Saturday, 19 July 2014

Review: 2000 Trees, Cheltenham, 10-12 July




When a farmer called Michael Eavis laid the foundations for the musical gathering that would come to be known as Glastonbury, he wasn’t dreaming in dollar signs. Instead, peace, love and community was firmly on the agenda, uniting people through a shared love of music, good vibes and escape from the rat race.

Whilst Glastonbury has grown beyond recognition into a juggernaut of worldwide media scrutiny, just down the road there is a little event in Gloucestershire that embodies that initial spirit. Blessed with the most beautiful of british weather and ethnic, gender and age diversity that would make any equal opportunities officer proud, 2000 Trees turned 8 in 2014, displaying it’s burgeoning longevity with a wave of independent alternative acts that catered to most tastes.

Arriving to the easily navigable site on the Thursday, it became instantly clear that logistically speaking at least, Trees is one of Britain’s finest festivals. Toilet facilities were spotless (and remained pretty much that way the whole three days), catering was plentiful, varied and affordable, and the site was small enough to walk end to end in less than half an hour. Best of all, it wasn’t likely to outstay it’s welcome – with all music taking place between Thursday and Saturday, Sunday was reserved for travelling home, making it a much easier experience on the wallet, the weekday worker and the serious hangover owner.

But enough about the boring stuff – you want to hear about the music right? Oh, go on then:

Day 1 - THURSDAY


Kickstarting proceedings on Thursday night was Bristol’s very own Oxygen Thief, bolstered from Barry Dolan’s acoustic-metal solo efforts into a full live band.  Their chunky, chugging meaty metallicness is satisfying and surprising, like a caloric microwave ready meal of awesomeness shoved in the oven with a spoon baked in the middle. The crowd go wild it, the moshpits swirl and the image of a less hipster Pulled Apart By Horses fills brains. Definitely a strong start. 

Ever wondered what the music in a cinema adaptation of The Catcher In The Rye would sound like? Wonder no longer – The Retrospective Soundtrack Players have got you covered.  The best concept act I’ve encountered in a while, they take modern literary classics and lyricizing them with toe-tapping glee. Who knows what they’ll tackle next, but I’m sure a Game of Thrones concept double LP would sell craploads of hipster vinyl in Rough Trade.

Chants of ‘mainstage’ pull Trees veteran Ben Marwood to the stage, sneaking in a shoutout to fellow festival act Sam Duckworth before lambasting him for stealing his sound in the brilliant 'Questions Marks'. A cover of The Postal Service's 'The District Sleeps Alone Tonight' is designed for a singalong, but the crowds don’t need convincing – almost every word of Marwood’s set is bellowed back at him leaving him looking rather teary, although that could just be the labyrinthitis the singer-songwriter has been struggling with for the past few weeks. What a trooper.

The evening takes a small dip in the form of Johnny Foreigner, forever referred to as the spiritual sisters of Los Campesinos! However, whilst Los Camp have grown from hipster duckling into alternative swan, JoFo seems stubbornly ensconsced in 2007 twee-core, and their set suffers at their lack of versatility.

The same however can’t be said for Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, who rollerskate through genres grabbing hooks here there and everywhere likes some sort of bizarre trollydash. Their set leaves me feeling very, very old – I constantly find myself teetering on the verge of doing a little boogie, before just catching myself and realizing I’m not quite that drunk yet. It’s a curious sensation, but a something of a letdown nonetheless – luckily for me a wander over to the buskers stage sees a party I'm much more comfortable with an increasingly rowdy rendition of Hey Ya by Ben ‘Andre 3000’ Marwood and Barry ‘Big Boi’ Dolan of Oxygen Thief. Only at 2000 Trees.

Blood Red Shoes, by Jenessa Williams

Kids In Glass Houses by Jenessa Williams


DAY 2 - FRIDAY

One of 2000 Trees best assets, the BBC Introducing sessions gives early risers an excuse to discover some new music, all from the comfort of sun-warmed hay bale.  

Damian Syall of The St Pierre Snake Invasion is first up and clearly nervous,  but he promptly reveals himself to be a wonderful lyricist: ‘The Great Procrastinator’ speaks to anyone who’s ever watched more than one episode of Jeremy kyle in a day because they can’t bothered to get off the sofa.

Fresh from their second year at the Bristol institute of modern music, Rozelle look like the sort of gang you wishes you were cool enough to hang out with at sixth form. They sound like it too – a super professional, wonderfully harmonized offering from young talents audibly influenced by Daughter and Lucy Rose. Keep an eye on ‘free’ – it’s headed to a radio A-list near you. An early play for discovery of the weekend.

Wrapping up Introducing proceedings for the day and flanked by a violinist and various others, Oliver Wilde is very self aware to the point of coming off a little pretentious . No wonder he’s made the sought after BBC 6music slot – his Doves/ Elbowesque sound is sleepily comforting, like the lure of a mattress after three days of slumbering on the cold hardness of a tent without a rollmat. Nice, but could perhaps do with a little  less ego.

After a dulcet start to the day, we’re shocked into life by leeds gang Brawlers on the Axiom Stage, celebrating their first ever festival set and first birthday as a band with serious gusto – high kicks, evil eyeing of the crowd and making a wonderful sonic mess, spilling their neon bright pop punk into the audience to down its drinks and jostle its girlfriends. They possess an incredible gleeful guitarist, the biggest earworm lyric of the festival (‘I’m A Worthless Piece of Shit’) and they admit with little to no shame that they love Oasis. What’s not to like?

The same no nonsense attitude can be found across the field during Cerebral Ballzy, who copious songs ‘about a girl from New York City’ are all the more menacing for frontman Honor Tituses winning but slightly devilishly smile permeating the back of the tent – hell, you could probably see that grin from space. For whatever reason, it fails to capture imaginations. Maybe it’s just the heat of the day but the crowd seems to grow smaller and small with each song, until the pit becomes a sort of pitiful semi circle and the moshers peter out. Never underestimate the ability 26-degree heat has to kill people’s energy.

The same indifference haunts Kids In Glass Houses, who appear to get off to a slow start. The plethora of bearded late 20-somethings and trendy parents is far from their usual crowd for KIGH, but some excellent frontmanship during the emo-tastic riffery of ‘Youngblood’ finally sees some fans ‘let it out’. Singer Aled Phillips clearly possesses quite the set of pipes, but his frustration at the crowd is obvious and when he makes his thankyou's to ‘the first and last 2000 trees we’ll ever play’ at the end of the set, we suspect he means it, regardless of the bands imminent split.

As Kids In Glass Houses’s time as a band comes to an end, it appears that four albums in, Blood Red Shoes are just getting started. Gone are the days when the Brighton two-piece were an indie curiosity – they’re a bona fide rock band. Their set comes without major frills but it’s impressive nonetheless, ‘I Wish I Was Someone Better' sounding as fresh as it did all those years ago.

However, if you want longevity, no band on the 2000 trees bill this tear delivers a set as flawlessly immersive as The Bronx, whose frontman Matt Caughthran arrives on stage sporting full tiger facepaint courtesy of one of the traders art stalls. They drop more MF bombs than Gordon Ramsey on a particularly mad one, but their energy is infectious, refusing to let up for the duration of their set.  ‘They put us out here in the woods, they paint us like tigers, how the fuck do they expect us not to act like animals? Ladies and Gentlemen, lets act like fucking animals’ Caughthran bawls. Lauching himself  into the crowd, he runs to the back of the tent (still singing), wrestles a fan and generally looks as if he having the most amazing time. Animal indeed. 

Tall Ships by Jenessa Williams



DAY 3 – SATURDAY


Saturday starts again the broiling heat of the BBC introducing stage, described by one passing band as being like ‘waking up in a kiln.’ Luckily Ranger Camero are the perfect sunshine accompaniment with their fantastic track ‘Breeze’, that sees Rich Wilks hit his RnB vocal stride. It’s the sort of liquid cool that should have the head honchos at Radio 1 spilling their frappes all over their notes at playlist meetings.

Dinstinctly unsummery is Lonely Tourist, who plays the part of ‘Angry Glaswegian Abroad’ well. He undertakes the challenge to write a song about 2000 Trees in half an hour with good spirit; ‘I Like Camping As Long As It’s In A Hotel’ is full of dour humour that irresistibly evokes memories of The Beautiful South. If you like your music humorously cynical, this guy is for you.

Although one of their tracks appears to have pinched it’s main melody from ‘Come On Eileen’, Blitz Kids are definitely a modern rock act in the same vein as You Me At Six or Young Guns. They fare much better than Kids In Glass Houses did the day before, thanking the crowd repeatedly and generally performing like a band destined to rise out of the doldrums of toilet circuit rock. Their songs aren’t half bad either – ‘On My Own’ is a memorable offering that visibly converts casual listeners into fans.

Having driven 17 hours to be here, one might expect Dad Rocks to be more than a little lethargic. Quite the opposite – they seem genuinely chuffed to be a band that Trees broke their ‘only UK acts’ booking rule for, drawing a massive crowd. Using the staging as percussion, their off-kilter, gloriously uncool but distinctly loveable brand of rousing folk rock is ace, even if ‘funemployment’ does hit a little too close to home for all the new graduates in the audience.

With the sun high in the sky and the sunstroke getting the better of quite a few revelers, The Cadbury Sisters angelic harmonies provide soothing sunblock. With sisterhood on their side, their melodies are almost telepathic in their accuracy, providing a beautiful, full tone, even when they get into the crowd unamplified for a gentle rendition of ‘Lolita’. Forget about Haim – this the family we should all be harping on about.

Last time I witnessed the live Tall Ships show, my boyfriend had quite a few grumbles about their ‘lazy’ use of loop pedals. Said pedals are still present for their Trees set, but their number has grown from 3 to 5 and it appears the new boys are earning their keep by covering some of the intricate instrumentation. ‘Plate Tectonics’ builds with ease before the colossal crash that sees everyone in the crowd scramble for a shot of Ric Phethan’s winning beam. We get more than just epic rock though – ‘Oscar’ and ‘Ode To Ancestors’ both have enough heart to get multiple couples snogging in the front row, and the new song they debut has enough sultriness to keep this Wild Beasts fan happy. And so it transpires: if you fancy a rock band for your wedding, Tall Ships are a good shout.

Wolf Alice continue the rabble in a tent packed to the rafters; seemingly this is the cool place to be for all of the festivals under 30s. And who can blame them? This London outfit is undoubtedly one of the best new bands of 2014. They look pleased to be here and play as such, kicking and snarling their way through instant classics ‘Bros’ and ‘Fluffy’. Oh, and the new track is bloody huge. Welcome to the head table Wolf Alice.

Seen as 2000 Trees fancy dress theme for the day is TV box sets, arriving at Public Service Broadcasting, it at first seems as if the cast of The IT Crowd have wandered onstage and strapped on instruments. But then I sit, expensive festival pad thai in hand, and what ensues is a unique spectacle that leaves me feeling unexplicably teary and homesick. It’s a curious way to end a festival, but a beautiful one nonetheless.

Monday, 14 July 2014

NEW IN: The Solemn Sun - 'Josef'

At 2000 Trees festival this weekend, I witnessed the death of Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun. Don't panic - it wasn't literally. But pulling off a packed out secret set in the forest at 7, Lockey played an acoustic set which officially retired a wealth of brilliant indie folk, paving the way for a new outfit which drops his name and aims for Brand New-worthy emo-epics. The first offering is 'Josef', a bold statement of intent which indicates some pretty exciting things to come. We love.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

REVIEW: 'X', Ed Sheeran


Fuelled by  Booze’n’Bon Iver, Ed Sheeran explores his musical horizons with confessional spirit.

It’s fair to say that whilst I’ve always appreciated Ed Sheeran’s talent, I’ve always had a problem with his ‘wholesomeness.’ The guy who I fell in love with for the genuinely brilliant ‘You Need Me…’ was seemingly propelled into the limelight with the saccharine ‘Lego House’, softening his loveable edges and fast becoming the poster boy for child-safe radio fodder. That’s not to say pop music has to be controversial to be worthwhile. But in Sheeran’s case, I definitely felt like something had been lost. 

But much like his new bessie mate Taylor Swift, Sheeran has undergone something of a subtle rebranding – not too much to alienate fans, but just enough to show you that he is a real human being, not a record label robot with a knack for writing world dominating tear jerkers. The songs are still confessional, but definitely more personal; whilst ‘+’ tackled some difficult themes with touching sentimentality (‘A Team’, ‘Small Bump’), it always felt like they were emotions held at a distance. ‘X’, however, sees him admit his flaws and indeed, his growing sexual confidence without apology. Whether it be the frequent references to Booze’n’Bon Iver, the smoking of ‘illegal weed’ or the confident kiss off that is ‘Runaway’ (or the ‘Let’s Get It On’ aping ‘Thinking Out Loud’), this is definitely a boy who is beginning to own his reasonably unlikely sex symbol status. 

As the opener to an Ed Sheeran record, you couldn’t really ask for much more than ‘One’. It’s everything you would expect from a man who wrote the pop genius that is One Direction’s ‘Little Things;  proper, lighters-in-the-air-at-the-02-arena-stuff, with a satisfying finishing cadences that demands an audible ‘aaah’ from the listener. The stripped back, swooning is a theme that peppers the record with varying results; for every passionate, slow building ‘I’m a Mess’ or 'Bloodstream', there is a tawdry ‘Photograph’, which sounds a little too much like a Taylor Swift karaoke session for real comfort. 

Interestingly enough, it is when Sheeran is more easily comparable to an RnB artist than a Country one that he is at his best. Everyone is familiar with SING, the Timberlake-worthy masterpiece that is easily one of the years best singles, but it is something of a red herring – nothing else on ‘X’ has the same effortless, modern groove. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though; ‘Don’t’ is propelled into excellence levels by it’s cool wit, probably causing the girl in question a fair bit of embarrassment at the brilliantly bitter lyric: ‘I never saw him as a threat/Until you disappeared with him to have sex of course.’ 

Whilst ‘The Man’ probably pushes his rapping status a little too far, ditching the soppy approach is definitely one that Sheeran should push further. He’s at his best somewhere between rapping and singing – ‘Afire Love’ has a tempo that elevates it out of the ballads, as does ‘Nina’, seemingly a natural extension from ‘+’ stnadout ‘U.N.I’. It manages to deal with the perils of ‘rock stars in long distance relationships’ in a way that avoids contrive, never coming across ungrateful. Take note Two Door Cinema Club. 


It’s surely difficult to step away from that which has made you internationally famous, but what ‘X’ shows us is that Sheeran’s songwriting is strong enough to survive any genre. Indeed, ‘Take It Backs’ ‘I do my own thing now and get respect later’ makes it obvious that he is making slow, deliberate steps to escape his pigeonhole. Hopefully next time round, if he’s still into this maths thing, he can subtract some more of the obvious. Sure, it might divide fans, but it’ll be vital to his longevity. 
7/10