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Beacons Festival 2012 Review (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 29th August 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Part 1 of Martin’s review of Beacons 2012 can be read here.

What more can be written about Wild Beasts’ ability to headline? Their double-headed fantasia redefines the potential of a modern group of musicians. The risk of repetition is one worth bearing in order to quote a phrase written about their headline performance at Constellations in Leeds last November: “To see a capacity audience in a large room transfixed by such intelligently-written and expertly-executed pop music is a wondrous thing.” To which I would add, the material is so familiar now that the crowd effortlessly sing along pretty much all the way through. Which seems natural, until you ponder the meaning of such lyrical masterpieces such as “I was thrilled as I was appalled / Courting him in fisticuffing waltz”; words worthy of Raffles the Gentleman Thug himself. The world of performing arts waits with baited breath the arrival of a fourth Wild Beasts album.

As these things are wont to do, Sunday dawns even later with the kind of melancholy that only pervades the final morning of a weekend-long shindig. What finer prescription for such malaise than a swift dose of Frankie and the Heartstrings? As my erudite companion opined, if these guys had been around 10 years ago, they’d have cleaned up, what with their jaunty melodies, whip-smart pop arrangements and a classic frontman in Frankie Francis. Their frequent appearances on the festival scene are considerable consolation.

There is no photograph of The Wave Pictures because they were so good I couldn’t drag my attention away from them to fiddle with a camera. Operating for an impressive 14 years, time has not dulled their appeal; quite the opposite: the trio are telepathic in their delivery. Whether it’s that, the clarity of the ideas contained within the casually-delivered lyrics, or perhaps the guitar which spans basic root chords and then veers off into advanced soloing in the blink of the eye, or most likely a superb blend of all three, something really clicks with these guys. Singer David Tattersall can’t help the smile creeping across his child’s face, as if he’s heard the secret of the world – and everything’s going to be OK. Like the day of meeting someone who you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, no doubt there will be many more performances by The Wave Pictures – but nothing beats the first time.

From which planet is Willis Earl Beal? Certainly he has a considerably other-worldly manner which suggests someone not quite 100% Earthling. The intensity of his performance does nothing to dissuade this notion. Accompanied by a reel-to-reel tape machine, Beal prowls the stage, howling complex, inscrutable notions to primordial beats. He wraps up by removing his thick leather belt and whacking his chair by way of improvised percussion, before swaggering offstage. He didn’t actually say, “Take me to your leader”, but one has the impression that’s what he’s thinking. [I’m not sure what to make of him either, but he is a protege of Richard Russell’s, so on that alone, he comes well recommended, doesn’t he? – Ed.]

I have it on good authority that Patrick Wolf, on grand piano and violin-as-held-like-a-guitar delivered his arch-pop with aplomb, and that Toots and the Maytals wrapped things up with – what else! – a reggae conga. And that was that. The end.

This is Beacons’ first year as Beacons – those in the know will have attended a smaller but no less vibrant event on roughly the same site called Moorfest from which Beacons has grown; yet more will have been as bitterly disappointed as the organisers were when last year’s event was cancelled due to apocalyptic flooding. Thusly, Beacons 2012 represents the culmination of many years of hopes, dreams, and the odd scary moment – the product of such a recipe was an event which had no airs or graces at all in its delivery: it simply put on top-quality entertainment in a decent bit of the countryside, and invited the punters themselves to be its beating heart.

If you sat down and thought about it for a bit, you could tell this was an early, perhaps even naïve, event – the main arena had a vast central space with nothing in it (where was the eponymous beacon?), I found programmes for sale on the last day at the back of a tent, and stuff like signage was a bit hit and miss. But by ‘eck and by gum, what am I blathering about? It’s refreshing to experience a festival that puts all its effort into the essentials, even if that means the details are a bit rough around the edges. Details can be bought, but good taste in music cannot: for that reason, Beacons deserves to flourish. And with every ticket for 2012 sold out, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Not even the weather.

 

Beacons Festival 2012 Review (Part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 28th August 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

There’s nothing quite as much that embodies the soul of festivalling than a humble handful of tents in a muddy field, preferably in a salt-of-the-Earth part of the world like North Yorkshire. Which, thank one’s lucky stars, is exactly what was offered by Beacons 2012 in Skipton. Certainly there were fringe events aplenty, and no less than three inflatable structures on which the young, or even perhaps the young at heart, could variously bounce and slide. But for those of a more musical bent, the sheer quantity and quality of angry, soulful, cerebral, and simply downright deafening music on offer was too much to resist. So, with practicalities out of the way first (food – adequate; beer – plentiful and cheap; cocktails – strong and immaculately-made; camping and toilets – well, at least there were some), let’s move onto the music.

Friday looked like belonging to the smaller Noisey/Vice stage, packed with trendy guitar-toting freaks from dawn ‘til dusk. But first up was Veronica Falls on the main Stool Pigeon stage. Their faux-naïf guitar jangle was helped by the natural reverb of the tent; the girl-boy vocals of James Hoare and Roxanne Clifford a natural, distinctive pairing, easing the crowd into the weekend. ‘Right Side Of My Brain’ features the word “beacon” in its lyrics. Neat, huh?

Pins must make all the bands who struggle around the circuit for years, never making it big, green with envy. Lucky if they’re into double figures in terms of live shows, and only the odd limited edition tape to call a release, their influence in terms of pixel inches belies their young status. And in all honesty, they deserve it. The four ladies look great, the sound is warehouse-bare and won’t win any awards for virtuosity, but there’s plenty of edge and aloof attitude – exactly as it should be.

Gross Magic are somewhat more confusing. Their release ‘Teen Jamz’, whilst noisy in places, carries a ’70s glam-rock subtlety that appears almost entirely lost in the live performance, which is a deafening electric guitar onslought overlaid by a reed-thin voice. What is clear is that single Sam McGarrigle is desperate to transport himself back to 1990 Seattle and ingratiate himself with that scene – backwards baseball cap, half-mast pyjama bottoms, shuffling gait, faux-Transatlantic accent – he should fit right in.

Roots Manuva need no introduction. Rodney Smith’s lithe, languid, baritone flow has been leading the way in thoughtful urban music for years now. Tonight he pulls out all the stops – three MCs, full band, tight as a conga skin. There’s such a concentration of ideas that you really have to know the material or pay extremely close attention to the lyrics to fully appreciate – and when a tent is as jumping as this, that’s a tall order.

If anyone was wondering, from first-hand experience the main arena closed at 3 AM…but the tiny open-mic shack was still inviting weary musicians to knock out a song or two into the wee small hours. Just the thing to ease fragile heads into action on Saturday morning were conceptual electro-folksters The Magnetic North [pictured at top and appearing to be what Erland and the Carnival get up to on their day off, plus a female singer. – Ed.] Their magnum opus is Orkney Symphony, an aural tour of the northern Scottish island. And truly magnificent it is live too, the midday timing belying the subtle beauty on offer both in the music, and in the opinion of my male companion, also their auburn-haired lead singer.

Cass McCombs brings a touch of chilled Americana to proceedings. In fact, a touch too chilled – one gets the impression there’s some serious talent up there on stage; Cass has a lovely delivery and some great material – but they play it very cool. Which is all very well in the early afternoon drizzle, but one is left with the impression that one of those vintage Telecasters just wants to let rip into a 2-minute solo.

If you like noisy Welsh socialists making a racket, Future of the Left are for you. Musically as subtle as a brick to the head, and on first listen just as enjoyable, there is commendable anger and surprising depth of ideas on offer here. At times a touch too keen to rely on tired tropes like the North-South divide and knocking capitalism and Americans to really move the game on, but at others there’s a nice touch of working-class surrealism – like The Manics covering Eric Idle.

Ghostpoet is snapping at the heels of Roots Manuva, and quite rightly so. Musically more down tempo and glitchy, vocally he’s right up there with Mr. Smith, in terms of delivery and flow. There’s more considered storytelling going on here, there’s more space for the rhymes to breathe, and he seems to be creating the lion’s share of the music right there on a few synths. Romantic, grounded in day-to-day life, this is a deeply relevant and even moving set.

Stay tuned for the second half of Martin’s review of Beacons Festival 2012 appearing on TGTF tomorrow.

 

Preview: Beacons Festival 2012

 
By on Tuesday, 19th June 2012 at 9:30 am
 

Beacons Festival lives! After a hugely disappointing cancellation last year due to apocalyptic flooding, Beacons is back in August 2012 with, if anything, an even more exciting offer than before. With arguably one of the finest musical lineups around, a beautiful setting in the Yorkshire Dales, and plenty of peripheral activities for drinkers (real ale! cider! craft beers!), thrill-seekers (vintage fairground rides!) and families (bedtime stories!) alike, there’s something for just about everyone.

Musically, the headliners are very different, but all superb. Friday is headlined by Roots Manuva, the ever-present bard of urban culture. Now onto his fifth LP, ‘4everevolution’, if there is a modern counterpoint to Toots’ Jamaican vibes, then it’s Rodney Smith’s uncomfortable flow of consciousness, documenting the trials of modern life one rhyme at a time.

Saturday’s Wild Beasts (pictured at top) should need no introduction to readers of this blog. With superb material drawn from their companion albums ‘Two Dancers’ and ‘Smother’, the band are at the top of their live game right now. Having just given a breathtaking performance at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, there is every expectation that their visit to Beacons will be just as exemplary. A great opportunity to see the best British live act of the moment at the height of their powers.

Quite different, but just as wonderful, is the prospect of Jamaican Reggae legends Toots and the Maytals wrapping up the festival in tropical style on Sunday evening. Part of the musical firmament since the glory days of reggae in the 1960s, they remain just as relevant today. With a long and influential history, not to mention an astonishing 31 Jamaican number one hits, they helped change popular music forever (The Clash’s cover of Toots track ‘Pressure Drop’ predated the seminal reggae influences revealed in London Calling), have a list of famous collaborators as long as a rasta’s dreads (Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, er… Shaggy) and contributed the brilliant cover of ‘Let Down’ to the Radiodread album. In this jubilee year, Toots and the Maytals are reggae royalty.

The undercard is no less impressive. Let’s pick a few highlights… representing the North East are ornithological experinstrumentalists B>E>A>K, flamboyant indie-popsters Frankie and the Heartstrings, and the beautiful, yearning sounds of Lanterns on the Lake. And to pick a number of personal favourites, The Wave Pictures, Peaking Lights, Clock Opera, Admiral Fallow, Outfit, Japandroids… a veritable feast of fabness.

One not to be missed, then. See you there.

Beacons Festival takes place at Funkirk Estate, Skipton, in the stunning Yorkshire Dales, 17th-19th August. Weekend tickets are priced at £84.50 or a £44.50 deposit can be put down now. For more ticket options and to buy your tickets, visit the official Beacons Festival Web site.

 
 
 

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