The night before Live At Leeds, I was sceptical. Glancing across the pink checkerboard timetable was a somewhat overwhelming experience; a glut of similarly named news bands (Lots of bears, lots of seas and lots of adults, if you’re wondering) and agonizing clashes. Enthusiastic as I was about some of the acts, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t dubious about how much I would actually enjoy huffing and puffing my way around the massive cities many venues, cramming into tiny spaces and competing with the Leeds uber-cool to get to the front of the next big buzz bands. Luckily for me, Leeds isn’t London. And actually, there is a quite a buzz to be had to diving in and out of venues at will, rather than trudging through acres of mud and rain and congealed takeways at your traditional festival.
Approaching The Faversham feels like turning up to the posh girl from school’s birthday party: oddly quiet, with an air more befitting afternoon tea than a riotous gig. Luckily, it turns out to be beautifully quaint inside, and an appropriate setting for the jazzy shirts and equally jazzy melodies of Marsicans. A Leeds based foursome who I first encountered in the city a few months back supporting Dog Is Dead, they’ve come on leaps and bounds (ignore the pun). With a strong drummer holding up its Little Comets worthy summer beat, my personal favourite Hands is a standout, and incidentally enough, available for free from the bands bandcamp, here.
Swapping over to Leeds University Mine introduced us to Swiss Lips, a digi-pop outfit in the mould of Yeasayer or an even chirpier Local Natives. With a confident, boyband worthy frontman and saccharine lyrics stickier than the venues floor, they make no qualms about being a pop band. However, judging on their soundcheck, they would do well to play up the synths: the noises coming from that side of the stage five minutes prior to their set were more interesting and original than anything that ensued in the following 30.
Hype lovers will already be well acquainted with the shoegaze-tastic Novella, but to a newbie like myself, I was suitably impressed with their show at Leeds Cockpit. Pulling off the surly, hazy tinged and punk fringed aesthetic, all key elements of an accomplished act are already in place, with many enthusiastic heads bobbing away and giving one another the universal ‘they’re quite good aren’t they?’ eyebrow raised look. Whilst some backing vocals wouldn’t go amiss in places to elevate Holly Warren’s dreamy deadpan, Novella leave the stage having made a good first impression.
It is when we arrive at the Holy Trinity Church that the magic of Live At Leeds really starts to unfurl. Karima Francis is a name I have been hearing about for quite some time, but it is only in this pure, natural setting that I really get to see what the fuss is all about. Alas, I’m distracted slightly by the couple sitting behind me who debate Karima’s gender throughout (she is wearing one of her trademark androgynous suits) . Thankfully, when she cleverly hands out some branded brighton rock in promotion of her new record, they finally shut up and start chomping. Simple minds.
All mutterings are reduced to silence by the time Rae Morris takes the stage. Just 19 years of age with only a keyboard to hide behind, she looks terrified, her doe eyes glancing down every few seconds as she murmurs her name, each sentence tailing off with a polite laugh. It’s a shock to say the least when she starts to sing, unleashing a huge, full noise that fills the church. Again, she is an artist that has developed exponentially since I saw her last mere weeks before, which says astounding things for her future.
The mother of the girl-folk scene, despite only being a year or two older than her counterparts, Lucy Rose is quick to congratulate tourmate Morris as she starts her 30 minute set slightly later than billed. In the wake of her debut album’s completion, it is Lucy’s newest material that sounds most interesting here tonight. Plagued by technical difficulties throughout, her frustration is clear, but that doesn’t stop the bare beauty of Shiver and Night Bus shining through.
Sound problems unfortunately follow us back to Leeds University for the final act of tonight, Los Campesinos! It’s a shaky start due to a bad vocal mix - for the entirety of opener ‘By Your Hand’, percussionist Rob’s voice appears to be coming out of lead singer Gareth’s mouth, disconcerting to say the least. In true Campesinos spirit, they laugh off the misfortune, finding their stride amongst the chaos with the sugar rush of Death To Los Campesinos! and a touching, euphoric rendition of Hello Sadness. If it was ever it doubt that it is their finest single to date, all doubt is eradicated with the reaction that ensues when Gareth steps away from the microphone halfway through, allowing the soaring guitars to obliterate his voice singing the songs title.
I don’t know whether it’s because I’m seeing a band I have loved for the very first time, but this gig is charged with emotion, as they revisit old favourites with as much enthusiasm as their latter material. The sheer passion is evident in Gareth especially as he attacks his vocals, bobbing and gesturing, engaging with his lyrics at a level beyond what I've seen most bands achieve. He visibly wells up during The Sea Is A Good Place To Look To The Future, creating catharsis at its best for the majority of the crowd who will him through it, chanting along .It doesn’t matter that this is a song he has sung every few nights for the past two years; it’s still as devastatingly personal and unapologetic as the day it was written.
That said, Los Campesinos are no saps. When an opportunist ‘fan’ leaps up at the beginning of set closer Baby I’ve Got The Death Rattle, pinching Kim Campesinos notebook from atop her keyboard, proverbial shit does indeed go down. Diving into the crowd, retrieving it and then somewhat comedically struggling to clamber back on stage just in time for the crescendo, Gareth is an unlikely hero. But considering that he has spent the past hour singing about how he is far from invicible, he is the most affable kind.
*Pictures are, as always, credited to Kevin Lawson
Check back soon for an interview with Gareth Campesinos from Live At Leeds Festival