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Glastonbury Festival 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

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Glastonbury Festival 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Joe

“Why aren’t you playing the Pyramid Stage,” shouted a heckler at Billy Bragg’s headline set at The Leftfield tent on Friday. Bragg’s response, to remind him of the event’s varied 100 plus stages, was obvious but too often forgotten by those at home watching on TV.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

In the spirit of Bragg’s comments this article will take you away from the 50,000 strong crowds of the Pyramid and Other stages to focus on those smaller venues, which this year offered a world of prog rock, punk legends, French eccentricity, young stars of the future and even Ron Mael from Sparks having a laugh and a dance.

Friday

As with last year the tented William’s Green stage continues to impress with the most eclectic and interesting line up. Opening on Friday was Declan McKenna, the winner of this year’s Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition. As a judge in the competition I was keen to see how this teenager, who has already garnered Radio 1 airplay, would tackle the festival crowd.

Declan McKenna

Declan McKenna

Turns out McKenna performed like an old pro, with his guitar and vocal looping allowing the tracks to build up before turning into perfect pop, in particular his best song Brazil. He even threw a beach ball into the crowd to gee up the weary Friday morning crowd as he proved he was certainly not intimidated.

Canada’s The Burning Hell sound like a cross between Camper Van Beethoven and King Missile, were full of laughs, have been going for a decade and have seven albums already. I’d never heard of them until Friday afternoon at William’s Green, where they completely won me over with tracks such as Nostalgia. How have they passed me by?

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Over at The Park stage and once again away from any TV cameras King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, the seven strong psychedelic Australian act, were putting on one of the best sets of the day. They are surely destined for larger stages on this evidence for future festivals, especially thanks to singer Stu Mackenzie tongue wagging and guitar noodling.

Heavenly Records are 25 years old this year and William’s Green snapped up their latest crop of acts for the rest of the afternoon. Hooton Tennis Club are for those that adore the likes of Teenage Fanclub, but it was Stealing Sheep who stole the show. Although their second album, which dominated their set, doesn’t have the same quality of songs as their debut this Liverpool trio’s great stage presence and sense of fun makes the tracks far better live. Roping in Dutch Uncles singer Duncan Wallis to sing with them for a track was also great to see.

Stealing Sheep

Stealing Sheep

Rain can really scupper plans at Glastonbury. It can also reveal some surprises. As I ducked for cover at the Acoustic Tent during a late afternoon shower I made a new discovery – rock ‘n’ roller JD McPherson, who was one of Rolling Stone’s artist to watch in 2012 for good reason. His was a blistering proper rock ‘n’ roll set. Speaking of which the TV cameras missed a trick in not popping by the Acoustic Stage after JD McPherson to catch the legend that is Wilko Johnson.

Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson

Like a crazed bird Johnson made a mockery of the cancer that last year threatened to take his life, as he weaved around stage, machine gun chording the audience with his trademark Fender telecaster. He and his band’s bassist Norman Watt-Roy are a sheer joy to watch.

Back at the Leftfield for the end of my night Billy Bragg was doing more than putting hecklers in their place. On the day the US Supreme Coast legalised gay marriage his version of Sexuality took on an extra special meaning. He never fails to deliver as a live performer and the hits came tumbling out on his now regular Friday night Leftfield set.

Saturday

At the foot of The Park area lies the tiny Bimble Inn, which proved a great venue for emerging singer songwriters and folk artists over the weekend. Kezia, from Falmouth was among the best I saw here. It took me a while to pinpoint who she reminded me of, as I searched for female singer songwriters to compare her to. Turns out it wasn’t a woman at all, but Sufjan Stevens. She must surely be a fan, with her whispering vocals and introspective lyrics showing another hidden talent at the festival this weekend.

Kezia

Kezia

A few years back I saw Giant Sand in the giant foyer venue at one of ATP’s festivals at Mineheads Butlins. It was a poor choice of venue for Howe Gelb and co’s sultry brand of American indie rock. The blazing, and I mean proper blazing sunshine, of the dusty Park was far better. Here joined by JB Meijers and Ilse DeLange from The Common Linnets Gelb took in a perfect festival set, mixing old and new as well as slow and fast paced reminders of their trailblazing 1980s indie rock roots, including a great version of their 1985 track Tumble ‘n’ Tear to end. The TV cameras turned up for this one and rightly so.

Giant Sand

Giant Sand

On my way back over to William’s Green I passed a couple of more smaller venues with interesting acts. Just a Couple of Mums, the Sussex based, energetic feather-duster waving DJ pair were putting in a stonking set at Spike’s Bar, while at the Fluffy Rock Café youngster (and I mean youngster as in primary school age) Tom Smith, was dazzling the crowd. Often little kids can’t sing, but we smile and nod in appreciation anyway. That’s not the case with Tom, he can actually sing and play really well. One of the festival’s youngest stars.

Tom Smith

Tom Smith

Performance of the day, perhaps the weekend, was La Femme, from Paris. I already knew their eccentric surf dance pop tracks from their excellent debut album Psycho Tropical Brazil and live they are nothing short of incredible. At their William’s Green set there was crowd surfing, crazy dancing and wonderful banter. This is a fun party band and I urge you to see them if they play near year.

La Femme

La Femme

To round off my day Father John Misty was putting in a rock star performance, running into the crowd and rolling all over the stage. Passionate performance barely touches on describing how good he was.

Sunday

Ron Sexsmith is celebrating two decades of music this year. How he has evaded me all this time remains a mystery. Those that saw his Acoustic Tent afternoon were treated to a career spanning set from early tracks like Strawberry Blonde and There’s a Rhythm to the more recent Getaway Car. Crowd pleasers for fans and newbies like me alike.

Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith

Success has consistently evaded The Bevis Frond, as its mainstay and frontman Nick Saloman tells his audience. He’s at the stage now in his career where he’s just happy that people want to hear him, however small the crowd. Saloman though has every right to expect more, not only are his songs great but his guitar playing is superb. Billed as prog rock, he’s more than that after pretty much laying down the blue print for Dinosaur Jr and grunge in the 1980s. Highpoints included Saloman bringing out his electric-sitar guitar for some complex noodling mid way through.

The Bevis Frond

The Bevis Frond

Saloman and co loved every second of playing, even in front of a half full William’s Green due in part to the blazing sunshine outside. Meanwhile, The Phantom Band, who followed, looked like they’d rather be anywhere else. During a subdued performance dominated by their excellent latest album Strange Friend they looked like band going through the motions, yearning to be out in the sun with everyone else.

The Fall are both brilliant and terrible all at once. Mark E Smith shouting and mumbling over a pounding rhythm section thanks to the addition of an extra drummer in recent years. Its hypnotic and wonderful, but as ever Smith seeks to create tension, twiddling the knobs and instruments of his drone musicians, as he wanders around stage picking up random mics to shout into.

The Fall

The Fall

Nowadays Smith’s drones, including wife Eleni on keyboards, are used to this part of the act and smile through it. They say play the hits, nothing but the hits at festivals. The Fall ignore this though with their recent album dominating the set and nothing older than 2003’s Sparta FC for those craving something recognisable.

Another Manchester punk legendary act Buzzcocks are surprisingly playing at Glastonbury for the first time in their 39-year history. They have plenty of hits, and in stark contrast to The Fall play pretty much all of them as they rattle through Noise Annoys, Promises, Ever Fallen In Love and many more. Singer Pete Shelley still sounds great and although larger of build and greyer of hair still has that boyish glint in his eye.

Buzzcocks

Buzzcocks

Buzzcocks’ Guitarist Steve Diggle was in full rock star mode, and even walked on clutching a bottle of Moet. He clearly loves every minute of playing live and spent the set going through the full list of rock guitarist clichés with his foot on monitor and arm aloft after each chord. It was great though, the guy’s happy and his constant winks and smiles at the audience made you realise that underneath that rock pomposity is a lovely bloke.

For my final act of Glastonbury I ventured over to the half full John Peel Stage to see FFS, aka Franz Ferdinand with Sparks. They were competing with the Chemical Brothers and The Who after all, but this didn’t stop them putting on a great set as they ripped through each other’s hits and showcased their remarkable and fun debut album from this year.

FFS

FFS

Highlights included Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael’s endearing acting during the splendidly ironic Collaborations Don’t Work. Top moment though was the surprise sight of Ron Mael emerging from behind his keyboard to laugh and dance for a quick 30 second mesmerising burst of pop history. Not bad dancing skills for a man for whom John Lennon once said “bloody hell, its Hitler on TV.”

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

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Glastonbury 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

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Glastonbury 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

Posted on 02 June 2015 by Joe

Shock revelation of the day – Glastonbury is so much more than the BBC coverage and the main Pyramid stage line up. So for all you Kanye West haters with tickets in your hand why not pop over to some of the event’s many and varied small stages.

We’ve had a scan through the full line up, which was released this week, and  have come up with our pick of the small stage acts. As with last year William’s Green continues to impress, especially as it hosts this year’s 25th anniversary of Heavenly Records. We also have some old punks, the best of Somerset’s local bands and one of the best indie bands around at the Leftfield.

Stealing Sheep

William’s Green, 4:30pm Friday

We first saw this Liverpool trio supporting Field Music in Bristol three years ago. They play as part of the Heavenly Records contingent, at what has become one of our favourite small venues at the Festival, and are one of the best live acts we have seen. Blending folk, indie and 1960s surf music they are not to be missed.

Declan McKenna

William’s Green, 10:45am Friday

The deserved winner of this year’s Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition opens proceedings at the William’s Green stage. Be sure to get up early to see why this teenager won the world’s toughest Battle of the Bands competition.

La Femme

William’s Green, 5:30pm Saturday

From France, via California, this stunning live act blend electro-pop and are another in our list to borrow from 1960s surf culture. Their 2013 album Psycho Tropical Berlin was one of our albums of the year for good reason.

The Phantom Band

William’s Green, 6pm Sunday

Their 2014 album Strange Friend was their best to date and proved why they are one of Scotland’s best bands as they merge rock and electronica effortlessly. Get there early at 5pm to see legendary prog rockers The Bevis Frond beforehand. Both great bookings for William’s Green.

Martha

Leftfeld, 6pm Friday

At Indietracks a couple of years ago Martha was the most talked about band there and for good reason. They are injecting some much needed energy into an increasingly introspective UK indie scene. Billy Bragg and co, who curate this stage, certainly know their indie music. An impressive booking.

Buzzcocks

Leftfield, 9pm Sunday

Leftfield again impresses and has bagged the legendary punk act Buzzcocks. With guitarist Steve Diggle still playing like a 17-year-old on stage and Pete Shelley’s timeless lyrics of love this looks like one not to be missed.

Nick Parker & the False Alarms and Flipron

Nick Parker and the False Alarms Avalon Café, 7:30pm Friday

Flipron, Avalon Cafe 1:30am Saturday and Bandstand 7:30pm Sunday

Nick Parker and the False Alarms

Nick Parker and the False Alarms

Two of Somerset’s best live acts are back again at Glastonbury, which once again is showing a strong commitment to promoting local talent. While Parker and crew focus on bittersweet folk rock  tales of love and life, Flipron will be showcasing their trademark brand of whirly-gig hipster new wave (note: actual genre may not exist).

Compiled by Joe Lepper

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La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin

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La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin

Posted on 18 November 2013 by Joe

After watching this video for Antitaxi, the opening track on the debut album from Bairritz based surf popsters La Femme, I’m fairly convinced they are just about the coolest band on the planet, well, in France at least.

Psycho+Tropical+Berlin+La+Femme++Psycho+Tropical+Berl

Set in a frantic, cool as you like French club this video shows the band ooze style; and as for the music, well, its so far up our Rue its bought a house on it and moved in. Mixing surf guitar, synths, psychadelic rock plus an underlying Devo like punk/new wave sense of fun and edge, they have it all for us.

Then when I read the press release and they just get even cooler. While hanging around a surfing contest in Biarritz, the blurb tells us, they met some California surfers, made friends with them, saved some money and then spent three months in the US state packing in 27 gigs.

At 16 tracks long, including a bonus cover at the end of Chuck Berry’s Baby Doll, it is either a bargain or could do with a little editing depending on your propensity to get up and dance to odd ball pop music. Even at my advanced years I can still give it a go and there’s plenty on here to please the fleet of foot. Amour dan le Motu is immediately a contender for single of the year, sounding somewhere between surf pop and Japanese act Pizzicato Five. While Sur La Planche 2013 has lashings of catchy guitar and synth hooks. There’s also times for an angular and psychedelic take on the whole genre of pop with Nous étions deux.

As debuts go this up with there with the best of them.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

 

 

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