Live Review: BBC Radio 6 Music Festival in Liverpool – Sunday 31 March 2019

What better way to spend a brisk but sunny morning in Liverpool than in a stuffy, dark room listening to Cerys Matthews humorously engage Merseyside poet Roger McGough? Dark and stuffy it might’ve been, but Camp and Furnace – a short walk from Liverpool’s city centre and part of the rather splendid Baltic Triangle – is quite the setting, one that in recent years has hosted some wonderful events (in particular, the brilliant Liverpool Psych Fest).

This past weekend was devoted to everything 6 Music, with the BBC descending upon Greenland Street and the surrounding areas to host live music, in depth discussions and more, with all manner of stalls dotted throughout the venues selling screen prints, cakes and vinyl. It was whilst rooting through the various record boxes that made up the centre of the room that resident 6 Music DJ Chris Hawkins arrived on stage, introducing the final day of the weekend.

Pretty good for half past 11 on a Sunday morning…” He said in jest, running through what was scheduled throughout the day in both rooms of Camp and Furnace. Given this was all live for radio, it was slightly surreal to then hear the news blaring out across the room, with talk of what we expect these days – Brexit banality and violence statistics. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before our first hint of live music – appearing across the way at ‘Furnace’, Aussie singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin.

Having been bang into Australian entertainment this past year – TERRY and Cath & Kim, for starters – the discovery of Julia Jacklin has come just at the right time, with the release of ‘Crushing’, her second album. Whilst our definitive favourite ‘Pressure To Party’ didn’t end up in the setlist, the rest of the chosen few that did more than made up for it. From the hushed, pensive opener ‘Body’ to the equally subdued ‘Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’, her voice came across enchanting in the wide open, much brighter room.

Thanks for coming to the breakfast show.” She says with a laugh, not long before tucking into a few from her 2016 debut ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’. ‘Leadlight’ is absolutely heart-racing, whilst the title track sees Jacklin go it alone, the rest of the band momentarily leaving her to it. A bloke in front puts his arm around his partner’s shoulder and suddenly it gets a bit dusty in the room… That or someone’s been chopping onions. Either way, ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ is stop you in your tracks beautiful. ‘Head Alone’, one of the lead singles from the new record, acts as her swansong for the day, resulting in raised fists for the anthemic call of “I had your back more than I had mine” and premature whoops from the crowd, ultimately leaving us with goose pimples and jelly legs.

Having heard great things about the mysterious Snapped Ankles, it was a treat to discover the oddball brilliance in the flesh (leaf). The complete opposite side of the coin to Jacklin, their wigging out and variety of tweaked noises could be heard throughout both venues. Getting stuck into it when I arrived, the quartet were all dressed in their Sunday best, save for crazy camo foliage that made up their appearance from the neck up. The two chaps (?) up front each had a drumstick in hand, beating bits of wood attached to their mic stands, generating synth sounds – very much making noises like your Dad tinkering about in the garage.

Whilst they’re all a delight to watch, it’s the enigmatic vocalist you’ve got to keep an eye on. When he’s not hanging his jacket up on a hanger off the 6 Music sign hovering behind them (hitting it with a drumstick of course, bringing out its synth potential), he’s out in the crowd, branch microphone in hand, bringing with him a tape measure at one point and journeying past punters and announcing that he’s “measuring the room”, ultimately leaving it in the hands of a fan and seemingly forgetting about it until the last note.

Recent single ‘Rechargeable’ sounds manic, purely life-altering – the pulsating speakers matching the rapid heartbeats of all and sundry. ‘Jonny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin’ has the crowd elevated, a super charged, mind-expanding, eye-melting hyperbole free-for-all, its last note ringing out as the frontman made his way back through the crowd, reeling in that forgotten measuring tape as a sea of smiling faces looked on.

(Photo Credit: Matt Martin)

A big Tom Robinson introduction preceded the arrival of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Robinson seemingly the most excited person in the room (his enthusiasm side-stage for Snapped Ankles didn’t go unnoticed either!) Opener ‘GNT’ is volatile – we expected it to be loud, but bloody hell! Frontman Matt Baty stands barefoot, shirt open, eyes open, howling to the back of the room. Guitarist Adam Ian Sykes stands tall, observing the crowd, with hair across face and wide-eyed, horror movie stare. He raises his pint in appreciation on occasion, but rarely shifts his 70’s horror demeanour.

How was the rest of it then? In a word: brutal. From their new LP ‘King Of Cowards’, the mammoth ‘Shockmaster’ is pulverising, the bass bursting through the speakers, so much so that a lad in front had his fingers firmly in his ears. So loud that confetti stuck in the rafters slowly came floating down bit by bit throughout. As I ‘woo’, I physically feel the sound and rumbling energy fly in and out of my mouth, unexpected and uninvited, the crushing noise defeating. I spy the light of someone’s phone and realise it’s only been about 10 minutes, but in the deafening yet glorious wall of noise, it feels like we’re an hour deep.

Baty tells us that 6 Music gives them the feeling of being “legitimate pop stars” and they’re thankful for being in the leagues of such contemporaries as “Bomfunk MC’s.” At their set’s end, they announce one more song – “…it’s a long one.” We’re told that through the release of ‘A66’, the road itself has become much safer, which we should be thankful for. No thanks required for the filling-loosening gnarliness that follows, with their raucous performance ending when the guitarist hands his guitar out to someone in the front row who, fair play, riffs like a bastard. Sykes sips his pint and looks on with *almost* a smile.

Over at Mountford Hall in the early evening, Irish outfit Fontaines D.C. opened up the festival ‘By Night’. Whilst there have been some doubts in our camp about these chaps – Yet another group of angry young white lads playing punk, dressed in smart casual clobber they’ve borrowed from their Dad’s – It starts to click into place about about three songs in. Frontman Grian Chatten stalks the stage, looking into the eyes of everyone in the first few rows, whilst drummer Tom Coll hurtles through the opening minute in earache fashion. You get the feeling something’s happening, you believe it. It’s nothing new and it fits the current crop of bands that are riding this particular wave of hype, but live – yeah, it definitely adds up. For a bit.

There’s a big crowd for it and I’m told on the door that everyone had been asking when they were due on. Not so sure about the advertisement behind the bar for two pint Guinness pots, mind – A touch insulting to the lads! That being said, I did duck out early – nipping down the road to play House of the Dead on the arcade at Font, with a pint of Director’s (actually some crafty ale) like Alan Partridge

Mark Radcliffe was on later to introduce Gang Of Four, suggesting that we were all in an illustrious room, played by the likes of The Beatles, Alvin Stardust and others. He then admitted that he’d made it all up for effect, but it was still likely to have seen its fair share! For Gang Of Four, he mentioned how their post-punk influence is everywhere and he’s bob on – There’s no denying the impact four lads from Leeds would end up having, the shape of post-punk to come. On Sunday night though? I’m not sure. Maybe it was a day of boozing and lack of sleep the night before creeping up on me, but with guitarist Andy Gill the only remaining member, it felt like a bit of a tribute act. A slowed down tribute act.

That’s not to say it’s not a bloody good tribute act though and certainly not to take away from the current roster, with assured performances from bassist Thomas McNeice and vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry. McNeice is a particular highlight to watch as he navigates his way around the stage, looking cucumber cool. Sterry does the same, picking up where he left off across each microphone at the front of stage throughout the night, putting on a real shift for opener ‘Not Great Men’. It doesn’t really get any better than this, Sterry and McNeice on the move throughout, perking everyone up, matching the jerky nature of the song. Sole original Gill kept his shades on throughout meanwhile, even though it was dark as anything…

New single ‘Change The Locks’ sounded pretty good, but unsurprisingly they came across best on cuts from ‘Entertainment!’ and ‘Songs Of The Free. ‘I Love A Man In A Uniform’ is proper earworm territory, with the vocal of Sterry actually sounding better than the original. ‘Damaged Goods’ had the pace knocked right down, but the bass sounded superb and again, Sterry had the vocal spot on. Set closer ‘I Found That Essence Rare’ was dedicated to Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading of Liverpool’s Her’s, which was a sweet moment and nice end to the evening.

The aforementioned late night, day of bevving and last train prospect meant I sacrificed a chance to see Charlotte Gainsbourg, but one I thought worthy for the option to be in bed before midnight. Whilst we only managed one day of it this year, the festival was a roaring success and as sure-fire a reason as any for the continuing vitality of BBC Radio 6 Music. It would be selfish to suggest 6 Music Festival should set up shop in Manchester next year (given it took place in Salford in 2014) – but we can hope!

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