Any serious gig goer or music fan in Birmingham will recognise that This Is Tmrw, the good folk behind this inaugural two day festival, know their onions (musically speaking at least...who knows, they might indeed be experts on onions too...I’ll have to find out). So whether you’d heard of all or indeed none of the dozen bands on offer this weekend you could be pretty sure that there wouldn’t be any duffers.
Openers local boys Hoopla Blue had the honour of being the very first band to play the very first All Years Leaving...which will probably qualify them for a blue plaque or something one day. There’s a touch of doomed romanticism to them with the lead vocalist having a similar mournful quality to Japan’s David Sylvian or perhaps even a slightly more upbeat Morrissey (imagine that). Musically the discordant shards of guitar add an uneasy but intriguing feel to some of their tracks, whilst others hit an almost Vampire Weekend-ish groove. It’s an interesting mix though, perhaps best crystallised so far on Holy Ghost, a post punk meets C86 anthem for proto Goths.
Next up Brighton’s Kins. Think Radiohead with a slightly sunnier vibe (appropriately enough the lead singer’s from the comparatively tropical land of Oz). Textural guitars and vocals combine to create a bit of a trippy feel, enhanced by the band’s slightly spaced out style of performing...never seen a keyboard played on the floor before. Even the lead singer ended up on his back during the dreamy post coital drift of The Love Potion.
Boat to Row continue to develop, putting on arguably one of their best performances to date. Perhaps it was the prospect of the more upbeat bands still to come but there was a bit of an extra kick to their playing tonight that switched their already bewitching old school acoustic folk up a gear. Lead oarsman Michael King has a crisp, clean but gentle vocal which combined with his increasingly intricate guitar playing and the rest of the band adding their own deft touches transformed the Hare and Hounds into a bucolic wonderland. Leaving the stage for their last number the entire band decamped into the crowd, playing as nature intended. Unplugged that is, not nude. Truly beautiful stuff.
“Alreet!” You’ve got to love Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings, not only for their bouncy brand of indie rock (imagine a Postcard Records version of Maximo Park) but also for recently opening their very own record shop in response to the distinct lack of outlets for their new album in their hometown. Apparently four of the band work there pretty much full time now too, probably a smart move given that their latest album sadly failed to trouble the charts. It’s a real shame as pretty much every one of the tracks they played tonight is engineered to get you up and dancing like a loon with songs like That Girl, That Scene having a similar spark of pop genius as The Undertones at their very best.
They’re great fun to watch too, bands with banter always are and if this pop business fails to work out I reckon they should all move into stand up comedy. In between songs the lead singer even attempted to pierce the guitarist’s nipple with a staple gun at one point. Comedy gold.
Last up for day one, and possibly one of the most underrated bands in the UK...no...make that world...right now, Dutch Uncles. Kicking off with Bellio their unique mix of math rock rhythms coupled with lead singer Duncan Wallis’ falsetto vocals (more than a touch of Sparks’ Russ Mael in there) are the best combination since Mr Strawberry met Miss Cream. In other words freakin’ delicious.
Why wasn’t Fester number 1 eh? Criminal. Hang your heads in shame record buying public. How many other tracks based around a xylophone make you want to dance your ass off? Exactly. Speaking of dancing Duncan in full flow is a truly wondrous thing. It’s like someone had wired the dude to the mains and flicked a switch as he twitches and jerks around seemingly possessed by the music itself. From the driving funk prog of Cadenza to the string embellished Flexxin’ this was a lesson in just how great pop can be, clever, sophisticated sounds that appeal as much to the mind (you could devote an entire dissertation to the band’s lyrics) as they do to the booty. Ending the set with a divine cover of Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm I unwisely attempted some Duncan dancing myself and narrowly avoided dislocating my hips. Heck, it was worth it though.
PS: For the first day of a brand new festival things went remarkably smoothly. What was also nice to hear was how well all of the bands had been treated by the promoters too. Several of them mentioned this both onstage and off. Good work This Is Tmrw peeps.
All Years Leaving continues today (November 16th) with headliners Yuck!