“Highlight of the weekend?” came the question, via Messenger, from God Is In The TV’s Live Editor Dean Mason, shortly after the festival ended.
“Isn’t it always IDLES?” I replied.
“I think it probably is,” he conceded. And it is. It always is…
Let’s rewind to the start of proceedings on Saturday and recap what turned out to be arguably Handmade’s finest hour to date. If festivals were footballers, Leicester’s brilliant two-dayer would be the first name on the team sheet every time.
Approaching the hallowed steps of Handmade, the distant strains of music sound rather like a budget Florence + The Machine. At the moment it is unclear as to whether this holy racket is being made by Art School Girlfriend in the Scholar bar downstairs, or if it is Anteros up on Union Square. As it turns out neither of them sounds that much like Flozzer and co: Art School Girlfriend have a bubbling intensity about them, like an unwatched pot ready to spit and sizzle at you the first chance it gets, and the quartet’s classic line up of female vocals/bass, guitar, keys and drums also delivers a stark musical landscape. They really are a terrific way to kick off festivities. Anteros, meanwhile, are more straight ahead indie pop with the emphasis firmly on “pop”. It was clearly them I had heard as I neared the venue, though in truth they’re probably closer, sonically, to, say, Republica than the aforementioned Florence. Lead singer Laura Hayden is rather striking both visually and aurally, pulling off the black vest top and grey denim look perfectly and with the minimum of effort. She has a great voice and boy, do they pack a punch live. Even at this early stage, it’s clear this weekend is going to be a corker.
First up on the Academy 1 stage, it’s Her’s. Despite possessing a grammatically provocative moniker that makes me want to write (sic) next to it every time I see it, they turn out to be one of Saturday’s true highlights. Satisfyingly hard to properly categorise, any Bauhaus fan who wandered in early enough would have wet themselves with glee, though in fairness, theirs is a far more commercial sound than Northampton’s Godfathers of goth. Really it’s the vocals that suggest comparison with Peter Murphy, as the overall vibe is more in line with the Postcard bands of the early eighties, especially Orange Juice, though you could go off on another tangent: I wouldn’t argue with anyone who suggested they sounded like Dead Kennedys, Devo, The B-52’s or The The either. So if you’re trying to purvey the ‘moody goth’ ambience, perhaps steer clear – these guys are nothing if not joyful! From my vantage point on the balcony, their frontman appeared to be wearing dungarees and one of those hats that Ben Whatshisface from Curiosity Killed The Cat was famed for. But then my eyesight’s not the best, so perhaps ignore that? Still, they were excellent and the best act so far, for my money.
Glasgow’s Rascalton are probably aimed more at a younger crowd, serving up a blend of laddish pop-punk like The Enemy with some of the more ‘authentic’ original punks. Vocalist Jack Wyles always looks like he’s spoiling for a fight, and what’s more, makes you feel like it was you who started it when you know damn well you didn’t. At the same time, the mellow, dulcet tones of auburn haired multi-instrumentalist Natalie Evans were gently caressing us in the Scholar bar. Stunningly effective on the harp, her soul-soothing melodies are the perfect antidote to the aggression of a few moments ago – pretty melodies and an angelic voice conjure up an anachronistic vision, part Elizabeth Frazer and half Harriet Wheeler, or maybe that’s a 40/60% split in reality. She battled so resiliently against the noise from other stages and was so humble and calmly coy about it that I really felt like giving her a big hug. Still, all is calm now, and I’m prepared for the heady heights that Nottingham’s Eyre Llew are no doubt about to bring…
…Though if I’d known the technical glitches were going to take this long to sort out, I wouldn’t have disappeared a song early from Natalie’s set! Ten minutes later though, and the delay is all but forgotten as we are met with a glorious cacophony of caterwauling noise – even more so than on record. For someone who adores the blazing hot sunshine, it’s weird how I attach myself so emotionally to something that ostensibly just sounds fucking freezing. But it’s beautiful, captivating ‘ice cap’ music, Eyre Llew becoming spiritual Goliaths, ensuring that your body and soul feel well and truly cleansed by this epic music – it’s rather like being baptised in the freshest of freshwater lakes. Probably.
Star Kendrick, who fronts Geowulf, has something of… ahem …a ‘star’ quality about her, in the ‘pop princess’ mould that Kylie has forever been tagged with, and she really can belt out a tune. Much more of a laid back vibe here, though I was rather distracted that their second guitarist looked like a cross between Will Sergeant and my sister-in-law…
Crosa Rosa, live, come across, aesthetically at least, like the UK’s answer to Nirvana, with all the verve and vigour that went hand in hand with Seattle’s three-headed monster. It’s a much-needed wake-up call to rouse us from our slumbers and the trio certainly rack up the biggest crowd so far this year.
Indoors, Grace Petrie has grown and grown as this festival has developed over the past few years. This is her fourth time playing, and the confidence oozes from her – she’s clearly a natural for the big stage. In some ways, she is like a female Frank Turner, all rousing protest songs and fist pumping anthems, although, of course, there’s “no such thing as a protest singer.” In this capacity, Petrie sounds huge and worthy of her status as something of a ‘Leicester legend’. As great as it was to catch her in her most impromptu moments, the main stage is most definitely her true home, and this is the best I’ve seen her.
Beyond their rather puerile, mischievously titled band name, Peaness have a multitude of gold plated pop songs that would see even The Go-Gos go green with envy. If ever the word ‘fun’ was in order, it’s at a Peaness gig. Everybody deserves more Peaness in their lives. Moving swiftly on, Protomartyr have an unbelievably raw, relentless energy; their frontman Joe Casey looks for all the world like an already pissed off Bob Mould being informed that his pizza is going to be half an hour late. This is a group which resides within the most hostile mindspace and they are all the more gripping for that. If you’re a fan of half sung, half barked vocals – sometimes like Black Francis and others like Pete Fijalkowski, then this band is most definitely for you. ‘Intense’ barely covers it.
If Shampoo joined forces with Tom Tom Club to make a punk band, they’d probably sound something like Dream Nails, who invite all the female revellers to the front and ask the men to stand at the back. “Sexist!” yells one affronted chap, before the London riot grrrl quartet go at him all guns blazing. Mouth, meet brain.
In my notepad, underneath Drenge, I have merely written the word “Wow!” and they are indeed absolutely incredible. Taking the stage in dark blue boiler suits, they proceed to play an impeccable set that knocks our socks off and leaves us champing at the bit for tomorrow.
Ah, Sunday. Early to arrive, lots of stragglers wandering aimlessly. Today I plan to actually take in something at the Attenborough Centre, a short three-minute walk away from the main venue, seeing as I missed the entire schedule there yesterday!
Fling are first up on Union Square – a real bundle of summertime sunshine. It helps that I’m sitting watching from outside on the veranda, whilst tucking into a delicious burrito samosa from Bamboo Street Food (one of the several ace stalls of varied cuisine – vegans are well catered for this year) and feeling that big yellow thing in the sky beating down on my back gloriously. Great music, great food, great weather…quite frankly this is bliss. Great mates too, as Dean Mason aka Boo Radley (long story – ask him) has just joined me in my personal Utopia.
Mellow Gang are all eighties bass synths and powerful vocals – if anything, Handmade is the most inclusive festival on the circuit with around half the performers, pleasingly, being female. A wide range of comparisons can be made – Sophie B Hawkins, PJ Harvey, First Aid Kit and even Jess Glynne – in another impressive performance. Kamikaze Girls are like a mixed-gender version of Japandroids, albeit about ten times noisier, which is saying something because the last time I saw the Canadian duo, they pretty much made my ears bleed. Rampant stuff.
Phobophobes do the intense Joy Division thing very well. That throbbing bass, the shout-along Horrors-style vocals, it’s most entertaining, though my brief excursion to the Attenborough to see Babe Punch turned out to be one of today’s highlights. A band who make you feel like you’ve stumbled out of the pub and bumped into the booziest throes of a hen night, the 4 piece then proceeds to play a set of blisteringly brilliant punk-pop, including a cover of ABBA’s ‘SOS‘, at breakneck speed. Superb stuff.
Black Futures then went all KLF on us, with creepy, ominous looking mannequins in surgical masks, motionless at the back of the stage while the band played music of a Royal Blood/Slaves type bent (I won’t lie, this is how Dom Gourlay from Drowned In Sound described them when I saw him afterwards, and quite honestly, I can’t think of a better description, though I’d throw Pendulum in there too).
Nelson Can turn out to be the most entertaining band of the weekend so far. Frontwoman Selina Gin is surely a star in the making, in virgin tennis whites, with all the right moves, staring out various audience members and then climbing offstage to confront them up close and personal. Cracking vocals too, sometimes slow and sultry like Nico or Cate Le Bon, occasionally more akin to Karen O. Sheer pantomime, and she and bassist Signe SigneSigne seem to share ‘sex faces’ with each other throughout.
More magnificence next, as The Orielles play an utterly thrilling set of remarkable musicianship and top quality tunes. So much energy and verve that they blew me away.
Sports Team sound like the swampy blues of The Stones if the musical accompaniment was edged up to 78rpm. Not the vocals though, that would just be silly. Meanwhile, over at the Attenborough, Soft Girls & Boys Club‘s easy, relaxed persona was something of a treat. “We have a special offer today,” says their frontman – “if you buy one of our CDs at the over-inflated price of £10, we’ll give you a free t-shirt…although we only actually HAVE two CDs…” – quote of the festival, that!
Gnarly rockers Turbowolf really got the crowd going and deserved their rapturous reception before Dinosaur Pile-Up are your value for money alternative if you can’t afford to see Foo Fighters or you miss Midway Still. Ace. Then comes Spook School‘s spiky rock ‘n’ roll and Little Comets‘ impossibly sunny, almost Hawaiian vibes before the main event.
Despite the frantic moshpit experience, IDLES have always been all about the “love”, and this is reciprocated beautifully by their audience. New(ish) song ‘Samaritans’ is well received and their stage show is now beautifully polished, incorporating tongue in cheek banter between frontman Joe Talbot and guitarist Mark Bowen that sometimes amusingly sees them perform a capella renditions of ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You‘ and ‘I Will Always Love You‘.
A towering performance once more. Both band and festival at the top of their game!
PHOTO CREDITS: PAUL RENO.