After an opening night subdued in terms of atmosphere, Getintothis’ Emma Walsh, Chris Burgess, Patrick Clarke, Vicky Pea and Ash Turner soak up a lively Saturday and Sunday at Threshold.
After a subdued opening day in terms of atmosphere and attendance, the miserable weekend weather threatened to take its toll on the Saturday and Sunday of Threshold festival. However, with the high bench mark set by the bands, musicians and entertainers of the Friday, the remaining two days had a lot to live up to. With its eclectic mix of battling bands, street performers and collaborations between Merseyside favourites, they certainly had a good go at bringing the party spirit to the Baltic Triangle.
Arriving at Baltic Social on Saturday afternoon it was not the sumptuous voice of youngster Sophie Morgan that initially pricked our attention but the very vocal frets and frustrated clatter of crockery care of the staff whose grievances were turning quite a few heads among the audience.
The rest of the room was quite at ease, lulled along by the beauty of Morgan’s voice and sweet sounded chiming on the keys, it wasn’t long before we tuned out the background noise and centred in on the 18-year-old’s catchy tunes.
Eleanor Nelly, the diminutive scouser almost as big as her guitar, put in an adept performance in the Baltic Social. Her jangly set, including a perfect cover of the Eagles‘ Take It Easy, was lapped up by all and sundry.
Making sure to see the eccentric Californian Chanel Samson blast District with her sharp-tongued, brass heavy set, we then skipped over to Constellations for some early afternoon ska with Redeyed Jedi providing more blaring brass and a soundtrack to skank to.
Next up, back at the Baltic Social, things got a little darker. It’s easy to understand why anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting Simon Herron personally might think he was a bit doom and gloom. His inspiration seems to stem from the darker corners of life, his pace a little slower, his tone a little more sombre than others. But there’s no denying the beauty of what he brings to the stage. His songs are to be mulled over, thought provoking rather than catchy singalongs. But there’s also a dark, comic self awareness to Herron’s live performance, as he begins he warns the crowd: “I’m just going to play a few sad songs while you’re all enjoying your lunch”. Introducing I Will Watch You Son to the afternoon revellers he told us dryly: “This is my version of Cat Steven’s Father and Son… but less optimistic”. Oddly it was quite an uplifting set.
Playing enthusiastically to a rather talkative Unit 51, Grace Hartrey was backed with fiddle player, trumpeter and one of those crates that people sit on and pretend is a drum. We weren’t quite sure why there was a tray of a dozen eggs on the stage (neither was Grace herself) but it added a certain ramshackle Farmer’s Market vibe to proceedings. The band’s lovely harmonies were sadly, at times, fighting hard to be heard clearly by the overpowering bass guitar.
Down at District everything was very loud, apparently the theme of the weekend there. A fresh-faced Jekyll were struggling with wandering microphone stands and vicious feedback as a result but generally impressed with their heavyweight thrashing, even if the vocals were a little dull.
Liverpool rockers Scarlet broadcast their slightly ‘post gen x’ stylings at volume. A more than capable young band, hindered perhaps by a mismatched venue but nevertheless a worthwhile stop.
We then got our first glimpse of the bone rattling Blood Lips. Their vicious guitars were at their best when laden with brooding doom riffage, complimented by thundering bass and plenty of cymbal emphasis.
As we made our way up Jamaica Street passing Unit 51 we had a trademark ‘Threshold moment’. A young man stood outside in minimal clothing danced as he rubbed dirt into himself. A literal dirty dancing if you will. We’re still not quite sure what we thought of it.
We turned the corner to enter a drizzly Constellations with hopes of settling down with a mulled cider when we were unexpectedly overrun with small children darting around our legs and balls pertaining to a variety of sports flying about our heads. It was even a shame that there was not more for them besides the pingpong table. Threshold may be missing a trick by not pandering to their half pint patrons. On stage, 67 were providing some ‘pyar scouse sounds’, delivering just enough sunshine to balance out the weather with a pinch of political sentiment to stir the blood of their rather damp audience. Gotta love that accordion.
Up next was La Bomba, a women’s drumming collective who took us on a global tour of tribal beats, quite heroically considering their hands were turning blue in the cold.
Inside, it was a surprise to find the drier, warmer Observatory even less populated as Blue Saint dropped rhymes to a virtually empty room. We really felt for the guy, it can’t be easy to bring your A game when no one else has bothered to turn up, and we were quite impressed when he bravely ventured an audience participation with what little he had to work with. However, the tired old hip hop misogyny of “When I say ‘Who’s this bitch?’” (or something to that effect) didn’t exactly go down smoothly with this particular writer; needless to say we didn’t wait around to hear what our appropriate response should have been, but in our version it went something like: “She’s outta here, mate”.
Amusingly, Nini Gallon had the look of a children’s entertainer about her as she took to the Constellations stage, with bright pink hair and contagious grin. Thankfully Nini has the fortunate ability to project a story through her songs despite them being largely in Portuguese, and without catching a word, we hope we managed pulled out the right message.
Meanwhile at the Liverpool Craft Beer Space, the deep and dulcet tones of Tiki Black filled the vast yet somehow intimate venue through a personal and moving set accompanied by just her piano.
Thom Morecroft, an omnipresent individual in the Liverpool scene charmed his way through a set in the industrial backdrop of the venue. Morecroft has a style and sound that is truly his own, delicate without being fragile, powerful without being overbearing.
It was only a quick jaunt to the wonderful Siren to catch a performance by Singapore Strategy guitarist Emilio Pinchi. Being in such a large space allowed Emilio’s well honed vocals to fill the room while still feeling incredibly engaging.
Crowning Sky’s debut gig was a strange one, also at Unit 51. Their weird mix of 80s soul, funk and power ballads, accompanied by ‘zany’ between song banter didn’t quite cut it for us though. Their bassist, distractingly over-excited, either stole or ruined the show, depending on how much you like quirky people.
With Unit 51 running the seemingly obligatory half hour late, we only caught a couple of songs from the sultry Geoghegan Jackson, backed only with a single guitar player. The stripped back vibe was pretty impressive, with Jackson’s haunting and direct vocals providing a moody counterpoint to the evening’s largely over-exuberant bands.
The ubercool SeaWitches put in a display of sophisticated and powerful melodic guitar tunes, with bassist and vocalist Jo Herring making the stage her own. Unfortunately, as with most of the acts at Unit 51 over the weekend, the muddy, bottom-end heavy sound system distorted their sound, drowning out some of the band’s lighter, more introspective moments.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Filter Distortion’s uplifting guitars and 80s style synths filled District’s large room. The trio’s swagger and confident performance had the crowd jumping, especially during their last two songs, including the smart and sophisticated Neon Nights bringing their set to a rousing finish.
Go Fiasco were next to raise the bar. Warranted or not, they have an immediate arrogance about them when they take to the stage which has the ability to work both for or against them. There is no doubting the quality of the band’s output, with slow burning verses crawling their way towards atmospheric and emotive rock crescendos. The lack of crowd acknowledgment or participation from Go Fiasco leaves something to be desired and honestly it makes it hard to shake the feeling that this is any more than ‘putting a shift in’.
Singer songwriter Simon Maddison, performing as Silent Cities, is a Threshold regular. In the relatively packed Liverpool Craft Beer Space, he showcased his whispy acoustic tunes. Maddison’s charming and intricately arranged melodies, backed with minimal beats, were enrapturing. The singer was joined by fellow Threshold regular Natalie McCool for a set-closing collaboration. McCool, sporting the sharpest bob you’ll ever hope to see, put her own delicate vocals to good use, complementing Maddison’s ethereal guitar lines beautifully.
Later McCool returned to the not-so-secret Secret Space with the dark ambient dissonance of D R O H N E. The electro duo, like their contemporaries Queen Maud, who earlier played a quite heavy, experimental set in Unit 51 wearing plastic masks that made them look like nightmare versions of Richard Nixon and Ed Sheeran, dazzled with a set sparse on melody but weighty in fizzing ambience. McCool for her part provided the shrieks to layer up gloaming.
An unexpected highlight of the weekend had to be the brilliant Monster Sound Collective ‘band vs band’ set up over at the Blade Factory. Singapore Strategy went first in taking on Alright the Captain and the post-prog instrumental battle that ensued would not have felt out of place at Psych Fest.
Next to go nose to nose were Pocket Apocalypse vs (ATLAS) and for a moment our scepticism returned as both bands performed with vocalists turning the battles from two bands jamming into a game of oneupmanship.
Last to take to the battle stage were Lost in Riot vs Polymath who both reverted to the instrumental formula, and there was no mercy. By this point the bands were practically turning outros into intros and the crowd were hard pressed to find time to breathe.
Over at 24 Kitchen Street were Welsh analogue dance band Hedge Gods, in a venue that was hotter than hell but a welcome departure from the closing chill outside. Performing a truly unique set, they demonstrated that you don’t need flashing lights, bells and whistles to bring a venue to frenzy. Joined by several performance dancers, the set quickly became something rather special with Hedge Gods guiding us on a journey through high energy jazz, funk and even some disco.
Just around the corner at the Lantern Theatre was the fabulous burlesque theatre of Mimi Amore. Sexy, classy and a little bit cheeky, Mimi is a mesmerising performer with an act that almost burned the Lantern down.
Back at the Observatory were the juggernaut of funk that is Liverpool’s The Soul Rays. Bringing a huge sound, spectacular brass section and a solid rhythm it was no surprise the roars for one more song were bellowed out after the band had already had us nearly grooved out.
Mersey Wylie, performing with an extended band and brass ensemble, led a ballsy set of equal parts sassy and understated soul – she closed 30 powerful minutes with an impassioned dedication to Josie Jones – the woman who was part of her father, Pete‘s band and proved an ‘inspiration’ throughout her life.
Setting some kind of record for crowd interaction, Akala takes to the stage and manages to get the Observatory crowd singing along before a single note is played. A barnstorming display, with a live drummer keeping time immaculately, Akala put in a great performance, getting the venue bouncing along with slick, almost philosophical flows and deep, grumbling synth bass.
Broken Men really are the real deal, and if we don’t see big things coming from these lads, something’s gone wrong. As usual, the boys put on a brilliant display and it’s always a bonus to see them accompanied by some brass on stage, resulting in the Observatory’s first real party of the day.
Mr. Woodnote is a name associated with the street scene, growing in fame as a busking loop artist. But partnering with Dub Mafia and rap master Lil’ Rhys he brought an incredible stage performance to close the Observatory’s proceedings for the night.
The absolute highlight of the day was the manic and loveable Paddy Steer, commanding a huge audience at 24 Kitchen Street. Steer, presented with a birthday cake by festival organiser Chris Carney to mark his 50th birthday, is a man totally in control of his own surreal electro world.
Steer delivers a set of funky, jazz-inflected electro that was nothing short of sublime. Donning his ‘helmet of shame’ at times during the gig, he looked like Frank Sidebottom’s evil twin brother. Blaming a few technical faults on ‘sacrilegious things’, his safety beer provided the Mancunian comfort as he switched effortlessly to Hawaiian slide guitar, while still keeping the electronic noises swirling away.
So it was to Sunday, and kicking off the final day, Beanz cut an energetic figure on the Baltic Social stage, rapping over a backing track of well-produced beats and bass-driven tracks. Despite a few technical hitches and appearing slightly nervous and rushed, the young MC coped well, stirring the Sunday roast crowd in the excellently warm venue.
They should have spared a thought for the frostbitten crowd over at Constellations, then, where anything that could have snapped this writer out of a Daylight-Saving-Time-exacerbated third-day-of the festival stupor when he’s stood shivering in such despicable outdoor conditions as that rain-lashed stage on a Sunday would be a special thing indeed, and if we were going by visuals alone, three-piece cover band Creaky Bones would not appear to be that, little more than three most ordinary-looking blokes in hoodies and jeans.
Remarkably enough however they left even this most misanthropic of midday scribes positively beaming after covers of the likes of Grounds for Divorce and a cheekily Threshold-adapted Mama Don’t Allow, a rag-tag gaggle of punters huddled under a creaking gazebo inspired with the kind of intimate, communal enjoyment this festival specialize in. More than anything the set was just fun – and in this weather. Perhaps the achievement of the weekend.
Succeeding them, acoustic folk-punker Three Minute Hero, had an even more unenviable task in following, the crowd having halved to a mere dozen or so as the wind and rain hit biblical heights. Though there was sadly no early-afternoon skank on the cards in keeping with his Selector-inspired stage name, he managed to keep up the close-quarters flow though, crisp, clear numbers like protest song Piece of the Action and the wistful coming-of-age tale 173, which hit with a warm sincerity that’d be impossible for any crowd not to reciprocate.
Jo Bywater was up next with an intense burst of forthright vocals and slides of steel-guitar to set feet stomping in the puddles. She gave an excellent show until a string snapped on her signature axe and a regular acoustic had to fill in, and even then she can hold her own; no mean feat considering she, and every other act in these early sessions seem to be struggling even to feel their own fingers in the cold.
Henry Pulp, meanwhile, took composure in the cold a step further by managing to look every inch the coolest motherfucker at the entire festival as his brooding, bearded man-in-black frame took the stage for a dark, spacious acoustic set. His echoing, powerfully deep voice was joined for a time by Emma Bassnett on ethereal backing vocals – herself well in keeping with the hypnotic aesthetic.
Over at District, meanwhile, hard guitar rockers Gentle Scars couldn’t have been more different, out to prove that brash rock n roll isn’t just a young man’s game. Their singer’s prancing, a pale imitation of David Johanssen of the New York Dolls, came across as weirdly creepy, rather than the ‘sexy frontman’ look he obviously has in his own head.
For those still outside at Constellations, meanwhile, there was a far more pressing matter for the slowly-swelling crowd’s concern, namely that the gazebos sheltering them were, like yesterday, making the inspired decision to start collapsing in the wind. The two guys running the pizza stand (delicious by the way, shout out to the balsamic dressing) are almost decapitated by their own menu, a baby has to be rescued from under a falling plant-stall, and this writer spends about half an hour trying to simultaneously hold a tent-pole, drink a black coffee and roll a damp cigarette in the gale. It was complete chaos until we managed to find out that fortunately some guy had decided to bring a drill to the festival and the gazebo was – very professionally of course – fastened to some tables.
Let all that pandemonium take nothing away from Me & Deboe, however, whose set soundtracked the whole affair, as their set was one of the hidden highlights of the festival. An entrancing weave of fiery acoustic guitars most furiously plucked, stomping rhythms and a colossal double threat from the pair’s intertwining vocals, they strode the line between intensity and intimacy with complete mastery. They even managed to cover Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love without being utterly, skull-numbingly trite. Very, very good indeed.
Local troubadour Rosenblume was the last of Mellowtone and Farm Feast’s curation of acoustic acts before we could all thankfully move somewhere warmer, and though his set was as close-quarters as his predecessors’ he had a mounting weight of expectation to contend with. Pretty much everyone before him had been great, and those of us who’d stuck it out were expecting it to close in similar fashion. Along with a few additional musicians on piano and bass duty, he just about succeeded, and though his ballads tended to drag he’s bestowed with one hell of a voice, the piano-led pop of his best numbers suitably well-crafted.
With an impressive run of acts done and dusted, we then had a chance to check out Constellations’ mini-bazaar before the indoor space began to host its own live gigs, the highlight being some lunatic who flogged us his first edition Rolling Stones pressings for a fiver a pop. After the first few pints of the day and a brief foray to see a truly, truly awful open mic poet do a shit Paul McCartney impression round the corner at the Baltic Social, Seattle Yacht Club kicked off the first of the proper indoor sets at The Observatory.
They’re essentially modern indie-synth pop by numbers, and though that’s by no means bad in itself, in their set they were much-lacking in originality, both musically and in their flabbergastingly tepid choice of name. To their credit the Southport duo are great showmen, and singer Tom Dale gave it the big one to the few-dozen punters clinging to the edges of the room. There was nothing groundbreaking in their set, but it’s easy to envisage quite the following in time.
Paddy Clegg, too, proved himself surely to be worthy of more mainstream coverage of his own, appearing so polished and fully-formed as to bely his mere seventeen years of age. It was a fluid, calculated and confident set that the NME would die for, one as-yet-untitled new track that got it’s first outing on the night in particular spearing forth with perhaps the most Reading & Leeds-ready riff of the entire weekend – there’s even a bloody clap-along.
Sophia Ben-Yousef was a change of pace, a brief pedestal for the tried-and-tested girl-plus-piano combo that’s enjoyable, if nothing remarkable. She’s a likeable presence, and undeniably talented both vocally and on keys. However the set suffered from its sparseness, a little tiring in its lack of variety if solid throughout.
Sub Blue, meanwhile, opened his set on a slight wrong-foot with an acoustic cover of Kendrick Lamar’s Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe. It was a well performed effort but completely by-the-book as acoustic interpretations go, yet the rest of the set quite easily raised the bar. Twinges of voguish electronica coupled a vocal that ebbs and flows from song to rap and spoken word with a confident, poised ease.
It’s a fantastic sound, but one, its hard not to think, would be more incredible still with a little more atmosphere in the room. Until it gets dark outside the venue’s skylights provide a dull, overcast greyness to the room, itself a fairly drab concrete box, and this inspires a little reluctance until the crowd are darkened and more bevvied as the night begins to take hold.
For an idea how to do it, look no further than our next stop Shipbuilders at the still-bustling Baltic Social, who provided a light and melodic set, far more appropriate as the late Sunday dusk fell. The band’s jangly tunes were laid-back yet intricate, with strong vocals and cleverly entwining guitar parts. Set standout Goin’ to the Well was sung with real passion, and the assembled crowd, happily discussing their festival highlights, responded well.
Katy Alex was the first to similarly seize the sunset properly back at The Observatory, with the first truly fantastic indoor set of the night. Backed by a band of very apparent virtuosos, she was a bewitching central presence onstage as she hurtled through a classy set of sultry, stylish soul – rich tenor sax, mazing keys and propulsive jazz drumming the perfect complement to her mesmeric vocal.
Keeping soul at the top of the agenda was her successor to that stage, rapid-rising GIT Award nominee Xam Volo. His first gig with his own full band, you’d never have known it as he slipped onto centre-stage like a man born to do so, instantly driving the set forth on a tsunami of stage presence and a vocal which, though a little muted by a poor sound-system on their first track, was soon of mountainous proportions. His band had a tricky task to keep up, but they proved more than capable, every swelling burst of soul-drenched sonics hitting right on cue for a completely magnetic brief set.
Back round the corner at Unit 51 we manage to catch Wirral-based five piece Black Mountain Lights, whose folky banjo-led songs provided a fitting ‘beginning of the end’ to the festival. With a lot of instrument swapping and different lead vocalists song to song, the band’s strength really lay in its depth, with their wistfully yearning songs sounding incredibly strong in the dimly lit venue. Their rattling brand of Americana was immensely well received by the crowd, with Two Steps providing the highlight of their set.
Outside in the cold, windy Constellations space, which, lets remind ourselves some poor unfortunates were still left shivering as we passed by on our way back indoors, Seafoam Green were battling the elements to bring a set of Southern rock inspired tunes deserving of a better climate. Replete with steel guitar, church organ effects and female backing vocals, their slick Skynyrd-esque rock played out perfectly, keeping the cold crowd moving throughout.
Back inside, Visitors were a complete change of pace, so much so it was a little hard to work out what to make of their hard-rocking blend of punk, metal and post-Royal Blood riffing. Perhaps the reason they failed to make a huge impact on the crowd is simply their simplicity, a raw, straightforward performance to a room still reeling from the layered, swarming textures of Volo and co.
A brief foray to District saw Breakfast Monkey’s own blend of heaviness find only a little more success amongst the now thoroughly fatigued hangers-on as the festival began to hurtle to a close. Interestingly enough we bumped into them at a sell-out Shipping Forecast earlier in the week, and to a packed-out, enthusiastic crowd they proved themselves more than capable of truly igniting a room. Tonight however things were all just a little thin on the ground, and though they give their all to their Rage/Chillis-leaning sound it’s all a little futile to the apathetic drifters who watch on.
In fact, the best place for those drifters to be was most certainly back at Constellations, where Lotharios were onstage to end Threshold with the most utterly ridiculous of bangs. The eight-piece donned fancy-dress, among them a white Rasta and a man in leiderhosen with a fake pencil moustache sharing lead vocals, a leprechaun sat cross-legged playing a Moog, and a slightly baffled looking late-middle-aged man in a Hawaiian skirt.
As they rifled through the best covers-set in history, which included Psycho Killer, David Bowie’s Sorrow and the most euphoric version of Love is in the Air you’ve ever heard, the scenes were nothing but glorious debauchery for the festival’s true hedonists. As a snapshot: at one point one of the band is reading the ingredients of a Pot Noodle over a space-rock drum ‘n’ bass version of The Cheeky Song while the drummer, a guy in a tin-foil poncho and alien sunglasses is taking lead vocal. They then blended the tune in to L.A. Woman and closed on a mash-up of Jump Around and Daddy Cool, amongst others. They’ll be playing our wedding.
At the end of the weekend we managed to grab a quick chat with the completely loveable and always self-effacing festival director Chris Carney, who mentioned that he was incredibly moved by the performance of the Choir With No Name, a group of homeless singers gathered together and given a voice by the delightful Ema Quinn.
It’s worth repeating the sheer amount of effort he and the team put into the festival each year. Threshold has grown massively since its humble CUC beginnings and the mix of music, artwork and spectacularly good-looking red t-shirts was deserving of a much larger turnout.
Yes, there were the odd moments of seeing bands playing to crowds ostensibly made up solely of photographers and other musicians, and the inclement March weather did put a slight dampener on the outdoor spaces, but overall Threshold‘s friendly and vibrant atmosphere shone through – with the crowd happy to chat to their mates and meet up with people they may not have seen in a while.
And that’s the real point of this festival – the community spirit; look no further than the frantic yet high-spirited team-building exercise of Sunday afternoon’s gazebo-repair effort. Musicians bring their family along, bands collaborate with each other, strong new friendships are formed and everyone goes home happy having had some nice food and a few drinks. To want anything more is missing the point.
As the Baltic Triangle develops and grows over the next few years, so too will the festival, that’s the beauty of it being tied to the area. Long may it continue.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Michael Kirkham, Tom Adam, Martin Saleh and Michael Hegarty.