As Skeleton Coast returns for its second year at Leasowe Castle, Getintothis’ Matty Loughlin-Day, Lucy McLachlan and Peter Guy went to get the lowdown on happenings.
There must be something in the water over on the Wirral.
A second festival in as many weeks, showcasing some of the best talent from the peninsula and beyond suggests that folks on that side of the river are creating something of a quiet revolution.
With last week’s Future Yard being heralded by all concerned as a rip-roaring success, it was the turn of the Skeleton Key crew to put on a show for the braying masses and it was a welcome return to the fabulous Leasowe Castle for the fourth instalment of Skeleton Coast.
The festival has evolved somewhat since its inaugural year, in which proceedings were based in a community centre and the location itself is almost as much a talking point as the music on offer.
The castle is set in sprawling grounds, nestled between a golf course, a Typhoo Tea Factory and the sea and during peace time serves as a hotel and wedding venue.
To use this as the venue for a festival gives things the slight air of the surreal.
There are three stages, all based in different rooms of the castle and the journey between each one, passing hotel staff smartly dressed and carrying baggage or platters almost makes things feel like a holiday – the juxtaposition of this and entering a dark, sweaty room for an assault of rock and roll works tremendously, creating a sense of, well, fun and excitement, which is, lest we forget, why we’re here.
There are very few airs and graces here and it is still the type of festival which sees band members loading on and off stage, setting up and packing away their own gear.
Likewise, sets move from the full-on to the quaint in an instant several times when crowd members innocently lean on the wall and switch the ‘big’ lights on, illuminating the plush carpets and wallpaper, before this is rectified and we’re plunged back into the darkness and chaos.
It must be stated that describing things as DIY or innocent does not mean that things were shoddy in any sense, quite the opposite.
The upstairs Shit Indie stage and EVOL main stage in particular were well-run and featured excellent sound systems that would rival any ‘proper’ music venue.
It would have been easy for sound to have got lost or muffled in both rooms, but thanks to ample speakers and a top-notch PA system, there wasn’t a bad place to stand. The bonus of there being more bars than stages too meant that queues were avoidable and fast-moving.
The castle was used to its full extent and the side room featuring art exhibitions and merchandise provided an oasis of calm.
One small qualm might be that the room that hosted the Getintothis stage was slightly lost amidst things, being tucked away in a wing that shoots off from the main corridor of traffic – a small gripe that could easily be rectified with a bit of signage.
Additionally, one of the successes of last year, the inclusion of church benches in said room, was missing this time, which meant that for a room which was host to some of the quieter, more subtle acts of the festival, attention was sometimes directed elsewhere and chatter from crowd at the back swamped the music coming from up front.
Given that amps and drums were not mic’d up in this room, it was at times hard to listen fully to the artists – something at one point that riled a crowd member during Ana Mae’s set who told the rest of the room to be quiet, much to Mae’s gratitude.
In the main, however, the rooms were well suited for the masses and it was easy enough to traverse between all three without missing any of the action.
Clashes were thankfully kept to a minimum and in most instances, the artists themselves appeared to be having as much of a good time as the crowd, which is always a good sign, is it not?
There’s even the additional inclusion of a pop up art gallery curated by ever-present Skeleton Coast gallery Red House Originals with this year’s artist in residence Thomas Butler bringing the pop art of counter culture America to the Wirral Peninsula mixing work inspired by the likes of Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns featuring music icons David Crosby and Elvis through to silver screen stars like Steve McQueen and Dennis Hopper.
Outside a fresh food vegan taco van serves up delights including cauliflower wings and tacos stuffed with Philly steak and cheese through to Mexican four bean chilli.
It’s these little touches which have marked Skeleton Coast out from the very start as a favourite of Getintothis‘ summer festivities.
The first act we caught were Sheffield’s Seamonsters in the main hall, whose Riot Grrl meets Public Image Limited infused noise goes down well with a gradually burgeoning crowd.
At times vocals are lost in the mix, which is a shame, and their sound is still rather rough around the edges, but what we are told is newer material is exciting and bold.
One of the newbies features a cut-up of Teresa May’s departing speech, edited and distorted to proclaim “I… love… money… I… love… success…” and is genuinely thrilling. A cover of the Ting Ting’s Shut up and Let me go is a tad baffling, only because their own material is much better, but sod it, the band are having a good time and so are the crowd.
This is a theme that runs through the day in the main hall. Average Sex make being in a band look like the most joyous activity one can do during their set, with singer Laetitia Bocquet’s irrepressible energy carrying their songs with a verve and giddiness that elevates them from the (above) average to the highly enjoyable.
Likewise, if we were to use the amount of t-shirts spotted at the festival as a gauge of popularity, then Red Rum Club could well be thought of as the band on everybody’s list.
Seemingly aware of this, they too make the most of their slot, quickly establishing a rapport between the band and their devotees who are enraptured by their mariachi-infused sound, built around Dick Dale style guitar riffs and sharp trumpet riffs.
Upstairs, things are a bit more intimate and sweatier, with acts such as Kangaroos, Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard and The Mysterines throughout the day making the room feel like the coolest club nobody else knows about.
The Hushtones and Monks set the scene early doors with the former bringing big boss pop to a crammed room before Monks add brass-infused psychedelia which is lapped up by the jam-packed function room.
Crowds spill out into the foyer for many of the acts and at one point, before The Mysterines’ set, we’re all kicked out and doors are temporarily locked; some punters are a bit miffed by this and as things reach bottleneck inside the small foyer, safety questions are raised, but doors are soon re-opened, giving the resulting set a further sense of exclusivity and excitement.
Down in the Getintothis wing, the tempo is much more relaxed. Ana Mae and Dan Disgrace both bathe us in waves of blissed out vibes that deserve more attention that they got – but that’s the crowd’s loss, not theirs.
The find of the day arrives in the shape of Irish songwriter Lucy Gaffney who trades subtle guitar with a delicate yet warm vocal and her all to brief set hints at greater things to come.
She parts by teasing us with a Cranberries cover of Linger before telling us that she’s working with The Coral‘s James Skelly in Parr Street Studios and will soon be on tour with Bill Ryder-Jones – we can see why both these Wirral contemporary songwriting Godfathers have been drawn to work with such a talent.
Later on, Marvin Powell and The Sundowners play stripped-back sets, largely acoustic based, but not at the expense of urgency or atmosphere; both sets are received with an enthusiasm and appreciation that suggests there is a lot of love for all the artists on the Skeleton Key roster.
Come headliner Miles Kane and the crowd are gathered again in the main hall. Whilst not this writer’s cup of tea, it cannot be denied that the crowd are loving it.
Two songs in and confetti cannons are exploring and songs are being sang back at Kane. For a headliner, you can’t really ask for much more.
So where to next year? Skeleton Coast clearly stands at a crossroads, having sold out the castle for the second consecutive year and one hopes that things don’t stray too far away from the sense of DIY and innocence that adds a layer of charm to the event.
Over in Liverpool after all, we’ve seen it happen all too many times, whereby a festival hits onto a winning formula and then overstretches itself, in the process losing what it was about the original concept that worked so well.
It would, of course, be well understandable if over the coming years Skeleton Coast moved to a bigger, more ‘conventional’ location – there’s clearly the demand for it – but our fingers are crossed.
As with any festival, there are suggestions that can be thrown about – maybe a bit more diversity with regards to genres on offer? Maybe a bit less guitar?
But these are minor, minor qualms – after all, you can’t please everybody. Ultimately, once again, Skeleton Coast was a tip-top offering – for a measly £30 too, it should be noted – and long may it continue.
The Wirral. They do things differently there. And we should all thank them for it.
Getintothis’ Top nine bands of the festival
What’s in a name?
Arguably the best moniker of any band at the festival, although their name suggests a love of all things antipodean, Kangaroos in fact sound like a guided tour of the American rock songbook.
There are hints of Buddy Holly, Dennis Wilson, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band throughout their songs, which range from the charming and infectious, as in the harmony-based Ladybird, to the pounding hypnotic jams of Child of the Ocean, which features a frenetic wig-out built around The Big Ship Sails on the Alley-Alley-Oh.
With instruments being swapped and lead vocals being shared between the band, there is a freshness to their set that promises big things. Ones to watch, for sure.
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard are so glam, Noel Gallagher could rip them off and create Definitely Maybe all over again. A high energy set from the word go, all eyes are on singer Tom Rees, who struts about the stage like the lovechild of Mick Jagger and Marc Bolan, complete with pouts and high-kicks – it’s a gas, man.
Delivering their thumping rock and roll with instant classics such as John Lennon is my Jesus and the magnificently titled Double Denim Hop, the band never fall into pastiche and leave all in the room wanting more. Truly electrifying.
As an aside, at any other Kanargoos-less festival, the award for best band name would be the Buzzards’, but we hope they can take solace in having the best jumper, by a country mile. Rees’ yellow and orange jumper was as eye-catching as his on-stage moves.
One of 2018’s success stories, the supergroup consisting of Merseyside’s best guns for hire highlight just why, for so many, their self-titled debut album was the album of last year.
Due to limited time, there’s sadly no room for their more subtle offerings and the lack of Next Time Around is a shame, but this is much more than made up for by the blistering set the five-piece deliver.
We’re promised new material is in the pipeline, but for tonight, it’s a full-on assault of familiar material with Is this Man Bothering You? and Brightening in the West in particular demonstrating the incredible musicianship the band possess without veering into self-indulgence or prog-rock.
All too quickly it’s over, but few are left in doubt that we’ll see them again; even fewer would surely imagine they’ll be playing rooms this small for much longer.
The Peach Fuzz
Rock and roll has rightly been derided for its machismo and laddishness, yet this is a scourge that continues to haunt it to this day.
In direct contrast to that, The Peach Fuzz deliver a refreshing take on the genre, utilising it to blow apart the toxic masculinity that looms like a spectre over so much rock and detail the frailties, vulnerabilities and essentially human factors that lie beneath the surface of us all.
Iconic star in waiting Nathaniel Cummings doesn’t so much wear his heart on his sleeve as bare his psyche to all and in between songs, speaks passionately about creating a safe space for all within the confines of the gig and is not embarrassed to detail just what exactly the songs are about, ranging from mental health issues, sexuality and isolation.
On paper that might make things sound drab and gloomy, but we assure you, that couldn’t be further away from it. Their songs sparkle with Future Islands-esque synths and intense guitar and drums. Final song Outside Looking In is delivered with the pomp and passion of a future classic.
A band for our times; a band we need.
The band on everybody’s lips, The Mysterines played to a full capacity Shit Indie stage and if the weight of expectation was on their shoulders, you wouldn’t know it. Still feeling like the most exciting band you’ve never heard, they play with an intensity and tightness that simultaneously belies and highlights their age.
Things aren’t subtle here and musically, if you don’t like the first song, you won’t like the rest, but judging by the reception they receive, all in attendance are very much on board.
Future headliners? We wouldn’t bet against it. Band of the day – no question about it.
Performing solo, accompanied only by a watery sounding electric guitar, Ana Mae’s brand of woozy, tender dreamwave hypnotised all who were close enough to hear her.
At times reminiscent of Blue Hawaii and Beach House, songs like Rebecca and a cover of The Killing Moon were intoxicating and enchanting.
As mentioned earlier, during her set, the crowds that were gathering at the back of the room threatened to drown her out, but this was handily resolved by a resilient audience member imploring them to be quiet and at times Ana seemed unsure if the set was going well – take it from us, it was.
Enchanting stuff and with talk of a bigger band around her in the future, we can’t wait to see what’s next.
The Sundowners seem to have found the perfect gig venue for their music on Getintothis‘ stage in The Keep.
We’re pretty sure we wrote the same thing last year. Fiona Skelly and Niamh Rowe’s heavenly harmonies are a perfect match for a bright sunny chapel.
This time around they’ve lost Alfie Skelly to, well, running the whole festival and are bringing new, more acoustic based music to the audience who filled out the space to hear some blissful folky sounds in a gorgeous airy setting.
There’s even a Peter Fonda Easy Rider tribute.
Cut Glass Kings
Cut Glass Kings are proper Birmingham rock and roll. Always playing in pure saturated red.
They have dark, moody and fuzz guitar driven vibes that make your head start to nod automatically and foot tap.
They start out with a busy room but a cross over of stage times, meant people started to thin out towards the end of the set. We’d definitely recommend staying around for the full set next time.
Dream Wife got the attention of the Evol stage pretty quick. Singer Rakel was taunting the audience straight away with manic demon child like gazes, it’s safe to say they shook any cobwebs that could have been in Leasowe Castle.
Each song was a neon blast of pure pop punk full of energy giving it all they got.
They had even the ladies from the bathrooms who were entertaining the queue with their in-stall conversation about how much they loved Micheal Buble and promised to stop each other from drunk texting their ex’s later on singing “BYE BYE BITCHES!” from F.U.U at the top of their lungs.
Images by Getintothis’ Lucy McLachlan, Peter Guy and Dayna Taylor.