For the ninth time we've expanded this comprehensive review of the music of GREENBELT
Continued from page 1
CL6 - Underground - 12.10pm
Every year I come across bands that I wouldn't go to see if you described them to me, but who turn out to be wonderful. CL6, a group of veteran gospel harmonizers from London, were this year's surprise package and I loved them. Their bass/drum/piano backing track and live guitars underpinned some very sweet vocals. They were a little hard to categorise: either this means I can't spot a true gospel/hip-hop/soul fusion or their sound is still evolving, or they've hit upon a style all of their own. The vocal interplay between the four front men and the two backing singers was very strong and they were clearly enjoying themselves (as were the audience) as they sang their engaging songs of faith in Jesus. The visual interplay was good too. Overall a perfect sound for a sunny day from some very nice people and I suspect that there will be a receptive audience when their album gets released.
DIAUGUSTO - Underground - 1.00pm
Powerpop from a Glaswegian five-piece, DiAugusto at times sounded what it would be like if McFly were accompanying the female vocalist from the Beautiful South. A fair bit of instrument and lead vocal swapping kept the sound crew on their toes but meant that this nifty bunch were never going to be dull. The songs were good - nicely played and sung - though for me seemed to lack the little "something extra" that says "next big thing". This was the first festival DiAugusto have played, so another year (and maybe their own sound engineer) should improve their delivery no end. The musicianship is already there.
KATHRYN WILLIAMS - Performance Café -
Kathryn is, of course, something of a critic's darling and with a Mercury Prize nomination under her belt and her Americana-tinged 'Leave To Remain' album getting rave reviews her laid back music fitted the afternoon festival atmosphere wonderfully. Her performance, minus the brass and extra guitar that accompanied her on the Mainstage the previous day, was understated if a tad bare at times. She sang wistful tales of love and tragedy, including "Sandy L", about a girl who strips in front of her web cam. It was mellow and meandering and I expected something livelier as the set continued, until she declared in her soft-spoken voice: "That's the up-tempo dancing song. Things are going to calm down now. You think I'm joking!" A self-deprecating humour displayed itself as she expressed her dislike of having the stage lit at midday when the sun shone through the tent opening: "I'm not happy with the lights. It's daylight and it's not as if I'm even something to look at." As her ultra low key performance continued I was constantly torn between the forces of boredom and gentle melancholia, though I couldn't help but enjoy her quirky tale in "Stevie", a portrayal of the female poet Stevie Smith. Kathryn was as stationery as a statue for much of her set, and perhaps in light of the stage fright she used to suffer from, this is not a surprise. The highlight was "Little Black Numbers", with cleverly looped vocals and seductive jazz tones. The set closed with a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and was a disappointment as versions are once you have heard Jeff Buckley's.
MATT REDMAN - Mainstage - 2.00pm
Wow! What a huge crowd Britain's much loved worship leader managed to pull a huge crowd. Forget all those evangelical/charismatic horror stories about the broad church Greenbelt, the big attendance here showed that there are thousands of Greenbelters more than happy with the pop rock template of modern charismatic worship. Matt inspired the whole crowd to praise God in a singing and dancing frenzy! This praise concert in the sun had a fantastic mix of songs, from his old and new repertoire which seemed to suit everyone in the crowd. With classics such as "Dancing Generation" to his more modern songs like "Take It To The Streets" musically it was brilliant! I thought the bass guitarist's performance stood out throughout the gig. The only criticism I'd have of the performance was that it seemed a little TOO rehearsed and polished with not much room for the spontaneous. But saying that, seeing Matt Redman live was an awesome experience I won't forget it for a long time!
MICHAEL McDERMOTT - Centaur - 2.00pm
Confession time. I didn't fancy the Michael McDermott gig at all. I'd never heard of the bloke and the posters of him plastered all over the Greenbelt site featuring the man staring moodily at a piano keyboard seemed to suggest a fey self-conscious artiness. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. In the dark vistas of the cavernous Centaur Michael spent most of his time hunched over an acoustic guitar with only occasional piano visits while his voice, far from being fey, was a gnarled, gritty, Springsteenish growl perfectly suited to deliver the Blind Willie McTell/Bob Dylan oldie "Jesus Gonna Fix My Dying Bed" or even better his mercilessly honest songs of love gone bad. The most arresting of all was "Still Ain't Over You Yet" which from its spoken into "I broke my hand last year, not on her, on the wall" to the last stark note of the close was a classic example of an artist turning emotional upheaval into great art. Here was a singer/songwriter singing of his love of Jesus and his broken heart in a performance of raw, unrelenting transparency that I've seldom heard. I left the Centaur determined to interview this most passionate and honest of songsmiths and to get his two albums, one of which was being launched at Greenbelt. No wonder Rolling Stone magazine have described Michael, who's gone from coffee house hero to an international troubadour who has shared the stage with Van Morrison and the Cowboy Junkies, as "a very hot prospect". Cross Rhythms has been painfully slow in discovering Michael McDermott (this is Michael's return visit to Greenbelt). But now we've caught up with all the other critics I at least have to admit it. . . I'm now a fan.
THE REPERCUSSION - Underground - 2.00pm
Imagine a form of gothic-tinged progressive rock that blends The Mission circa 1990 and 1980's Pink Floyd and you've pretty much got The Repercussion. Of course, being female fronted the temptation is draw comparisons with Evanescence also. They started off with "Rushing Away" which featured dual vocals from Becky and Max, with strident guitar riffs backed by lush keyboard work. It's a very full sound, with the chorus repeating "I'm rushing away, why I can't see, the truth is out there, it's all you'll ever need." All through the set they intersperse their new songs from their 'Rushing Away' 2007 album with songs from their self-titled 2006 debut. There is a change in style for "By My Side" which is a gentle, thoughtful ballad not unlike something that All About Eve might have done. Instead of the drums, it's the minimal bass that's sets the rhythm going at the start with gently chiming guitar which moves into a solo accompanied by swirly keyboard. You can really hear Becky's vocals clearly and appreciate them, as they don't come over strongly enough on their louder songs. To finish off they treated us to "Awaken" with its epic guitar and twinkly piano, "Awaken my life to me, rise up my soul, what do you believe." The Repercussion need to work bit on stage craft but it's good to see a band that have improved greatly in every other respect from their debut CD.
HUMMINGBIRD - Centaur - 3.00pm
With their debut album 'Tougher Than Love' released the following Monday, Hummingbird were keen to explain the themes behind their latest batch of songs. Their rapid sound-check, and the presence of Greenbelt favourite Cathy Burton, ensured a large and expectant crowd. Steve Stockman introduced them and their crowd to the fantastic venue stating that Centaur "comes from the Greek word Centaurus, which means everything's absolutely brilliant". They were brilliant indeed, and as down to earth and humorous as Mr Stockman himself. Hummingbird comprises the individual talents of Edwina Hayes, Amy Wadge and Cathy Burton. Their sound, likened to a female Crosby, Stills & Nash, burst through with luscious harmonies and neat instrumentation. The blonde-haired Amy, expecting a baby, took the lead with her rasping vocals and warm banter between songs. She could have read my mind when she compared their chatter to Loose Women on ITV. In fact Amy's voice bears a striking resemblance to the voice of Mel from Late Lunch too, though only when she's talking I hasten to add. It was very much a relaxed atmosphere, an opportunity for them to reflect and tell some funny anecdotes, such as when Cathy Burton stated during a live radio session that they're rubbish at music. Somehow she thought the presenter was introducing a music quiz, which they are apparently not very good at. The Edwina Hayes-penned song "I Want Your Love" saw the clearest and purest vocals from Hayes herself, and has remained in my head for days. The song was introduced by Hayes who naturally explained that the song tackles unrequited love and that she cheerfully stated that she is in fact quite unlucky in love. Their down to earth nature completely endeared Hummingbird to their audience and made their live performance a wonderful feast of music and humour. It has been predicted that subtly sinuous music will fit well with the easy listening style of Radio 2. So you'll be hearing more of these ladies.
BACK POCKET PROPHET - Underground - 3.00pm
This is obviously a band who love their metal. Their referencing of other bands, their long hair and beards and (of course) their sound are unashamedly MET-AL! During the set, the band managed to bring in almost all of the changing sounds of metal through the last 20 years. What this does produce though, is a band that can sound rather dated and, despite their proficiency, is yet to find their sound. It's great that Back Pocket Prophet respect their musical heritage - but it's up to their/our generation to pass it on to the next and help it evolve. The singers' 'sounds-like-they're-gargling-gravel' sound is great. It's strong and luckily he can sing in other ways too. In fact I would argue that he needs to rely less on the growl even more. This is a band that feels like it's in its infancy but could well mature into a very savage and powerful beast.
IGNITED - Underground - 3.40pm
When Ignited first started out they were a punk band. They relied on playing covers and a few songs they'd written using the three most-used guitar chords. Things have changed a lot since then. The Conservatives have gone through at least three leaders and Gordon Brown has finally completed the longest ever transfer of power. Meanwhile Ignited are now a hardcore band that has acquired a synth/sampler player. Ok, maybe they're not full on in-yer-face tough guy hardcore - but the band has certainly taken a more aggressive angle, incorporating more melody along the way. It's an improved sound for sure, it's fuller and it's more contemporary. Stuck between Back Pocket Prophet and Redemption Awaits on the Meltdown Sessions line-up, they may have seemed like a bit of light relief - they will certainly appeal to a wider audience. Yet now the band is more able to gain 'scene' credence on the underground pub and club circuit, with their improved musicianship and harder sound. It's hard to say how well they went down, as the searing heat can make you very lethargic - they certainly attracted a good sized crowd though.
REDEMPTION AWAITS - Underground- 4.20pm
This band really separated the men from the boys right from the word go. Only Through Solace could match them in terms of musical brutally. But Redemption Awaits' brand of hardcore is crisper and less chunky than Solace, allowing for some beautifully discordant moments. Aside from the clashing of sounds, the shrieking of vocals and the blistering beats there were some great melodic moments too. The downside for me was that in the demos I've heard and the tracks they've posted online, they make great use of samples to enrich their sound. Alas, they were lacking from their Greenbelt set - which left the songs as, well, just songs. Of course, songs made by Christians are rarely 'just songs' - and in this band's case, all their songs had great lyrical content, based on personal experiences. This is a band still less than a year old but with a high calibre of musicianship, no doubt helped by their training at Nexus Music Academy (it's where they met). If the room had been a little cooler and I hadn't been suffering from sleep deprivation I would have joined the pit, instead (like the wimp that I am) I let the proper fans show their moves. For many, Redemption Awaits were the cream of Saturday's Meltdown Sessions line-up.
ESTHER ALEXANDER - Performance Café - 5.00pm
This was Esther's third visit to Greenbelt and, though with child (baby expected in November), she looked relaxed, tanned and confident in her own vocal abilities and the dexterity of her accompanists. And seeing she'd brought long time musical associates Phil Baggaley and Dave Clifton with her Esther had every reason to look confident as her pure toned, perfectly pitched voice - with its ability to flow from semi-whispered verses to melismatic cadences on the choruses - rang our around the tent. Baggaley's and Clifton's guitar work plus percussionist Stuart and cellist Hanna gave her a delightfully deft foundation on which to purr her consistently pretty songs. Esther's songwriting is getting better and better and whether she's singing about the beauty of creation, a reflection inspired by a visit to Tait Modern ("don't let a life pass by") or "Learning To Fly" - a song inspired by her impending entrance into motherhood, this is wistfully lilting music and the perfect soundtrack for a balmy summer's day. New song "Safe House", a number she wrote with sometime Sting producer Kipper with its memorable exhortation to "allow your spirit to breathe" was another gem. By the time Esther closed with the rocking "Last Of The Hopeless Romantics", the title track from her excellent "albumette" (Esther's word) she'd clearly captured the audience judging from the number of people signing up to receive future emails from this most engaging of singer/songwriters.
BLACKTOP - Underground - 5.00pm
It's two years since I last saw this band and I can't help but feel there seems to be less of them. To quote the final sentence of my last Greenbelt review of these guys, "By the time the emo craze has died down in a couple of years I hope these guys have reinvented themselves somewhat." Firstly, emo has not died down (I need to work on that gift of prophecy) and secondly their sound has thankfully evolved. Blacktop have found more uses for their keyboard player and they allow a brand of rock to emerge which still is loosely in the melodic/emo mould but with much more variation. It was nice to hear their Derby accents loud and clear between songs, songs which still remain positive without being overtly Christian. This is a band that now regularly headlines gigs in my locality and further afield, yet you can't help but feel that if this band was to have 'made it' in a wider sense of the word, they would have done so by now. Except for a dedicated core group of fans, the crowd seemed to be entertained but not entirely bowled over.
THEBANDWITHNONAME - Mainstage - 6.00pm
There's been a lot of changes in thebandwithnoname camp so now only Chip K remains from their original line up. However the new line up, fresh from releasing that stunning 'Dying To Be There'album, carry on from where the previous line up left us. It's good news for the old school fans, as they still have their high octane mix of rap, rock and urban beats, accompanied by an impressive stage show and dance choreography. The performance went down well with the majority of the crowd, which was largely made up of teenagers, who were constantly bopping and clapping and getting fully into the show. As well as some of the much loved oldies, they played a range of new songs, including "Do Or Die", "Misfit" and the fist pumping "Reach For The Mic". Full crowd participation ensued and continued when they played their classic version of "Amazing Grace". A hugely entertaining performance which, at one stage, even saw the band re-emerge on stage dressed in '20s zoot suits. The band at top form.
AUSTIN FRANCIS CONNECTION - Bus Station - 7.00pm
Ever seen a gig on a bus with a Hobbit? I have! Austin Francis Connection consists of Mark Finney on guitar, the Hobbit on beatbox and Edi Johnston rapper extraordinaire. With tough competition from Verra Cruz on Mainstage I was surprised to see AFC get and hold a crowd around the Bus stage. Singing songs like "Real Live MC Flavour" and "Can You See The Stars" they were one of the most entertaining acts I've ever seen at Greenbelt. Throughout their surreal set, which neatly lampoons the streets affectations of hip-hop, they surprised the crowd with many new songs relating to animals. . . including a song about a silent rabbit. Classic. Although I loved their zany performance it seemed that it was unrehearsed and, therefore, wasn't as smooth as it should have been. To finish the gig, it was genius, they sang a hip-hop version of the children's classic "You Are My Sunshine". I must say, if you get chance to see Austin Francis Connection live, I promise you that you won't be disappointed.