The first Live in Barnsley festival, which took place last June, was an overwhelming success. Over 3000 music lovers descended onto Barnsley town centre to explore and experience the best of musical talent from of both Barnsley and the outer reaches of the UK.
The second instalment was announced early this year with the news that Undertones front-man and all-round good heart, Feargal Sharkey would be the official patron of the festival. A great move – as the author of Teenage Kicks, he created an anthem of eternal youth, and a song for good times and good memories. Indeed reminiscent of Live in Barnsley’s very own official decree, ‘One Day, One Life, Enjoy!’
Unfortunately for me though, I had to work until 4pm. Given my potential enjoyment of the festival had now been halved, I had to decide whether to go and chance it and discover bands I’d never seen before, or go and watch those local bands that I already adore and know well.
I managed to escape work for two brief twenty-minute chucks at midday and 2pm. I made my way over to see Mynas opening the stage in the Walkabout. Drummer Boovey was running later and so guitarist/vocalist Del Miller kicked things off with a couple of well received solo cover-versions. Once up and running, the entire Mynas unit played glorious versions of A Pattern Appears, Bliss, He Who Laughs Last and The Ronettes’ Be My Baby. Once in their stride, they are a force to be reckoned with and indeed deserve to be headlining a stage and not opening, but due to their popularity, they headed straight of to perform at a second festival soon after.
Next up, I managed to squeeze in a brief glimpse of The Black Lamps in The Underground. Even at 2pm, the venue was already packed with hardcore fans waiting to see this rare live outing of one of Barnsley’s finest. Every gig of theirs manages to sound totally different, often dream-pop like, other times psychedelic. Today they opened thunderous – much heavier than usual. Casa Disco was greeted with rapturous applause. As a special touch, the band also gave out a limited edition run of t-shirts to punters.
And so although I didn’t get back out into the festival until 4pm, being positioned in the town hall I managed to hear much of what was going on surrounding Barnsley PAL’s Square. The Londoner had its windows opened, encouraging crowds on the street to peer in. The sounds of O Captain have not fallen far from the same tree as Biffy Clyro, and Barnsley’s own funky space-rock pirates Skinboat sounded awesome, and I reckon even better from inside the venue.
The size of the crowd gathered outside the former Blah Bar –Funky Budha at half one reflected the nature of the unexpected surprise of what was going on inside, when during Michael Dugher’s set he invited Feargal Sharkey up to sing Teenage Kicks with him; a highlight for many at this year’s festival I’m sure.
My full festival experience continued with the option of either catching Feral Indie at the ‘Budha or The Glavins at Walkabout. After hearing that Walkabout served real ale, I opted for the latter. I was not disappointed by both the well-earned pint of Bombardier and the outstanding set by The Glavins. Those who know me, will be well aware that I’m not too bothered about much of the jangly guitar Indie in town, but Glavins are a mighty band and an altogether different breed. Firstly, their gigs are not much rarer than they used to be, nor have they released a record in a number of years. They are greeted like returning champions and their songs are both familiar to many and instant pleasure to the ears to newcomers. The Mersey-beat tinged poppier skits blend in seamlessly with the heavier, eastern flavour of set highlights Moscovite and Time Machine. One thing I like about them is that unlike some of the younger indie set, there is no cockiness about them, just good songs and subtle charisma to match.
Next up was Antesaint, a young alt-rock band with a mighty sound. One of the risks of festivals like this is that not all venues are suited to louder live music. The Stereo was a perfect example. I’m a massive fan of Hayley’s always fantastic vocals, but with the sound desk placed behind the band, they were sometimes a little lost in the mix on the heavier numbers.
The band, now fleshed out and benefited by the addition of the tower of lead guitarist Thomas Wilkinson, now have a sound somewhat similar to Fightstar. However, it is on the quieter new song Falling, where the band’s strengths flourish, and Hayley’s voice, a mix of Fiona Apple and Daniel Johns, adds a tender moment to an all-round top set. Ultimately, Antesaint write brilliant and versatile songs and I hope the masses pick up on that soon.
As always Live in Barnsley throws up many dilemmas when way too many live favourites’ set times clash. I gave up the option of seeing the always fantastic McCarthy Vigil to make my way down Wellington Street – often forbidden in my regular treks round tarn.
VooDoo is another one of those difficult venues. The small room and low ceiling mean that the sound isn’t as good as some other venues, and despite the technical difficulties that mare Euthemia’s set, the band put on a blinder of a show. It’s the first time I have seen this Barnsley/Leeds alt rock band live and I wasn’t disapointed. Vocalist Nathan Morris impresses in the same way Matt Bellamy’s did in the early Muse days. Muse also are a key musical comparison. Unlike Euthemia’s recorded out-put, there were no quiet moments here, just an exciting, aggressive and hyperactive performance from the entire band – who I think were even one man down! so credit to them.
Next up was Barnsley’s very own John Cooper Clarke -minus the crow’s nest- Mark Jackson and his Criminal Waste of Talent. I nearly considered heading to another venue when I saw how packed, hot and sweaty The Shakespear was, and I really wasn’t bothered about drinking any of the shite beer either, but on the way out I bumped into a number of folk I knew and didn’t want to miss out, so I headed back in and elbowed my way up to the front. It was as I expected. Mr Jackson was on top form, spouting tales of midlife crisis, post-credit crunch Britain and generally being a fella who’s a bit shit at most things. I’ve you’ve not seen Mark since the duo became a full band, you must. Songs a fleshed out and improved upon, especially the impeccable There’s Always a Queue at Greggs. A brilliant performer, and I hope the band put down some new tracks soon.
Half six was another of those times that meant missing out other favourites. Everyone An Army was playing at Opium and Redmist Destruction the Digital. However, in the end I decided to go and see Lauren Tate. Previously known for her youtube cover versions and acoustic live performances, she has since re-launched herself with a fantastic debut EP with all original songs. Here she played those songs with her brand new band, and what a band they are! The Black, Your Unhappy, Take My Away and the single Trapped In My Skin, channel Hole, Linda Perry, Amanda Palmer and Brody Dalle. Lauren’s voice performs turns tricks like you wouldn’t believe and the band compliments her talents perfectly. She expels a nervous energy as she performs. Part of that is no doubt playing a festival with a new band, but there is a certain anxiety that seems to live in both Lauren and her music, and rather than coming across as teenage angst, it injects emotion into her music like nothing else could.
The set ends with two bonus covers. The first knocks me for six. Close your eyes and listen to the band perform Drain The Blood and you would swear that you were watching The Distillers. And the finale of Whole Lotta Love is faultless – equal credit to Sean, Sam, Brendan and Dan.
I head back up Peel Street way and over to Opium No.10. In a week where they leaked their amazing new EP on-line, Aztec Doll are setting up in front of a packed out crown. Soon the band will be debuting their newly expanded four piece line-up but here, it is the familiar trio the crowd know and love that will perform for them. The popular lead track from the first EP Suddenly I’m Outside Myself might be omitted from the regular set but in its place are all three tracks from the new EP, which sounds much rawer than on record, where the synth is more prominent. Lee Garforth is a major presence, with his bass-lines reminiscent to Warpaint. The band sound and look superb. I can’t wait to experience the new line-up later in the year with keyboards and extra vocals.
Cavorts, an amalgamation of the bands G.U. Medicine and Errander are a very heavy metal n’ roll band perfectly suited to the darkness of The Underground. The venue’s sound was clearer than usual. Even the loud guttural screams came over crisp.
The Smash Hits Poll-Winners Party would no doubt give the prize for Best Mover to bassist Rik who covers all areas of the stage and throws himself about with grace and gusto in equal measure. Alongside the fan favourite Pig of Ballast, the band churn out a ton of tracks from the forthcoming album, but it’s Save Some Things that absolutely sleighs it.
Now when it comes to The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, I appreciate how they bring folk instrumentation into the mainstream and I like the imagery and big love of Barnsley, but sometimes the comedy lost on me or more recently I’ve not liked the choice of cover version. Regardless of this, they remain a force to be reckoned with in the live field, and hence why a small band who sing songs about Barnsley have been asked to play festivals up and down the country and are loved by many. They also work hard at promoting Barnsley unlike no other band does.
For what was their second set of the day, the band had been asked lead the finale at the Walkabout. Under the banner of We Are The Bands (the title of a local charity single from 2013), they were to invite various members of other bands on stage to perform a number of their own songs and other classics. Being 9pm on a Saturday night, and all other venues now done for the day, the Walkabout was rammed and the atmosphere electric. Despite my initial misgivings about the Doonicans having both opening and closing sets, I’m more than delighted to say that the choice was proven a good one as both their sets were packed full of both people and atmosphere (so I’m told – I missed the first one at The Civic) and that this finale was indeed the highlight of the day.
The band, now a four piece following their reunion with long-lost brother Bjorn Doonican, were also benefitted for the night by the addition of Cat Fraser from Folkus on mandolin, and Matt Townsend and Paul Heckingbottom of The Monotones on drums and bass respectively. For well over an hour, they are all joined on stage by various singers and musicians that had played the festival throughout the day. Highlights included Taxi For Bob’s Tom Jackson and The Hurrier’s Tony Wright performing Cigarettes and Alcohol, Skinboat’s Glen Sutton’s and Broken Flowers’ Anna Mosley on Teenage Kicks, Mark Jackson doing Pretty Vacant and Redmist Destruction’s John Upson and Ryan Carrier thrashing away through Ace of Spaces.
The Bar-Steward Sons’ very own take on a Blur classic, Tarn Life had a mass singalong, and the atmosphere down at the front barrier was brilliant, and you just know the crowd appreciated the extra effort of Scott Doonican crowdsurfing to the bar and back on a lilo just to get a pint. During Jump Ararnd, Scott had the audience in the palm of his hand. A hard-working band if ever there was one and a great show which will be the live highlight of the year for a number of people, including the band themselves.
It was difficult to top both the quality and the atmosphere of the first Live in Barnsley but this year’s may have just done that. I’ve had so many people say that they were surprised to find such a relaxed and fun atmosphere in town on a Saturday night. That was definitely the case in my opinion. There will always be room for improvement, and I can only imagine the LIB team will go all out to improve things again next year. I’d love to see some new venues; maybe Che Bar, a big enough club to offer another stage as big as Walkabout. Possibly busking on PAL’s Square outside the town hall too, and there has been whispers of including exhibitions and artists next year. Whatever happens, it’ll be a good’n. The organisers and indeed everybody else who did a stellar job of putting this year’s festival together. Bring on 2015!