Coalfields Festival, formerly known as M-Fest until a well known supermarket chain (you know, the one that offers you more reason to shop there) came along and resulted in a quick name change, is a festival that has gone from strength to strength over a few short years. It’s also a festival that included one of my all time favourite lineups back in 2011 with The Bluetones and Holloways (both bands went on to break up within a year of playing at M Fest, but I like to think it wasn’t as a result of playing in Barnsley). With six stages and a family friendly environment there was something there for everyone on offer. I bumped into my ten year old cousin there this year, who was enjoying her first festival. Not only was she checking out all the stages but helping sell CD’s for one of the bands too. In direct contrast, I’m sure at times I was stood next to grandparents of some of the bands on stage! As this review shows, the festival showcased the plethora of talent Barnsley has to offer, and goes a long way in disputing a recent comment in The Chronicle that this town isn’t known for its musical heritage. I spend most of my summers in fields at one festival or another and Coalfields is up there with the most friendly of festivals.
I’ve been to enough music festivals over the years to know that the opening acts are always the ones to look out for, Coalfields was no exception. I got to Coalfields just in time to hear Danny Smart, who was the first act in the Audio Picnic Tent. It would be all to easier for a reviewer to compare him to Ed Sheeran; red hair, acoustic guitar and loop pedal, and I would have probably avoiding making such comparisons if he’d not covered Drunk in the middle of his set. I’ve got to admit though, I’d not heard of Danny’s music until I’d seen a recent piece in The Barnsley Chronicle. One google search later and it’s clear he’s creating quite a buzz. Danny seems amazed that his first EP is being played on radio stations across the land and I hope he keeps this modesty as his career is just about to take off. Two songs into his set and it’s quite clear why his songs are so appealing. It’s probably worth pointing out that Danny is only 16, which doesn’t come across in his songs which are quite mature sounding. Songs like Just For Tonight and One More Night deal with love, loss and growing old. I’ve always been impressed by artists who use a loop pedal to bring an extra layer to their songs – it’s probably why David Ford is one of my all time singer songwriters. It also probably worked to Danny’s advantage, otherwise at points he would have been drowned out by the sounds coming from the surrounding tents and main stage. I preferred his own music to the covers he did (concluding with a version of American Pie)
What I love about festivals is that you can go from an acoustic act, covering Don McLean to something completely different in a matter of minutes. After Danny Smart finished I made my way to the Burn Down The Disco tent. This was an ingenious addition to the festival; two stages in one tent, meaning that as one band finished you could just rotate your body and see the next band perform. I primarily came here to see Demographic, but being early meant I managed to see most of The Silhouettes‘ set too. Quite raw sounding, to the point that it was difficult to distinguish some of the vocals. I don’t want to do the band a disservice though, as this could have had more to do with the sound system. The bassist was energetic from start to finish. I was stood near the front and at one point thought he was going to knock the speakers over! They’re definitely a band to look out for in the near future.
I hadn’t long to wait before Demographic took to the stage. The leader singer was not only one of the more enigmatic front men of the day but also boasted the best facial hair (I didn’t venture in The Noize Assault Tent, where I reckon there would have been quite a few contenders). Hair aside though, the band were on top form. The banter inbetween the songs was just as witty as the songs themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if this band went on to play much bigger festivals within the next year. The last song of their set, a Vaccines cover demonstrated how slick sounding they already are.
Until Coalfields, I’d somehow only seen The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican (and not Bar Steward & Sons as all the promo had them listed as, which the band took in good humour and made it clear from the outset that they weren’t a Mumford and Sons tribute band) on two occasions. The first time they shared a box of malteasers with the audience (you had to be there for it to make sense) and a second at this years Live In Barnsley where they played a Beatles style roof gig at Blah Bar before attempting to crowd surf inside the venue as well. If any Barnsley band are suited to the festival circuit its BSVD. For those who are unfamiliar with the band, they’re of the same ilk as The Lancashire Hotpots and The Everley Pregnant Brothers, where by they parody well established songs with a Barnsley connection; all of which are intended to strike a cord with the audience. In the case of Coalfields, it certainty did. For the number of sing-a-longs the band evoked, they could have quite easily drawn a much bigger crowd on the main stage later in the day. As well as parody songs which included Tarnlife, an ode to Justin Bieber and a re-interpretation of The Beastie Boys hit Fight For Your Pint (in Barnsley). Watching these ‘Tarn’ related folk parodies for a third time, it struck me how the lyrics must go over the heads of people not from the area, but it would appear that none Barnsley residents have embraced their unique style of folk comedy having headlined a stage at this years Bearded Theory Festival in Derbyshire and as I’m writing this, the band have just been announced as the support act for Roy Wood on his Christmas tour. The only thing missing from this setlist was the Coalfields charity single We Are The Bands, then again with the amount of people featured on the single they would have been hard pushed to fit them all in the tent. Speaking of the charity single, I would highly recommend not only that but the CD that I purchased on the day featuring 10 tracks by artists mentioned in this review.
I had fully intended to see Section 60 after having seen their name crop up on the festival circuit this year. I made my way to the Burn Down tent in time to see the opening number, or should I say sound check that flowed into the first song without any indication that they had actually started. In fact, that is one of my biggest bug bears at festivals; that and bands assuming you know who they are and not actually name checking themselves. It was at this point I realised that there was about four people milling around watching this band of which, if this was the 90s they would be described as ‘shoe gazing’. When reading up on this band to do this review, I was really surprised that the band hailed from Sheffield, and not Manchester where quite clearly their influences lie. Anyway, I was getting rather impatient waiting for this band to appeal to me after the first couple of songs where the front man had nothing to say between songs, or even opened his eyes, so I decided to leg it back to the Studio 24 Tent to see The Fluffy Gremlins.
The reason I’d been in an empty tent suddenly became apparent as the tent which housed this group of primary school children was heaving, leaving me to watch from afar. This band had by far the biggest audience of the day, and not all of them could just have been the parents and classmates. Some of the songs they played can only have just been released when their parents were born let alone in their lifetime. Dare I say it: they would have been a sure fire hit on this years Britain’s Got Talent. Then again, as a punk band I’d imagine that they’d be strongly against such shows. It was an intense half an hour of punk and rock songs packed with energy and making the main stage sound like a distant droan for the first time today. I like how their setlist transcended eras ranging from the likes of Motorhead and Ram Jam to The Black Keys and culminating in Wolf Mother’s Woman. They’re going to make their fellow classmates jealous this September when they tell them what they got up to over the summer holidays that’s for sure!
Polyopia were the highlight of my time at Live in Barnsley last month, and it’s a band I happened upon by chance after they replaced another band short at notice in The White Bear. I usually find the word infectious a bit clichéd when referring to music, but that’s the only way I can describe there style of indie pop which I’ve been listening to on repeat this past month. After listening to the few songs of theirs I’ve been able to find on the internet I was really looking forward to seeing them again, and they didn’t disappoint. Once again, one the many bands of the day that would have been suited to the Main Stage, possibly as an opener to the festival. Instead, they were in the smallest tent of the festival. Regardless of the inadequacy of their surroundings, the band played a superb thirty minutes of their own repertoire without having to fall back on cover versions. One of the stand out moments of their set was when the bassist realised that a kid was sat in front of the stage so he went and joined him and continued playing. (The picture I posted suggests that this child was the audience, but I can assure there was quite a gathering just outside the tent!) Life’s Little Game was the defining song of their set and is one of the reasons why Polyopia are becoming one of my favourite bands that Barnsley has produced. As summer indie anthems go, this is up there with the best of them and thankfully the sun stayed out long enough for them to complete their set.
The last time I think I saw James Worton was in a very cold County Way carpark the other year when he was taking part in the Christmas lights celebrations. Since then he’s obviously been working on some new material as well as a couple of new covers. As you’ll discover later in this review the Worton family were a significant feature in this years Coalfields. As impressive as his own material was, most of which can be found on his Soundcloud ,it was his take on Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kids that really grabbed me and out of the many (and I do mean many) cover songs that day it was easily the best.
As is the case with these events, bands were running late by mid afternoon meaning the list of bands that I’d planned to see had to be modified somewhat. At one point I decided to take the John Peel approach and stroll around the site. I saw a few songs by Spittin’ Feathers, who used to be a covers band until recently, and ironically if they had continued down that path would have probably have been main stage material! I really enjoyed their version of The Libertines’ Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, which really captured the feel of the whole day. By the time The Glavins took to the stage, they were running late and had sound problems so I didn’t get to see as much of them as I would have liked, although when they got going they were one of the more polished acts on the bill and I’ll defiantly be searching out material by them in the coming weeks. McCarthy Vigil are also worth a mention, who I saw briefly on the way to another stage. I’d heard a lot about this band over the years through friends, and its testament to Barnsley’s music scene and their fan base, that once again the tent was at full capacity.
As you’ll have noticed so far I haven’t touched upon the Main Stage in this review of the festival. That is because the organisers decided to fill the main stage with tribute acts, so I opted to spend the day checking out original artists. It bemuses me that this stage wasn’t a mix of both local original artists and well as cover bands. I can only assume this setup was to guarantee maximum ticket sales, that the less discerning festival goer could have a sing a long with their mates to recognisable songs and venture deeper into the field if they wished, in the same way daytime radio is usually intended for background music with the specialist shows tucked away just below the surface. Saying that though people were camped out at the main stage from start to finish and it did seem like a great atmosphere, but I can’t be alone in thinking that it did the local music scene a disservice by shunting all the up and coming acts into various tents with a more limited audience. I did briefly stay around the Main Stage long enough to catch some of The Rakkiteers, who I have seen many times in the past, but not with the current lineup. How can I put this, they’ve had a Sugababes type transformation of late (yes, I have just referenced The Sugababes in connection to a Barnsley festival in 2013!). Gone is the old set list which has been replaced with a lot more punk songs, as the new front man put his stamp on the band making their sound a lot more edgy and a lot less predictable.
Most locals are now aware of Emily Worton from her appearance as a contestant on BBC’s The Voice. I was grateful enough to be out of the house most weekends when that series was on. However, I was thankful enough to see her performing at an M-Fest gig back in 2010 supporting her brother James. She could have only been fifteen at the time but it was evident that she’d already found her true calling and that eventually she’d be playing to more than a dozen drunks in a beer garden. Flash forward three years and wether it’s Will.I.Am’s influence or simply life experience, she has gone from performing on a stage to owning it. Her set consisted of varied covers, but unlike the bands playing on the Main Stage she made them her own. She covered everything from The Coral to Red Hot Chili Peppers, each of which she added her own style to them. As a none Radiohead fan, I was particularly impressed by her version of Creep. I was a little concerned when she said that she was going to attempt to cover Wuthering Heights (not many can pull off a Kate Bush song), but after a couple of false starts it turned into one of the most beautiful performances of the day. Really interested in how her career will progress as it enters the post talent show stage. Hopefully she can loose that tag quickly and start working on her own material, safe in the knowledge she already has a following. A collaboration with her brother James (who was watching front of stage for most of her performance) is almost inevitable, as her Soundcloud page proves she is capable of writing her own songs as well as reinterpreting others.
After a day spent predominantly checkout out acoustic/indie bands it was time to broaden my musical horizons and take it a bit of blues. In the week leading up to the festival, when I was reading up on the acts, I was immediately drawn to Tom Attah’s biog – “Blacker than the white stripes… bluer than the Black Keys”. By the time I’d got to The Audio Picnic Tent it was almost full to capacity. Although, I’m not sure if this was the sudden downpour or that they were all there to see Tom (I’d like to think it was the latter). Out of all of the frontmen and singers at Coalfields, Tom Attah was by far the most charismatic and most down to earth singer that day. He put as much effort into the banter between songs as he did with the songs themselves. Don’t get me wrong, his songs were filled with as much passion and substance as you would expect from any good blues singer, but as my pictures of him reflect, he’s a very hard man to photograph as he’s never still for long enough! Imagine David Gray after several cans of energy drink (if you’re for whatever reason reading this Tom, that was honestly meant as a compliment!). He even had a song about it raining, which was quite appropriate as the rain continued to lash the tent for the rest of the festival. In a set which he spent most of the time plugging other bands music and merchandise rather than his own, he finished with a cover of Elvis Costello’s Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down.