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High & Lonesome Festival 2015

24 November 2015
High & Lonesome Festival 2015
Now in its second year, High and Lonesome festival was held at venues on the fringe of town; The Brudenell Social Club and Left Bank Leeds. Both sites proved excellent choices, with the former a well-worn institution of quality music and the latter a beautiful heritage space, now repurposed as a site standing for community and culture. These values were certainly present at the festival with a collective sense of musical enthusiasm and appreciation, all washed down with some lovely food and drink.

Will’s Day

Arcarode

The first artist I saw at the festival was ‘Arcarode’ at 3pm, with the wind and rain lashing the The Brudenell Social Club. A slightly shy girl hopped onto the stage with a guitar almost as big as she was and proceeded to captivate for half an hour. Though the audience was sparse towards the beginning, the room soon filled out. The first was a stunning number that was reminiscent of Nick Drake at his most majestic, or Grant Lee Buffalo at their most plaintive. With perhaps the best song she played that day, Alice Trifunovic implored the audience to ‘drown with me’ in a way that was both majestic and reticent. Though Alice typically has a full band behind her, on this occasion it was just her and her guitar, yet the sound did not suffer in any way – it was incredibly full, drowning in reverb and sounding all the better for it. A stripped back cover of the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes hit ‘Home’ was another highlight of the set. It is heartening to see a singer-songwriter who has not submitted to the sickening, faux-musical croon (you know what I mean…) that pervades popular music currently. Arcarode seem to be taking a path of their own and they look set to get bigger and bigger.

Fitzwallace

High & Lonesome Festival 2015 Article - 1 Photography by Mark Wheelwright

At 4pm five bright, upbeat, healthy young bucks bounded up onto the stage in the form of ‘Fitzwallace’. They proceeded to play half an hour of cheery folk-pop with seriously good harmonies and bright melodies. Though they are a Leeds based band, they could be straight out of the south of America, with lyrics like ‘Thinkin’ ‘bout’ those country days’. They were something between Fleetwood Mac and The Waterboys. All band-members wore clean, well-fitting clothes and probably had wholesome names like ‘Henry’, or ‘Sophie’ or ‘Ed’. Though their set left me wondering where all the hollow-eyed, gaunt people in bands are going, it was thoroughly enjoyable and they should have played for longer. This was reflected by the fantastic reception the audience in the Games Room at the Brudenell gave them.

Cottonwoolf

On at 5pm was ‘Cottonwoolf’ who were one of the stand-out acts of the festival. Perhaps the best aspect of this band is the singer/guitarist, whose dusky voice can range from a soft croon to a primal scream. The band’s sound was an amalgamation of jazz, jazz fusion, funk and psychedelia. The keyboardist was another standout member; his parts were tasteful and restrained but he could add a Ray Charles-esque organ run when necessary. ‘White As Bone’, their last song, was a standout track, a mean moody number that had the crowd moving a little. This song in particular showcased the virtuosity of every member: the drums lolloped, the bass walked, the guitars danced and the organ shimmered. The places where Cottonwoolf really shone were in their more psychedelic, proggy moments that were reminiscent of early Pink Floyd or Family. In the words of Cottonwoolf’s second song of the night, the band should ‘Take The Trip’.

Neil Halstead

High & Lonesome Festival 2015 Article - 5 Photography by Mark Wheelwright

Neil Halstead was one of the most eagerly anticipated acts of the High and Lonesome Festival and this showed in the substantial crowd that turned up to the Left Bank stage to watch him at 8.15. He cut a solitary figure in the centre of the cavernous church hall; just him and an acoustic guitar. As with ‘Arcarone’ earlier that day, he possesses the talent of making just a voice and a guitar sound massive. A combination of the heavenly acoustics and Halstead’s transcendentally beautiful songs made this one of the true highlights of High and Lonesome 2015. Halstead is commonly known as the frontman of Slowdive, the seminal shoegaze band, and these influences are present even in the sparse set-up. It’s about as shoegaze as you can get with just an acoustic guitar. The pervading flavours one gets from Halstead’s solo act are that of John Martyn and Nick Drake. Halstead’s second song, ‘Elevenses’, is so incredibly Drake-esque, it could have come straight off Pink Moon. Speaking to Neil after the gig, he welcomed and acknowledged the slight comparisons between him and Drake. That’s not to say Halstead is covering familiar ground, however. Indeed, his use of droning notes and sparkling guitar runs cut with his crooning vocals seems fresh and new. This is shown especially in the first song, ‘Tied to You’, a song in particular that displays Halstead’s fantastic guitar playing. It’s a tough transition to make, from being in a band to going solo, but it is one which Halstead has accomplished seemingly with ease.

Josh T Pearson

High & Lonesome Festival 2015 Article - 2 Photography by Mark Wheelwright

The headline act of Left Bank Leeds, Josh T Pearson arrived in a white Stetson hat and a leather jacket and proceeded to make the audience wait even longer whilst he ‘warmed up the guitar’. This made the air of anticipation even greater. Taking off his jacket and scarf to reveal an all-white ensemble, Pearson proceeded to enthral the audience in the Left Back Stage with majestic, almost operatic vocals. The dynamics of his set were a real high-point: many of the songs started incredibly quietly, before embarking on a slow but driving crescendo until Pearson was strumming the guitar with all his might and singing with unbridled passion. Pearson was a mass of contradictions. A bearded Stetson-wearing country-rocker, but dressed all in white; a man with a Pentecostal upbringing with a crucifix on his guitar strap but who swore constantly; a cynical, dry wit, but someone who dissected his own lyrics on stage after a song had finished. A more fitting close to High and Lonesome 2015 could not have been found. The venue echoed to the sounds of Pearson’s furiously strummed guitar and his majestic voice rang through the church in a thunderous plangent.

Emma’s Day

Sim Walker

High & Lonesome Festival 2015 - Article 4 Photography by Mark Wheelwright

Taking shelter from the dreadful weather outside, the Brudenell was already thickly lined by seated guests for Simeon Walker’s opening set, which saw a rather creaky old piano yield some beautiful, reflective music. ‘Eulogy’ was a song intended for those in mourning, which seemed an apt nod to the previous night’s harrowing reports from Paris. The melancholy but peaceful feel lulled everyone gently into a full on day of music, and many took cue from this relaxed vibe, sipping tea and eating pizza. His last song ‘January’ was beautiful and more textured than some of his other more paired back pieces, which rounded off his humble set nicely.

The Mae Trio

As might be obvious, the Mae trio consisted of three lovely Australian ladies in blunt fringes and cardigans in a very Orla Keily swatch. Perfectly twee, one of their songs was a wistful homage to the imagined life of being married to a pineapple farmer. One of their most stand out songs actually came in the form of a Kate Rusby cover, the local reference getting a few whoops. Their acapella, three part harmony rendition brought shivers, and their voices really came into their own.

Lewis and Leigh

Americana at its best, the duo hail respectively from Wales and Mississippi bringing an intimate male/female dynamic even though they were positioned almost comically far apart from each other, with our photographer struggling to create the impression that they were in fact sharing the stage. Nevertheless, their music is soft and sweet and I particularly like their embroidered keyboard cover which gave their set an almost ‘living room’ feel.

JR Green

Comprised of two fairly youthful faces on acoustic guitar and accordion/bass drum pedal, JR Green’s set was no-nonsense Celtic inspired music which wouldn’t be out of place on a sun dappled Cider advert. Between songs, the Celtic roots were confirmed as both spoke in a soft Scottish accent and were charmingly self-deprecating. Pretty harmonies interspersed their set, which also included, perhaps alarmingly, a Biggie Smalls cover of ‘Juicy’, provoking a fair few wry smiles.

Dancing Years

High & Lonesome Festival Article - 6

The High&Lonesome branding swathed behind Dancing Years seemed even more pertinent during their set with its mountainous emblem; their music is well suited to sound track those profound almost daydreamed moments in life where you imagine it to be a la movies. With a textured, accomplished sound that incorporates subtle rather than gimmicky violin and a lack of fear toward experimenting with pedals in a genre less associated with a denser sound, as one of the local acts on the bill it was great to see them play at their ‘home’ venue, and the reception seemed as warm as their sound.

Julia Holter

High & Lonesome Festival 2015 - Article 3 Photography by Mark Wheelwright

One of the two headliner acts, Julia Holter manned the Brudenell’s portion of the music, with Josh T Pearson playing around 500 yards away in Left Bank. At this point the crowd had swelled to what was presumably full capacity. After quietly approaching her keyboard stand, her first song was one she conceived in reaction to the devastation and bewilderment of the Paris atrocities, effectively bookcasing the day with this mournful sentiment following opening act Sim Walker’s similar ode. Although the lyrics weren’t hers, the melody in true Holter oscillation, offered appropriate reflection, infused with minor notes. Amongst her set she also played recent single ‘Feel You’, delivered in that stunted, dimple inducing staccato. With her were her band: drummer, violinist/vocalist and finally a double bass player, who plucked eccentrically at an electrified double bass stem, giving the impression of some kind of ghost instrument. Any fan of Julia Holter will know of her oddball, hypnotic quality, flailing lean arms and offering up wild and improbable melodies.

The day brought together the best of talents from close to home and further afield, reflecting various facets of acoustic, Americana and beyond. Although there was a coherent vibe to the line up, the day certainly reflected the diversity and creativity of each of the acts, confirming old favourites and inspiring new ones.

By
Emma is a Freelance Writer for Leeds Living. She has a degree in English literature from the University of Leeds and specialises in writing cultural editorials.
By
Will is a Volunteer Writer for Leeds Living, specialising in music writing. He attends gigs and festivals all across the city of Leeds