Leeds Festival 2018
Photo - Matt Eachus
Having been a Reading stalwart and purist for so many years 2018 marks my third visit in a row to Leeds since I swapped my venue allegiance. I still love it, although like many people I found the first line up announcement a little disappointing and underwhelming. However that is just a first reaction opinion and while I do believe that the headline slots for the Main Stage are the weakest for a while, the smaller stages have a wealth of great singers and bands on offer. So for this weekend I planned to spend most of my time away from the Main Stage and that is what I did. I should add that after being in the gilded palace that is the press tent last year I was slumming it this year as a proper paying punter. So after what seemed like a hundred mile trek from the car park, through the campsites (I was so glad I didn't choose to camp) I made it to wristband exchange and security. Well now the security are armed with sniffer drugs to find illicit narcotics on festival goers. One of those dogs became very interested in me, but I had no drugs stash on me at all. But I did have a pocket full of dog treats from walking my dog Ziggy earlier in the morning before I set out. So it all worked out fine and at least it wasn't the full body search with lubed-up latex gloves!
Fittingly the first band that I saw on day one of Leeds 2018 was from this fine northern city that names this festival. The band is the magnificent Marsicans on the BBC Radio 1 Stage. They are in possession of some top tunes which they deliver with driving rhythm and soaring harmony laden vocals. My first visit to the BBC Introducing Stage was for a fast rocking honest Rock band Saltwater Sun from Reading. They have been around since 2015 when they released their first single "Habit On My Mind". Jennifer Stearnes has a great voice and it was clear that the band were having great fun, that definitely infected the crowd too.
My first visit to the Main Stage this weekend was for Billy Talent. My son used to refer to them as Billy No Talent, well he was, and still is, wrong. These experienced Canadians whose first album came out as far back as 2003, give us North American Pop Punk at its best. Not only that but their showmanship and tenacity saw them play on through some incredibly diverse weather with what seemed like up to ten seasons in fifteen minutes! If you like scuzzy, noisy Garage Punk then you would have loved October Drift's set on the BBC Introducing Stage. The Taunton quartet prove that Rock can still be edgy and anti mainstream. I love October Drift! I returned to the BBC Radio 1 Stage for NF a Michigan rapper who began to get noticed three years ago to the point where now his current album 'Perception' is an unstoppable force. As a white rapper he may well be fed up with comparisons to Mr Mathers, however he is just as talented with rhymes, cyphers and delivery. The staging was clever, especially the full-sized prison cell. Set opener "Outcast" is one of the best rap cuts of the last few years and "Let You Down" brought the house down effortlessly. A future headliner? That is definitely possible.
My first trip to the Festival Republic Stage was for the rather strangely named Welshly Arms all the way from Cleveland. Ohio. Their first full length album 'No Place Is Home' is out now. What are they like? Well if you had DNA from the Detroit Cobras and Reef and then added a spoonful of a Stax Records 60s Soul review with a pinch of Led Zeppelin then you might get close to what this band are. They seem to be an incredibly passionate live act with a penchant for classy gospel and Blues driven Rock 'n' Roll. "Sanctuary" is an anthemic festival classic in the making. Bedford boys the Scruff on the BBC Introducing Stage are like a wild hybrid of Madness, the Libertines, Blur and Ian Dury. They also have a wealth of emotion which was showcased beautifully in the sublime "Her" a song about mothers and the loss of a mother. My heart was wrenched and this song brought a tear to my eye. The Scruff are without doubt one of the best bands that I have seen gracing the BBC Introducing Stage.
Next it was the Pit Stage for Exeter trio Black Foxxes. What can I say about them? Some Jeff Buckley, some Jonathan Richman, a bit of Emo and so much more. Bloody hell these dudes play their Rock extra damned hard even to the point of including a hard rocking trumpet on their final song. The Vaccines were on the Main Stage next. I believe that The Vaccines were invented for festivals like Reading/ Leeds. They keep their core fans more than satisfied and always seem to win over legions more at each festival appearance. Their set was full of Vaccines classics and every tune is a sing along for this crowd. "Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)", "Teenage Icon" and "Post Break-Up Sex" were highlights in what was an outstanding set. Let us play the 'what if' game now. What if Bobby Gillespie had fronted Free and not Paul Rodgers? Yes you will need to ignore the usual time and space rules to imagine this. Well if you can imagine that then you might have moved some way towards what the Glorious Sons from Kingston, Ontario are like. They smashed it on the Festival Republic Stage. These guys are definitely glorious and I suspect that they are all sons too. But above all that the Glorious Sons know how to party like it's 2099.
I stayed in the Festival Republic tent for Lewis Capaldi the Scottish blue-eyed soul sensation who crashed into the music scene big time with "Bruises" last year. He has the voice of a much more wizened personality, yet he is only 20 years old. As well as being a staggeringly good singer and performer his sense of self-deprecation is perfect. His comment to the audience early in the set; "If you don't like short chubby guys singing sad songs then you're gonna hate this" only seemed to draw more people toward him. Mr Capaldi is one of those rare raw talents and I look forward to hearing much more from him. The last act for me on day 1 of Leeds 2018 was Slaves on the BBC Radio 1 Stage. They make a righteous noise as Isaac and Laurie continue to challenge the ills of society and the apathy that exists in their generation. "Cheer Up London", "The Lives They Wish They Had" and "Feed The Mantaray" were stand outs for me and I should also give special mention to their towering cover of Skepta's "Shutdown". Overall a great day, which only included two visits to the Main Stage. Bring on day 2.
Day 2 kicked off on the BBC Radio 1 Stage with Blackpool lass Rae Morris. Does she make Pop music for Dance people or Dance music for Pop people? Frankly who cares, she has some sublime tunes, she is a wonderfully absorbing performer whose energy and happiness on stage infects the whole crowd with a positive high on happy vibe. I wandered across to the Lock Up Stage after that for the wonderfully named Thunderpussy. These four wild women play their Rock as hard and harmonious as it is possible to get. Some of their tunes are simply off the scale excellent. They also have a stunning array of costumes, some of which might have outdone Nona Hendryx and Patti Labelle in there 70s Labelle prime. This was a really gutsy performance. I was beginning to think that female bands were once again thin on the ground at this festival, and they almost certainly still are. But Thunderpussy have the ability and the power chords to make some of their male counterparts spontaneously combust. There were even a couple of Bowie Ronson moments between singer Molly Sides and guitarist Whitney Petty which woked staggeringly well.
I was disappointed, actually totally gutted, to have missed Frank Carter's secret set here on Friday. However I was over the moon to be in the audience for the much rumoured and loudly fanfared not so secret set from Bring Me The Horizon on the BBC Radio 1 Stage. They tore the roof off the tent and sent it into orbit around the sun. "Throne", "Antivist" and "Drown" shone brightest for me in a powerful set that was over way too soon. I hope Bring Me The Horizon headline the Main Stage in 2019. In my opinion they are far better headline contenders than either the Kings Of Leon or Fall Out Boy this year. The XCERTS were on great form on the Lock Up Stage. Spectacular songs, immaculate playing and a in Murray MacLeod a vocalist who knows exactly how to put immense emotion into a song.
My first visit to the Main Stage on Saturday was for Post Malone. I had always felt that Post Malone was ok but somewhat over hyped. But now having seen this Texan in all his performing glory it is clear that he is way, way above average. But it still feels like there is a tad too much on the hype front. But whatever I think the crowd went ape-shit crazy for him. San Francisco's I The Mighty hit the Lock Up Stage like a Panzer division laying waste to Europe. There is a little of everything here; Prog Rock, US Pop Punk and maybe a smattering of Emo. I recognise that on paper that sounds like a mess, but it works almost effortlessly. Ms Banks proved that she is a woman totally in control with her edgy and insightful set on the BBC Radio 1 Extra Stage. This 22-year-old south Londoner really gets life and totally loves and understands her audience. Her put down of security when they wouldn't let her bring a few fans on to the stage to dance was done very firmly, tastefully and even moderately politely. I definitely want more Ms Banks in my life.
Over on the Festival Republic Stage it was time for Dream Wife. This is Punk with a social conscience, but not in a po-faced kind of way. This band makes you feel that having a conscience is not only right but that it can be fun too. If Madonna had fronted Bowie's Tin Machine back in 1989 it might have sounded like this. There was a disappointingly small crowd for Beach Riot on the BBC Introducing Stage. I suspect because people were at the Main Stage while the Wombats were on and maybe they stayed for the Kooks, well they missed out! What the crowd lacked in size they more than made up for with enthusiasm. I saw Nirvana at Reading in 1991/ 92 and I have also seen Blur at their punked up best. Beach Riot from Brighton reminded me of both. I stayed at the BBC Introducing Stage for the mighty Fizzy Blood from Leeds. This band is possibly the loudest and probably the maddest band to grace this stage in 2018. This is some of the most entertaining, guitar shredding Rock that you will ever hear.
It was three in a row at the BBC Introducing Stage for me because there was absolutely no way that I was going to miss Doncaster's The Blinders. They are a politically charged force with front man, guitarist and full on perpetual psychedelic motion machine Tom leading the charge. He has the same level of starey menace conjured up by Jordan of Avalanche Party. Bass player Charlie looks a little like Nick Cave and moves like Bruce Foxton in the early days of the Jam. Meanwhile Matty on the drums is a monumentally punktastic human metronome. If The Blinders do not become massive then there is something wrong with the world.
Anything I saw next was probably not going to match The Blinders, but the day wasn't over so I headed over to a totally rammed Pit/ Lock Up Stage for Utah's The Used still going very strong fifteen years since their first album, they are now on their seventh, 'The Canyon'. This was an emotional, gut wrenching journey through some timeless songs and included a great cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". That is a cover that only a few acts can pull off and The Used did Cobain proud.
Bad Sounds were next on the Festival Republic Stage and obviously the name is amusingly ironic because every noise they make is great. Like a laboratory created hybrid of Punk and Hip Hop with a side order of the Flaming Lips there are not many bands like this out there right now. The nucleus of Bad Sounds are brothers Ewan and Callum Merrett. Their songs are spectacularly hook laden and their core fans knew every word. "Zacharia" had the energy of a gallon of Red Bull.
Death From Above (when did they drop the 1979?) have been around since 2001 although they broke up in 2006 before reforming in 2011. They aired six songs from their current album "Outrage! Is Now" and the set showcased their pile driving Punk, Electronica and Modern Metal credentials with a nod to Muse and Biffy Clyro. "Nomad" has the power cranked up to 11 and is designed to tear down walls. I am so glad that these Canadians are not only still with us but that they are still producing classy music. I was never a big fan of the Horrors but they have become something quite different over the years, their most recent album 'V' is a staggeringly good collection of songs, many of which were aired in their set which closed proceedings on the Festival Republic Stage. However while it was a good performance it didn't rise to greatness for me. This was my last day at the Leeds Festival for 2018, I must apologise for this, but having seen the amount of rain forecast for the Sunday I decided to quite while I was still quite dry! But I will be back next year!
Review - Bill Adamson
Editors Note*** Bill is a valued member of the 3 Songs & Out team but also writes for his own personal blog as well which you can follow at https://withjustahintofmayhem.blog