This year, Leicester’s Handmade Festival differs from the last few years, by way of the fact that it is a multi-venue event over just one day. This has its pros and cons. One positive for me, at least, is that wristbands at this year’s festival are being handed out at Firebug, which is a short 100-yard walk from my favourite cafe, Prana. So that’s lunch sorted!
One smoked tofu toasted sandwich later (yes, I know how pretentious that makes me sound, thank you), I meet God Is In The TV photographer Alastair Brown at Firebug to pick up our passes. We aren’t on the list. A hasty Messenger conversation with Cookie owner and all-around good guy Nik Sharpe ensues, and everything is resolved fairly quickly. Unfortunately this slight mishap means that we miss Jools, who are playing upstairs while we try to sort everything, and S.T. Manville, who is playing at the Attenborough Arts Centre, is simply too far away, so instead, Handmade 2019 begins, for us, at Nik’s aforementioned High Street venue with LICE.
“Any punk fans in tonight?” snarls frontman Alistair Shuttleworth, to a chorus of wooing. “Well, you can go away then. We only play aesthetically interesting music” he retorts, in a pantomime voice that makes me think of Vyvyan from The Young Ones. So he probably won’t thank me for pointing out that his stage persona is akin to that of one John Lydon. Probably more PiL than Pistols however, but more Punilux than PiL, given their willingness to experiment with abnormal time signatures and incorporate elements of Prog into their work. It’s easy to see why IDLES endorse LICE so enthusiastically – they are quite an extreme musical act and perhaps an acquired taste but they are at their ferocious best here.
A short free bus ride later (one of the perks of the festival), we have gone from one extreme to the other, as Magique lights up what was formerly the Scholar Bar (in fact it still says it above the entrance) but is now simply known as Academy 2, with his highly commercial, dreamy indie-dance-pop. This is a modern take on the more sophisticated side of glossy eighties sheen, and it would be no surprise to find Magique heading chartwards in the near future.
There is an awful lot of reverb on vocals for Anatomy, at the Attenborough Arts centre, perhaps better known for being Emily Rose Teece’s ‘other’ band, and they have an air of The Slits and The Runaways about them, they’re enjoyable and they definitely have some memorable tunes, but they’ve got some way to go before they catch up with Teece’s main vehicle, the trailblazing Leicester outfit Kermes, who are on immediately after Anatomy, and whom once again sparkle and shine with such irresistible melodies. They’re not famous yet. Why not, world? Why not?
Whenyoung are next on the Academy 1 stage with their anthemic U2 style musings, harmonies not dissimilar to The Corrs. There’s a very Celtic overtone to their music and they go down well. Ones to watch perhaps.
Back at the O2 Academy 2, Pixx nods her head in time with the music an awful lot. So much, in fact, that you do wonder whether she suffers from some kind of nerve-related disposition. She also dances like my nine-year-old son does when he needs the toilet. Perhaps she did? Still, fortunately her peak Marina style tunes – veering slightly towards Sleeper at times – more than make up for it. Songs that will stay in your head all day even after one solitary listen, so yeah, ace.
Back up to the main stage of Academy 1, Saint Agnes are up next – one of God Is In The TV’s Tips For 2019, and anyone who witnessed them can surely see why. The band were absolutely electric from start to finish, and Kitty Arabella Austin commands the stage like few other performers can. There’s more than an air of Boss Hog‘s Cristina Martinez about Austin, and her band thunders out a sublime setlist that is equally as ballsy as Jon Spencer‘s erstwhile alt-rockers. The highlight of the day, up to this point.
Lothian band Snuts brought their own bucky to Academy 1; some of the Glaswegians in the audience wanted the set list and the bucky at the end and the band obliged. This was great fun banter if you could understand the dialect. A tight, slick band – you can see the influences of bands like Arctic Monkeys and Oasis. Nothing new but entertaining all the same. (NB – the Snuts part was written by Alastair Brown. I have no idea what bringing your own bucky means, but hey, it sounds good).
Bit of a walk now. When it was announced, a few months back, that Handmade was going to one day, instead of a whole weekend, I won’t lie, I was disappointed. Now though, having trekked from the O2 all the way to the Y Theatre (Ok, I admit, it’s not THAT far but still), to see Rich List, my creaking knee joints are actually quite grateful for the new arrangement. In fact, those two chairs at the back of the room are looking mightily appealing right now. Come on Loz, pull yourself together, you’re not even 50 yet. 18-year-old Loz – maybe even 40-year-old Loz – would have baulked at the idea. Focus. Rich List, as always, are a thrilling, heady mix of Talk Talk, ABC and Depeche Mode, as commercial as The Killers and with tunes just as massive. They’re also a lot of fun live, the birthday of one member being celebrated in minimalist style with a solitary party cannon, rather amusingly. Although to be fair, quite a sizeable chunk of the crowd sang along with ‘Happy Birthday‘ – the Stevie Wonder one of course, not the traditional one. Highly enjoyable.
Over at Academy 1, PINS deliver thirty minutes of stone-cold glamour-stomp from a cruelly underrated band who fluctuate between gloom and ecstasy with alarming ease. If there was an award for ‘most sparkly band of the day’ then PINS win hands down. They also have my gut throbbing and my larynx shouting for more which is somewhat at odds with my usual Sunday afternoon demeanour.
Former Supergrass man Danny Goffey will surely be pleased that his set was in the smaller of the two O2 Academy rooms; it was busier and always more atmospheric than the larger hall, which was only ever half full at best, perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of having the festival scattered over so many venues that aren’t always particularly close to each other. The Academy 2 stage gave a much better vibe, intimate and friendly, leading to more of a connection between the band and the audience – all who played here chatted to the audience a bit more, and this served Goffey well.
A little further out, in Leicester’s splendid ‘cultural quarter’, Jamie Lenman has a nice line in red braces, facial hair and shouting at breakneck speed to a crowd of true believers. The barrage of noise is only momentarily abated to pour scorn upon anyone trying to sneak out. If you were there, you stayed put. By the end, I was unsure whether I loved it or had Stockholm Syndrome.
After some nice contrast between the pretty but pensive C Duncan and the rockier grooves of Black Honey at the O2, it was time for Ibibio Sound Machine. What a joyous gig, it was like everybody had taken some special happy pills. Nearly everyone was moving, dancing and most importantly smiling. The buzz and energy coming off the stage was infectious. This was a band that had come to enjoy themselves. A tight groove, great vocals, a good horn section and bags of charisma.
The Cookie, as we have established many times already on this website already, is such a great little venue, with an ambience not dissimilar at times to the much missed, long gone Magazine. JOHN are the perfect fit for such a place. There’s only two of them, in a Japandroids style set up, but heck, they’re about ten times heavier than their Canadian counterparts. They sound like Motorhead and Monster Magnet on steroids. This is a band who are loud with a capital ‘Fuck!’
The Futureheads have a great rapport with the audience, refuting the much-vaunted idea that they are Geordies, as they are from Sunderland. They are generally in fine fettle, frontman Barry Hyde still bouncing all over the stage, and it’s easy to be swept up in the feelgood vibe.
Over at Firebug, it’s clear that Ireland’s The Murder Capital approach their shows with serious intent. James McGovern peers menacingly at the audience with a piercing glare, while the rhythm section belts it out, drums akin to Rick Buckler on The Jam‘s ‘Funeral Pyre‘ or perhaps more accurately, the late, great Bunnymen sticksman Pete De Freitas on Heaven Up Here. Diarmuid Brennan’s grippingly taut drum work is all over the band’s sound, even on the moody, slower numbers. It’s a remarkable set, one that oozes real depth and sits somewhere between Nick Cave and Killing Joke. If these guys aren’t huge, the world is a clown.
Back at The Cookie, fresh from a lengthy stint behind the bar, Earls vocalist Ant leaps upon stage to wild local acclaim and, alongside his oppo George, proceeds to decimate all before him. As earthy as a Maris Piper, these lads have tapped into a disgusting, filthy personality which is finding a rapidly growing audience. Politically astute, personally gnawing and splendidly effervescent.
Is there a better frontman in modern times than Life‘s Mez Sanders-Green? Silly question really because the answer is clearly no. His bizarre stage moves and lack of inhibition marks him out as a would-be giant in his game. The band may have undergone some line-up changes in a short space of time, but they still put so much more energy into their sets than anyone else. Tonight this reaches gargantuan heights. You think their material from Popular Music was pretty damn feral? Well, if the old stuff was like a wolf devouring its prey, then this time around it’s still the same wolf, but this time it’s ripping the heads off a Tory. Well ok, they were already like that, but what I’m saying is that Life have developed so impressively over the last few years that they are now the first name on the sheet when working out who you’re going to see at a festival. They are simply staggering.
I must apologise to The Shed and the bands who played there – I just never had time to visit that venue. Likewise with The Soundhouse, up until now. Martha are headlining there, but the problem is that seeing them after you’ve just witnessed Life is akin to coming from the awe-inspiring zenith of Leicester City’s 2016 title win celebrations, to a polite discussion with the postman about your favourite socks. There’s nothing inherently wrong with their early noughties punk-pop demeanour, but it just seems so weedy after the heavy hitting titans of Hull. That said, there was a very passionate, loyal crowd enjoying themselves enormously, so who am I to piss on their bonfire, really?
Crows are abrasively brilliant to round things off, rather aptly, at The Cookie (yes, I know that’s a very short review of that band’s performance but I’m bloody knackered now, give me a break!), and all that remains is for me to thank John Helps, Nik Sharpe and everyone else who works so hard to make sure that Handmade is a rip-roaring success every year. I love my city, and we are blessed to have such a wealth of burgeoning talent here, and arguably the best festival in the country at which to showcase them.
See you again next year then, ok?
All photos by Alastair Brown except Saint Agnes (Nina Rdl – Bands on Film), LIFE and The Murder Capital (Keith Jobey). Thanks to them all for giving me permission to use their pics. Thanks also to Al for advising me on some of the artists I missed, in order that I could include them here, and also to former GIITTV Live Editor Dean Mason for contributing the accounts of PINS, Earls and Jamie Lenman.