“…for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day.”
It must be said that IDLES (the spirits of demons) should headline every fucking festival ever, period. Such was their impact on us revellers (the kings of the whole world) that nigh on everything that followed felt like an anti-climax at the war of the great day (30th April 2017). Not that there was any lack of endeavour – indeed, there was still a gargantuan surfeit of talent forthcoming – but if anybody tries to tell you that the Bristol punk quartet weren’t the highlight of the entire weekend, I suggest you shake their hand politely, mumble something incoherently about already being late for the bus, and leave, never to speak to them again.
But that was Sunday, so let’s rewind a bit, shall we?
Leicester’s Handmade Festival, housed over four stages at the O2 Academy, achieved wooden anniversary status this year, and celebrated in style with what was arguably (no, make that definitely) the best three day line up over 2017’s entire UK festival programme. Major kudos must go, once again, to the organisers, the brilliant trio Nik Sharpe, John Helps and Matt Kirk, all of whom work tirelessly to ensure such occasions are nothing short of spectacular.
One of the great things about Handmade, it must be said, is that it simply hammers the point home that Leicester really does have a dazzling range of artistes from which to choose, and that is showcased here with dramatic effect. Friday was a little different from the rest of the weekend, with external venues (The Cookie, Firebug, The Guildhall and Bishops St Church) accommodating sterling performances from the likes of local stalwarts Her Name Is Calla and relative newcomers Easy Life. Those of those who wanted something a little different, meanwhile, were able to pop over to the LCB depot to see Midlands comedian Dan Nicholas entertaining the assembled throng with his Poster Boy show. Perhaps the best of what was essentially a festival “warm up” though, came from London’s excellent Husky Loops, who snap at your heels like a rabid terrier and leave you with little doubt that this year’s Handmade festival is shaping up to be something very special indeed. Just two days later, we are well and truly certain of it. Except, perhaps, the lady who spent most of the festival sitting outside one of the main stages just knitting in the corner…
Saturday kicks off with local boys Royal Arcade in the Scholar bar, and despite looking as though they will still be asked for ID at off licences for the next five years at least, produce some glorious guitar pop which is so shimmeringly pretty it would make Real Estate jealous to the extent that they may seriously contemplate a trip to Beachy Head. Meanwhile, over in the Queen’s Hall (Academy 2), fellow homegrown talent Courtney Askey is performing a set that calls to mind acts as diverse as The Duke Spirit, PJ Harvey and Lana Del Rey. Some great, infectious melodies here, and despite the fact that there is a bit of a weird breakdown in her closing number (in that it didn’t exactly segue effortlessly, a la I Am The Resurrection, into its coda), we are left with a warm glow in our hearts and a spring in our step, ready for the joys ahead.
Opening The Cave, we have Maidstone’s Anoa, who feel (well, to me at least) a little like if Dead Kennedys merged with Pop Will Eat Itself, vibrant and full of buoyancy, but there’s something joyously tongue in cheek about them, their songs dripping with a dark sarcasm. Beginning proceedings in the Main Hall (Academy 1) at the same time are our very own Kermes, belting out some extremely powerful tunes “about gender dysphoria” and ending with the words “I’m so fucking gay” – it won’t come as a massive surprise then, to learn that the sound is somewhere between Anohni, Alison Moyet and late eighties Lancastrians Bradford.
Still, I am not going to go through the entire festival listing and commenting on every single band that played; that would just be dull and quite frankly, you’d lose the will to live, so I shall focus primarily upon the artists who drew the most interesting comments upon my notebook. River Chickens, for example, make the effort to look suitably rock ‘n’ roll, presumably having been largely influenced by the Manics, but there’s something amusingly camp about them, like Right Said Fred have turned up to play as the seminal Welsh band on Stars In Their Eyes. Still, close your eyes and the words ‘raaaawk ‘nnnn’ roll baby’ loom large at the forefront of your mind.
Saturday’s standout act were probably London’s Goat Girl, who play irresistible melodies bordering on an Imelda May type rockabilly here and there, while occasionally sounding like a freak hybrid of Courtney Barnett and Marlene Dietrich. These four girls have great harmonies and great big sweaty bollocks. Not literally, of course, I just mean their music packs a punch.
Other picks of the day were local boys The Lids, recalling an early Cure at times, both aurally and visually, and probably the tightest Leicester band in town.
In light of recent dark allegations against Cabbage, you could reasonably have expected their act to be toned down a bit for Handmade, but no, joint frontman Lee Broadbent still strips off defiantly, although that does beg the question “Why?!!!” – it’s not like nobody has ever done this before is it? Iggy? Jim Morrison? Why bother? And surely their songs, largely punch-the-air terrace anthems, along with some intense social commentary, speak for themselves, right? I can’t deny it’s an impressive set, but I felt a little sorry for Arcades, who were performing in the Scholar bar at the same time. Theirs is a highly palatable sound, easy on the ear, and it’s a shame most people are missing them. But then, I guess headlining a stage at a festival looks pretty impressive on your musical CV, right?
Other highlights from Saturday came from the old school punk of Shame, the Pete-Murphy-has-just-borrowed-a-time-machine feel of Leicester’s own Ash Mammal, and, if you go by the reaction of the crowd and GIITTV photographer Paul Reno, Pulled Apart By Horses, who were anvil heavy, and although I’ve never been a fan personally (Tom Hudson’s singing voice, for some reason, reminds me of Donald Duck’s, and I’ve never been able to get past that), I can’t deny that they are great at what they do and whip the crowd into a frenzy.
First up on Sunday, we had Alexei from Johnny Foreigner‘s side project, Yr Poetry, who present a Japandroids style set up of just guitar and drums and, like their Canadian counterparts, are surprisingly ballsy. As were Fizzy Blood, who I am glad I persevered with, as at the beginning I was thinking “these guys couldn’t BUY a tune“, but that would appear to have been something of a false start, as we were soon confronted with come crunching guitars and magnificently rowdy thumping basslines and a wondrous visual spectacle to boot.
What’s the UK equivalent of “bluesy Americana”? Whatever it is, Charlotte Carpenter has it in spades – her flawless vocals and beautifully composed melodies were once again perfect for Handmade and one of her tunes always puts me in mind of ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper‘, which always puts a smile on my face. All of which set us up nicely for Lea Porcelain in The Cave. “We love basements, because we’re from Berlin!” pronounces Julien Bracht, joyfully. They then embark on a set that is like being on a narcotics train which is permanently travelling through the darkest of tunnels, yet somehow still manages to be full of mercurial uplift. There is undoubtedly some influence from Gary Numan in there, and I stood there thinking “I’m glad I’m not epileptic“, given the rather intense flickering lights
Northampton’s Ohboy! performed a “perfect pop” set that was as entertaining as last year, despite having a bass player who looks like Harry Kane, but at half past five, it was time…for IDLES! Frontman Joe Talbot skulks menacingly around the stage, exchanging banter/insults with guitarist Mark Bowen, who crashes deliberately and provocatively into Talbot on several occasions before jumping into the crowd and writhing around shirtless on the floor. It may all sound a little clichéd, but IDLES pull it off in such a manner that it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Musically they are simply a tour de force, belting out numbers from their already seminal Brutalism album to staggering effect. Talbot, for his part, comes across as polite and well mannered, but there’s always that underlying suspicion that things could turn nasty and he may smash a beer glass over your head at any minute. I wouldn’t have wanted to follow them, if I was still in a band. In fact, I think I’d have just gone home and cried instead…
To their eternal credit, LIFE took up the gauntlet admirably. Frontman Mez Sanders-Green had to really work that audience, most of whom were still shell-shocked from what they had just witnessed, at least for the first couple of songs, but he is eccentric – and uninhibited – enough with his moves, like a young Mick Jagger, perhaps, that you could feel the crowd being won over more and more with every song. If there were any relative newcomers at Handmade who I would deem “most likely to” in terms of breaking into the mainstream, I would have to say it would be LIFE every time. Why? Because they are willing to take on impossible challenges like this, taking what seem to be unassailable 3-0 half time deficits and transforming them into the most unlikely of victories. Their set comprised most of their brilliant forthcoming Popular Music album, full of venom and swagger, and it was all kinds of awesome. Much kudos deserved.
After this, there were pleasant enough sets from the likes of Jaws, Honeyblood and Waking Aida, amongst others, but really only Happyness, with their Belle & Sebastian meets Teenage Fanclub ambience, and the ever reliable British Sea Power stood out. The latter band began with their excellent recent single ‘Bad Bohemian‘ and delivered an accomplished set that didn’t even need to delve too deeply into their best known work in order to be triumphant. ‘Waving Flags‘ was easily the most famous song they played and how that song improves with age! BSP’s set was a joyous occasion for all concerned, many punters dancing with and embracing Ursine Ultra, the eight foot brown bear who makes an appearance from time to time. But the real jaw dropping moment was their stunning finale of ‘The Great Skua‘, a composition so emotional it could easily be used at an opening ceremony to a worldwide sports event. Just utterly bewitching.
“…and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”.
The curtain came down on proceedings after the not unappealing tones of Frightened Rabbit, whose intelligently crafted songs were genial enough to bring a much needed sense of calm to the party and send everyone home happy, ticking off the days on their calendars until NEXT year’s Handmade, for which early bird tickets are already available.
*I know I missed a lot of bands and artists off here, but I only have so many words, so let me just say this – if you played at the festival, you were almost certainly magnificent, you beautiful, beautiful people.
PHOTO CREDITS: PAUL RENO