Fresh, fierce and fronting Live at Leeds: we talk the chart-toppers of tomorrow
Lewis Barn gives us his play-by-play of last weekend’s top music fest with photography by Tony Jacobs
This spring, Live At Leeds hit its 10th year running and its experience is certainly showing. Every year the award-winning metropolitan festival pulls in big acts from all around the world to create an incredible line-up. Their speciality, however, is cherry picking fresh, emerging talent, with many of the past newcomers going on to become hugely successful. There’s something charming about being surprised by an act you’ve never heard of, in a small local venue, to then watch them grow into headline acts a few years later. Acts such as Ed Sheeran, James Blake, Mumford and Sons and Alt-J have graced the stages in earlier years, all of whom are well-established names now.
Over ten-thousand fans patrol the streets of Leeds over the bank holiday weekend, dashing around to try and catch all of their favourite bands. The venues range from smaller bars and pubs like Nation Of Shopkeepers and The Faversham, all the way to bigger university stages and of course, O2 Academy. Each venue offers its own unique atmosphere and showcases to festival-goers just how rich Leeds’ music hub is.
Wuzi – Brudenell Social Club
My Saturday started at what has been named, one of the best small music venues in the country, Brudenell Social Club. Opening up the venue’s main stage were four-piece psychedelic rock band, Wuzi. A messy haired Callum Smith walked on stage and took a swig of his Heineken before addressing the audience “mornin’ everyone… we’re Wuzi”.
Kicking their set off with a surprising energy for such an early show, the band boasted dirty grunge riffs topped with growling vocals akin to a moody Cobain. Wuzi’s guitarist stood out, showcasing spacious breakdowns with his jangly, flange-heavy solos, reminiscent of John Squire’s. Whilst they may have opened to a fairly empty room, people started to file in mid way through the set, and by the end they had everyone’s heads bobbing, providing an exciting start to the day ahead.
The Golden Age Of TV – Brudenell Social Club Games Room
A walk across the hall presented you with The Golden Age Of TV playing the Brudenell Games Room. They emerged from the fire exit to an impressively filled room, prompting the Brudenell staff to comment that it was the busiest they’d seen a Live At Leeds opener in years. Recent coverage from some big outlets generated a lot of hype for the group. Although they certainly didn’t seem to be feeling the pressure, performing more confident than ever, slipping straight into Between Each Brick and exchanging smiles with each other.
They had the crowd’s full attention from the very first note, the chemistry between the members was evident and the crowd were soaking it up, bouncing along to the infectious grooves. Buzzing and on a high from their set, I headed through a blooming Hyde Park to watch the next band on my list.
Chest Pains – The Lending Room
Managing to make it just in time for their first song, Chest Pains unleashed the most energetic show I saw all day. Their songs almost play like a hyperactive child, simple three-chord verses hold the audience in their fuzzy charm until they’re hit with a tantrum of fast paced thrashing choruses.
Singer and guitarist Sam Robinson’s vocals are the focal point of the group, with poetic lyrics being delivered through strained, passionate shouts. He played on the audience’s reactions, dropping from the stage and immersing himself as far into the crowd as his cable allowed him to. The drums and bass provided the perfect backbone for Callum’s screeching guitar solos as he burst out with catchy licks. With more material coming from the band soon, they’re definitely one to watch.
White Lies – O2 Academy
A brisk walk into the city centre brought me to O2 Academy where a queue stretching down into Millennium Square had formed, with hundreds of people eager to see White Lies. The last time I saw them was back in 2011 in the very same venue, and 6-years-later I was interested to see just how they’d developed. Harry McVeigh, the frontman for the group, had certainly flourished in his performance skills, bringing an infectious enthusiasm through his showmanship.
Songs from their latest album were well received by the crowd, but it was songs from the first album that had the audience going wild. Songs like To Lose My Life and Farewell To The Fairground had the same anthemic effect, with the entire venue belting the lyrics back at the band.
Tom Walker – The Faversham
After a quick bite to eat in Trinity Kitchen, I headed to The Faversham, a venue at the forefront of Leeds’ music scene, with a rich history. On the main stage, I found Tom Walker, a singer-songwriter with a hip-hop twist, stood with a sample pad and guitar, and accompanied by a drummer. From the first song, I was floored by how powerful his voice was. He has a gruff bluesy growl that sounds similar to the great Muddy Waters.
He captured the audience with strong, fiery, upbeat tracks and then pulled at their heartstrings with slower emotionally charged songs. He finished his set exclaiming “It’s good to be up north, I tell ya’ that!”. In a true northern-style everyone in The Faversham cheered back and raised their pints!
Yellow Days – Headrow House
At the textile-mill-turned-three-floor bar, Headrow House, I had the pleasure of watching Yellow Days. Fronted by the 18-year old George van den Broek, the band were a breath of fresh air, providing a completely different sound and performance to anything I’ve seen in a while. George appeared so laid-back he could barely form the words ‘Hey…we are Yellow Days’.
He played his guitar, a Vox Mark III, so effortlessly it looked like a toy and you couldn’t help but lose yourself in the dreamy, reverb-soaked chords it produced. His age and lack of experience don’t show, in fact, the band looked at right at home on the stage.
Even though George’s guitar strap even fell off mid-solo, he handled it well, casually sinking to the floor with it, not even missing a note. Think King Krule on a beach holiday with refreshing upbeat lyrics that make for a great listen. After this performance, it’s clear that Yellow Days are one to watch for the future.
Puma Blue – Headrow House
After a brief break on Headrow House’s rooftop balcony, Kennedy Meadows, I headed back downstairs for Puma Blue. Jacob Allen and his band provide a complex jazz/hip-hop blend, polished off with Allen’s delicate falsetto. He makes no attempt to hide behind metaphors in his lyrics, with songs like She’s Just A Phase telling a brutally honest tale of sex and romance. ‘This song’s about wanting to be with someone, but they’re just not into it. They’re on a different vibe’. He stares into the crowd and sniffs ‘I’m fine… I swear’ before laughing it off.
The band had nailed their sound, with the sax perfectly blending into the mix and then bursting out into soulful solos. The grooves from the backline would sound perfect on a J Dilla record, so it’s no surprise the guitarist was wearing him on his shirt. This was one of the sets that really gave me shivers, and I couldn’t help but close my eyes and lose myself in their sound.
Her – Belgrave Music Hall And Canteen
A band I’d been looking forward to seeing to since Zane Lowe began raving about them last year, is French duo Her. They graced the stage at Belgrave, a big player in Leeds’ music scene, and played an incredible set, extending all of their well crafted, RnB infused singles by playing with dynamics and harmonies to deliver a truly impressive live show.
Opening with Quite Like, they had the audience hooked. Delicate harmonies seemed effortless and the way they played with space and tension in their songs was nothing short of amazing. After listening to a reworked version of Five Minutes- which impressively lasted about ten- the backing members left the stage for the two singers to play a stripped back version of Sam Cooke’s, A Change Is Gonna Come. “This cover will show you a bit about who we are” they announced through thick French accents before giving us an intimate rendition of the classic.
The final song for their painfully short set was Swim, and again they changed it to really play with the crowd, even going as far as to break the song down to just A Capella, with each member sharing a mic and clicking along to the beat. Once they built back up to their infectious feel-good chorus, Victor Solf yelled ‘Now that we are together Leeds, put your hands in the air’ and the whole crowd obeyed, grinning with delight as the room erupted into a soulful ending to the show.
Wild Beasts – Leeds Beckett Student Union
The day’s closing act for both myself and the Leeds Beckett SU stage were Wild Beasts. Dependent on who you ask, they’re either a band from Kendal or a band from Leeds, but either way, there’s no denying that Leeds is a big part of who they are, as explained by Tom during the show “Leeds. You are us and we are you”. Having played at the first Live At Leeds show ten years prior, they were obviously delighted to be back.
They played a career-spanning set with an impressive backlit stage, flashing the lyrics to the choruses of Big Cat and Get My Bang in giant neon lettering. The venue was filled with fans who were reciting back every word to the classics like Hooting And Howling. Before playing Lion’s Share, Hayden took the time to declare his love for Meanwood, explaining how his frustrations of being unable to meet anyone in the suburb gave him the inspiration for most of their early songs. The speech was met with plenty of cheers from locals and I personally couldn’t help but feel a little pride for my city.
All-in-all, just like every year, I had an amazing day at Live At Leeds for my 5th year running. I was reminded just why it’s one of the best metropolitan festivals in the country and it’s definitely left me feeling hopeful about our emerging young talent.