Last week, I shared my thoughts about some of the best highlights of my day at Live at Leeds. Without a doubt, there were some of the hottest up-and-coming acts on the scene in indie rock and punk rock today.
It would be wrong of me to simply leave it at that and deny you, lovely readers, a larger and greater, more expansive review. Sparing no detail, truth be told, my nine hour day at Live at Leeds: In The City was one of great magnitude.
Like most gigs I choose to attend with the brilliant assistance of Leeds Living and friends, I admittedly knew only of what Live at Leeds was all about. Perhaps as a tribute to The Who, who recorded their iconic live album on Valentine’s Day 1970, Live at Leeds began in 2007 to mark the city’s 800th birthday. Annually, this Festival captivated the eyes and ears of what would become hundreds of thousands of festival-goers and music lovers over the years – becoming a true staple of the May Day bank holiday weekend.
An award-winning, three-time winner of the ‘Best Metropolitan Festival’, it has taken over countless venues and played host to some of the biggest bands on the scene, from The Pigeon Detectives to Pulled Apart by Horses; Example to The Subways; The Maccabees to Dinosaur Pile Up; and artists that would go on to colossal heights such as your Ed Sheerans and your Mumford and Sons.
While Live at Leeds: In the Park has been an institution in recent years, with last May’s all-dayer featuring the likes of Two Door Cinema Club, The Lathums and The Hives, a newer spinoff emerged in October 2021. Dubbed ‘In The City’, it provided another rocking outlet for enjoyers of loud sounds to party. Meanwhile, 2023 saw a new direction take form as the organisers and promoters decided to hone their craft in collecting a gigantic line-up boasting an almanac of blue-chipping, fresh and hot newer prospects.
With dozens of stages set, the big day quickly arrived and my mind prepared to be blown.
THE WARDROBE – 11:15 – I could not have been in better company than my good friend, Emma Gibbon. She’s been photographing artists for years, and has finally begun to hit her stride. I’m proud to know her – much like I am proud to have someone who can drive me to-and-from gigs, too! Our day began by dropping by The Wardrobe to pick up our Press passes. Already, the pub was buzzing with anticipation as loud voices bounced across the room, and the calming aroma of lager filled the air. It was about as professional an in-’n’-out as you can get – the press agents knew what they were doing, and had everything nailed to a capital T.
NORTHERN BALLET – 11:30 – After securing our keys to The City, we were informed of a Press room a few doors down. As peculiar as I found it that we were walking into a ballet school on a Saturday morning, we walked past a hoard of infant dancers and their parents to enter the room. Filled with snacks, goodies and chill vibes, we met Harry and Sam. They were nice chaps, and provided some further context about the day ahead for the ill-informed (that, of course, being myself). With sofas, computers and a chillaxed environment to write, edit and import/export photos, this was a nice little pad that embodied the inclusivity of what Live at Leeds was all about.
LEEDS BECKETT STUDENT UNION – 12:00 – We jumped into a taxi and made our way for the day to officially get underway, I allowed myself to look up and around the venue and soak up some memories. Located on the campus of Leeds Beckett University, ‘The Stage’ at the Students’ Union has been alive and well since opening its doors in 1970. Playing host to the almighty wealth of artists such as Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Coldplay and Blur over the years, the 1100-capacity venue was a trailblazer for the best venues in the City’s history. While a who’s-who have played the venue in recent years, including the likes of Foals and Lower Than Atlantic, today it provided the time and the place for a great billing.
Jack Valero were able to pull off the unthinkable and envious task of opening the first stage, located in the halls of Leeds Beckett SU. While the earlybird crowd were still waking up, much like the frontman said himself: “every hour was rock o’clock”. Their infectious enthusiasm garnered the attention of people coming in. I could count on one hand how many people occupied the room as the set started. Half an hour later, that was simply impossible as the audience clambered into the venue. Jack Valero’s stage presence reflected such contagious excitement, as the bandmates’ upbeat and wondrous personalities laid out the foundation for the following acts to build from.
Ami Shoulder’s charm brought the crowd alive, and the band produced a good range of music with the introduction of a touching acoustic ballad “Hollow Warmth”. Recommended tracks: “This is a Nightmare” & “Hollow Warmth”
THE HEDLEY VERITY – LLOYDS NO. 1 BAR – WETHERSPOON – 12:35 – Bringing it back to plenty of past gigs I had seen at Leeds Beckett, myself and Emma took ourselves down to Spoons to grab a bite to eat. For the record, I don’t endorse skipping breakfast – but when music calls sometimes you just can’t help but answer. We had a little gap before our next band of interest was on, so I indulged in a pizza break and the first pint of the beer. Not bad.
The sun was shining on what was without question a very bland autumn day. At least the heat from the sun allowed warmth, but with the cold aside, the weather held up after the week of foul weather that came before.
LEEDS BECKETT STUDENTS’ UNION – 13:30 – The doors had opened up to the legendary room that had brought countless artists over the year. The Stage saw the venue full like never before. I’d never seen it so busy there, so early in an afternoon!
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs were committed to firing up the crowd, which they did with a unique performance. As a big fan of alternative and heavy music myself, their stoner metal sound was much welcome on a day boasting so much pop, rock and punk. Pigs x7 stood out among the crowd, with alive and brooding stage presence. Matthew Baty’s performance on lead vocals saw him kick, swing and punch at the air while letting out boisterous doom lyrics through methodical instrumentation. The Newcastle outfit had much hype surrounding them heading into the day, and much like Baty said, “they’ll do this sh*t anytime”. Recommended tracks: “GNT” & “Mr. Medicine”
A WINDY WALK – 14:15 – Emma had heard all about this artist playing over at Stylus, just a stone’s throw away from where we were. So, with time on our hands, we skipped over to see what all the hoopla was about. To our chagrin, that warm sunshine I told you all about an hour ago was gone – replaced by nothing but a spine-tingling, goosebumping gust of cold air. Windswept and frosty, we made it in the nick of time.
LEEDS UNIVERSITY UNION – 14:45 – In from the windy afternoon outside, Leeds University Union brought back plenty of memories from my time at university studying for my Master’s degree – quick shoutout to the School of Performance and Cultural Industries! We soon arrived inside Stylus, another longtime institution that had seen the very best of music from across the globe. It was here where The Who recorded Live at Leeds back in February 1970. In that time, it had seen Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones.
Paris Paloma provided an influential glimpse at womanhood, one which went appreciated by a wild range of audience members. Varied in age and gender, the TikTok breakout from Derbyshire delivered a powerful performance, full of transcending pitch and tone. Its use of atmospheric sound built to one of impactful ambience, while the songs’ contents spoke volumes about the issues surrounding relationships and masculinity in opposition to femininity. While Paris cut her teeth making it through the beginning of the pandemic, it was a radiant performance that made yours truly a big fan eager for more. Recommended tracks: “as good a reason” & “labour”.
LEEDS BECKETT STUDENT UNION – 15:30 – With little time to waste, we zipped back up the windy and cold street in time to see Unflirt take to the stage. Akin to Paris Paloma to a degree, the talented young songstress quickly became a crowd-pleaser with her bedroom pop and shoegaze hits. Another lockdown bloomer to success, Unflirt drew me in with her intimate songs and melancholic vocals. If I could epitomise what I thought about her set, it could be summed up in one word: “sweetness”. It held the large audience, impressed with her valiant outing. Recommend tracks: “Crush” & “Stains”
16:00 – The Bug Club brought a completely different pace, bringing us back to an almost-1980s sound. With punky hits that brought back memories of watching coming-of-age flicks such as “Clerks” (1993) and “Slacker” (1990), their delible riffs and punchy storytelling through song had the vast crowd wanting more. Recommended tracks: “It’s Art” & “Yesterday’s Paper”.
16:45 – The Dream Machine took things back again, to a time where everything was radical and it felt impossible not to get lost in the music. With twanging guitars resurrected from that of a bygone era, the group provided a most welcome revival of psychedelic rock that had the expansive crowd of people swaying uncontrollably, as they cruised through their set with vibrance.
It also left me pondering that more bands should absolutely consider introducing a tambourinist to their repertoire. Recommended tracks: “Too Stoned to Die” & “Lola, in the Morning”.
17:15 – Hamish Hawk provided a bit of a different vibe from that I was expecting. Having established himself with a catchy throwback of indie rock and chamber pop, the Edinburgh native and his band were enthusiastic with thumping instrumentation. He showed a powerful range of vocals and pitch, and was animated to almost that of a theatrical degree.
Well dressed and cramming his set with historical and cultural references, this historian had the crowd’s full attention at The Stage at Leeds Beckett, which at this point was almost to capacity. Recommended tracks: “Angel Numbers” & “Once Upon An Acid Glance”
17:45 – A much-deserved and well-earned CHIP BREAK occurred. Hats off to the catering crew on hand at Leeds Beckett SU: your chips were very good. At this point in the day, my legs and feet were caning me from standing and bopping to hits all afternoon long. A couple of decently-priced pints down, a good sit down, and some delicious fast food later, I was a very happy Dan.
18:00 – Down the hall from where we were sitting, Mary in the Junkyard reeled us in with an ambient sound with effective use of high notes. The London trio had certainly been ready for this performance, and I have to say I was enamoured by the charm of how quirky their stage presence was. Bassist and violist Saya Barbaglia is the only person I’ve known to successfully pull off a lamb hat, complete with the ears. Her viola playing truly added a welcome new element to the newcomers’ repertoire. Almost mathy and melancholic, I see bright things in this trio’s future. Recommended track: “Tuesday”.
18:45 – All day long my phone would erupt in vibrations, and I would look down to read that another venue, Oporto, was at full capacity. Perhaps unsurprising, considering how small and intimate that venue is, situated halfway across town. Well, for the first time today my phone lit up to inform me that Leeds Beckett was FINALLY at capacity! It came with the advent of The Last Dinner Party’s set, an experience I may never forget so long as I live.
As with the other bands of the day, I had only heard rumblings of chatter about this group prior to awaiting their set, when the anticipation reached a fever pitch around me, and the formally-dressed troupe graced the stage. Clad in party frocks, throws and dresses alike, they were out to impress on this given night. There is so much that can be said for the performance brought, as the room felt like it had transcended time and dimension to that of a gothic and proper soiree.
Euphorically, the group brought forth a pantomimic production that provided angellic high notes and devilish breakdowns. The influences taken from such artists as David Bowie and that of glam rock bands left me hypnotised by the band’s impeccable commitment to wow the crowd, and create a time warp to a past time in the present. There were instances I felt overtaken by Abigail Morris’s Freddie Mercury-esque presence onstage, and it was one enchanting and delectable experience that shall live on, and on. One thing I must say that caught my interest, was how well oiled a machine the band and its management were.
As I stood at the barrier, close enough to see the rumblings of what was happening offstage to the side, I could see social media creators recording the set, videographers buzzing back and forth collecting shots, and photographers in place to set up shots. My thought was that this was a band that was truly establishing itself after making such an undeniable mark. With the machine fully behind the band, it was empowering to see what work was put in even off the stage, as a breakout act played an unforgettable show. Recommended tracks: “Sinner” & “Nothing Matters”.
Without a doubt, today was an experience like no other.
The Last Dinner Party are on a world tour across the United States and Europe this fall before returning to the United Kingdom in December, with dates supporting Hozier in Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, London and Belfast. To check out their music and get your hands on tickets, head on over to https://www.thelastdinnerparty.co.uk/
Hamish Hawk has a brand new album called ‘Angel Numbers’, that has received outstanding acclaim from the press. On the heels of a European tour this winter, he returns to the United Kingdom on February 10 with a show in Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom. Click here for tickets.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (Pigs x7) are knocking them dead worldwide, currently on a United States tour before zipping over to Australia in December. Catch them between international dates when they play Sunderland’s Waves Festival and Liverpool’s What Music? Festival on November 11 and November 18.
The Dream Machine continue to rock ‘n’ roll across the country this November, supporting the Charlatans in London, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and more. Click here for tickets.
Unflirt continues to make waves on a national basis, with the announcement of a show in London on December 6. For tickets, click here.
Jack Valero have a brand new music video available now for “This is a Nightmare”, and are making the rounds this winter at Reading’s 19 Something Festival 2023 on November 4 and Brighton and Hove’s Mutations Festival on November 5; before playing London, Manchester and more before the year is out. Check out more here.
The Bug Club came away from Live at Leeds in a big way, with the release of their second full-length album – a double LP called ‘Rare Birds: Hour of Song’. With dates coming up including a Halloween show in Sheffield, check out when they next come to town.
Mary in the Junkyard are on the cusp of breaking out and becoming stars of the future, in the fallout of their debut single “Tuesday”.
Only my biggest thanks to Live at Leeds, Leeds Living and Emma Gibbon, as well as all of the remarkable artists filling the scene on a cold October day.
Photography by Emma Gibbon. Cover photograph: Unflirt.