Bearded’s Guide To… Liverpool

A return trip to Liverpool this week, as Richard Lewis tells us what’s been going on in his neck of the woods…

Posted on Mar 9th, 2011 in Features and Interviews, The Big House / By Richard Lewis
The Big House Following Christmas and New Year’s spending spree people are understandably reticent to go out in January and things were understandably quiet in Liverpool. Come late February however, the gig circuit had shaken off its post-festive blues and signs of life were being detected across the city’s venues as 2011 began in earnest. The Rialto Burns’, marriage of electronica, post punk and anthemic rock blew the roof off The Shipping Forecast in February, their homecoming gig exceeding all expectations. Gruff Rhys, virtually an adopted citizen of the city sold out The Kazimier in what seemed like ten seconds flat and the whispers about who is playing, who is speaking and everything else surrounding it began about Liverpool Sound City, which kicks off in May with a headline show from Miles Kane.

Elsewhere, The Cubical are plugging their wares continent-side at the present time on their maiden European tour. The Beefheartian bluesmen have built a formidable profile in the city and are keen to export themselves. Two more new venues, the splendidly monikered Don’t Drop the Dumbells (it’s based in a disused gym) opened its doors on what is literally hallowed musical ground in the city, the site of the old Flying Picket venue, frequented back in the day by Elvis Costello, The La’s and The Coral. The Leaf Café has also began using its premises for gigs, the night time menu also extending to alcohol, with gigs from The Big House (more of whom later) and Stealing Sheep.

Onto slightly bigger venues, the inaugural Threshold Festival was held in the Contemporary Urban Centre, a renovated, Grade II listed warehouse near the waterfront. The undertaking proved to be almost as vast as the space it was staged in, 160 bands, musicians and DJs on twelve stages over the course of three days, along with dancers, exhibitions and galleries. The first major event to take place at the CUC, the weekend met with enough success for the venture to return some time soon. Talking of festivals, the much loved Africa Oye, now in its twentieth year announced its line-up to be held as ever in the iconic Sefton Park. Attracting a staggering 50,000 plus revelers last year, the weekend is one of the biggest World Music festivals outside of the venerable WOMAD and is highly likely to be an even bigger success this July.

This month also sees a delegation of Liverpool bands head over to Cork to take part in the first Terminal Convention. Held in a revamped disused airport, the set-up makes it appear like a miniature United Nations shindig, which it almost is on a vastly smaller scale, featuring musicians and artists as opposed to ambassadors and politicians. Riding a wave of positive press for their recent debut LP, The Sand Band lead the charge, along with abrasive garage rockers par excellence The Loud, much-tipped DJ Shackleton as well as ace indie-Americana five-piece Owls*. Venerable Echo and the Bunnymen axeman Will Sergeant, currently in the producers’ chair for Eva Peterson’s debut album in addition to recording his own ambient-inflected work is also making the trip over, as a DJ for the event.

And if all that wasn’t enough, here are some new bands for your delectation…

Folk-country-blues duo The Big House (pictured) have earned rave reviews less than twelve months since their debut appearance. A couple on and offstage Candie Payne and Paul Molloy have pooled their musical experience to create their own unique take on folk, roots and alt country. Evoking the spirit of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, backed by the six-string maneuvers of Roger McGuinn, they supplement this with a sprinkling of Fleet Foxes and The White Stripes along with a helping of vintage psychedelia ala The Grateful Dead and The Byrds. With an impressive CV that includes work with The Zutons, Paul Weller, Mark Ronson, David Byrne and The Stands prior to their formation, the couple perform both as an acoustic duo and as a full band. A headline slot for Sound City in May will surely bring them to an even bigger audience.

As residents of Southport, acoustic-driven four piece Misery Guts hail from slightly further up the coast and have become firm favourites on Liverpool’s gig circuit. As former fellow natives Gomez put their own spin on the delta blues in the late ‘90s, Misery Guts re-tool folk and acoustic blues for the 21st century. Their trademark sound, with two nylon-strung acoustic guitars front and centre, provides a modern take on Steeleye Span and Bert Jansch, backed with a full rhythm section. Akin to Nick Drake in their delicate but dark output, the band’s lyrics, a mixture of Philip K. Dick sci-fi, romantic turmoil and seething emotions are underscored with some of the sweetest guitar sounds heard this side of James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel. The More Human Than Human EP was released to great acclaim locally last year and their accompanying jaunt, supporting Cherry Ghost on tour nationally saw them break new ground.