed up by the intensity of Tall Ships who are regularly mentioned in the same breath of Tangled Hair, again the room was packed for their individual set and like most of the audience I left breathless and very impressed.

By this point of the day my notes had become illegible mainly down to the two days of spending my time moving between bar and live performances despite the increasing level of intoxication I remember sitting and thoroughly enjoying a double header from Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun and Midnight Mile.

Both acts boast a truly individual take on new folk and prove that young people can make folk without dandruff beards and waistcoats and as the new folk machine starts to speed up these two names become more and more prominent. It is always nice to see music you are used to seeing plugged in unplugged and Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun seem to benefit as well as any other act from stripping back to the bare essentials. Versions of tracks from ‘Atlases’ their recent album became personal and ripe with emotion and vocally after a weekend of singing for three shows Jim was still in good form.

The balance between Midnight Mile’s vocal harmonies was outstanding and was certainly the most memorable part of their set. To hear a band fill a room with such a beautiful level of sound creates a lasting memory at a festival and Midnight Mile most certainly achieved this. Again tracks from their recent EP ‘Silence Brings The Morning’ were transformed as they were stripped to their bare essentials.

The folk themed line up was completed with another of the countries most promising artists Boat To Row who are the culmination of Michael King’s inspired lyrics and Bronze Medals band mates Lloyd and Ben’s obvious musical compatibility with him. Hannah’s perfectly contrasting vocals and violin parts complete the line up if you are lucky enough to see the full band. Every part of the live performance is perfectly crafted from the varying complexity of the guitar lines to the mind blowing harmonies which at times involve five separate parts. It is clear Boat To Row deserved their position on this line up and that the booking on the Risk and Consequence stage was perfectly planned to continue moods and themes throughout the weekend. The transition between sets was at times breathtaking it’s just a shame the stage could have run round the clock.

Sun Drums were next up and as I walked in halfway through their set I was greeted by some intense electronic backed indie pop. This act were seriously tight live and boasted some incredible, almost paranoid glitchiness which was backed by clever guitars and a stupidly high general level of musicianship from these three young men. Tubelord played a fascinating acoustic set which despite my reservations had almost as much intensity as their usual live sets. After this headline slot closed the stage I was left with an easier decision on who to watch for the last few hours of the festival, as there were now only two stages.

Dry The River and Pulled Apart By Horses finished my weekend with live sets which lived up to both acts very high performing standards. These are two acts who will never put anything but one hundred percent into every single live performance making them very hard to review. I would of course give both acts maximum points for their live show and recommend that everyone reading this either goes to watch them both or buys a record by them.

As I left the festival in my head I pieced together a list of my top five to keep an eye out for and five who I knew were going to be good but not ‘that' good.

Five to look out for
Lost On Campus
Frank Hamilton
Midnight Mile
Sun Drums

Five I knew would be good but not ‘that’ good
Men Diamler
Hold Your Horse Is
Shoes and Socks Off
Boat To Row
Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun

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