Photography: John Johnson / johnjohnson-photography.com

LIVERPOOL INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL

Sefton Park, Arts Club, Philharmonic Music Room 22/7/16

Liverpool is the best city for music in the world and that’s no understatement: the city has been churning out cutting-edge music since the break-up of The Beatles. From rock ‘n’ roll to punk, to new wave and post-punk, to dance to pop to indie, the city has conquered the world’s music scene for nearly 70 years now. So what better place to hold the biggest international free festival in Europe? Sure, LIVERPOOL INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL may attract 13-year-olds who’ve had their first blue WKD, but the camaraderie and feeling of unity with a pride for the music this festival produces is hard to beat.

Our team spent the glorious weekend at the end of July soaking up the sights and sounds on offer across the free shows in Sefton Park’s Summer Jam, and a selection of the fascinating LIMF Presents commissions in venues across the city.

LIMF Summer Jam @ Sefton Park

The by-now-customary opening showpiece of LIMF’s Summer Jam sees the most sociable of Friday evening crowds make their way down to Sefton Park to bask in the sounds of the ROYAL LIVERPOOL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA. The venerable ensemble lead young and not-so-young on a stately trip through some of Liverpool’s great musical moments, with the orchestral flourishes that adorn All You Need Is Love and The Teardrop Explodes’ Reward gilding the familiar tunes with a touch of class. The only surprise is that they are initially overshadowed by the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s collaboration with LIMF Academy artists Xam Volo, Eleanor Nelly, Amique and Suedebrown.

With Liverpool being a port city proud to welcome people across the world, it seems no better than to kick off Saturday’s proceedings with a visit to watch the brilliant JALEN N’GONDA on the LIMF Academy stage, nestled between the trees deep in Sefton Park. Hailing from Maryland in the US, N’Gonda arrives onstage cool, calm and collected, prepared to play to an audience completely unaware of his talent or who, having come prepared, are waiting to get lost in his stripped-back soul. Despite the early slot, this soul sensation gives it his all as his smooth-as-silk vocals seem to float over the crowd. Alongside his original material, N’Gonda pays tribute to one of the greats with a cover of Woman. Leon Bridges might have to watch out, as Liverpool appears to have a new soul sensation.

From a field slightly closer to home come Liverpool’s newly adopted sons from Leeds, TRUDY & THE ROMANCE. Having already won over many a local music fan including Bill Ryder-Jones, the trio arrive to a slightly less-aware crowd but the lads don’t let this get them down. With a mischievous grin, lead singer Oli greets the crowd with the enthusiasm of a redcoat at Butlin’s adorned in his oversized 50s attire. Upon receiving a rather reserved reply by the still rather sober early crowd, the group crash into their music. Despite the old-fashioned sensibilities of doo-wop and odes to Brian Wilson, the group prove extremely refreshing. Oli makes rather a distinct front man, with his clothes flapping in the wind whilst his voice swoops from high to low withe the audience occasionally being treated to the DIY vibrato of his Adam’s apple manipulations. Despite a small turn out, the band play as if it’s Wembley, fuelled with an obvious passion for what they do.

After having sat through CHINA CRISIS’s nostalgia trip we are brought hurtling into a stylised future by STEALING SHEEP. With space-age balloons behind them and with their space-age make-up, the group really don’t do things by half. Commanding the stage with their alt. pop, the band bring some much-needed female presence to the very much male-dominated stage. Like all the best pop bands, image and show are just as important and the group don’t let us down, with a furore of spectacles throughout the set which climaxes with hand-held glitter cannons. Both enchanting and entrancing, it’s hard not to smile watching a set like this.

With the Saturday seeming to be dominated by Liverpool’s imports, Sunday is the day for its hometown heroes – bar one very special guest. Straying from the security of the ‘It’s Liverpool’ Stage to the Main Stage, it is only local legend CRAIG CHARLES who would make us even consider doing such a thing. Woven into local mythology, Charles is a man who knows how to get a party started. With a crowd made up of pissed-up kids, soul aficionados and people who just want to see that fella off Robot Wars, the group is a huge mix; however, they all come together upon the miraculous wheeling-on of the man himself. With his trademark hat and sunglasses combo along with a cracking orange suit, Charles delves right into the classic soul hits. He seems rather reserved in this surprisingly early slot, so it feels like it’s up to the crowd to get things going with dance-offs seeming to take the eyes off the main man himself. As he plays more accessible well-known tracks than his usual selections, the crowd seem to feed off him like he’s a DJ playing Wonderwall in a shit indie nightclub.

Having experienced the triumphant power-pop/rock hybrid of CLEAN CUT KID it’s time for DAVE MCCABE & THE RAMIFICATIONS. Despite attempting to escape his Zutons’ past, he’s met with a drunken “Where’s Abby? Where’s Abby?”, which is countered with a few unsavoury words. Despite this slight mishap, the group prove their worth with a new sound. Gone are the lo-fi, 60s guitars but in their place stand electronic synths. However, something that does remain is McCabe’s skill as a songwriter, with tracks like Let Me Go proving both poignant and infectious. Despite the obvious feature of a couple of Zutons tracks, McCabe’s less well-known newer material proves just as good as his old.

Despite the domination of local faces, one face coming all the way from Memphis who doesn’t seem one bit out of place is iconic Love guitarist JOHNNY ECHOLS. With Arthur Lee passing 10 years ago, it seems only right to pay tribute to the man in his second city. It could be argued that Love are one of the most influential bands in Liverpool’s history, so the crowds who have gathered here today are prepared for an event to go down in local history. Arriving onstage with a band of well-known Scouse faces, Echols is received with the praise he deserves. With EDGAR SUMMERTYME JONES already having played to large crowds last night, it’s great to see him up there again leading this ensemble cast of musical maestros. Alongside Jones appears a succession of guest vocalists, including JOHN POWER, TOM BLACKWELL and MIKE BADGER as well as McCabe, making his second appearance of the day, and NICK ELLIS. The generations of songwriters reflect Love’s enduring legacy in the city and with this performance hopefully some four-year-old watching will be inspired to pick up a guitar and write a song to keep the torch burning.

Matt Hogarth

'A celebration of all things punk, new wave and post-punk: the music, the movers and shakers, the venues, posters and gossip and the tales of this important history of the city's gig scene' Paul Fitzgerald
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Punks old and new gather in the heat of a July evening at Arts Club, for this, the first of two gigs curated by Marc Jones for the LIMF commission From Eric’s To Evol, a celebration of all things punk, new wave and post-punk: the music, the movers and shakers, the venues, posters and gossip and the tales of this important history of the city’s gig scene since the late 70s, and the wider cultural impact of this much-discussed but short-lived moment in time.

The influence of the punk ethic, the DIY nature of it all, is writ large on this bill, featuring originators BUZZCOCKS and Bunnyman Will Sergeant’s simmering psychedelia instrumentals project POLTERGEIST rubbing shoulders with contemporary locals such as those lovably intense rockers VEYU, the spacey soundscapes of FERAL LOVE and PETE BENTHAM, replete with, as ever, THE DINNER LADIES, and the fall-about punk urgency of QUEEN ZEE AND THE SASSTONES, as well as Crosby’s mystery mischief-makers CLINIC.

Clinic, ever intriguing and inventive are, for us, the standout band of the night. It is, to us at least, the proverbial unanswered question as to how this band have not reached far dizzier heights; they really are a special prospect. Elements of 60s psych, mixed with repetitive Durutti Column-style guitar lines, early Kraftwerk, and the early 80s pop of labels such as Postcard Records, it’s a mix that shouldn’t necessarily always work, but absolutely does every time.

Arts Club’s Theatre space, tightly packed and increasing in temperature as the set goes on, is filled with appreciative nodding heads. Tight, driving rhythms, courtesy of one of the best rhythm sections we’ve seen in many a moon, laid down underneath layered indie grooves, help give their sound a stark fractal uniqueness. Tonight’s set, with the band bedecked in trademark surgery scrubs, delivers little in banter, and that lack of visible emotion, courtesy of those masks, actually lends an admirable sense of cool distance and an almost icy intensity.  No brooding menace or malice exactly, but not entirely engaging either. Nowhere is this atmosphere more evident than in the heavy, overdriven and urgent delivery of 2012’s See Saw, all angry flanged guitar, throbbing bass and insistent drumming. A more than welcome highlight of the set, as is the forever glory of The Second Line: subtle arpeggioed guitar groove over analogue beats, and emphatic, floating vocals. An all too brief set from one of Liverpool’s least recognised, figuratively and literally, bands who have existed in one form or another for over 30 years. Masters of the psych in all the right places, and all the right ways. As ever, with Clinic, we’re left ready for some more.

Paul Fitzgerald

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LIMF Presents: From The Soul @ Philharmonic Music Room

Who better to curate a night of British soul than world-renowned radio-show host, DJ and tastemaker, Gilles Peterson? On behalf of LIMF, Peterson has assembled a line-up of artists that represent some of the purest ambassadors of the genre.

In something of a triumphant homecoming, ADY SULEIMAN returns to the city that saw many of his formative gigs and provided a home base for his time studying at LIPA. Later in the set, before playing the ballad Longing For Your Love, he reminisces on writing the song at his Bedford St South flat, two streets over from the venue.

Suleiman’s lyrics strike a careful balance of sweet and romantic with blunt and profane. His confident and pitch-perfect delivery is complimented by a band that have fleshed out under-4-minute pop songs with arrangements that reinforce his multi-genre approach. He has the songs, voice, band and even signature mic hold to fill much larger venues in the near future.

Taking to the stage, Peterson and INCOGNITO’s founding member and rhythm guitarist Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick banter like only two long-time friends can about their respective origin stories. The influence Peterson has had over British funk and soul music can’t be overstated. He was an early supporter of every act on tonight’s bill, and all but Ady Suleiman released music on his 90’s label Talkin’ Loud.

Leading a 12-piece band of superb musicians, Bluey draws from Incognito’s 17 studio albums, including two Stevie Wonder covers (Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing and As). “Can’t go wrong with a bit of Stevie,” he observes. As one of Incognito’s three lead vocalists, Tony Momrelle’s vocal tone is best described as a blend of post-Hotter Than July Stevie and Luther Vandross. Momrelle and co. manage to channel the intimacy and enduring warmth of Donny Hathaway’s Live album on songs like Labour Of Love and Still A Friend Of Mine.

First special guest OMAR establishes his presence, performing his signature song There’s Nothing Like This, crowd sing-along and all. Next, Incognito clear the stage, allowing for a solo piano rendition of Little Boy at the behest of Bluey. It is in this setting that Omar’s vocal melismas come out to play.

Performed live for the first time ever, Omar and CARLEEN ANDERSON’s duet Who Chooses The Seasons gets off to a shaky start, with backing vocals and horns entering too soon, but recovers to become one of the night’s highlights. (Later in the evening, Peterson reveals that it’s the only time he has ever cried at a concert!) The stage then empties for Anderson to allow her Pentecostal interpretation of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger to take centre stage as a fire and brimstone gospel number. With band in tow, Anderson then pays tribute to Liverpool and one of its most revered sons with Maybe I’m Amazed.

Before concluding the evening with Incognito’s breakthrough single Always There, percussionist João Caetano and drummer Francesco Mendolia put on a jaw-dropping display of technical chops.

Last year’s LIMF-commissioned Gil Scott-Heron tribute was bogged down by too many disparate acts that felt shoehorned into the event. This year, Peterson has effectively delivered a much more succinct and cohesive celebration of music.

Will McConnell

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