Saturday, 29 August 2009

Inspire Festival - @ Stoke Plaza, Hanley 28th August 2009

Review and Photo by Steve Harvey

On a day when the weather could not quite make up its mind, I likewise, was finding it difficult to muster up the energy and enthusiasm to get myself off the settee, and walk down to the skate park. The aftermath of hurricane Bill was upon us, and it was desperate to call a halt to the fun planned for the day. However I did manage to get out of my cosy chair, and I was mighty glad I did. The future of Stoke scene is alive and kicking in these young bands with bags of confidence and enthusiasm to perform.

The first band on the stage was a five-piece rock band called The Only Alternatives. They had drawn the short straw, and had the unenviable task of performing first. This with the heavens suddenly opening up seemed like a recipe for disaster. This was never going to ruin the day for the young lads, who to their credit, continued as normal. The crowds were soon shuffling their way out of the safety of the many large tents, and down to the front of the stage, to hear them perform. Heavy bass lines were the order of the day, and although the band is obviously young in age and experience, it did not deter the front man in giving it his best shot. What the lyrics lacked in maturity, they certainly made up for with pure enthusiasm. I am sure the band will continue to grow and improve, and on the back of this chance of playing a festival and good sizeable crowd, they will tighten up the overall sound they deliver to their audience in the future I feel.

Jo EE T was the next act on the stage. His experience of playing the local scene shone like the sun that had momentarily emerged from the clouds, and he soon had the audience dancing and clapping along. Live electronics is possibly one of the hardest genres to fill a stage with, but Jo EE T has the charm and charisma to conquer the hardest of crowds on the live scene, and today’s performance was flawless in its overall delivery. The set included a cover version of 'Computer Love' alongside some of his older and more familiar back catalogue of house and acid tracks.

Third on stage was Ryan Whitmore, with an acoustic set that matched up to any artist that I have seen locally. Although the crowd was not as enthusiastic as they had been to with previous acts, it did not make a scrap of difference to his set, and he did win them over in the end. Some well-written lyrics that seemed well beyond his years were delivered with outstanding confidence to his acoustic guitar.

Last, but not least, was Grass Stain. A classic three piece punk band, that were trying there very hardest to play the part of rock star, as best they could, given the information they had received from watching Nirvana videos on MTV. Perhaps this is a little harsh, but there were a lot of Nirvana based riffs in their songs. This small criticism of their music became even more evident the longer they played their set.

Being that I am, a huge Nirvana fan, this would have most definitely, clouded my judgement of a band with a lot of potential for the future. This said, they were very confident in what they did, and they did bring along a sizeable and appreciative audience with them. The lead singer looked and sounded the part, and the lyrics were catchy and grungy. I am sure with time to mature; they will blossom into something very special. They were most definitely the better of the two rock bands on the day, but this was mainly down to the fact they played confidently and in tune throughout. The lead singer, I felt, was sometimes singing out of his range slightly, and this led to some momentary off key moments, but overall, he delivered the goods.

The winner was later announced as Ryan Whitmore, with various reactions from the large crowd. On the whole, I thought it was a good decision by the judges, given the differences in styles and performances, and difficulty in judging them fairly and without bias to a certain style or genre. It was not one I completely agreed with, but I am biased towards electronic music for obvious reasons.

Ryan’s prize is a complete deal, that would make any up and coming musician extremely happy. This included shooting a video, a four-track EP release on both digital download and CD. A professional photo shoot and to top it all, being signed to a brand new record label.

It was a fantastic day for the local music scene, and most of all the young people of Stoke-on-Trent.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Wolfshit / Hanging Iscariot / Hudson @ The Sugarmill Hanley 21st August 2009

Review by Liam Kelly

Photo by Simon Bamford

The Sugarmill can be a dull, dark and dismal venue but tonight was lit up by three very contrasting acts. The first band to grace the stage to an average sized crowd were a relatively unknown band called Wolfshit. With all four members arriving on stage in wolf masks it was possibly the most unusual sight I have ever experienced at a gig. They soon drew the crowd down from the roof and straight to the front of the stage. Accompanied by only an electric drum kit and a laptop, Wolfshit kicked straight into their set with a song called ‘Sloppy shit.’ This song quickly demonstrated the bands intentions of putting on a memorable performance for the increasingly growing crowd. Their next two songs ‘Brain drain’ and ‘Lazertrash’ gave a clear indication of their electronic/dance/trip hop genre style. The vocals from the two front men were mainly heavy and powerful but both showed a melodic and tidy side to their performance.

Their most accomplished song of the night was ‘Porno Stop’. Not only did it further highlight the tribal vocals from this band, but was matched by the explosive drumming and the tight funk blasts from Sam O’Neil’s laptop. This band is like no other that I have ever seen and create a unique and heavy sound. Not only did the masks and costumes worn by the band members make it a great visual performance, but the energy and movement of the front men was also a joy to watch. Finishing the night with the final song ‘We are Wolfshit,’ this also happened to be the final line of the song. As if this crowd really needed reminding of whom this band were.

Next on stage were Screamo/Punk band Hanging Iscariot. With the Sugarmill holding a large crowd at this point, the band gave an outstanding show. Starting their performance with ‘Deus Ex Machina,’ the band soon got the crowd reaction they wanted and their loyal fanbase went wild. Their next track titled ‘September 28th’ expressed the power of lead singer Face’s vocals and was matched by the pitch perfect backing vocals of Davey and Mickey. ‘If this is Darwinism’ was a clear crowd favourite and sparked scenes of chaos in the middle of the floor much to the delight of the band, as well as members of their large audience screaming back the lyrics and clapping along to the instrumental solos. Face showed a range of heart warming melodies combined with gut wrenching screams to add to the versatile guitar riffs from Davey and Mickey, not too forget the exhilarating symbol crashing of Spam on the drums. The band interacted with the audience throughout the set and this paid off as it drew even more people to the stage. The final song of the night was their most well known song ‘A tequila to kill her.’ The backing vocals in this song played a vital role in creating a dynamic sound and showed this bands versatility. An impressive performance which captured the audience’s attention throughout.

Soon after, it was Hudson who arrived on stage for their farewell gig. They were greeted to rapturous applause and cheers. After thanking the large crowd for their presence they got straight into proceedings with their first song ‘Keep running.’ This caused mayhem in the crowd and the band grew in confidence because of this. Next track ‘On the words of others’ showed the quality guitar riffs Damo and Jack are capable of. What they lack in age they certainly make up for in stage presence and put on an unforgettable visual performance. This was backed by the powerful bass playing of front man Rick and the frantic drumming of Tim.

Hudsons last ever show was fuelled with energy and enthusiasm and they created a performance that will never be forgotten. ‘Reverie’ illustrated the passion of lead singer and bassist Rick and he belted out spot-on vocals throughout. As the set went on the crowd became wilder, and Hudson just found more energy. This was reflected in Damos onslaught of guitar riffs. The final song of the night, and the last ever song Hudson will perform live was ‘212, We’ll never know.’ This song lead to unforgettable scenes, every member of this large audience going wild and even lead to a stage invasion by a section of Hudson – lovers. As the song came to an end there was mixed emotions all around. Hugging, crying, clapping, cheering, no matter what any member of the crowd did at that moment they were all there too give Hudson the send off they deserved. An unforgettable night in which the band were superb. Hudson will be deeply missed by local music lovers and should be remembered for their passion and dedication. I feel privileged to have been able to witness the last ever Hudson show, and in my opinion, they will go down as one of the greatest bands to grace the Stoke music scene.

Hanging Iscariot

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Vanguards / Bonfires / Little Comets @ The Sugarmill 19th August

Review by Chloe West

Photo's by Simon Bamford

Riding on a wave of much recent success, The Vanguards, barely formed for a year, are already conquering national spheres. Fresh from an Xfm radio session on Sunday, the local lads took the first slot with great anticipation. The initial element most notable about this band is how effortlessly the vocals shift between each member, beautifully amplifying their sound. This is best seen through the performance of ‘You Get It Off Me’ much reminiscent of the Magic Number’s style. The Vanguard’s use their set to demonstrate their ability to do the arty, the dancy, the poppy, but then also slow raw bassy funk, even dabbling in a bluesy feel on one number. Mid set, their new single ‘Regress’ is introduced (recently chosen by listeners as record of the week on the Radio 2 Radcliffe and Maconie Show) and epitomises that ‘feel good’ summer sound. With so much buzz surrounding the track and the band themselves, lets hope they take their own lyrics literally as they grapple with the manic music biz. (We will never surrender/ we will only get higher/ as we walk into the fire). ‘Drop The Weapon’ soon beckoned down any roof top goers enjoying a withdrawing sunny evening.

Cheddleton based Bonfires began their set with this forceful Britpop type number, which along with ‘Streets Tell Stories’ show a present slant on the nineties era Cast, Ocean Colour Scene and the usual players from the last decade could all be name dropped here as elements these possess. The trio take a calm and collected stance on stage, holding their positions until singer Stuart tries to liven up his onlookers. Bonfires maybe less experienced than their predecessor, but have the potential to tweak their genre and expand their horizons.

With impromptu gigs nationwide, from Sheffield trams to Salford lecture halls, the 'Mill may have seemed a rather mundane venue for Little Comets. The four hail from the 'other' Newcastle, and despite only visiting the Potteries realm a few months back, a keen young following assembled towards the stage for take two. To describe the Comet’s style takes several ingredients; few dollops of Mystery Jets and Vampire Weekend pop, drizzle of clinky clanky, twingy twangy guitar, sprinkle of lazy summer vibe and there you have it. Front man Robert’s yelping vocals echo one Jack Penate, and this band – like support Vanguards – gain strength through the vocal interaction of all members. Particular highlights of their set include the jaunty ‘Adultery’, which is also their new single and almost a synopsis of their style. ‘One Night In October’ also deserves a mention, a seriously catchy number, with a hook certain to rattle around the brain for days. Ending on a punkier tune, Little Comets withdraw to cheery applause, and a few more Stokian fans for their collection.

The Vanguards
Little Comets

Summer Jam @ Leek Hockey Club 15th August

Review and photographs by Simon Bamford

Last Saturday saw another addition to this seasons festivals rosta in the form of the first Summer Jam. It seems with more and more people turning their back on overpriced corporate events, the demand for this type of home made alternatives is on the increase. With a modest £3 entrance fee, that was given to local charities, anyone who attended must have netted the deal of the week. Organised by a dedicated team of friends that included a sheep, the event attracted around 2000 people. Revellers enjoyed an afternoon of quality live music, DJ sets, fairground attractions, craft stalls and believe it or not, sunshine. The Vangaurds, Jupiters Heroes and The Lies were amongst the acts to grace the main stage. There were acoustic sets from Gaz Abbot, Operation Error and Kayleigh Knight. Meanwhile the bar tent partied away to the soundtrack of sets by Audiomill, Twitch, Crunch and Dust and The Duke. Elsewhere in the field a man in a cow suit was selling raffle tickets and believe it or not, I swear I saw a Fairy by the hedge selling CDs.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Bleached WAil / Creepjoint @ The Sugarmill 15th August 2009

Review by Liam Kelly

Photo by Simon Bamford

Arriving at the Sugarmill, I was full of excitement to see Bleached Wail headline after recently seeing them perform so well at the Stoke Sounds festival. The news that 'The Gospel according To John' had pulled out of tonights line up disappointed many members of this already large crowd but support band Creepjoint did not disappoint.

Starting with ‘Nos’, this song demonstrated the bands instrumental strengths and in particular those of guitarist Steve. Throughout 'Dumbshow' it was clear too see their influences such Queen of the Stone Age and Radiohead. Their songs are powerful which is really impressive considering there are only 3 band members. The song ‘Harbinger’ was a slower song which demonstrated lead singer Steve’s excellent range in pitch and tempo and his smooth guitar solos. The next couple of songs played really got a small section of the crowd going who were urged on by Steve. The superb versitility of this band is demonstrated when bassist Matt sang two of the songs and did a great job of it. A cover of the well known ‘My Sharona’ went down really well in the crowd, and in particular showed the quality of drummer Tom with great visual performance s from Matt and Steve. Finishing the night with ‘Violencer,’ Creepjoint impressed this large crowd and surprised a few people. They show variety in every song they play and not only look great on stage, but sound it as well. Definitely worth a watch in the future.

After a long wait (35 minutes!), Bleached Wail arrived on stage to a near sell out crowd to rapturous applause and cheers. There’s only one word to describe this 3 piece from Alsager, sublime! Without saying a word they kicked straight into the set with ‘Rumours.’ It was with their second song ‘Mrs Magic’ that the crowd really reacted. Every member of the crowd enjoyed this song and it is clear that Bleached Wail have a large and loyal following shown by most of the crowd joining in with each song.

Well known track ‘Bounty Hunter’ was superb and showed Gus’s unique and melodic vocals, not to mention demonstrating his furious guitaring. Their next song, ‘He’ll do anything’ was a particular crowd pleaser and set every member of the audience and this boosted the confidence of Bleached Wail even more. Bassist Floody showed why he is one of the most exciting prospects in local music at the moment. He boasts a great deal of confidence up on that stage and puts on a great show as well as powerful bass playing to go with it. This was all frantically matched by Nick on drums who played a high tempo set. ‘Get Rowdy’ was fast and powerful and Gus demanded that the crowd themselves got rowdy. Their next two tracks ‘This Man’s Life’ and ‘Prodigy’ showed their ska - style influence and the vigorous instrumental quality of Gus, Floody and Nick.

Their most well known track ‘Stolen Thunder’ was their tightest performance of the night. It was clear too see how Bleached Wail have a unique sound and are not trying to follow the Arctic Monkeys, Oasis cliché, but choosing to carve their own sound. The song that got the biggest crowd reaction of the night was ‘Hot on his heels.’ With a resonating chorus, every member of the elevated audience screaming back the lyrics to Gus.

Having left the stage and after chants of ‘We want more’ and ‘Zoo Town,’ the band ran back on stage to perform again. ‘Ten Man Grin’ was followed by the final song of the night, the much loved ‘Zoo Town.’ This song was performed with incredible passion and every member of the crowd dived towards the stage when Gus and Floody played solos on the bass boxes. At the end of the performance Bleached Wail walked off to thunderous applause and whistles. A truly breathtaking performance from a band that should go far. Easy too see why they are rated so highly by Radio 1 DJ’s. The boys from Bleached Wail played a high quality set with real passion and interacted with the audience superbly. With an already large fanbase which is going to only get bigger, Bleached Wail are certainly one of the hottest bands in Stoke on Trent at this moment.

Bleached Wail

Monday, 3 August 2009

Stoke Sounds Festival 2009, let there be Rain

We may not have had sun shine but we definately rocked.

Many Many Thanks to all who
discovered new music,
painted faces,
twiddled knobs,
slid faders,
held brollies,
shared kit,
and didn't mind the rain,
on Saturday,
It really wouldn't have been the same without you

Extra Special Thanks to Steve Clarke, Steve Finn, Simi, Alex, Jeff, Dan, Matt and Dave


Charl and the Team