I’m so bloody excited about Swn. I remember talking to a friend about it last year and how good it was. They said “I was going to go, but I didn’t know anyone on the line-up”. My response was “That’s why I love it – there’s so many new and amazing bands to discover there”.
The first band that really started floating my boat was Cheatahs. They reminded me of Dinosaur Jr but without the crazy guitar solos. The vocals were light and understated, and their mix of poppiness and scuzziness made them a band who are easy to love. Definitely buying some material post-festival.
I’d bought a ticket for Everything Everything before they’d even been added to the Swn lineup, so they were my next stop. Before I even begin talking about their live show, let me just say that the fact that their records sell well and that they get on the Radio 1 playlist boosts my faith in music loving humanity. That the public buy music by an experimental band, wilfully obscure at times, who also have such incredible lyrics is awesome. So this review may not be enitrely balanced.
They opened with Undrowned, a case in point in terms of amazing lyrics.
First, boy, I think you should know
If you try hard then you might get a part
As a doe-eyed impressionist mime
Bare as the lives of the footballers’ wives that surround you,
Their diamonds aloft,
A system of pistons,
Arachnid and blistered
A billboard, a murder of crows
While princes fly drones that can see through your bones
Initially the snare hasn’t been miced up as well as it should, so it sounds a little hollow, especially in the Great Hall, with it’s high roof. The big space that the venue offers seems to suit the ambient nature of the band, and the snare’s noticeably improved by Torso of the Week thanks to the soundmen.
I must admit I wasn’t quite sure how the high-pitched vocals would translate live, but every high note is hit with ease by Jonathan Higgs (and by Jeremy Pritchard and Alex Robertshaw, who provide the backing vocals in all fairness).
The only thing that spoils the evening a little is an overzealous smoke machine and a light man with an itchy trigger finger who loves his strobes, which means we’re reduced to watching silhouettes for a good percentage of the show. Makes you realise why Fugazi went for the stripped back approach to a liveshow of a spotlight and white screen.
They finished their main set with an extended version of Don’t Try, with Higgs smashing a floor tom for good measure, which is a great end to a storming set. The floor tom makes a return for Cough Cough, before they finish with Wait. Except I didn’t – I darted off quickly to see Sky Larkin in Clwb Ifor Bach.
I blogged about Sky Larkin playing in Gwdihw a few weeks ago, where I thought they were brill. I really enjoyed them tonight too, but I must admit I prefered the intimacy of Gwdihw. Katie Harkin is clearly stoked to be playing Wichita‘s stage at the festival though, and she repeatedly namechecks and thanks Wichita during the set. As per the last gig Katie Harkin provides the melody, but the drums & bass are the engine of the set. The stripped back guitar parts meet the punchy bass, whilst the drummer refuses to play a straight out 4/4 beat, except for their X-Ray Spex cover.
Last but not least, I headed over to Solus to see Mr Scruff. I can’t believe Keep it Unreal is well over 10 years old now. I saw him play in Plymouth in 2004 (although from memory I think he played behind a screen so I didn’t actually see him). He played a big mix of stuff, ranging from drum n bass to hip hop to funk, and he magically brought the disjointed together. There was a great atmosphere there, thanks in no small part to the efforts Mr Scruff goes to to make the venue his own and his tea stand – genius!
Now for day two – exciting times!