Smithdown Road Fest combatted the FestEVOL clash with its most ambitious schedule yet, and succeeded as a much-loved mixing-pot for musicians, as Getintothis’ Nathaniel Cummings finds out.
When continuing down Allerton Road towards Smithdown, being greeted by a leathery huddle of well-dressed-drinkers dotted around all of our favourite drinking holes can only mean one thing, Smithdown Road Festival had begun.
Beginning it’s second year, Smithdown has expanded to newfound heights, marking all Liverpool music fan’s calendars with a now-unmissable event, hosted appropriately on a road steeped in musical and cultural heritage; a hub for music, food, dance, drink and a couple of unexpected surprises.
Adopting the familiarities of it’s location, punters sank into a welcoming mixture of music and colour, on a weekend arguably amongst the most under-appreciated in the city, with a platform provided not only for rising musicians to play to a receptive audience, but also for a diverse number of cultures to offer an insight into their own Liverpudlian heritage, be it in the form of Senegalese food stalls or Ghanaian vintage markets.
Such is the size of the ‘mini-festival’, even a team of writers could only scratch the surface of what was on offer, testament to the festival’s ambitious expansions each year, and detriment to our tired feet, scurrying from stage to bar, to bar to stage.
As the proverbial klaxon sounded the whole bottom-end of Smithdown road is abuzz with locals eager to get their annual fill of Liverpool’s most talented musicians and, well… beer. The Brookhouse is where we found The Probes, a suitable venue for a band that graced Cahoots, formerly parallel, in their boozy beginnings. The psych rockers didn’t disappoint in providing our inaugural performance, their swirling jams come highly recommended. The lads provided a promising start to proceedings with the street party already in full swing.
Enthused, we headed straight for Caffe ORO for The Havocs who impressed. Later on though, Ovvls stole the show with a wonderful performance to ignite an audience already brimming with enthusiasm, heightening the Smithdown sense of community further.
Night one concluded over at Evil Eye where we found Lyons & Tigers who shook the street with a ferocious set. It’s also worth noting Evil Eye were selling Burritos at only £1 to anyone who made a £5 donation to the food bank – and their kindheartedness was matched by the good spirits of all there as the bar continued to host the party into the early hours.
To start the day we headed to Kelly’s Dispensary to experience a wonderful diversity of arts and crafts stalls accompanying a splendid performance by The Shipbuilders, whose mellow tones and well-crafted songs stand them in great stead to build on what’s been a promising year so far for the band
The unplanned use of the Frontline Church as the festival’s centre stage due to poor weather meant that a walk veering away from the Brookhouse down Lawrence Road looked like a pilgrimage of Liverpool’s best dressed, cans in had of course. There, We Are Catchers were reformed and resplendent and, armed with new tunes, gave a shimmering performance that holds much promise for a band hoping to build on their recent successes. Tap, Tap, Tap was a particular favourite and new song Jubilee earned rapturous applause.
After a quick browse of the vintage market stalls inside Frontline, and after resisting the temptations of Ghanaian curry, meatball subs and deep-fried pizza, Natalie McCool gave the kind of performance that pays testament to her ever-increasing popularity. A different prospect to We Are Catchers with three less members, McCool struggled to fill the room as much with her sound, but her undeniably catchy songs and studio-tight performance left the front section of the crowd purring before she engaged those willing in a singalong to latest single Fortress.
The extent of The Sundowners’ stage preparations left plenty of time for the crowd to grow, and with it the atmosphere swelled intently. Some of Liverpool’s most loved musicians were in attendance, and the presence of the likes of Edgar Jones and Ian Skelly alerted the crowd that they might be about to see something special, and The Sundowners didn’t disappoint. We were treated to the best of last year’s self-titled debut album, some of the Medicine EP and even a couple of new tunes from their upcoming album, with King of The Dawn definitely a track to look out for.
We were fully intoxicated by the festival spirit by this point and Galactic Funk Militia provided a welcome insight into their influences with a DJ set at The Brookhouse immediately afterwards. Funk classics rang through ’till the early hours as the festival hit fever pitch.
The hangovers might have been too much for some, as Tommy Scott cancelled his second high profile gig in recent months. Following pulling out last-minute from Ocean Waves album launch show in Camp and Furnace earlier this year, the Space singer left it ’till the same day this time before cancelling his performance and leaving many punters gravely disappointed once more. Let’s hope both withdrawals are merely a matter of coincidence and the frontman returns to repay his fan’s faith soon.
Dave Dutton of Kingdom nobly stepped up and covered the headline slot at Frank’s following his own band’s impressive performance. He provided the crowd with one rock n’ roll classic after the next to help lift the spirits of an audience wounded by a such a notable absentee. It was the only sour point of a weekend otherwise executed almost perfectly.
On the whole, Smithdown Road Festival 2016 was everything we expected it to be, and considering it’s non-profit ideology should be very proud of what it has become and achieved. With so many great bands on, it’s already impossible to catch all your favourites, and the diversity of food highlights the harmonious mix of cultures that call Smithdown Road home.
Tommy Scott withdrawing from a headline slot was terribly disappointing, and there have been a couple of complaints about poor sign-posting online from those seeking kids’ activities on the Monday. But overall, given the scale of the festival far outweighs the size of it’s organisation committee, this free festival can be considered a great success and a date of growing importance for music fans in Merseyside. We can’t wait to see what they have planned for next year.