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A Magazine for Sheffield
Live / stage review

A kaleidoscope of talent: Float Along Festival

Taking place at venues across Sheffield, Strange Days’ triumphant one-day extravaganza had Prima Queen, Modern Woman and Everything Everything in between.

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Everything Everything at Float Along Festival.

Jacob Flannery.

Tramlines’ decision to switch up their multi-venue, multi-band format in 2018 in favour of a one-stop shop Hillsborough Park showcase left a huge hole in Sheffield's sonic landscape, arguably impacting the development of up-and-coming bands and artists. So it's very much to promoter Strange Days’ credit for creating Float Along, a thoughtfully-curated opportunity for over thirty new and established bands to showcase their sonic chops at small (Sydney & Matilda, Record Junkee) and large (Network, The Leadmill) venues alike.

Led by singer, main songwriter and literature graduate Sophie Harris, four-piece Modern Woman displayed the blend of post-punk, free jazz and experimental noise that has earned the admiration of musical peers such as Idles and Black Midi. Strawberry Guy – a moniker of Welsh-born singer-songwriter Alex Stephens – bought his happy/sad smorgasbord of lush symphonic soundscapes to an appreciative crowd, who soaked up the mellotron washes of ‘F-Song’, as well as tracks from his highly successful 2021 album Sun Outside My Window. There's very much a 'bedroom orchestra' feel to the song construction that openly evidences Stephens’ classically trained ambitions.

A band to definitely watch out for are Prima Queen, an all-woman four-piece fronted by songwriting duo and best mates Louise Macphail (Bristol) and Kirsten McFadden (Chicago). Sure, there’ll be references to bands such as Our Girl, Haim and Alvvays. But Prima Queen make clever, bittersweet use of sardonic lyrical imagery and – damn it – have great musical hooks. This is particularly in evidence on The Big Moon-produced ‘Chew My Cheeks’ and latest single ‘Eclipse’ that have them marked down as a band with a seriously bright future.

"Steve Lamacq has been incredibly supportive with ‘Eclipse’,” bass guitarist Kitty Drummond proudly told me. “I don't know why, I guess he just likes us as a band, but we're very grateful that he does". At that moment, the 6 Music DJ – fresh from a talk at Sidney & Matilda – duly appears alongside us at Leadmill’s Steel Stage bar.

It came as a pleasant surprise to Brighton band Fur to see their inaugural, self-titled EP attract huge interest thanks to the track ‘If You Know That I'm Lonely’, mainly by word-of-mouth but also extending to their large fanbase in Indonesia of all places. Their jangly sixties style songs channel the iconic sounds of The Yardbirds and The Tremeloes to great effect, with songs such as ‘Him and Her’ and ‘Nothing’ delivered with boundless energy by singer William Murray.

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Katy J Pearson.

Jacob Flannery.

The hottest ticket in town, nay the UK at the moment, is Bristolian Katy J. Pearson, currently touring mega successful LP Sound Of The Morning on the never less than brilliant Heavenly label. Seemingly pleasantly surprised at the audience reaction, she effortlessly glided through her magical blend of intimate storytelling and soaring widescreen melody through songs such as ‘Beautiful Soul’ and successful singles ‘Howl’ and ‘Alligator’, all ably aided and abetted by high-bar musicianship from a gifted band.

It's safe to say that when they went into the ‘Impossible Time Signatures and Grooves’ store and stripped the shelves bare, headliners Everything Everything knew they had all the tools required to construct their own unique brand of art pop. Add to that a lyrical eclecticism beyond compare and you can understand why they have a swagger and confidence befitting their status (new LP Raw Data Feel is their sixth).

From opener ‘Teletype’ through to established favourites ‘Pizza Boy’ and "Spring / Summer / Winter / Dread", it's difficult to know whether frontman Jonathan Higgs or their Leadmill fanbase (including one with the bewildering placard "Please come to Brazil") sang the loudest, and after a triple whammy encore of ‘Violent Sun’, ‘Distant Past’ and ‘No Reptiles’ I'd have to call it a joyous draw.

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Prime Queen.

Jacob Flannery.

Final comments. Big thanks to Mark and the team at Strange Days for some epic organisation and dedication, and to Sydney & Matilda, Record Junkee and Network for providing the venues for a panoply of unknown and fledgling bands and artists to make their mark. Hats duly doffed to you all.

Importantly – as if any proof were needed – The Leadmill has once again played a pivotal part in a major music event. Without their integrity, independence and commitment, none of the above would have happened. So, if you care about events such as these, and the future of independent music in Sheffield, be sure to sign the SaveTheLeadmill petition. This reviewer will be steadfastly standing on Sheffield harbour next year, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the good ship Float Along 2023.

I can't wait. But I guess I'll have to.

Thankyou to Jacob Flannery for the photos.

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