Bearded’s Guide To… Liverpool

More dispatches from up north this week as Richard Lewis hunts out the latest sounds emanating from the port of Liverpool.

The Wicked Whispers The received wisdom that with the festival season in full swing, things wind down musically in the UK’s town and cities over the summer months has taken bit of battering over the past few weeks. The city has been a veritable hive of activity over the past month or so.

On the subject of festivals, the orbiting satellite of Chester held the inaugural Chester Rocks last weekend. The event was put firmly on the map as the organisers secured an incredible headliner in the leathery form of Iggy and The Stooges. Lower down the bill from the man formerly known as James Osterburg, lurked a plethora of Liverpool bands.

Veterans Amsterdam headlined the second stage, with festival stalwarts The Lightening Seeds, punk band The Thespians, cinematic rockers Owls* and the superb Fly with Vampires also to be found on the listings.

Southport, a few miles up the coast gets in on the act with their own bunfight this weekend. The redoubtably excellent headliners The Futureheads are a stellar attraction, their last gig in Liverpool a mayhem filed affair in a jam-packed Shipping Forecast last December.

Talking of Southport, ace indie-folk act Misery Guts, who hail from the town curated their own festival in the stunning St. Luke’s Church in the heart of the city centre. Held on a scorching hot Sunday afternoon, the quartet headed a bill also comprising ace roots/folk duo The Big House and Bird, a new PJ Harvey/Portishead influenced group who continued their ascent in unequivocal fashion.

Aside from festivals taking place, a veritable avalanche of records has been released by bands from this part of world recently. Proper, needs-a-stereo-in-order-to-play-them discs too. Emily and The Faves’ wonderful eponymous debut album was released, while superlative post-punks The Rialto Burns new EP For the Asking is fresh out of the pressing plant too.

Turning to long-players, Victorian literature referencing, Beefheartian eight piece Lovecraft released debut outing Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad. Signed to the legendary, fiercely independent Probe Plus, also home to Wirral pop culture obsessives Half Man Half Biscuit, the ‘Craft travelled down to the Smoke and turned in a gig at Mello Mello on home turf for the album launch. As reliably off-beat as expected, the many limbed group’s prog-pop hymns have found a receptive audience with a brace of excellent reviews.

Also hitting the album trail, angsty indie rockers Strawhouses have been on the fringes of the city’s music scene for several years, quietly perfecting their sound. Striding centre stage, the four-piece unveiled debut album These Are the Willing late last month. Available from the band’s website for a solitary £1, the group turned the release into an old school event as opposed to ‘Our new tracks are now available for streaming’ jiggery-pokery.

A striking crystallisation of their sound, shoehorning Jeff Buckley falsettos, Radiohead guitar squalls and thrumming Interpol basslines into the eleven songs, the band’s slow burn strategy has clearly paid dividends. The storming likes of ‘Malaise’ and ‘The Way of the World’ serve up intensity in spades, while simultaneously keeping an eye firmly on the tunes. Recent 45 ‘Train Wreck’ is possibly their strongest moment to date, a masterclass in melody and unease.

Talking of record releases on the kind which are tangible, The Wicked Whispers unveiled their debut EP, The Dark Delights Of…. Released on ultra-collectable 10” vinyl, via their own label, Electone Records, a raucous performance at the Kazimier provided the EP’s launch party. The Vox Continental driven four piece source The Doors, The Pink Floyd and The Byrds, effortlessly recreating their sound live. With some of the best haircuts seen on a guitar band since the doyens US Underground were captured on the Nuggets compilation, the quartet bottle a wealth of vintage reference points into short bursts of sound.

Best sampled on EP track ‘Amanda Lavender’, a Syd Barrett-esque paean (think See Emily Play) to the fictional heroine, the two minute odyssey is their most straightforward pop song so far. Accompanied by a mist-shrouded video shot in Snowdonia by acclaimed rock photographer Mark McNulty, the Country Garden setting and the pulchritudinous Charlotte Cooper in the title role make for a memorable clip.

On a completely different theme, Mashemon, have been making waves of late. Harking back to the likes of Suicide, Kraftwerk and Low period Bowie, the electronic duo’s addition of a drummer has given them additional live muscle. Taking the early The Human League approach of synthesizers-are-the-most-punk-rock-instrument-there-is, the duo have the knack of crafting songs that are simultaneously poppy and mildly abrasive. Utilising bass, guitar, vox and software, the likes of lad-mag savaging Sanity Check and the futuristic T-Rex boogie of Dull Boy blend glam stomps and cold electronica to brilliant effect.

Excellent new single ‘Lips, Limbs, Lungs’, available free from the band’s website, further charts their highly successful attempts at welding articulate, socially conscious lyrics with glammed-up electro pop.

Fond of releasing physical copies of their work, yet eschewing the standard method of payment (ie: money) the duo gave away last year’s long player Removal Music ‘in exchange for a good deed’. On the live front, the band’s gigs, with the two dressed as Twin Peaks’ in-house band from One Eyed Jacks, playing in front of flickering visuals, some thought-provoking, some random, make for unique events.