I saw my first gig on September 30th 1979 at the tender age of 15 (you do the math(s)), just a couple of days short of 35 years before this second day of the Liverpool PsychFest. As you can imagine I’ve been to a good few gigs since then which represent the highs, lows, dead ends, and inspirational moments that comes with being a lifelong music fan. As such I’m not given to hyperbole when it comes to talking about live music, but what I can say is that I am certain that a series of performances that I witnessed on Day 2 of this festival represent the very pinnacle of my live music experience. Not only that but they represent the culmination of my musical journey so far, a journey that started solidly, but perhaps inauspiciously, with my first single (Blockbuster by The Sweet) in 1973.
They show that this part of the contemporary music scene (whether or not you want to call it psychedelia) has bands that are taking big risks and getting massive returns as a result. The bands that I saw cover vast areas of influences, styles and approaches; and all affected me in very different ways. When put together, however, they provided me with a quite unforgettable experience that will stand out as one of the high points of my life as a music fan. If that all sounds a bit over the top (and I was stone cold sober both then and now) its because I was so overwhelmed with the sheer excellence of the performances, and the bravery of the organisers to provide such a daring line up.
I have to admit that after a really full on Day 1 of the festival I was feeling pretty jaded when I arrived for Day 2. I had already decided to spend the first part of the afternoon at the Spoken Word Programme ‘Adventures At The Outer Reaches’, relaxing on the bean bags in the ‘PZYK Cinema’ This provided the perfect way to chill out and find out more about the background and context of some of the music being performed at the festival. I got to find out about the history of Rocket Recordings from Chris Reeder and Jimmy Martin (Teeth of the Sea), and learned a lot about the dos and don’ts of starting a label which was really cool. I heard about the current Swedish psych scene from Luke Reilly (PNKSLM) and Jocke Åhlund (Les Big Byrd), and got a chance to hear about a new book Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany from the author himself David Stubbs. After that I felt ready to face what was going to be a marathon assault of my senses over the coming nine hours.
For a report and pictures of Day 1 of the 2014 Liverpool PsychFest click here.
What a way to start Day 2! I really love the music of Sweden’s Janitors: the album ‘Drone Head’ was one of my favourite releases of last year, and the band’s new EP, Evil Doings of an Evil Kind, adds a stark political message to the heavy fuzzed out guitars, and massive bass lines which are a hallmark of its sound. Playing material from both The Janitors ripped through a brilliant 45 minute set which delivered that political message, about the rise of racism and the right wing in Europe, and built up a head of steam which really grabbed me and took me somewhere else. By the end I was completely entranced by their terrific set on the Furnace stage. One to remember!
Half Loon were a new band to me, so I was intrigued to see what they were about on the small Blade Factory stage. What I heard was a really polished set of songs which had more than a nod towards the British baroque psychedelia of the 60s, most notably Syd Barrett, and more contemporary artists such as Jacco Gardner. I really enjoyed the London band’s performance and, on this evidence, will be hearing much more from them in 2015.
BONNACONS OF DOOM
The Bonnacons of Doom are like the Liverpool PsychFest’s house band in that they provide the music for the promotional videos, website etc…, and they occupy one side of this year’s festival album. For me they started what was to be a properly remarkable series of performances on the Camp stage which I’m still buzzing about and processing days later. The Bonnacons began the set with the pounding of three massive Japanese Kodo drums hammering out a beat that was at the same time mesmerising and ritualistic. You had the feeling of being called to commune with the bands and over the next half an hour the band jammed over this huge beguiling beat, culminating in a huge climax. It was quite an experience, and one that was the perfect set up for what was to come on the Camp stage later.
THE LUCID DREAM
I last saw The Lucid Dream at last year’s PsychFest, when they were one of my favourite bands. What a difference a year makes. The band, who were obviously nervous last year (although, as I said at the time, they nailed it) seemed much more confident this time around. I also thought that the band had developed its sound really well and sounded much looser, relying less on traditional verse/ chorus song structures. The Lucid Dream were, as always, exciting live performers and I really look forward to seeing what their next release brings.
Next up on the Camp stage were the Lay Llamas. I must admit that since finding out they were playing this year’s festival I had struggled to get into them. However, about a month ago, I found myself listening to their album ‘Ostro’ and everything seemed to suddenly click into place, and I now find their music to be relaxing and thoughtful – it definitely takes a few listens before the challenge also kicks in. Live the band were brilliantly exciting as they pounded out a high tempo set full of deep grooves, fascinating asides and interesting diversions. If that sounds a bit strange what I am trying to convey is that the set would have been a huge success with the beats alone, that there was so much more going on here is testament to a band who I am sure will take us to some very interesting places in the coming years – another winner from Rocket Recordings.
Here’s a warning for those of a nervous disposition, never go and see Anthroprophh live! This assault, there’s no other word for it, was as loud and intense as anything I’ve witnessed. It was thrilling, visceral, mind blowing; and yet also had nuance to it. Playing mainly tracks from the brilliant new album ‘Outside The Circle‘ the trio, comprising former ‘Head’ Paul Allen and fellow Bristolian duo The Big Naturals (Gareth Turner, bass/ electronics and Jesse Webb, drums), invaded our very souls with a performance which was both raw and complex. There was no escape from this sonic attack which was relentless and utterly invigorating and by the end I felt exhausted and yet strangely cleansed. If you like your music loud, heavy and intelligent go and check Anthroprophh out, you won’t be dissappointed.
Along with the Besnard Lakes, who performed on Day 1 of the Festival, Sleepy Sun played at the gig that first got me into contemporary psych music. Like then the band were really on form this evening, the highlight for me being ‘Outside’ from the most recent album’Maui Tears’. I have always liked the way the band combine traditional song structures with a more fluid psychedelic style, something that was evident in abundance here. Front man Bret Constantino was also in great form and clearly draws a lot from Robert Plant’s stagecraft. A great interlude in the Furnace between more intense bands in the Camp.
Hills were another of my must sees at this Festival. On record the band seem to straddle the divide between melodic song structures and more dissonant Krautrock improvisations with comfort and ease. This was something which was replicated with this live performance consisting of a series of 10 minute plus jams which explored many areas of music, but never lost its way. It was one of those sets which seemed to build in intensity, taking the audience to increasingly deep psychedelic experiences, providing the backdrop to explore and reflect. The light show, which my photos hardly do justice to, was, like most of the bands who occupied the Camp stage on this amazing night, stunning. A brilliant visual, aural and existential experience.
TEETH OF THE SEA
Of all the Rocket Recordings artists who played the Camp stage Teeth of the Sea were perhaps the ones I least expected to like. I have the band’s ‘Master’ album, which for me is on the edge of accessibility. As a result I thought that the band might be too abstract for my taste. What I experienced, however, was my performance of the Festival. Beginning with a single brass horn being sampled and repeated, the band proceeded to add layer upon layer of instrumentation building the intensity of the music while also adding the sort of beats that defied the audience to keep still. This was a performance that I found both exciting and, in places, intensely moving in a way that one rarely gets in this form of live music. This was aided by a visual show which was at times ostentatious, and at others bleak and disturbing. Good music can challenge, but it can also entertain. For me Teeth of the Sea did both in spades. No superlative would be adequate!
ONE UNIQUE SIGNAL
I really wanted to catch One Unique Signal and was very grateful to the organisers that they’d put the band on in the Blade Factory exactly between Teeth of the Sea and GNOD. It needs a special band to be able to score between these two and One Unique Signal did just that. Playing mainly tracks from the Sonic Boom mastered album Aether, the band totally nailed it with a performance that was at times on the edge of chaos as guitarists hurled themselves through the crowd. Of course, there is an element of Spacemen 3 to their sound, but they take their influences beyond this going back directly to a number of Krautrock bands, yet (and this was one of the themes for me during this weekend) turning those influences into something vital and contemporary.
From the moment GNOD (excitingly with White Hills’ Dave W also on stage) hit the go button the packed Camp knew we were in for something special. This collective may be unpredictable in terms of who is on stage on any one night but this was a truly momentous performance of really exciting and visceral improvisations which took the audience to high after high after high. GNOD were in the mood to party and party hard. Hard and heavy as the beats, jazz improvs, repetitive drones and guitar attacks came in wave after wave of sonic attacks which at the same time gave us energy and sapped our resistance to impediment. It was a huge feel good performance at a time when we had been though huge slabs of intensity earlier in the evening. Inspired and inspirational!
After a short interval Dave W was back with his band White Hills. Having already helped unlock the door to the party with GNOD he and bassist Ego Sensation blew it wide open with a skull crushing and riff-tastic set which provided the perfect end to as near perfect a night of live music I’ve experienced. Highlights for me were ‘In Your Room’ and ‘Forever in Space (Enlightened)’, both from the ‘So You Are…So You’ll Be’ album, but the whole set was a brilliant psychedelic wig-out with just about finished me off both mentally and physically.
Once again the Liverpool PsychFest has shown that it has the ability to surprise, shock, entertain and inform. For me it is the best Festival going because it gets the basics right and it’s attention to detail is amazing (right down to the size label on the t-shirts). It was, in short, a totally amazing experience: and I didn’t even get to see Goat.