As December Falls at Bodega, Nottingham review

ADFCOVERLast month, Nottingham alt-rockers As December Falls released their new EP, When You Figure Out You’re Wrong, Get Back To Me. Several days the band headed out on tour with Elements and They Say Fall, stopping off at Nottingham’s Bodega on Friday night.

Intros are a way to make or break a show – too often they’re cliche (kudos to Elements for only just saved their Star Wars intro from becoming this), over dramatic, or too predictable – but As December Falls kicked things off to a promising start with a solid intro. The fact that front woman Beth Curtis seems ready to party from the get go with a  carefree, infectious, energy only lifts the mood of the night, and the rest of the band are just as enthusiastic.

As the set kicked off, things hit a rocky patch  – guitarist Ande Hunter’s vocals were a touch too loud, not complimenting the live music as well the recorded versions, and by the end of the second song they came across as a smudge on a camera lens photographing a sky of fireworks. Nevertheless they carried on an the mishap was soon corrected.

The technicality might have been solved but things still seemed a little on edge for the band. It’s a brave move at any small show – no matter how sold out – to ask the crowd to crouch before dancing as the track comes in with full force, and I had half a fear the audience wouldn’t take any of the bait, but they danced along accordingly and the following cover of Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself was an equal hit.

Despite the crowd’s reaction, the cover felt sloppy and unrehearsed, the band’s eagerness getting away with them and marring its execution, the contrast highlighted all the more when followed by a polished old number. It seems to be be an obligatory move to include a token acoustic song mid-way through a set list, but things just seemed to be getting going. Whilst I loved how enthusiastic Beth’s performance was, for an acoustic number to have the emotive power and gravity it deserves, it needs to be delivered more softly.

Though I love the riffs in As December Falls’ tracks, as the final few songs came around Beth’s voice became drowned out, and whilst she was fighting for the volume she was losing the sarcastic attitude in the delivery of some of the EP’s best lines, particularly on new single Don’t Say A Word. I’m glad to say that somehow everything managed to fall in line for the set’s closing song, Capture, and despite a few slip ups, the show’s energy kept up throughout.

As December Falls have their core in the right place, and the quality of their latest EP just proves what they’re capable of. It’s clear from the moment they get on stage that they’re loving every second of it, but they let their enthusiasm get the better of them and things get a little rough around the edges.

Macmillan Fest 2015 – picks of the fest

Tomorrow sees Nottingham one-dayer charity festival Macmillan Fest make it’s way down to to Bristol for the first time. Earlier this month the event made its usual stop at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms – you can check out what we made of the festival in full here. For now, here’s our favourite bits and piece of the festival…

I’ve never been one for cover-dominated sets, especially among a line up of original acts, but acoustic duo Amy & Lily have made it on to my list of rare exceptions. Upstairs on the slightly out-of-the-way stage, the pair weren’t greeted with a crowd as full as they deserved, with covers ranging from First Aid Kit to Paramore and shaking things up with more instruments than your usual straightforward girls-and-guitar act. In short, if you like acoustic covers sets done well, but you fancy things a little different, Amy & Lily are your go-to on the Nottingham scene.

Let’s carry on with the theme of acoustic-ness; since the popularity of Jake Bugg, all the acoustic acts of Nottingham seem to have risen to the surface, though I’m sure they’d all be insulted with any sort of association or comparison in such a sense. Whether the rise of Bugg was relevant or not, there’s not denying that the smoothly-run acoustic bar stage of Rescue Rooms showcased some of the best local talent of the day. The likes of Josh Kemp with his irresistible enthusiasm and loop-pedal expertise, blending covers (Oh, What A Night) with originals (Stupid Cupid), and throwing in a dash of comedic brilliance to The Train Song (“I find myself falling in love seven times every train journey”), and Sam Jones, the sort of artist that leaves you thinking, “this is what acoustic music should sound like”, topped my favourites for the stage’s line up.

Taking to the off-the-beaten-track Spanky Van Dykes stage, Chasing Cadence put on a solid show that proved they knew how to work with a crowd. And of course, the headliners of the day proved second to none with industrial strength enthusiasm that the crowd were nothing but eager to reflect. Fearless Vampire Killers’ performance on the newly added Rock City Basement stage and Evil Scarecrow making their mark in the packed out Rescue Rooms main room ended the festival with a fantastic buzz that something wonderful had just occurred.

Macmillan Fest 2015 – an overview

You don’t need to be a Nottingham local to know that the music scene in the city is a busy one, from the world famous Rock City to the dozens of festivals spanning every genre that take place inside the city boundaries. Of the multitude of one-dayers Nottingham boasts, there are a few that really stand out, and year in, year out, Macmillan Fest remains one of them. Now in its sixth year, the festival has come back even bigger and better, pulling in not only a new venue in the form of Rock City’s Basement – in addition to the regular five stages – but another date; September 26th sees Macmillan Fest reach back to its roots as a small festival and head down to Bristol’s Thekla. But until then, let’s run you through our favourite bits of its Nottingham appearance earlier this month…

The complex of stages that makes up Rescue Rooms lends itself easily to indoor and tightly spaced festivals, one of the many reasons it’s chosen so frequently on Nottingham’s fest circuit. From the huge main area through the intimate upstairs one to the fairy light endorsed acoustic bar stage, there’s a different atmosphere around every corner – and you can poke your head outside to a buzz of stalls, a barbecue, and more fun reasons to donate a few spare quid. And if it’s raining, there’s never more than a ten metre rush between stages, so there’s not the mud risk of the outdoorsy festivals.

Only the smallest of points marred the day, and they only seem worth noting to highlight how little was wrong with the festival. The upstairs stage, one with some of our musical highlights on, isn’t the easiest stage to find for locals, let alone those unfamiliar with the layout. Though there were signs and general directions towards it, again I felt it could do with more attention pushed on it. Another hiccough came from the lack of stage times around the venues, the “clash finders” as they’ve become known. Again, it’s not a make or break deal, but when you can’t quite remember if it’s half two or half three, or if it’s Stealth or Rescue Rooms that that band is on, it’s certainly frustrating. A Facebook group boasts the set times in the description, but only one stage (Spank Van Dykes – more brilliant food here) boasts free WiFi, so it’s not terribly convenient.

Though it’s easy to get lost in the homely, friendly spirit of the festival, all layered in the community vibe implying you could happily strike up a conversation with anyone and discover a new set of friends, the voice and the meaning of the day isn’t forgotten; it’s written on the posters, it’s all over the (surprising amount of) balloons, it’s mentioned by nigh on every artist – every penny of profit the festival receives goes straight to Macmillan, so you can have a brilliant time and know you’re doing something good.

With the festival now being bigger than ever and showing no sign of slowing its growth, you’re left wondering how long it’ll be till it takes on Rock City’s main stage, and how long it’ll be till it’s Nottingham’s biggest festival. I bet you a pint of excellent cider it’ll be there in another six years.

White Reaper and Alvvays at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

Although Canadians Alvvays aren’t too unfamiliar with Nottingham after releasing their self titled album in 2014 and bringing it over this side of the pond several times earlier this year, after the release of their debut album White Reaper Does It Again, this string of dates supporting the much-loved beach-pop act were their first on this side of the pond for rock ‘n’ roll four piece White Reaper.

It’s safe to say that White Reaper like things loud. Maybe that’s an understatement if anything, given their Slaves-esque reckless abandon and striking vocals punctuated by aggressive drums. After spending a year on the road across their home country of America, it’s no wonder they’ve got their live performance down to a T, harnessing their enthusiasm – so excellently condensed onto their punchy album – and unleashing it on a polite but somewhat unsuspecting filled room.

After blasting things open with unapologetic confidence, pair of singles Make Me Wanna Die and I Don’t Think She Cares keep spirits high with uplifting keys work contrasting the thick bassline and relentless riffs frontman Tony Esposito delivers alongside the nigh on deranged vocal work. And with dancing like that which keyboardist Ryan Hater provided and a dazzling light show to accompany every punch, there’s no reason to not be gripped by the ferocity and all round zest that White Reaper threw into every second of the show.

Though not a band huge on chatting with the crowd, they proved they’d enthralled those watching when it came to the set’s finale, with the closing track seeing the crowd clap along with as much enthusiasm as could be pulled out from a band gracing the isles for the first time.

As it goes for transferring a studio sound and expanding it on stage, Alvvays were the textbook guide of how-to. Indie pop at its absolute finest, frontwoman Molly Rankin’s vocals inspired the windows-down, open-road, beach poppy feel their debut album so excellently accomplished. Whilst lighter and less raucous than White Reaper, the crowd matched the enthusiasm the four piece threw at the show, namely in the form of excited, unprompted sing alongs and succumbing to temptation to sway and dance to every song.

Cascades of riffs decorated the show, with Kerri MacLellan’s keyboard work appealing to the light, delicate side of the music. Impossibly high vocals graced the closing pair of tracks, fan favourite Party Police and single Archie, Marry Me, before an encore of Kirsty MacColl’s He’s On The Beach showed how rapidly they can go from 0-60; and no song could’ve suited the band better.

Although some of Rankin’s chit-chat was a little off-beat, asking about hedgehogs, what to feed them and if it’s okay to keep them as a pet being a fine example, when it came to the usual, “who’s seen us before?” moment their was a surprising, reaction. Of the nearly packed Rescue Rooms, a mere handful had caught the Canadians at their last Nottingham show (at Bodega in January with support from Moon King), demonstrating just how much they’ve grown away from home over the past months. If they continue being this excellent, there’s no stopping them.

Tramlines – Musical Rundown

After our general overview and top ten points of the Sheffield three-dayer, let’s get down to the meat of it; the musical peaks and troughs of Tramlines.

Friday night saw a contrast of acts of the main stage – though that is the beauty of multi-genre festivals – with the intriguing sounds of Ghostpoet wrapped up with compelling stage presence being one of the weekend’s first acts at Ponderosa. Though the sound quality was strong for a festival, a mark of praise that applied across the weekend for indoor, outdoor and a lot of the Fringe venues, there wasn’t quite the power to enthrall the crowd as much as felt deserved.

Kent two-piece Slaves managed to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, involving the crowd probably more intimately than expected (which you can read about here). With a tornado of chaos they took to the main stage and tore it apart, less fuzzed up that the frantic studio sound you’re used to hearing, but with no compromise on the energy front for it. Clear vocals kept the focus on their lyrics ranging from whacky to political, whilst losing enough control to demonstrate their ability to freewheel into madness at the drop of a hat.

Although The Charaltans felt a somewhat under-delivering main stage headliner, on the other side of the festival Anathema were giving one of the best performances of the weekend in City Hall’s Basement. With a powerful brand of cinematic classic rock, the band delivered blast after blast with Lee Douglas’ vocals remaining a striking highpoint of the set, and their raw performance leaving an atmosphere of almost literal jaw-dropping awe.

We Are The Ocean took over Leadmill as the Friday night headliner, sticking another pin in their path to success with fan favourites Chin Up, Son and Young Heart laying side by side with recent Good For You and Holy Fire. After the long wait for their return, it’s strikingly clear that the Essex quartet are right on track to the top of their game and ready to mark their space in the alt-rock music scene.

Saturday night headliners Basement Jaxx were among those to encounter trouble warming with the crowd, though inhibitions seemed to loosen a little by the time closing Where’s Your Head At came around, but bizarrely the problem hadn’t been so prevalent earlier on in the day. In fact, Sugar Hill Gang’s mid-afternoon set easily had the greatest crowd reaction of the weekend, with nigh on everyone in the packed out arena joining in – and with queues to get in stretching the best part of a mile, it’s no wonder the embankment around the arena was also packed with people partying to the set.

Saturday’s highlight again came from City Hall’s headliner, And So I Watch You From Afar. Instrumental rock has a power little else does have, and the Belfast quartet made the best of this with a truly captivating execution. I’d go as far as to say they made me fall in love with live music all over again, and should you ever find yourself with the opportunity to see them, I urge you to take it. Nay, I urge you to hunt down their nearest gig to you, and beg, borrow and steal to go to their show.

Post-headliners, the city came out with some of the best DJ sets of the weekend, with Mike Skinner of The Streets (no surprise that he closed the set with Fit But You Know It) appearing at O2 Academy before Basement Jaxx showed up for the second time that day – thankfully the crowd replied with a little more enthusiasm this time around though.

Neneh Cherry provided her unique blend of pop, R’n’B and hip-hop with unabashed enthusiasm rather early to a slightly sparse crowd; Sunday’s whole line up seemed to be running early and although the great medium of the internet allows updated times, when the vast majority weren’t expecting to have to check for updates and would probably have stuck to their programmes – if anything, music is usually known for running late (but we’ll get to that later).

The festival’s Fringe sees all sorts of unusual characters take to the stage, with a handful of not-quite Oasises thrown alongside a bunch of wanna-be Pulps. My highlight of the free events came with female-fronted Scarlet at Crystal, a glorious brand of indie-pop with a tight performance that should have earned them a place on the main line up.

Two pieces seemed to be a big point for energy over the weekend, with Sheffield’s own pair Nai Harvest kicking out riffs and mania at Queen’s Social Club on the edge of the city. Off the release of their new album Hairball, the shoegaze duo delivered a torrent of reckless abandon that had the packed room enthralled. No one else over the weekend came across quite so comfortable on stage and with quite so much thorough enjoyment.

Sunday’s highlight came again from Leadmill in the form of political punk-folk artist Billy Bragg. The excellence of his performance needs no explanation and he managed to prove he can still go at live gigs with as much gusto as ever, taking the set on for an extra half hour whilst the odd one or two were crammed into the packed-to-capacity venue; somehow I feel it would’ve been a wide choice after Wu Tang Clan pulled out to upgrade Bragg to the main stage, but there you go. This was a performance to inspire every person in the crowd, and one that closed the weekend on high spirits.