Bearded’s Guide To… Liverpool

Liverpool Sound City and plenty of other stuff besides, our Liverpool correspondent Richard Lewis traverses the Mersey Delta in search of new sounds.

Posted on Jun 1st, 2011 in Features and Interviews, Luke Fenlon / By Richard Lewis
Luke Fenlon After the Sound City shenanigans of last week, Liverpool’s gig goers are readjusting to not having to run between various venues in a single evening in an attempt to cram in seeing as many bands possible. After three consecutive days of doing it, it becomes weirdly normal.

So, what have we learned from ‘boutique festival’ Liverpool Sound City 2011? Well, we now know that reconfigured Britpop survivors Cast can still pack ‘em in, Miles Kane is a huge live draw, there’s yet more bands flowering in the city daily it seems, and regardless of the venue, Sound of Guns’ vocalist Andy Metcalfe will find a way to climb around the lighting rig and other fittings and fixtures suspended from the ceiling.

With the big hitters of The Kooks, Radiohead sticksman Phil Selway and snotty US rockers Black Lips providing the out-of-towners quotient, the local acts who played at Sound City were largely of similar stature.

The aforementioned Sound of Guns predictably raised the roof playing at the venerable St. George’s Hall, vocalist Andy exiting the stage to clamber around the ornate balconies. Their anthemic rock stylings pulling in a huge crowd, the band’s spotless live reputation was further enhanced by the outing.

Enigmatic, vaguely sinister purveyors of organ driven garage rock du jour Clinic re-emerged to turn in a memorable performance at St. Luke’s. Playing a city centre church that was near-demolished by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz to the extent that it has no roof, Ade Blackburn and co remained as idiosyncratic as ever on stage. Under atmospheric lighting with decades old plant life growing out of what remains of the venue’s walls, the surgeon generals scanned their considerable back catalogue for a winning set that fitted the dark skies overhead perfectly.

Prior to Clinic’s appearance, much-tipped Liverpool based act Outfit played to a sizeable audience. Mining the same dance/rock crossover motherlode as A Certain Ratio and Talking Heads, the band re-tool The Rapture, Liars et al’s NYC punk-funk into something of their own, with greater emphasis on melody. Already picking up serious praise in the city, the band have attracted a following after less than five gigs.

Elsewhere at the festival Welsh garage rockers The Keys played a blinder at the compact Shipping Forecast, their tracks a model of hold and release, effortlessly bringing off the garage rock trick of wringing the absolute maximum out of one mesmeric chord.

Melodious Liverpool instrument thrashers Fly with Vampires proved to be the surprise hit of the entire weekend. Taking the deep-pile, sensitive harmonies of the likes of Fleet Foxes and The Band, coupled with the blazing guitars of Neil Young, the quartet amplify this with a rhythm section redolent of Biffy Clyro or Foo Fighters that plays with enough force to punch holes in the ozone layer.

After gradually building their profile since last year’s Sound City, the four-piece have landed on the bill for Chester Rocks where they will have the extreme pleasure of sharing a bill with leathery proto-punk legends Iggy and The Stooges

Unsurprisingly, one of the leading lights in the city at moment played at festival, no less than three times in fact. Luke Fenlon, fresh from landing on the Radio One daytime playlist charmed the considerable crowd at The Masque Theatre, scene of his highest profile slot. His 45 ‘Summer’, combining the sonic heat wave of Buffalo Springfield with the spoken-sung narrative style of Lou Reed coincided with some unseasonably good weather at the beginning of May, raking up scores of YouTube hits.

Backed with a memorable video helmed by acclaimed local film maker Dominic Foster the track showcases the upbeat side of the singer-songwriter’s catalogue. A musician in thrall to Bob Dylan as much as Fenlon however is unlikely to pen songs that are all as similarly cheerful, as other songs in his setlist reveal a darker side.

With material recorded in Matt Sorum’s house over in LA (he of G n’R and Velvet Revolver drumstool fame), the tousle-haired troubadour is experiencing a seemingly unstoppable rise with only one official release to his name. Come festival season, ‘Summer’ as well as ‘Factory Floors’, ‘Hey You’ an ‘That Girl’ are likely to be on heavy rotation on various outdoor stages.

Looking ahead, another band who played the festival, Emily and the Faves have attracted much interest prior to the release of their long-awaited eponymous debut album in June. Fronted by Liverpudlian chanteuse Emily Lansley, who also serves as guitarist and co-vocalist for Stealing Sheep, her songs tap into the long-afternoon atmosphere of venerated late sixties songwriters.

Frequently evocative of Californian Laurel Canyon scribes James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and co, the songs are gently coaxed into new and wondrous forms by Emily’s guitar tones, nearer to MBV maverick Kevin Shields at times than folk guitarists. Clipping along in three-minute bursts of indie-pop perfection, the band are redolent of the brief but brilliant phase when The Throwing Muses, Belly and The Breeders were resident in the charts, showcasing a softer alternative to grunge guitar slingers.

The Faves aren’t that far removed from the US acts’ practice of putting guitars front and centre either, as their songs are packed full of ringing arpeggios, huge chords and melody lines that endlessly weave their way across the tracks. With much of the second installment planned following the release of the debut, the band are picking up the pace and will be treading the boards of the nation’s venues later this year.