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Live Review: Us Vs. Them curated by Field Music at Leeds Brudenell Social Club – 2nd December 2017

By on Wednesday, 6th December 2017 at 2:00 pm

The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is one of those mythical places that you have likely heard of due to its connection to Wakefield’s finest the Cribs. But unless you live in Yorkshire and/or have attended Live at Leeds over the years, you’ve probably never visited the place. That’s the boat I was in until last Saturday, when for a second year running the venue, in coordination with Futuresound Events, put on a Us Vs. Them festival showcase curated by the most prolific musicians of the North East, Field Music. (Last year’s was curated by Welsh band Los Campesinos!) TGTF have been long-time supporters of the Brewises and since it so happened I was in the vicinity of Leeds (er, sort of…it’s a long story, ha) and the lineup was indeed pretty amazing, I thought it was my editor duty to stop in.

The Cornshed Sisters (Tyne and Wear)
They’re folky, they’re poppy and they have connections to Field Music, which make them a convenient addition to this evening’s bill. The ukulele-playing Jennie Brewis is Peter Brewis’ wife, and Liz Corney plays keyboards and sings backup in Field Music. As you might expect for women from the North East, they are women with minds of their own and they have wit, judging from jokes about their live drummer Ian Black, who fronts his own band SLUG (keep on reading this review), and a dinosaur. I won’t spoil the latter for you, you can ask them yourselves when you see them live; it’s toilet humour, but remarkably high-brow toilet humour.

The Cornshed Sisters Us vs Them 2

Anyway, right, back to the music. I arrived at the Community Room after they’d already begun, a crowd listening to them in rapt attention. Their second album ‘Honey and Tar’, was released in early November, and is filled with catchy tunes and important meaning. ‘Jobs for the Boys’ was introduced as “one of the misogynists”; its peerless four-part harmonies superbly infectious for reasonably weight subject matter. The mostly a cappella ‘Sunday Best / Small Spaces’ is a welcome treat, its second half led by Jennie Brewis conveying something so simple – being in close confines with a loved one – beautifully. It always feels odd to me to hear Americana folk somewhere outside of my country, but the Cornshed Sisters do it so well.

SLUG (Sunderland)
Inside one Mr. Ian Black of Sunderland lives a truly depraved mind. Who else would come up with a song entitled ‘Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped in Plastic’? But let’s leave that gem for a moment. The far more important thing to note about Black and his band is their commitment to rock, rocking out and doing so in a way that is off the wall mad. And it’s absolutely brilliant. Whether it had to do with him throwing off his glasses and running to the Main Stage like the crazy ginger he is, or if he was just having a bad night, guitar problems delayed SLUG’s set.

SLUG Us vs Them 1

In exchange for the delay, his drummer played a pretty rad solo with funny interjections about the location of the cowbell in his kit while Black was stuck trying to tune several different guitars. When the boho-looking band finally got started, a good chunk of their playing time had already evaporated, leaving the group to play out their set with‘Cockeyed Rabbit…’ and the sleazy, percussion-driven ‘Greasy Mind’ and ‘Running to Get Past Your Heart’. (Seriously, how has a SLUG song *not* managed to appear on a Wes Anderson film yet?) The best I can do is to describe them as a certain sweet convergence of pomposity, squealing guitars and buzzy percussion. If you know anything about Field Music and their North East friends, they are unpredictable and don’t do anything linearly. And just as I saw at The Great Escape 2015, SLUG’s music is always fantastic.

Emma Pollock (Glasgow)

Emma Pollock Us vs Them 2

Ex-Delgados Emma Pollock has a funny story about being invited to perform at this festival. She explained she herself had curated an event to celebrate Kate Bush and that the Brewis brothers attended the event when it was being put on in Glasgow this past spring. Great minds and all that, eh? Performing only with her voice and guitar and accompanied by a keyboardist, her performance was a stark contrast to the boisterousness of the Cornshed Sisters earlier. Lights of red and blue swathed Pollock in an eerie glow, her voice strong, yet haunting, providing the most wintry-feeling set I saw all night.

C Duncan (Glasgow)
A month prior to this, I saw C Duncan open as a one-man act for Elbow at the 9:30 Club and was already wowed with what he could do solo. Here, finally, was my big chance to see Chris Duncan with a full band. As you might expect, the bigger setup leads to a far more robust and exciting sound than is achievable with a one-man band, even with a laptop and synths available at a touch of a button.

C Duncan Us vs Them 1

This is probably most obvious with the joining of three male voices in perfect harmonies on ‘Say’ and ‘Like You Do’. While an appreciation of choral music is of course not a prerequisite to liking C Duncan’s music, having witnessed evensong the evening before at York Minster was a good reminder of Duncan’s achievements recording and tweaking versions of his own voice for an ethereal choir sound on record, as well as organizing the live performance of his music. The innocent, dreamlike qualities of ‘Do I Hear’ from his second album ‘The Midnight Sun’ come through on the oozy, woozy lyrics, as Duncan waxes philosophical on the early halcyon days of a relationship. Ever fallen in love? This song, like many of C Duncan’s orchestrations, makes your heart swell. It’s wonderful to be invited into this special world, with a sweeping grandeur you can be a part of. It makes me want to stretch my arms out and throw them around, er…Paris?

Warm Digits (Newcastle)
Time for something heart pumping and in a different way. North East duo Warm Digits, fine purveyors of wonky dance beats, with the guest vocals of such luminaries at Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell on ‘Growth of Raindrops’ and Field Music themselves. They were exactly what the doctor ordered on a chilly night in Leeds, turning the Community Room at the Brudenell into a Berlin discotheque. By the time I arrived, the room was packed and I wasn’t going to push my way to the front. People weren’t exactly bumping and grinding to their music at the back; more heads appeared to be craning to see the projections of cartoony images and splashy big words in bold colours behind the pair. Hopefully there was more actual action down the front?

Dutch Uncles (Manchester via Marple)

Dutch Uncles Us vs Them 1

Now on to the prolific group from the other side of the Pennines, Dutch Uncles. Songwriter Robin Richards just keeps going like the Energizer Bunny, having scored a documentary on the Chernobyl disaster-ravaged city of Pripyat last year and spent time in Caernarfon, Wales in an artist residency there. The band themselves released their fifth album early this year, ‘Big Balloon’, so they’ve got plenty to pick and choose from in their back catalogue. The bubblegummy ‘Oh Yeah’ might suggest this LP is their most accessible yet.

But not to worry, there are still plenty of weird time signatures and bops in all directions on ‘Hiccup’, impressively aggressive live. They pulled out the frenetic ‘Flexxin’ from 2011’s ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’, and it sounded as good as it did way back then. The Main Stage floor was packed out again, no doubt by people who had seen Dutch Uncles loads of times before and were eating up Duncan Wallis’ amusing stage patter and what appeared to be drummer Andy Proudfoot’s smashing impromptu rendition of Semisonic’s ‘Secret Smile’. Something tells me a good number of these folks saw them at Leeds Town Hall at Live at Leeds 2015 (I didn’t; you can thank the Cribs for that).

To conclude…
Annoyingly, in order to catch a train and to rest a wonky, swollen foot that I must have twisted the day before in York, I entirely missed Field Music’s own set. The one comfort I have, and you should have too, if you were not present Saturday night, is that the band from Sunderland have UK tour dates in March and May 2018, so you’ve got your chance in the new year. In case you have been living under a rock, they recently revealed ‘Count It Up’, the first taster to seventh album ‘Open Here’ due out the 9th of February 2018 on Memphis Industries, and you can bop your head to the highly political, supposedly ‘Material Girl’-inspired track below.

All in all, who I did manage to see at the Field Music-curated Us vs. Them in Leeds were great, excellently showcasing some of the best acts, new and old, from the North of England and Scotland. I hope the Brudenell and Futuresound Events continue this annual tradition. Really, who better is there to put together a festival but musicians who actively listen to other musicians and can choose prudently a lineup that their own fans would love to see? For more photos from the festival, visit my Flicker.


Live Review: The Futureheads with the Cornshed Sisters at Gateshead Sage – 8th April 2012

By on Tuesday, 17th April 2012 at 2:00 pm

The Futureheads are in Gateshead to perform their latest superb opus, ‘Rant’. [Read Martin’s review of ‘Rant’ here.] It’s worth repeating, this is pretty much an entirely vocal album which spans performances of Futureheads songs rearranged for voices only, some unlikely covers, and a handful of traditional folk songs. This is the closest thing to a home performance of the freshly-minted album so far, although they will return to their actual hometown of Sunderland in a month or two for a couple of gigs. Nothing special, just one in Sunderland Minster (“a place of prayer, worship, God’s love, community action, friendship and much more”), and a place called the Stadium Of Light supporting a little-known band called Red Hot Chili Peppers. But tonight is all their own, in the neutral territory of Gateshead. But first of all there’s the little matter of the Cornshed Sisters

The Sisters are the perfect support act for this tour. Not only because both acts’ styles align perfectly tonight (of which more later), but for the more familial reason that Jennifer Brewis, her of the lovely soul voice stage right, is the better half of Field Music’s Peter, who is duly present in the audience tonight, along with Neil Bassett (Beast from Hyde and Beast, which features Dave Hyde, drummer of the ‘Heads, and singer Barry Hyde’s brother… are you paying attention at the back?). As if that’s not enough, there are several family members here to see what their offspring have been getting up to in the last year or so. Much like Field Music’s Cluny gig earlier in the year, it’s a proper celebration of what’s going so right with the music in this part of the world, with everyone turning out in support of their own.

Anyway, back to the Cornshed Sisters. This delightful all-female quartet have cornered the market in Americana-influenced folky ditties, with each taking turns at lead vocals, and the rest providing note-perfect harmonies. There’s a distinct vintage bent in the songwriting: ‘The Beekeeper’ is a perfect example, featuring as it does the sacrifice of a calf… then there’s the slightly disturbing comparison between a love affair and the Allied bombing campaign of a German city in ‘Dresden’. Overall, the sight of four dignified ladies purveying such singular material is surely more helpful to the ‘Girl Power’ meme – if such a pop-feminist movement exists or is even relevant now – than the ’90s girl bands ever were.

And then the Futureheads cometh. In the rack of guitars and drum kit hiding at the back of the stage, there are signs that this won’t be an entirely à capella gig, but just to prove their overall intent, the band choose to start with ‘Beeswing’. Surely the finest recording released this year, and a good reason for the Ivor Novello awards to open a new category of “Best recording of a previously released song” that there ever has been, this note-perfect rendition of the Richard Thompson classic sets the bar for the rest of the gig… which develops quite like a lost MTV “Unplugged” session. Debut album single ‘Decent Days and Nights’, and superb paean to the lost Busby Babes ‘News and Tributes’, are both rearranged for acoustic instruments which, if anything, seems to enhance their power; the songwriting is given room to breathe without the distracting noise of electrified instruments.

Lead singer and bandleader Barry Hyde is surely destined for a career in musical theatre if the Futureheads’ star wanes; his performance is just as much physical than vocal, and given the power and attitude contained within his voice that is quite a compliment. ‘The Old Dun Cow’ rollicks along with the audience joining in with choruses of “Macintyre!” and foot stamps; like a modern-day Fagin, Hyde exhorts his crew into a chorus of bawdy goodwill, his powerful storytelling manner finally giving vibrant life to a traditional song that has been murdered countless times by talentless YouTube karaoke merchants. The definitive version is finally made flesh.

As if this weren’t enough entertainment for one night, the Cornshed Sisters are invited back onstage to provide backing vocals to ‘Sumer Is Ecumen In’; suddenly the vocal palette is twice as deep. And as if that wasn’t enough, all of a sudden the stage is full of the tender-aged, angel-voiced throng that makes up the local Longbenton Community Choir; by some twist of fate Barry Hyde has conjured a whole orchestra of voices with which to climax the show. Their version of Sparks’ ‘The No. 1 Song in Heaven’ is utterly sublime; always a song with a spiritual theme, the young choir evoke a quite otherworldy backdrop worthy of the finest cathedral mass. Stunning.

It is difficult to imagine a finer gig; a band who have discovered a fine seam of form, collaborating with superbly talented musicians reimagining superb source material. Barry Hyde admits afterwards that the challenge of reducing 120 tracks of vocals to just four voices has been a challenge; a shaky version of ‘Meet Me Halfway’ aside, it’s one that has been met admirably. And he assures me that the appearance of a choir is not just a one-off – if by the time this review is published the Manchester and London gigs have passed, I have it on good authority that the Sunderland Minster performance promises to be quite special. On the evidence of tonight, there’s no way it could be anything other.


Live Gig Video: The Futureheads perform Sparks’ ‘The No. 1 Song in Heaven’ a capella at London Union Chapel

By on Thursday, 12th April 2012 at 4:00 pm

If there was any doubt in your mind how talented Sunderland’s most famous sons the Futureheads were, wipe that all out now. Fellow Mackems Frankie and the Heartstrings alerted us to this video from the Futureheads’ gig last week at London Union Chapel, an amazingly brilliant performance of Sparks ‘The No. 1 Song in Heaven’, entirely a capella in the style of their latest album, ‘Rant’, along with the Cornshed Sisters and choir. (Read Martin’s review of the LP here.) Further, Frankie and co. warn that tickets to the Futureheads’ gig at Sunderland Minster – to feature the Longbenton Community College Choir – are selling fast so if you want in on this sans instrument action, be quick!

For more Futureheads a capella goodness, you can watch their performances of ‘Hanging Johnny’ in the open air here and ‘The Old Dun Cow’ in a pub here.



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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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