Saturday, July 23, 2011

Off The Cuff Festival 2011

For a City as big as Birmingham there’s always been a distinct lack of decent music festivals. Sure there’s Capsule’s Supersonic, which now has a global reputation for putting on the kind of bands that happily send people three shades of loopy (that’s a good thing by the way), Moseley Folk, Mostly Jazz and the one day mini fest The Flyover Show. We’ve also got ArtsFest but somehow the music seems a little lost in amongst everything else. That was pretty much it. At least it was until Off The Cuff came along a few years back. A three day orgy of awesome sounds held in the bowels of the legendary Flapper. Lord bless the good folk behind OTC. Pulling together some of the brightest new bands from Birmingham and beyond OTC has rapidly become a pretty essential festival in my humble opinion...and you don’t have to camp in a tent with a dozen sweaty mates, defecate into a pit or piddle in a bush...unless you’re into that kind of thing. Putting piddling aside for a moment (I do hope you’re not eating your tea right now) here’s how it all went down...

Friday 22nd July

Johnny Foreigner / Tubelord / Shoes and Socks Off / Pandas and People

Kicking off Off The Cuff this year were Pandas and People a relatively new band (new to me anyway)from Redditch. Despite battling with a bust laptop they managed to pull together a strong set of classy alt pop (alt pop...did I just invent that...probably). There’s something about them that kind of reminded me of XTC (a notion that gained ground when I spotted the drummer wearing an XTC t-shirt), not that they sound anything like them...hmmm...maybe it’s the slightly off beat song titles and lyrics? I’m The Floor, Jokes That Aren’t Jokes...dead XTC-ish in my book. Maybe that’s just me. Anyway mixing a bit of math-rock with some poppy synths and singalong choruses it was an impressive showing in the face of technical adversity. Ha! Up yours Mr Laptop. Screw you. Technology? Who needs it? They left the best for last too, with a track that may have been called In The Dark. Cascading guitars and a screamo chorus got down and dirty in a sexy 3 minute 47 knee trembler. Sweet.

Next up Toby Hayes, formerly of post hardcore outfit Meet Me In St Louis. One man and his guitar, he now trades under the name of Shoes and Socks Off. Thankfully he kept them on tonight, along with his hoody which covered most of his face from where I was standing. In fact hunched over his guitar he almost seemed to want to make himself invisible at times, a feeling that was reinforced by the often bleak lyrical content.

“This girl fancies you” shouted someone in the audience early on in the set “I’d only disappoint you” replied Mr Hayes, adding ominously “ have NO idea”. Blimey. Like the love child of Kurt Cobain and Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat there’s a kind of self sacrificing pain in there that can be uncomfortable to watch...and hear. Cop a load of this line (from a song on the new album) “When all your teeth fall out, you can use my mouth”...that’s got the same kind of kick you in the crotch intensity of Cobain’s “eat your cancer” lyric from Heart Shaped Box right?

Next up Kingston Upon Thames’ finest Tubelord. First time I’ve seen this lot but they’re not hard to fall in love with. From lead singer Joseph Prendergast’s geek chic outfit (some rather nicely turned up trousers and braces) to their At Their Drive In meets Los Campesino’s mix of meaty riffs and disarmingly sweet vocals the whole set was a blur of off kilter musical loveliness.

There’s a complexity to their sound that’ll appeal to the chin strokers out there but it’s catchy enough to...dare I say it...yeah...I dare... hook a pop audience too. A cover of Tall Ships (they play OTC on Sunday) Vessels proved a real crowd pleaser and reinforced what you read about a really supportive, mutually appreciated ‘scene’ out there. As the sweat started to drip from the ceiling the band dedicated the last song to “the guys who’ve come all the way from California for Off The Cuff”. Wow. If you’re in any doubt of the growing importance of this festival now, there’s your proof. That ain’t a day trip my friends. Kudos to the Cali-crew. That last track by the way, Night Of The Pencils’, was everything that I’d grown to love about Tubelord in the 32 minutes I’d known them. Sweet quiet bits, twisty math-rock bits, heads down rocky bits and pop chorus sing alongs. Now, why the hell aren’t they “bigger than Memphis eh?”

By the time headliners Johnny Foreigner came on The Flapper had reached boiling point. It does that. That’s one if the things I love about the place. Within seconds of playing singer Alexei was dripping like he’d just stepped out of a shower.

Jo Fo have been together for 5 or 6 years now and they’re one of the few ‘local’ bands who’ve made any real impact outside of the City recently. Whilst they’ve clearly had their ups and downs, tonight felt like the triumphant return of local heroes, a wild celebration of songs that mean so much to their loyal fans who responded with the kind of fervour you rarely see at shows these days. They played the ‘hits’ and classics, stuff like Feels Like Summer, Criminals, Tru Punx and Sometimes In The Bullring together with new single Electricity vs The Dead which wisely keeps to their template of shouty post-punk pop. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it eh?

It’s fair to say that the band’s been a bit dismissive of the City that spawned them but this evening Alexei seemed to be in the mood for making up, charitably admitting that “You guys aren’t cunty anymore”. Bless him. He genuinely seemed overwhelmed by the response though and proud, yep, proud to be part of a festival that’s as cool as fuck right now. As the atmosphere became tropical (seriously I could swear I saw some of those weird tree frogs hanging from the ceiling) and the faithful whipped themselves into a frenzy encore The Coast Was Always Clear saw band and audience become one gloriously sweaty mess as the stage disappeared beneath a heaving mass of delirious humanity.

Some hours later Alexei posted a message on Facebook saying that it was the best gig of their lives. I reckon quite a few people could well be saying the same thing this morning ...

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