Live at Live At Leeds 2012 on Saturday, 5th May 2012
I'll give you a snapshot of my day on Saturday, last weekend. I took the dog for a 4 mile walk around Rodley, picked-up my first ever press-perk type wristband, went to my favourite hideaway (The Leeds Library) to snaffle my pack-up and lose myself in a book for an hour or so, headed to The Cockpit to catch some live music, nipped for a brew with the lovely Mrs Pickle, moseyed-on down to Trinity Church for some more live music, popped home to feed the pets, went back out to Brudenell Social Club for another portion of live music and then finished the night at The Wardrobe for a cherry-on-top serving of, yup, more live music. Action packed or what? Well, it was Live at Leeds weekend after all!
My Saturdays aren't usually that exciting, brews and libraries aside, things normally tick along at a much gentler pace on a weekend in our house as it goes. Rock 'n roll, I know! My aim for the day was simple; try and soak up the LAL vibe, get to venues of all shapes and sizes, avoid the ones I don't like (sorry, it's a city centre and there are inevitably a few) and catch a mixture of artists; some I knew already and others I was keen to see for the first time.
It's been a long time since I went to The Cockpit. The last time I was in there was before the smoking ban, which as sensible a piece of legislation as it is, put an end to venues providing a mask for the drifting, often overpowering smell of toilets and body odour. Not something specific to The Cockpit of course, this is just something I notice all over the place these days - people make smells. So with one sense rudely awakened it was time to rouse a couple more and climb the clanking metal stairs - anticipation rising in time with my steps - to catch Dancing Years.
Performing in a crowded room upstairs (Cockpit 3) the guys played a set at their perfectly melodic, sensitive and layered best. Without sounding obsessive, I'm a big fan of these guys and each time I listen to their tunes or see them performing live - I'm genuinely stunned by how polished their work is. They're a credit to the thriving folk scene which Leeds boasts at the minute and the songs they craft show a maturity and musical understanding way beyond their years. David Henshaw is the epitome of what this band needs in terms of a front-man; charmingly coy, abundantly talented, unpretentious and effortlessly witty. As with fellow multi-instrumentalist Joseph Lawrenson and the other talented chaps that make up Dancing Years, there is never any assumption on their part that the music will blow you away. But it does.
The songs often start out small and Dancing Years let them build slowly allowing the audience to feel their own way into the set as the emotion grows. This customary approach fits their music perfectly and as this set grew in stature, so too did the response of the crammed-in crowd. Crammed-in? Yup! At one point Mrs Pickle breathed in to let somebody go past her, at which point she turned a purple shade of blue, looked in my direction and whispered that she couldn't breathe out! The person she'd made space for, assuming that they would go past her to find some space to call their own, was now stood in the very space provided by her inhalation, a space previously occupied by her ribcage. That discomfort aside, Dancing Years had us and the rest of the crowd rightly stirred and on-side by the end of what was a brilliant performance and the ideal opener to our Live at Leeds.
After adjourning for a coffee on Boar Lane we moved on to Trinity Church in good time to take up position in the front row of pews in readiness for Fran Rodgers. I've been promising myself a trip to Trinity for some time now having missed a few key dates for launch nights and such so I was mustard to see exactly what the place is about. Within minutes of Fran's set I found the acoustics rich and captivating and could have happily spent the rest of the day there. Bliss. As matching venue to artist goes the church is the perfect setting for Leeds' plethora of talented folky folk and Fran is no exception.
I'll confess to not knowing a single song by Fran prior to her set and although I had my pen and notepad in my pocket - I still don't know what the songs were called. None of that matters though given the stunningly haunting performance that followed. Taking her seat in the middle of the altar, a charmingly unassuming Fran said the briefest of hellos to the audience and was straight into a beautiful half hour of making hairs stand up on necks along every row of the friendly congregation. From one song to the next I was mesmerised by the effectiveness of her vocals and the depth of each piece. Fran has a stunningly clear and satisfying voice and the result of weaving her vocals over her own deftly looped vocal backing added more beautiful textures than I was ready for. I've since been listening to plenty more of her music and it's almost as sweet on record as it is in the flesh. I don't think I'll forget the first time I heard her songs though, nor the idyllic setting.
We were away quickly after Fran's set finished for a quick pit-stop back home in Farsley. Shortly afterwards we were at the bar ordering our drinks at The Brudenell. It's our favourite venue in Leeds and we were chuffed to bits when we heard our favourite local band, Fossil Collective, were playing there. I make no secret of my admiration for the FC guys which you'll know if you've been so kind as to read my previous reviews. Following the local music scene for years I've been blessed with several musical epiphanies and in the last year or so, the majority of these have centred around this one band; watching the first video, buying the limited edition EP, going to the stripped-down live performance at Midnight Bell, writing a review of the official debut EP, chatting to them in person for the first time after months of exchanged pleasantries online, enjoying the new video. So in keeping with this, the first time I'd see them play as a full band would be at The Brudenell. Perfect.
Half an hour hardly seems long enough to savour Leeds' best kept secret if, like me, you know just how good they are. Arriving at The Brudenell shortly before 5pm as we did, it was clear the bar had been open all day and there were already a few early victims of all-day drinking. (Ask the poor member of staff charged with cleaning the sink in the gents' toilets out, I'm sure he'd agree). A few comedy drunken folk aside the place was a little under-populated which left me feeling a tad disappointed to begin with. However, the numbers grew respectably and by the time Fossil Collective took to the stage there were plenty of people waiting to hear them play, plus the gaggle of chatty ladies in the corner seemingly oblivious to the fact there was a live band on stage. I digress.
A deliciously impressive set from start to finish including one new song ("Boy with Blackbird Kite"), the half hour flew by as Mrs Pickle and I sat in our favourite seats, arms entwined, heads resting on each other (I know, the original cute indie-kids that we are), gawping admirably toward the stage. The full-band sound of FC was even more impressive than we could have hoped for. These are incredibly skilled chaps and the sounds were perfectly balanced, the songs an effortlessly measured blend of simplicity and texture and their presence on stage consummate, confident and never once cocky. Chatting briefly to the guys afterwards, I think they'd have preferred a bigger and perhaps livelier audience but they accept that's just how it can go with festivals and big events. Oh well, the gig on 9th June at Cockpit 3 promises to be a more vibrant affair when their headline tour calls into town. I can't wait!
At this point we had planned to call it a day as we're not big fans of town at night; been there, done that, not such a nice place these days and all that. However, I'd had a couple of cans of well-known Jamaican lager beer and so - with very little persuasion required on my part, it must be said - Mrs Pickle obligingly pointed the car towards town and we headed for The Wardrobe. I'd bumped into Sam Airey earlier in the day at The Cockpit and realised that if we were going to make it back to town at any point, it had to be for his set. I'm glad we made that extra trip because not only was it an excellent performance but The Wardrobe went a long way to change my opinion of Leeds on a Saturday night. What a great place and a thoroughly nice bunch of people they have working there, too.
I knew a few of Sam's songs from an earlier review I'd written but had always been double-booked when it came to catching his gigs. Sam's clearly an enormously talented young fella but when I heard the high energy of the previous band's closing number, I initially thought his gentle tones might be too subdued for that time of night and a crowd of that size. How wrong I was! What followed was a beautiful set of songs, including picks from the excellent "A Marker and a Map EP", which the enthusiastic crowd lapped-up throughout. The scale of the sound shifted gracefully from simple one-man-and-a-guitar folk to more powerful arrangements with superb accompaniment from some fine musicians. Not one of the songs failed to hit the spot. At times the sounds coming from the stage seemed to be more than Sam and friends could possibly be making on their own; and there was me worrying his sounds wouldn't fill the room! Clearly I know nothing.
So who did I want to see but didn't? Well, I wish we'd made it to The Wardrobe sooner because the last couple of songs by Cashier No. 9 sounded amazing! Had the schedule been different I would love to have been back at Trinity to see Dan Mangan but according to friends the venue was packed and the queue predictably long, so although I'd been in touch with Dan before the weekend to arrange an interview, Mrs Pickle and I made the right call in not trying to rush back there in time. If only the pets could feed themselves... we could have happily stayed-put in Trinity for Ellen and the Escapades earlier in the afternoon but alas, responsibilities come first. We also had to miss out on Serious Sam Barrett downstairs at Milo's - again a schedule clash - and our inability to be bi-locational thwarted any plans we had to catch the brilliant Dead Sons in the Back Room at Leeds Met. I Call Shotgun sounded pretty good before Dancing Years but we couldn't get past the stairs at that point so although I heard them I wouldn't want to try and say I saw them.
So there you go then. I had a blast and so did Mrs Pickle. I'd like to thank Simon and Rachel and all the other lovely people at I Like Press for giving me the opportunity to be there and write about it, the artists for being so good at what they do and making it so easy to write about, the crowds and staff at all the venues on the day for being so friendly and nurturing such a positive vibe, and to anyone else that's reached this line - a special little thank you for you, just for taking the time to read about my day out.
Folk / Acoustic