Photography: Kevin Barrett / @Kev_Barrett

Liverpool Calling

Various Venues 22/6/18

After taking a fallow year in 2017, the 2015 nominee for Best Metropolitan Festival at the UK Festival Awards is back and booming in and around the city centre and the Baltic Triangle. Across a weekend saturated with over 50 bands, LIVERPOOL CALLING lives up to its mantra of a grassroots festival by offering Liverpool a huge collection of unheard-ofs, lively up-and-comers and potential next-big-things. It feels like a festival built on the purest of premises: a bill chosen out of the organisers’ genuine passion for the bands. With many less-familiar names appearing alongside local and national big-hitters, the weekend is charged with the spirit of discovery.

Friday night’s action is focused around the centre of town and particularly Phase One, the new music-focused venture by the Jacaranda team, which lives up to its promise as a fine new addition to the city’s gig scene. Similar to the recent success of Sound City, the short walk between venues helps to produce a vibrant atmosphere around certain venues. On the Friday night, Phase One hosts an exciting array of talent to festival attendees and casual drinkers alike, such as the excellent MONKS, who boast an interesting blend of indie-rock, synthesizers and trumpets, and the confident Welsh-rockers HIMALAYAS, with their enjoyably melodic blues-rock. THE HOLOGRAMS combine an Arctic Monkeys sensibility with 70s-influenced riffs, while HEY CHARLIE, the London-based three-piece, give a short but electric set, broadcasting their infectious grunge-pop sound and leaving Parr Street’s Studio 2 amid shouts for encore.

Unfortunately, the enthusiastic atmosphere isn’t spread across all of the Liverpool Calling venues. Many people seem to quickly leave the in-your-face heavy rock at the Jacaranda and EBGBs is less than half-full for most of its performers. Nevertheless, FOREVER IN DEBT don’t lose their hardcore energy despite a few technical issues and, after a quick taste of something heavier, it’s back to Phase One in time to see it really come to life for STRANGE BONES. The performance by the Blackpool punks sets an impressively high bar for showmanship, which also incorporates a surprising range of headgear. Bobby Bentham is a captivating frontman who exudes energy and conviction, and his work is rewarded by the enthusiasm of the crowd who’ve come along to be part of the ride.

Liverpool Calling 2018 Image 2

Saturday sees events move over to the Baltic Triangle. It’s a warm, sunny day and the acts playing in the Constellations garden each complement the vibes created by the weather in their own way. The line-up of bands inside, however, is of a quality that makes it well worth stepping into the darkness for. With more well known bands performing, the the festival gathers much more momentum and a sense of anticipation. SPQR’s performance in this venue is yet more fuel to the fire of their status as rising stars of the Liverpool scene. They’re a band who know how to put riffs and rhythms together to make art-rock which is both serious and often seriously danceable.

PEANESS are the only band of the day who feel like they’re in the wrong place – their indie guitar-pop style and summery harmonies would be even more perfect in the Observatory’s sunshine. Their music works its magic, though, and songs ranging in subject from the joy of solitude to the scourge of food waste, the Chester trio’s highly amiable stage presence does a good job of bringing the sunshine feeling inside.

Pysch-goth-punk-rock – THE WYTCHES’ sound is difficult to define, but it’s one which draws the biggest crowd of the weekend so far. Kristian Bell’s vocal style is almost more shouting than singing, but it works, filling each song with a sense of immediacy. Constellations heralds some of the bigger names on the bill with DEMOB HAPPY and PULLED APART BY HORSES really pushing the tempo of the night into full throttle. Pulled Apart By Horses deliver a similar sense of urgency to The Wytches, although in their case, by being utterly relentless in their energy. The riffs keep coming and the crowd lap it up, pulling dance moves that both encapsulate and enhance the sense of utter joy in power of the musical moment. Even the dad of lead singer Tom Hudson gets – very literally – carried away in the enthusiasm of it all. With their raucous energy and heavy guitar riffs, Pulled Apart By Horses in particular put on a show that proves them worthy headliners of smaller festivals like this, as the crowd returns their energy with an almost insufferable enthusiasm for pits and crowd surfers.

“It feels like a festival built on the purest of premises: a bill chosen out of the organisers’ genuine passion for the bands”

Just around the corner, with its minimalist layout, Brick Street proves an intimate hit for smaller acts of the future. ORCHARDS impress with their pitch-perfect frontwoman Lucy Evans complementing their catchy, dream pop guitar riffs, yet it’s Sheffield rockers SHEAFS who really steal the show. They’ve already supported the likes of Pretty Vicious and Idles, and their headline set garners quite the eager crowd, suggesting they’ve already made a name for themselves among music lovers with an appetite for the fresh and exciting. As they take to the stage, guitar-less frontman Lawrence Feenstra flips between enigmatic and charismatic, going from staring at the back of the room to crowd surfing in the space of a few numbers. Their high-tempo, volatile and spirited set includes impressive tracks This Is Not A Protest and Mind Pollution, and ultimately epitomises what Liverpool Calling is all about. The chance for music-lovers to find a new and enthralling band, and the chance for bands like Sheafs to prove the only way they are going is up. This is not simply a return for Liverpool Calling – it’s a return to form. Here’s hoping with anticipation that Liverpool Calling can build on the momentum of this success for its return in 2019.

Conal Cunningham / @ConalCunningha

Julia Johnson / @messylines_

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