We’ve been counting down the days for a long time but Liverpool Calling finally made its return. We sent Mark Holmes down to catch the action.
Day One – Friday 22/06/2018
The first evening of Liverpool Calling proved to be a whirlwind of musical experience, at times eclectic but in the main packed full of experimentation, passion and often searing intensity. It was impossible to get to everything, as the bill was overloaded with quality.
Early on, checking the seemingly endless clashes that lay ahead, there was the palpable excitement that all the ingredients of a great festival were in place.
So to some musings and memories from the parts of the festival I tripped over. Take them with several pinches of salt as per, the only real way to know if you like an act is to head out and catch them live in person. Several times if possible.
The High Rip kicked things off in the new, mildly perfect Jacaranda Phase One space. Always a tough spot to fill in a line-up, as people filter in and try to get their bearings, but they went about their set as though they had the full attention of a crowded room.
It was a worthwhile first encounter with Lemonade Fix, hinting at the possibility of things to come. They somehow got switched in the line-up, playing earlier than expected, much to the chagrin of a few people who had headed in specifically to see them.
Having seen Ukebox a couple of times performing at conference events, where they punctuate the talks politely, their clean cut mix of cover interpretations and self-written material felt a little incongruous in the festival setting. I think I may be beyond peak uke tolerance, but if you love a bit of uke interplay, they are very good at it.
A few people recommended I check out Himalayas and they lived up to the billing as a band to keep an eye on.
A set of loud intensity from the Crapsons 2-piece, beating out their set under the EBGBS arches, was a worthwhile slap in the face first encounter.
Three From Above stepped up and gave an impassioned performance ripe with emotion. They feel like a band on the move, transforming and leaping ahead each time I’ve had an encounter with them.
Having repeatedly missed Avalanche Party in the past, it turned out to be an absolute pleasure to finally cross their path. Transfixing energy flowed throughout their full throttle set. Based on their short set, it’ll be great to catch them in a packed, heaving venue at the soonest opportunity.
Hey Charlie entertained well with their guitar-laced pop set, but after encountering a sea of positive feedback from their Sound City performance, I was left slightly wanting. Perhaps I expected to be more challenged and psychologically played with from a new perspective, much as Dream Wife and the sadly lost Pink Kink have managed to do over recent years. On another day it might turn out that I love them, such is the joy of live music.
Takotsubo Men had a grungy, heavy intensity from the outset, something that would usually hold my attention completely but the pull of the wider festival had me nipping out mid-set to sample something else.
A visceral assault on the senses from Strange Bones had Phase One jumping with head beating intensity. A happy place indeed.
Having caught False Heads earlier in the year, I wasn’t surprised by their shear quality. Some bands just exude that something extra and as a live band they are hugely compelling.
The perfectly crafted guitar-heavy pop, with often dark, thought provoking under pinnings of Shy Billy, have always proven a draw for me. Familiar tracks were interlaced with new material, with one of the songs written only 20 minutes before they went on stage. The fact that the band are in full creative mood can only mean good things for the future.
The only real regret from Friday evening was the inability to clone myself and get along to The Jacaranda and Maguire’s Pizza Bar to sample some of the depth of talent appearing there, including Dead Naked Hippies and Wife. A true sign of a talent-laden festival when there are multiple sets you really wish you could be at, while thoroughly enjoying the one you are attending.
Day Two – Saturday 23/06/2018
The Liverpool Calling team dealt with tough technical issues early doors at Brick Street on Saturday, with information, hard work, quick decisions and plenty of good humour. There was no obscure ‘no electricity today’ tweet delivered before throwing the towel in and heading to the pub instead. Amazing, the difference people who give a damn and have the required hustle and skill to resolve issues can make.
On to the day’s musical highlights, of which there were many.
Elevant, lamented their decision to cut their darker tracks to fit with a sunny afternoon vibe, yet found themselves in the perfect, always-night Constellations cave to let loose their angst. Not to worry, sadness and a little unknowable pain lurk just beneath the surface of any Elevant set, desperate to seep out between the heavy guitar riffs, in a way that only self aware artists allow.
Fan boy photographer eagerly enjoyed another blinding SPQR set, what can be said, long past the point of an impartial eye in this case. It was a set riddled with pent up, trapped energy, held just in almost painful check, until let loose in layers of vocal contortions, riffs and rhythm. Make sure to see them live whenever the opportunity arises. Did I mention the lack of impartiality?
As the sun began to dip on a chilled garden, Emily Capelle delivered a playful, take no nonsense observation of the quirky, absurd and functionally broken elements of our twisted humanity. A total delight.
I had somehow managed to miss catching a Peaness set for far too long and was greeted by a far more uplifting ray of pop light, which acted as a perfect counter-punch to some of the darker sets of the day.
Pale Rider dished a dark, distorted symphony that built and soaked the room deep. A pleasure to be in the room to witness.
Sœur layered mildly perfect harmonies and vibes on the Constellations crowd. I really wish I hadn’t missed the first couple of songs, whilst chilling oblivious in the garden. Definitely one of the stand out first encounters for me at Liverpool Calling.
It had been a while since I had crossed paths with a flowing Demob Happy set and I felt myself happily getting lost in it. Sometimes all you need is to float away at a festival and this was the time my mind chose to let that happen.
Impressing me far more than last time I caught them, The Wytches had delivered a passionate and intense set that built the mosh pit shenanigans up within the crowd perfectly in preparation for the impending headliners.
One of the happy consequences of the schedule delay at Brick Street was the serendipity of crossing the path of the sublime Orchards set. They held Brick Street enthralled from the first instant.
The Eggy Circus were a talent riddled storm of perfectly crafted chaotic fun, for all that I experienced of it.
Pulled Apart By Horses took hold of the Constellations crowd and got the head-bangers bouncing. It was a heavy, head swishing, crowdsurfing riff ride, that proved an entertaining spectacle.
Sheafs dealt a slightly more subdued performance compared to the last time I caught them at EBGBS, but that still left them plenty of room to have fun. They are a really impressive band live that have the capacity to bend and twist an audience to their will.
Leaving Sheafs slightly before the end felt like a wrench but I wanted to catch some of the Psycho Comedy set, which had been relocated from Brick Street to Constellations as part of the solution to the electricity issues earlier in the day. Pleased I made the jump across, they always manage to impress, even in the boozy end throws of an intense, full-on festival.
There was only one real negative element to the festival worth mentioning and it is one that I am personally partly culpable in, wielding a camera throughout the festival as I did.
A photographer repeatedly bounced a full power flash off the eyeballs of the audience, flanked by eight other flash-wielding moment grabbers, forming a tall and immovable wall between band and audience for most of the set. This was one of too many instances of a paparazzi feeling, mass photo shoots of writhing band antics, that all got a little embarrassing.
Next time I find myself given half a song without flash, in a fully darkened room, hidden in a tiny cupboard stage left, under some soggy mops, trying in vain to take images that make the band look half as awesome as they are, I will remind myself of some of the scenes from this weekend and immediately understand that we as photographers might just deserve it. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Regular faces in the gig scene were their usual super considerate selves, but there were a lot of photographers camping out for entire sets, standing tall and indifferent to the crowds. The balance in all things, we all get in the way a bit but mostly try to minimise it. For my part, apologies to any audience members I undermined the festival experience of. Rant over.
Flash mob photographer frustrations aside, Liverpool Calling showed what a committed group of people, who are passionate about surfacing and showcasing quality music, can achieve.
There was more than ample opportunity to encounter something new and extraordinary, whilst checking in with emerging and firm favourites.
Roll on next year, where we can hope to see Liverpool Calling continue to grow.