The chance to see ten bands in a day is always to be given due consideration, especially if The School and Allo Darlin are in the mix. Add in the fact that this was an all-age bash, thereby allowing my daughter to attend her first gig, and hopefully satisfy her persistent questions as to why she can’t go to gigs, and attendance quickly became mandatory. So it was that the two of us set sail and headed west.
The Gate Arts Centre is a converted church, with the main arena having a horseshoe of tiered pews round the edge of the central area and a glorious wooden arched roof. A great place to spend a day.
The event was organised by various members of The School, so fittingly they were first to play on the middle day of the three. Eight-strong, they were almost in danger of outnumbering the audience, as it was an early start time but people continued to join the merry throng as they gave a solid run through of their two albums. Highlights for me were “Valentine”, “Where does your heart belong” (possibly the only song to feature one person playing both a treble recorder and a triangle) and “Stop that boy”. In truth, there’s not a duff track on either album, so anything they played would have been very welcome and they are always a pleasure to witness live.
There are few things to beat the sight and sound The School at full strength, with their dual violins swooping and diving through something like “I want you back”. They were simply a joy from start to finish.
Six weeks ago, I’d not hear of Torquay’s Big Wave but, after their very promising performance at the London Popfest, I was really looking forward to them picking up where they left off. Although the sound was more than slightly ragged, with the vocals particularly indistinct, it was possible to hear that there was a lot of interesting things going on and I could feel the whole thing creeping under my skin. As and when I get some of their recorded stuff, I feel it’ll be the start of something new and long lasting. I do hope so.
Feeling suitably buoyed after such a strong opening pair, my spirits were lifted even further on spotting a woman wearing a dress covered in prints of various steam engines. As a kid, I had bedroom wallpaper with the very same images on it. Spooky.
In keeping with the mini-festival feel to the day, we decamped to the café-bar next door for the next act, Ides. A single singer-guitarist dishing out tales of unhappy love affairs, aptly described by my daughter as ”depressing, but alright”. She grew on me as time passed (Ides, that is, not my daughter) and I really enjoyed her last song. It was, though, a slightly incongruous experience to witness the bearing of her inner soul while all around people were tucking in to tea and cakes, lager and fish and chips.
Back to the main hall for The Holiday Crowd, who I thought were new to me but they opened with “Painted like a forest”, which I remembered hearing on the ever-great Dandelion Radio a few times. Their semi-acoustic jangliness and ‘proper’ singing reminded me at first of 1000 Violins, which I consider high praise. Other comparisons emerged however as they progressed, such as early U2/Simple Minds with a miniscule smattering of Chameleons round the gills.
The good bits of their set came early on but they soon got too stadium rock for me and when the singer starts to play the drums at the same time as the drummer, it’s usually a signal to get another beer in.
I’d heard good things about Kid Canaveral and was hoping they lived up to the praise. Led by a man with a fair chance of bringing home at least a ‘Highly Commended’ in any ‘Young Brian Blessed’ competition he may chance to enter, they were too much for one of the younger attendees. She immediately clamped her hands to her ears and was swiftly whisked away to have ear-defenders wedged on her tender head. And quite rightly too, as there was masses of chugga-chugga guitar going on and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. “Do you know something that I don’t know” definitely hit the target with classic dual-buzz axemanship driving it along wonderfully. Great!
Taking stock before heading back to the café, I found that I could see: kids playing with balloons, pints next to baby bottles, several people reading the Guardian, a Thin Lizzy t-shirt, two people (both adults) eating Monster Munch, someone wearing a plastic tiara and ear muffs, someone else reading C.S. Lewis’ ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, one person in a Norwich City top, adults playing with balloons and a solitary Half Man Half Biscuit t-shirt. I felt quite at home.
Threatmantics had the dubious privilege of serenading us as we ate. Usually at gigs, if you’re hungry the only option is to have a Guinness. All hail then the Gate Arts Centre and its ‘Evening Tapas Menu’, with a choice of seven decent bottled beers to wash it down with.
The band, who had forsaken their usual drummer for a hollow plastic block and a lighter (much easier to transport, I suppose) had a folk-country aspect to their gait but with added Welsh lyrics from time to time. Good use of repetitive riffs and a violin saw them go down rather well. As a rule of thumb, anyone taking to a stage in front of me wearing a Sonic Youth shirt is enough to start bells ringing but I’m delighted to say it was merely a false alarm here. I’ll stick by that rule for a while longer yet though, just to be safe.
Onions. An intriguing name. Avoiding any obvious remarks such as making your eyes water, they hit the stage in a pleasantly noisy fashion and never looked back. A suited and booted trio, they had a lovely graunchy guitar sound, with good harmonies. There was more than a suspicion of Elvis Costello about the bassist though but any band that can introduce a song with “This is called ‘A beard’ and that’s what it’s about” probably deserves at least ten minutes of your time, I think. As their set progressed, their sound mellowed a bit but they were still most enjoyable. My daughter thought they rocked and who am I to disagree.
Totem Terrors were a late substitution for The Proctors and the duo immediately made me think of I, Ludicrous albeit fleetingly. Their sparse sound of drum-machine and bass, with sparingly applied guitar for a bit of variety was excellent. Early Fall in places, with a bit of Oldham’s Drink and Drive came to mind. Tip-top stuff throughout and I’ll be getting a CD or two just as soon as I get the chance. You may like to do the same.
Any remaining small children in the vicinity were removed as Let’s Wrestle approached the stage. Actually, ‘stage’ is too grand a term. There was an area about four feet deep behind the monitors, with two steps going up behind that to another bit just deep enough for a drum kit. Small, but perfectly adequate.
“Tanks” soon filled the room and it was obvious that the volume had been increased somewhat to allow us to get the full effect. “In my dreams” and “I won’t cry for you” stood out as successes but, call me old-fashioned, I prefer them at their noisiest. If they’re not crashing heads down at full-power through one of their songs, they rather lose their point. When they get it right, it’s sounds awesome. It just doesn’t happen as much as I’d like. Probably just me though.
And so to Allo Darlin, the day’s headliners and the main reason for our journey. One thought struck me as we waited in anticipation. At what point in a band’s career do other people set up the equipment? AD patiently assembled every last drumstick and plectrum in full view of us all.
Tonight’s opener was a new one – one of four they were unwrapping tonight, telling us that they’d not played any of them live before. Suitably honoured, we listened as they played the first of these, “Heartbeat” – a new, progressive, dub-step sound that is really quite a radical change in direction.
Only joking (well, it was virtually April Fool’s Day by then) – it was gloriously vintage Allo Darlin and whetted the appetite for the third album, rumoured to be in production right now, and sounded bang on form. “Loneliness is art” and “Europe” followed before all eyes were drawn to the photographer at the front.
Now, I have a lot of time for photographers. Most of us enjoy great shots of our faves doing their thing and someone’s got to take them but I’ve yet to see a transparent camera wielder. On the whole, they recognise this fact and are pretty considerate to the rest of us, crouching down and keeping to the sides of the stage. Not this guy. He stood centre-stage and took shot after shot. As he danced.
I’m no expert on these things but gigs are often pretty dark and dingy affairs and to compensate, you need a slower exposure, which is fairly incompatible with the vigorous movements he was making. Being a digital camera, we could all see the shots he was taking. All I’ll say is he‘ll have an awful lot of blurred close-ups of Bill’s ‘tache for his trouble.
Back to the band, who dealt admirably with having their every move fuzzily captured on Flickr forevermore by closing their eyes. Bill apologised for not being able to sing clearly as he was feeling under the weather. However, it appears that this was self-inflicted by drinking with the Wave Pictures the night before.
The other new songs were “Angela”, “Half heart necklace” and “Bright eyes” – the last of which was the pick of the bunch, not least because it wasn’t a cover, but also as it was sung by Paul and is a right belter.
They were, as ever, fantastically entertaining and had everyone up and jiggling around in a vaguely rhythmic manner, which is about as good as it gets with an average indie-pop crowd. The new songs bode well for the year ahead and they showed no signs of losing momentum. Three years ago, I’d never heard of them. Now they continue to make life bearable and long may they continue to do so.
If Wales Goes Pop is repeated next year, I’ll be very tempted to come for the whole weekend. Thanks to everyone for making it another great experience. Except maybe the photographer.