The May Bank Holiday weekend means just one thing in the city of Leeds: hordes of music fans descending on the multitude of venues scattered across town. Live at Leeds is in its 7th year now, and serves as a highlight in the Northern festival calendar. Much akin to multi-venue metropolitan festivals like Dot to Dot, Camden Crawl and The Great Escape, LAL takes its name from the famous performance by The Who in the University of Leeds Refectory in 1970, and is symbolic of the city’s rich musical heritage. Having missed the festival last spring, I was keen to show my face this year, both to catch some acts that I’d been meaning to see for a while, and to discover a few new ones. Myself and our resident music and fashion writer Helen Kelly went along to review the event for HC Leeds, and despite far too much walking around between venues, had a fantastic day.
Interviews done and dusted, and camera in hand, I went off to catch my first band of the day – Witch Hunt, also at Leeds Met. Their darker take on the clichéd guy-girl duo, coupled with passionate stage presence and powerful vocals, made for a confident set suggesting that this local act are set to go places.
Next up was my most highly anticipated set of the day – that of southern trio London Grammar. I’ve been raving about this lot for quite a while now, with their ‘Metal and Dust’ EP on near constant repeat on my iPod. Front woman Hannah Reid’s haunting voice was incredible live, and far better than on the recorded tracks, which I thought near impossible. Dot Major and Dan Rothman complete the young trio, who originally formed whilst together at university. They’re set to release their debut album in the near future, and played several tracks from the record during their set, including the stunning “Hey Now” and their upcoming single “Wasting My Young Years”. Aside from various crude comments shouted by audience members about Hannah’s lady-parts, the set was very well received, with the crowd showing their appreciation for both old and new songs alike. The band’s understated, minimalist sound is akin to that of The XX, and with a headline tour arranged for later this year, the age old cliché of “watch this space” couldn’t be more appropriate.
Later that evening I caught Lewis Watson’s set at Brudenell Social Club. Surrounded by an adoring army of teenage girls, his gentle brand of folk-tinged guitar music made for a beautifully chilled out performance, perfectly suited to the venue. Lewis’s refusal to open his eyes whilst singing suggested a deep-rooted, personal link with his music. With many of his songs written about his own experiences in and out of love, the set had an intimate air to it.
We headed over to Leeds University Union afterwards, to catch a fantastic performance from indie-pop group Theme Park. Their summery, tropical-infused sound had shades of Friendly Fires’ latest album, and considering I’d never particularly heard of them before, convinced me to seek out more of their tracks to listen to. A real gem and a great little discovery.
Next in The Refectory, the room linked inextricably with the University’s musical heritage (and host to The Who’s famous performance), came an astounding headline set from British indie darlings Everything Everything. Following the Manchester group’s release of their second album, ‘Arc’, this year, the group wowed crowds with energetic performances of hit singles like ‘MY KZ, UR BF’ and ‘Kemosabe’. Frontman Jonathan Higgs had an incredible stage presence, and an eclectic set teamed with a creative light-show made for a fantastic close to the night.
But that wasn’t it for us, as Helen was keen to catch the late night set from New Yorkers MS MR at The Faversham. One song in and I was sold – fantastic shout Helen! Gorgeous vocals from Lizzy Paplinger on the atmospheric single “Hurricane” were enough to convince me that this art-rock duo know exactly what they’re doing. Confident, but amazingly modest at the same time, meeting the band at the end of the show (Helen is pictured with them below) proved just how down to earth and sincere they were, and made their quirky brand of alternative pop all the more endearing. A fantastic new find, and the perfect ending to a brilliant day of music.