This was my first experience of Live at Leeds. I knew from what I’d heard that I’d be in for a real treat. I wasn’t wrong.
The whole City had a buzz about it. People were travelling from all over to be part of the thriving music scene in Leeds this lovely autumnal Saturday! I wanted to make sure I covered as many venues as possible – so I jam-packed my day with various talented artists across the City Centre and beyond.
Something took the magic out of the live music experience for me with being able to see the acts during their soundcheck before they started playing their sets. But there’s not many ways around this, given the nature of the Festival. Some people found it quite cool to be able to watch them get set-up, but I like the suspense!
First up, Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird at Belgrave Music Hall. This 6 piece indie-rock band joined us in little old Leeds all the way from Melbourne, Australia. They brought a groovy and cool vibe to the stage with their singalong bops.
I’m a sucker for a saxophone and it just gave an incredibly cool edge to the set that can’t be matched. Another highlight for me was when they pulled out the egg shakers and tambourine to really add some je ne sais quois. You could tell that the whole audience was really enjoying their tunes as ‘phones were recording, feet were grooving and fans were singing along.
Their music is perfect for both casual listening and deep, introspective moments. I highly recommend giving Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird a listen; you won’t be disappointed. They are a band with immense potential, and I’m excited to see where their musical journey takes them.
Next, I ventured to The Wardrobe for Katie Gregson Macleod. A more mellow tone, with some comical highlights throughout. This was Katie’s first time in Leeds and she talked about how she had friends playing LAL in different venues at the same time.
She had a playful air about her and joked with her soundcheck by flashing him the bird mid-set. She reassured us that it was in fact her own soundcheck, not the venue’s. When she wasn’t gracing us with her incredible voice and musical talent, she was cracking out hilarious anecdotes and breaking the fourth wall by telling us how she’d spilled coffee down her shirt and asked if we could tell (we couldn’t). I really enjoyed how real and authentic she was throughout the whole set, no messing about and just pure realness.
Katie has recently released her EP ‘Big Red’ which has tracks like ‘September,’ which really resonated with me when she performed it live and actually brought a cheeky tear to my eye. We definitely got a more acoustic version of the tracks than on her EP, but I really enjoyed the way she adapted the songs to fit her audience and the cosy, intimate vibe of the gig. It was a very emotional set with a great balance of power and delicacy in her voice.
Rosie Miles was set-up to play at the cosy venue, Sela Bar from 5:30pm. It’s a quaint little spot with red lighting and love-hearts hanging down from the ceiling. It definitely seemed to fit in with Rosie’s aesthetic and general vibe for the evening.
The cosy and intimate venue was the perfect location for Rosie, an ‘alt-folk storyteller’ who has ample charisma and wit. She brought a lovely 60’s feel with her catchy tracks from her newly released EP, ‘Still Life.’ She also played some songs which haven’t even been named yet, but they were all about ‘learning to be on your own.’ Something I think we all need some help in learning how to do comfortably.
A lot of her lyrics focused on the rejection of adulthood and wanting to remain in her prime. She has a very eloquent and soft performance style. Every sound she made really made a difference to the overall impact of the performance.
A highlight for me was her acapella section which was dedicated to the chaos which consumes the world these days. It focused on grieving, finding peace in turmoil and understanding that though we can’t control most things, we can still feel grief for what is happening around us. It was a very emotional two minutes where the whole venue was silent, clinging onto every word she sang.
In contrast to the more mellow part of the set, things picked up during ‘Mountain Babe’ when Rosie’s friends sang along to her anecdotal lyrics about whisking herself away to live in a mountain and have a baby. She wittily narrated the lyrics to describe each section with comments like, ‘this is the best bit coming up!’ Her humour and bubbly personality really created a lovely warm atmosphere. It was almost as though we were all sitting around a log fire having a sing-song!
Rosie’s light-hearted stage presence definitely kept me hooked. I’d definitely head to another of her gigs for more of that effortless charm.
On to Headrow House, for Aziya.
Aziya is a London based musician who creates incredible alt rock music. She brought such a unique energy to her set that I loved being part of. I started the gig mid-way in the audience, but found myself almost on the front row by the time the set had finished. She just kept me wanting to get involved and have a boogie!
She even came into the crowd and had a dance with her front-row fans, holding their hands and posing for selfies with them. I loved the energy she brought to the stage and you could tell she was here for a good time AND a long time.
Unfortunately, there was a fire alarm mid-way which made some of the audience move on before she had completed her set. But Aziya didn’t let that stop her! As soon as the power was back on, she began her last song again and brought the energy back as if nothing had happened. When a slower tune was about to be played, she told us all to ‘Put your lighters in the air. On second thought, don’t.’
I hopped in an Uber to Brudenell (a personal favourite as far as venues go) to catch Chilli Jesson. You might recognise the name as a founding band member of indie favourites, Palma Violets. But now Chilli Jesson is back with his own sound. Chilli brought an effortlessly dapper vibe to the stage, full suit intact and tinnie of Heineken in hand.
His music is melodramatic and filled with passion, which is prevalent through his stage presence and dramatic performance. He kept us gripped by standing on the edge of the stage, bouncing around the room and holding the mic up to the speakers for some edgy feedback whilst he banged random keys on the keyboard throughout the set. It was chaotic, yet captivating, to say the least.
A favourite song of mine from the evening was definitely ‘Gucci Want The Suit Back’ which got the crowd singing and dancing along to this absolute bop. This song has been described as “a candid look at frivolity, fame and fashion” from its press release – compared to tracks like ‘White Room’ which brought more depth and emotion to the set.
What’s not to be under-looked is the effort and talent that came with the band supporting Chilli Jesson. The harmonies and vocals massively complimented the complexity of the tracks and added another layer of ‘oomph’ to the night.
Chilli Jesson’s chaotic energy was contagious as the crowd travelled through each emotion with him on this talented rollercoaster of emotions.
Editor’s note: This is the final review of Live at Leeds 2023. Our thanks to Paige Clayton, Emma Gibbon, Jazz Jennings and Dan Tomlinson for their energy and their talent. We were unexpectedly a depleted team. Commiserations for the sore feet!
All photography by Jazz Jennings. Main image: Watching Aziya.