The FA Cup probably wasn’t something that the organisers of Reading’s Are You Listening? Festival had taken much notice of when they confirmed the date for their third ever event. Little would they have known at that stage that the town’s football team would have battled its way through to the semi-finals of the competition for a show down with Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on the same day as the festival. Thankfully it seemed that not everyone loves football, as the venues on this wristband access festival were relatively busy, with music fans catching emerging local talent together with a number of higher profile national touring artists such as Pulled Apart By Horses, The Computers, Smoke Fairies and Dan Le Sac, whilst raising money for local charity Reading Mencap.
Although the football team may have lost on Saturday, Are You Listening? Festival was undoubtedly a winner. Venue hopping in the sunshine was an ease and unlike some other multi-venue urban festivals we saw no evidence of lines of disgruntled punters snaking around buildings unable to get in to see the acts they wanted. Stages seemed to run largely on time and as an added bonus all the staff working the festival seemed to have a smile on their faces. The bargain ticket price of £10 for an early bird ticket also made this quite possibly the best value UK festival of 2015.
So with Reading well and truly rocked over the course of 12 hours, here are our five favourite performances of the festival:
Tiny Giant at The Bowery District
The Bowery District is a probably the only nightclub we know of with an incongruous bookcase stuffed with the likes of Alan Tichmarsh paperbacks, a photobooth and pulled pork buns ready to be ordered from the bar (named Pulled Apart by Porkies in celebration of the evening’s headliner). There was nothing odd about Tiny Giant though, a new band fronted by ex Pure Reason Revolution woman Chloe Alper, who followed the classic format of four people, some guitars and a lot of atmospheric riffs. In the home of festivals that are noisy and guitar based, Tiny Giant made a lot of sense.
Robyn Sherwell at Milk
Another unusual venue is Milk. A first floor cocktail bar with fair faced brickwork,exposed trussed rafters and plenty of spirits of all kinds, Breaking More Waves favourite and blog regular Robyn Sherwell delivered sumptuous tender songs with a soulful tone set against a backdrop of keys, looped vocals and acoustic guitar. It’s not all sweetness and beauty though, there’s an underlying sturdiness to Sherwell: “I wrote this about an ex of mine. What a twat,” Robyn joked as she introduced the rather lovely sounding Portrait.
Sophie Jamieson at South Street Arts Centre
With dense whispers, nearly claustrophobic in their intimacy, Sophie Jamieson and her band sent tiny shivers from the stage with her ghostly soul music. That’s not soul music in the traditional sense, Jamieson’s sound owed more to the likes of Daughter and Laura Marling than Sam Cooke or Aretha Franklin, but it was certainly from the soul – Jamieson’s face visibly feeling every word she was singing. Powerful stuff that shows that to sing play with passion you don’t have to shout, holler and possess a Florence / Adele etc pair of lungs, sometimes it can be much more understated, but the soul comes from within.
Hart at South Street Arts Centre
From the moment Hart aka Daniel Pattison opened his voice, it was clear that something very special was happening. It takes a lot to silence a room of festival goers, many of whom have been hard at it all day, but Pattison managed it immediately. His first gig under this name had some minor technical problems, but in a set that progressed from near ambient-folk tranquility to thudding techno-lite, Hart’s cherubic pitch-perfect falsetto voice carried an utterly sublime elegance to it, like Bon Iver, or Andrew Montgomery from Geneva (anyone remember them?). Whether the songs were actually any good we couldn’t tell you, so blown away were we every second that Hart opened his mouth. The discovery of the festival.
Smoke Fairies at South Street Arts Centre
Finishing off a night of bewitching music at South Street Arts Centre, before a dash across town to take in the raucous indie rock racket that was Demob Happy, The Smoke Fairies sombre mix of twilight Americana, mystic rock and blues certainly wouldn’t win any awards for punch the air euphoria or sing-a-long moments of jubilation, but their sound was deeply immersive. Hats off to them for wickedly sparkling silver dresses, challenging the norm that ‘serious’ musicians can’t have a bit of fun dressing up when they get on stage.
We look forward to the return of Are You Listening? Festival In 2016 – an event that punched well above its weight in terms of quality and organisation for 2015.