Liverpool Calling is back and hit the city centre and Baltic Triangle with force for a two-day festival that saw some quite brilliant bands and other goings on as the Getintothis team of Matthew Eland, Chris Flack and Peter Goodbody took to the streets.
Running a festival can be a tricky thing.
Just ask the organisers of Liverpool Calling. Back in those halcyon days of 2013 – a time pre-Brexit and pre-Trump, when the most you had to worry about was whether Peter Capaldi would be a good Doctor Who – they commandeered St Luke’s (the Bombed Out Church, to you and us) and wowed us all with a bona fide coup in the shape of British Sea Power, complete with dancing bear. The years that followed built on that success, with The Rifles and Reverend and the Makers headlining. The festival had a distinct identity, with St Luke’s offering a metaphorical reflection of their ethos, one of ramshackle charm and spirited pluck. Nominations at 2015’s Best Festival awards followed.
And then, things got a bit tricky. The 2016 festival was cancelled for a number of reasons, not least because of St Luke’s refurbishment, and 2017 was left as a fallow year. This looks to have been a good decision. We’ve all seen how festivals can go wrong – Hope and Glory and the demise of ATP being two textbook examples – and Liverpool Calling have done well to take a clear-headed, safety-first approach.
What a lot of gig-goers in this town might not see is that most of these festivals are labours of love – in many cases there is no safety net. It’s clear from the start that Liverpool Calling exists only for the loftiest of motivations: the desire to put on a load of boss bands for a cheap price. Twenty-two pounds! You’d pay that for one all-dayer, but to throw in a Friday night?! We’re just being spoiled now.
Friday gets started in the brand new Jacaranda Records Phase One, another example of underground Liverpool pushing back against the hen parties and apart-hotels. Clean-cut dapper chaps Ukebox are followed by Himalayas, who come fresh from supporting the Kaiser Chiefs. It’s still early though, and the Welsh four-piece only really sparkle when they bring out the big riffs. By the time Strange Bones come on, the room is pleasingly sweaty, and we’re even treated to a decent-sized mosh pit. These Blackpool lads are something else: like The Bronx ditching a private jet into a volcano while The Prodigy ride the drinks trolley down the central aisle.
Over in EBGBS Wirral duo Crapsons have brought all their mates and the Cookie Monster under the brick arches for some anarchic shenanigans. Some nifty basslines though. A work in progress perhaps.
The same can’t be said about False Heads. The East London crack-punk rockers are Iggy Pop‘s favourtite band, dontchaknow. Fans of Dinosaur Pile-Up and Dananananakroyd would do well to investigate.
There’s further chaos in the usually more salubrious environs of Studio 2, with the singer of Avalanche Party dousing himself in water and crawling through the crowd singing “I’m all wet“. They’re followed by Hey Charlie, offering a repeat performance of their B-52‘s-inspired grunge-pop after a successful Sound City earlier in the year.
Good as all that was, however, there were rich pickings over in two of the smaller venues being used tonight. Maguires kicked off with a statement of intent as Mr Ted opened proceedings as though they were headliners racing through their kind of thrash metal / funk set. It was an early start for them, but they won over the small crowd with ease.
So too, Dead Naked Hippies from Leeds. “I want to go and see what a dead naked hippy looks like” texted one of our number to the WhatsApp group. Searing, classy punk from a bass-less three piece is what we found with lead singer Lucy Jowett prowling around the stage and beyond as she belted out each song better than the last. New single Guillotine being an almost perfect punk anthem.
One of the measures of a good festival is the discovery of new band to add to iPod and these guys go straight to the top of the playlist. We knew we were watching something special and it’s just a shame there weren’t more in Maguires to see the quality.
The Jacaranda basement was also dishing out some fine psych in the form of Exoskeletons, Wife and Chambers. Here was the heavy work being dispatched with ease on all accounts. So, top tip – it’s always worth a gander at the venues off the main road.
On the Saturday we head towards the Baltic Triangle and the perfect replacement for St Luke’s in the form of Constellations. It’s a self-contained area for one thing, meaning there isn’t the same kind of muddle that afflicted Sound City. Having the garden stage in addition to the indoor one means there’s always something on (although any impatient ones can still make the dash to Brick Street) and having all the bands together builds up the atmosphere. It also ensures that the sets are well attended throughout.
Eyesore and the Jinx are the first to take advantage of this. They’re hillbilly surf rockers on a beach where the tide is eternally out, kite surfing among fractured wine bottles and protruding concrete slabs like some kind of scouse Mad Max; in other words, a pleasingly discordant start to the day.
SPQR are next up, and they continue a fine 2018 with more chunky, Future of the Left-style aggro. Peaness are another act on an upward trajectory; when you’ve got the best band name ever in the history of popular music, that’s already half the battle won. Luckily, their clean, sunny summer tunes take care of the rest of the heavy lifting. With subject matter as varied as jibbing off crap jobs and abhorring plastic waste, they possess enough lyrical breadth to display the same kind of well-expressed inner world that all the best bands have. Plus, y’know, they’re called Peaness.
Satan’s loyal emissaries Pale Rider then materialise to spread his infernal, sulphurous majesty. Imagine Spiritualised and early The Verve on a load of bad neng and lost in Formby Forest on an ill-fated work team-building exercise. The devil still has all the best tunes.
Meanwhile, it takes til the middle of Demob Happy‘s set for them to detune and summon the horned one. Lucifer can’t be expected to expend all his energy on a band with the word “Happy” in the name. But when he does, it’s to channel some early-era Queens of the Stone Age grooves to a crowd who are, by this stage, if not exactly happy – we all know that happiness is overrated, a poor substitute for fulfilment – then certainly suffused with evil.
Pausing for a wander over to the Baltic Green we find Getintothis DJ, The Cosmic Shepherd conducting a free for all jam session with anyone who turns up invited to join in. By about 6pm there was a full on line up of at least a dozen people drumming and strumming away in the sunshine.
Wytches also give a good account of themselves, their best moments coming as a four-piece, which allows them to reach a level of intensity not attained on record.
But this is all just a warm-up for Pulled Apart By Horses. Any concerns that it’s too soon a return following their December visit are dispelled by the first notes of The Haze. Prince of Meats scythes and swaggers, Back to the Fuck Yeah pummels, Hotel Motivation bounces and grooves, and High Five Swan Dive Nose Dive erupts into glorious delirium. The mosh pit is righteous and despite the wanton abandon no crowdsurfers get dropped: that’s because at Liverpool Calling, everyone looks after each other.
So are we fulfilled? We certainly are. You might even surmise that one or two in attendance go home happy. Some quarters have suggested that we’re at festival overload here in Liverpool; but we at Getintothis prefer to see this as a golden age, and Liverpool Calling deserves its place on the pantheon. It’s an event with its attention focused on local bands and getting people to see them. Hopefully it’s a niche that will be filled again in 2019.
Getintothis’ top picks of the weekend
On in Maguires at 7.30 which was ridiculously early for a pretty full on thrash / funk / shouty cross of enjoyable mayhem. They get top marks for the lead singer’s hat. Although one of the first bands we saw, they tore up Maguires as though they were playing the Echo Arena. Brilliant fun. “Are we doing sexy?” asks the drummer. “I can’t get this top off mate. But I have got a pedal which does sexy” retorts the lead guitar. Made me smile. Peter Goodbody
Enough energy to make Idles look lazy, and certainly more novelty headgear. Gas masks and balaclavas aside, it’s the grasp of sonics and raw, sweaty power that sets these Blackpool battlers apart. Matthew Eland
Anyone still waiting for the new Buke and Gase album will find sweet relief with Bristol-based three-piece Soeur. The vocal harmonies and microchip-frying duelling guitars build and build on next single Fight, which delivers bombastic power and careful intricacy in equal measure. Matthew Eland
Some bands only need a couple of tunes to make an impression, and it’s for this reason that we were glad to catch the end of Orchards in Kitchen Street. Singer Lucy Evers brings energy and charisma to their twinkly, Foals-style pop. Matthew Eland
Dead Naked Hippies
Apparently, if you are looking for Dead Naked Hippies you need to go to Leeds. Who knew.
DNH were an early contender for one of our picks given they played before the watershed on day one, but play they did. It was tricky to see what the guitarist and drummer looked like given the headbanging and near darkness but they gave the lead singer enough noise to thrash around the stage like a woman demented. We came away not wanting to go to work ever again, thinking of modern romance and metal and realising that the world needs more female fronted rock bands. Superb. Chris Flack
Pulled Apart By Horses
Is it really that long since their debut album? Still the undisputed kings of totally bodacious good-time party rock, with riffs and breakdowns now eight years without knockout. Matthew Eland
Images by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody, Tom Adam and Chris Flack