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Black Thunder Revue / Beacons / Improvised Scores / Beautiful Days.

by Now Then Sheffield

2nd August.
Shakespeares.

Reviewer – Pete Martin.

WagonWheelMedia has been promoting shows in Sheffield since 2006. Main man Craig has presented a series of quality and quirky Americana acts from around the world, but tonight is a local triptych.

Dirdsbead is Dave Walker, who has previously been in a number of punk bands, but now performs solo. He starts with ‘I Made All The Rules’, a beguiling mix of deft guitar and a soaring voice all rolled up in a performance that alternately astounds and almost falls off a tightrope. He follows this with a really beautiful song, ‘Sailing On The Truth’, from his Dirdsbead EP. His between song patter reveals his nervousness, but this isn’t evident in his performance. His influences range from Bert Jansch to The Clash and you can detect myriad sonic and vocal snatches in his set.

Chris Walker has been performing solo for nearly a decade, but tonight he has his band, Boxer Genius, in support. They start with ‘30,000 Feet’ from new album From Dark to Neon, and I am immediately struck by their consummate musicianship. The guitar, bass and drums mesh to produce a big, rocky sound, but there is still room for some understated rhythm guitar work that complements the whole perfectly.

The Black Thunder Revue recently formed from the ashes of Socrates Johnson, who I first saw about four years ago at the much-missed Boardwalk. Singer and guitarist Andy Davison is still at the helm of the 4-piece and as chief songwriter he has a certain gift for taking weighty issues and moulding them into melodious tunes. The first two songs evidence this. ‘Thunder and Enlightening’ deals with a soldier’s wartime experiences in Afghanistan and ‘Rambler Man’ is based on the story of Roger Craig and the Kennedy assassination (check out the great homemade video online).

They then play a dynamic version of their best song ‘Burden of a Guilty Conscience’, full of tasty guitar and vocal jousting between Davison and second guitarist Paul Ward. ‘Can’t Take A Hint’ prompts some frantic dancing stage-front and the crowd’s goodwill extends to them demanding an encore, which gives the band something of a problem as they’d exhausted their repertoire. So they play ‘....Hint’ again, and again the crowd are whipped into a frenzied harmonica-led climax.

Now armed with a more representative name and hopefully a stable line-up after numerous changes, Davison can harness their muscular flexibility to become a real name on the live circuit.

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16th-18th August.
Escot Park, Devon.

Reviewer – Anne Grange.

Beautiful Days is a cosy festival in Devon without corporate sponsorship, originally founded by the Levellers. Now in its 11th year, it continues to attract new fans with its reputation for great music, atmosphere and anti-commercialism. Several generations party together to an eclectic mix of music, from folk to drum ‘n’ bass.

I volunteered for Oxfam as a steward. We work hard, but still enjoy ourselves. Over the summer, Oxfam has raised over £1,000,000 at festivals. This year’s focus is humanitarian aid for the crisis in Syria.

Fridays at Beautiful Days start with a Levellers acoustic set, which inevitably turns into an epic sing-along. I also saw Sam Lee & Friends, who play atmospheric traditional folk with a twist. That evening I worked at the theatre tent, where comedian Robin Ince was headlining. I managed to catch most of his brilliant performance. Later, we worked in the big top during Clannad. Their music is beautiful, but rather ethereal.

The following day, grey skies gave way to rain. Undaunted, Goldblade put on a cracking punk set. The weather turned aquatic for Barnsley band The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, but they weren’t deterred from performing a hilarious set. The post-rock soundscapes of Sheffield band 65daysofstatic were perfect for damp, overcast skies. Australians The Living End complemented them well, combining rockabilly double-bass with metal influences. The Wonderstuff are synonymous with folky, fiddle-led riffs and distorted guitars, so unsurprisingly they’re very much at home at Beautiful Days.

Main stage headliners Primal Scream are unpredictable live. I hoped it wouldn’t be a shambles, but Bobby Gillespie and co didn’t disappoint, playing an awesome set of new songs alongside old classics, including a mind-blowing version of ‘Loaded’.

On Sunday, I put on leopard-print for the animals fancy dress theme. The day kicked off with with Citizen Fish, a radical ska punk band, closely followed by 90s festival favourites Dodgy, whose music matched the sunshine. Original ska band The Skatalites had the crowd skanking, bathed in the golden glow of the evening sun. Imelda May was a surprise highlight – a sassy, engaging performer with a genuine rockabilly vibe. The Levellers’ headline set was excellent. Over 25 years the energy of the band hasn’t dwindled.

Beautiful Days is a festival where tribes become a family – punk, hippy, raver, folkie and indie kid. How many other bands can claim such a legacy?

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16th – 18th August.
Heslaker Farm, Skipton.

Reviewer – Tasha Franek.

Back for round two in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, this year’s Beacons Festival was destined for success from the moment the line-up was announced. With a collection of some of the finest new talent the North has to offer, strung together with a few rising names from across the globe, the return of Skipton’s summer festival was a doubtless victory.

The general vibe of the festival was perfectly on trend, down to the futuristic fancy dress theme on the Friday which encouraged a huge amount of glitter and 90s spandex. Tucked away from the main arena was an area called The Space Between, which housed all kinds of cutural surprises, from film screenings with director Q&As to whisky tasting and morning yoga classes.

Music wise I felt completely spoilt for choice all weekend. The You Need To Hear This stage was a great chance to scope out new bands. Sheffield favourites Wet Nuns and Best Friends both appeared on the Sunday and – call me biased – they gave two of the best performances of the festival. Over on the main stage, the three headlining acts were right on the money. Friday night was packed out with Bonobo enthusiasts who were all treated to a beautiful set by the Leeds lad which had everybody awestruck for the whole weekend.

The following night, after a whole day filled with truly incredible music, Local Natives took to the stage. The first time you see one of your favourite bands live is always a bit of a frightening experience – anticipating whether they can possibly live up to your expectations – but when they get it right it’s almost impossible to put into words. The set was tight, spirited and unforgettable. My ticket for their performance at The Leadmill in October was booked as soon as I got out of the shower on my return to Sheffield.

The final headliners of the weekend were psychedelic fun lovers Django Django. With the crowd all warmed up from a SBTRKT DJ set, the atmosphere was alive as the band rounded up the perfect weekend with one final fantastic performance. A huge round of applause to the minds behind this winning festival. I look forward to Beacons 2014.

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17th August.
Wavelab.

Reviewer – Billy Christmas.

Every now and again, if you’re lucky, you might find yourself in an old works somewhere listening to a guy play a fire escape with some metal pipes, or a girl’s circuit-bent, toy saxophone noodlings.

“Let’s go. It’ll be weird, and Andy says it’s BYOB!”

You’ll find a show like this any given week in Sheffield, a staple in the old industrial buildings around Bramall Lane and Shalesmoor. Tonight, Wavelab has the informal atmosphere of cushions and throws. Lovely Honkey is all cassette-case, contact-mic assemblages, violin bows and low, wet breath. It’s interesting to watch, but at some point you’ll close your eyes and create your own narratives in the darkness. You might hear troglodytes, heavy soup or a hundred wailing voices. Removed from the associations of traditional instrumentation and genre, the sound is yours.

Maybe this is why Blue Yodel performs kneeling over her machine in the corner with her back to the room. There’s nothing much to watch, so you have to just listen to the recorded psychologist’s notes and samples of bagpipes roiling through a mixer. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be beautiful, but it is.

The headline act are called Piggle, and suddenly there’s a violin, an oboe and an assortment of stringed instruments that look plucked from the bric-a-brac shadows of a fantasy bazaar. After the acts we’ve just heard it might be foolish to expect them to play in a conventional fashion, and the trio proceed to squeak, scrape and bang their way through a half-hour of strange music. We’re twice teased by an accidental semblance of melody that says these guys really know how to play their instruments but are actually trying really hard not to. Piggle are billed as “hi-fi sound poetry without the poetry,” the performers following a document about psychoanalysis written by violinist Lynda, improvising noises to the document and each other.

A tambourine is tied to the oboe and kicked about the room, bells are thrown about, raspberries are blown. Linda tells me she doesn’t see how the way she’s playing tonight is any different than if she were to have played ‘properly’. She says it’s all communication. It comes from whatever the artist is trying to say.

Any given week. Keep your ears peeled.

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by Now Then Sheffield

Next article in issue 66

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