Monday, 21 September 2009

Southsea Fest 2009

Southsea Fest is modelled on events such as The Great Escape in Brighton and Swn in Cardiff but on a smaller scale. Established in 2007 the first event was held to raise funds for the promoter Josie Cutis’ younger brother, a musician, to record an album after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The event has now expanded and this year took place in twelve venues with over one hundred and fifty acts performing with some profits given to charity.

An entry wristband was budget price, being the same cost as a standard gig ticket, allowing access to all venues which were situated within close proximity to each other, mainly on Albert Road in the south coast town. Unlike similar larger events such as The Great Escape there was no need to turn up at a venue early and queue to guarantee entry, wristband holders were able to freely wander between locations as they chose. At times the event resembled something more like a giant pub crawl than a music event, with bands providing a backing track for happy drunken punters roaming the street. Breaking More Waves took a more conservative approach however, remaining in one venue all day, (Little Johnny Russells) except for our surprisingly well received DJ Set early in the day under our DJ Hojo Hits guise at Cafe Citrus, where we managed to bring dubstep, synth pop, vintage rock and roll, and seventies disco to the artists VIP area.

This years event was crammed so full of bands that it is no surprise that several stages ran behind the scheduled timetable, but most punters seemed unconcerned, happy to catch whatever artist they stumbled across at any particular time. The line up for the event consisted of a number of small national bands previously featured on this blog such as Peggy Sue, The Joy Formidable, James Yuill and Alessi’s Ark as well as plenty of local artists. So to the bands we saw..

With lead singer Clym Arnold swinging from the stage balustrade till it almost collapses, diving onto the floor and his band raping your ear drums with a fistf*ck of visceral punk, The Deads mean business; and we don’t mean the kind that involves hot desking, water cooler moments and power lunches. No this is business that is primitive, brutal and likely to find you sprawled over the photocopier with a microphone stand thrust up your backside. We have no idea about the songs they play, except for a dirty cover of Helter Skelter, but finding blood gushing from our ears actually seems like fun.

The Hall Of Mirrors are about as far removed from The Deads as you can imagine. Every song is a delicate spoonful of sugar adventure of perky tunefulness. “This next song is all about love,” gushes singer Jessica Spencer and we are sure we see fairy dust sparkle from her keyboard and Mary Poppins skipping around in the background. Only at the end when she kicks back her piano stool and delivers a harsher bluesy number do things become a little more unsettling.

The keyboard remains for a short set by Loz Bridge , this time without his backing band The Box Social, who we have featured here before. Bridge produces a short, accomplished set of jazzy rootsy sounds, full of earnest musicianship with just a hint of Chris Martins more reflective moments. One for the more mature listener, his sound is better suited to a quiet theatre or lounge bar than a chatty south coast pub on a Saturday afternoon.

Little Johnny Russells fills up rapidly after Bridge finishes for the megaphone wielding Holdfast, who having recently bagged support slots with White Lies, These New Puritans and in the near future The Chapman Family. The band have developed a confident swagger as they race through their charged punkish riot of keyboard and energetic guitar laden noise with glittery dress clad singer Roberta stepping into the crowd. They may not yet have perfected any killer songs, but they have a dark raw shout about them that takes them above the level of your standard local indie no hopers.

Breaking More Waves regulars The B of the Bang have been peddling their wares for some time now and tonight feels like one of closure, songs from their debut album Beginning Middle End being performed for possibly the last time before some new material is unleashed. Lung is still a colossal beast of a song, triumphant in its sadness and set closer Alaska bristles with taught atmosphere, but their live centrepiece remains Last Day On Earth which is performed with members of The Dawn Chorus; full of soaring trumpets and men singing the words “La la la,” as if it were the most important thing in the world.

Rather like a game of tag The Dawn Chorus continue where The B of the Bang left off. The band are a menagerie of multi instrumentation and subtle tunes with heavenly trumpet fanfares that uplift and involve, and on one song the band even have a little stab at some ska which seems rudely off centre to the rest of their country tinged rock sound. Strangely endearing and glorious.

Eight piece Revere (pictured) are physically and musically too big for such a tiny stage as Southsea Fest. The band bring military jackets, waistcoats, strings and a big big sound that comes from the same musical space as bands like Broken Records and Arcade Fire. Their songs sweep and soar gloriously high, powerfully evocative and beautiful. With due respect to all of the bands that have come before them, Revere stand that much taller, that much stronger and bring the most illustrious sounds we hear all day.

After Revere ‘dirty folksters’ Billy Vincent have a tough job. A slimmed down check shirted version of the whole band, they play with just two acoustic guitars, and as the beer flows more readily you have to feel sorry for any act that really demands quiet attention.

Next up are San Francisco’s Love Like Fire who play a fairly straightforward female fronted blend of indie rock that has a vaguely early to mid nineties feel to it. The band suffer from an audience that now seems more interested in alcoholic kicks than actually listening to the music. There are hints of something epic trying to break out, but it’s a case of seen it all before with this band.

“Give me some love it’s tough up here,” announces Chris T-T. Good god the man’s right. At this point in the evening we wonder if anybody is actually interested in the music at all. Chris T-T could have probably come on stage, pissed in a pot and walked off again and nobody would have noticed. So all credit to the man who has played on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for having the guts to force out his political acoustic folk rock to those who care. Breaking a guitar string after his first song, he continues a cappella, before thrashing out tunes about getting older, hunting and the wonderful Preaching To The Converted which has thrusting intensity and humour in equal measure. “Billy Braggs gone fishing in his 4 x 4,” he sings to a an audience who are drowning in lager.

At this point it doesn’t look good for James Yuill , but miraculously his beats, loops and geekoid electronic wizardry win the day. The inebriated crowd are ready to dance and the heavy beats and laptronica that Yuill produces work well. His sound mixes elements of Nick Drake, Radiohead, Aphex Twin and Calvin Harris into something that is uniquely his own. As songs such as the dreamy rotating No Surprise and the gentle bounce of This Sweet Love are played out it reminds us why we put his Turning Down Water For Air album in our Top Ten of 2008. Enchanting electronic melodies with a human side, from one of the nicest men in music make a fine way to end the evening.


abbie said...

I am mighty pleased to say that not all stages suffered from drunken louts ignoring the music. The Loft actually saw a bit of a hippy love in when Django Django were on, with the front few rows sitting cross legged watching their Beta-Band-esque dance.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

That's good to hear.

The levels of chat / totally ignoring artists at certain events (particularly festival type events) seems to have got considerably worse in the last few years - particularly in Portsmouth I'm sad to say.

I blame the way that the majority of the UK now consume music - as a backing track to their lives - downloads have ushered us back to an era of single tracks and one hit wonders, the public no longer having the attention span or ability to deal with anything longer than about five minutes that they don't recognise, particularly after a few drinks. At several festivals this year I've noticed audience members hanging around chatting whilst an artist performs waiting for "the song they know" then immediately leaving.

More hippy love such as that you described at Django Django is what is required I think.

But how do we get it ?

Ban alcohol at gigs ? (no good as venues will not make any money). Test peoples commitment to live music before they come in to the venue ? Throw people out for talking ? Not sure there is an easy solution without spoiling the expectations of what the majority now believe a gig involves. IE; Meeting up with friends, getting drunk, chatting and being able to say "Oh I was there," without ever immersing themselves in the artists performance fully.

Talking of which, check back here on Wednesday for a review of an album that really does need your full attention....