Top 7 festival bands playing the UK this summer

Me and Max at Reading 2006
Festivals can do horrible things to your face…

For the first time in 13 years, I’m not going to a music festival this summer.

So for those of you lucky enough to be heading for the mud, crowds and euphoria, I thought I’d indulge in a listicle and recommend a few bands to catch if you possibly can.

To narrow down my list to a top seven, I’ve only included bands that I’ve seen at two or more festivals, proving that their brilliance wasn’t a one-off.

Without further ado, let’s dive in:

Elbow

True festival veterans, Guy Garvey and his cohorts never fail to hit the mark, whether that’s tugging at the heartstrings (Real Life) or slapping you in the face with a gigantic riff (Grounds For Divorce). Come for One Day Like This, but stick around for Lippy Kids.

Playing: Kendal Calling

The Hives

The quintessential festival band, The Hives’ brand of unashamed punk rock can make even the most respectable festival goer rush to the front and lose their dignity. Unhinged rabble-rouser ‘Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist serves as the ideal frontman to orchestrate the madness.

Playing: Calling Festival

Manchester Orchestra

Fast-rising American quintet Manchester Orchestra don’t look like festival heroes, especially hermit-like lead singer Andy Hull. But it is the sheer force of their music that makes them unmissable, from the shape-shifting dynamics of Shake It Out to the irresistible singalong of Pensacola.

Playing: Reading Festival

Muse

Going to a festival is an expensive experience, so you want to know that at least some of your money has gone on stage theatrics. Muse have this down to a fine art and are constantly upping the ante, but best of all their music is so bombastic as to make all this theatricality seem totally justified.

Playing: Download

Gogol Bordello

Festivals are a great place to discover a new style of music and with a Gogol Bordello show you can discover half a dozen genres in half an hour. The self-proclaimed gypsy punks tackle a wide variety of styles with unerring gusto and sets often end with frontman Eugene Hutz crowd-surfing on a bass drum.

Playing: Boom Town Fair

Dry The River

Forget Mumford & Sons headlining Leeds Festival, the real folk rock event of the summer will be Dry The River’s appearance at the multi-venue Live at Leeds Festival. From chest-out singalongs to extended outros, a DTR show has it all and Lion’s Den is ultimate set finisher.

Playing: Live at Leeds Festival

Foo Fighters

I’ve saved the most obvious choice to last, but I couldn’t ignore the recent news that Dave Grohl and his band of merry men are headlining the UK’s biggest festival for the first time in 17 years. If you already have a ticket, you’d be a fool to miss what will surely be a monumental headline set from a truly peerless live band.

Playing: Glastonbury

 

Anyone I’ve missed off? Let me know in the comments…

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls live in London

Frank Turner - Tape Deck HeartIn the week that his fifth studio album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ was released, Frank Turner was in a distinctly upbeat mood.

The former frontman of hardcore punk outfit Million Dead hasn’t always had an easy ride since he made the transformation into folk-rock troubadour seven years ago. Overnight sensation, he is not.

But with a hit single (‘Recovery’) under his belt, not to mention a headline show at Wembley Arena and a cameo at the Olympics opening ceremony, he is now well-equipped to not just sell out, but truly own venues like the Kentish Town Forum for many years to come.

Warm-up act Larry and His Flask did a tremendous job of getting the capacity crowd moving with their turbo-charged hobo blues. If Seasick Steve ever joined Gogol Bordello, it would sound something like this.

After a minor technical delay (possibly relating to a live YouTube stream of this gig), Turner took to the stage with standout anthem ‘Four Simple Words’. This looks set to become a fan favourite with its dynamic juxtaposition of dancehall waltz, chest-beating punk and the irresistible refrain: “I want to dance”.

From here on the show progressed like a greatest hits compilation, with Turner freely flitting between all five of his studio albums. Recent album cuts ‘Polaroid Picture’ and ‘Good & Gone’ were met with the most muted responses, suggesting…

To read the full article on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Sonic Boom Six – Sonic Boom Six (album review)

Sonic Boom Six self titled album coverNo-one could accuse Sonic Boom Six of standing still or resting on their laurels. Each album they’ve put out has seen a clear progression, subsuming more and more genres into their all-encompassing sound.

Their latest, self-titled album takes in many influences, from The Clash to Pendulum via Mad Capsule Markets, but the most noticeable change is the influx of hardcore electronica and warped drum and bass samples. Every track throbs with heavily synthesised guitars and drums, and the vocoder-treated choruses make singer Laila Khan‘s voice sound detached and more than a little bit J-pop. It’s a change of direction that takes a fair bit of getting used to. Anyone who discovered SB6 via the UK ska-punk scene of Capdown and The King Bluesmight well recoil at this, and the band have freely admitted that they are going for a sound that is more “inclusive and inviting to everyday people”.

Lead-off single ‘Virus’ sets the tone as the album’s touchstone and this style is carried through onto the breathless rush of ‘Karma Is A Bitch’, which packs some serious boss-fight riffs. Meanwhile ‘The High Cost Of Living’ manages the impressive feat of blending pulsing beats, metal guitars, reggae percussion and a baroque piano sample, into one cohesive song.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Green Day – Uno! (album review)

Green Day Uno! new albumFollowing two rock operas that sold 18 million copies worldwide was never going to be easy. Choosing to do so with a triple album has only made things even harder for irrepressible Californian punk rockers Green Day.

The whole concept of a double album has seen great acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers flounder, while even the Foo Fighters struggled to keep up the quality levels on their 2005 double-disc effort.

Undeterred, Green Day have come out with a triple album, starting with ‘Uno!’, which is due to be followed up by ‘Dos!’ and ‘Tre!’ as separate releases staggered over the next four months.

And for the first time in many years, Green Day have come out with an album that doesn’t really contain anything new.

Lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong said in a recent interview that making albums has become “a lost art form”, but this doesn’t really seem like a cohesive composition, more like 12 singles in a row. Ten years ago we wouldn’t have expected much more from Green Day, but they have raised the bar with their highly ambitious last two albums.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Kick Up The Fire – Money Men (ep review)

Kick Up The Fire Money Men unsigned bandTwo years ago, when Kick Up The Fire released their self-titled debut ep, I boldly suggested that they could take 2011 by storm.

Well it’s 2012 and they’ve only just got round to releasing their follow-up effort. Can’t win them all, eh?

Happily, the band’s sophomore effort is more than worth the wait. ‘Money Men’ is a tightly honed record, with each track as well produced and catchy as the last. Much like on their debut ep, the band still retain a slow-burning style, which may not knock your socks off at first, but gradually worms its way into your mind.

Lead singer Kenny Wastell’s lyrics are a big reason for this, with clever turns of phrase as he poetically skewers lad-mag culture on opening track ‘Loaded’. The more rhythmic guitars help to create a danceable tempo, and the lead guitar licks on ‘Spiders’ add plenty of flair.

‘Takeover’ is possibly the best of the bunch, acting as a passionate call-to-arms for disenchanted commuters and office drones, while ‘White Cube’ draws proceedings to a close with quirky rhythms and incongruous brass, much in the vein of Biffy Clyro (circa ‘Infinity Land’).

The only real criticism to be made is that the band don’t make as much of the call and response vocals that worked so well on their last record, which is a shame.

But it must be said ‘Money Men’ feels like a more coherent and polished effort, it proves their worth as one of the UK’s most exciting prospects, and at just 12 minutes long it will leave you crying out for more.

You can read more about Kick Up The Fire on their hilariously foul-mouthed blog, and if you head to their Bandcamp page before Monday 30 July, you can download their debut ep for free.

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten (album review)

Gaslight-Anthem-HandwrittenWith their first major label record, The Gaslight Anthem have gone all-out to live up to their name, delivering 11 truly anthemic tracks that fuse Bruce Springsteen-esque vocals, hard rock riffs and raw, honest emotion.

Produced by the double-Grammy winning Brendan O’Brien and with the backing of Mercury Records, their fourth studio album should see the New Jersey quartet reach an even wider audience in 2012.

Leading off with the current radio-hogging single ’45’, Brian Fallon and co set a dizzying tempo; with sing-alongs and crunching guitars in abundance. Staying true to his promise, Fallon has delivered a much more aggressive album, which contrasts strongly with his sombre 2011 side-project The Horrible Crowes.

Benny Horowitz and Alex Levine provide a solid, driving rhythm section as always, but more noticeable is how Alex Rosamilia’s lead guitar has developed into one of the band’s biggest strengths. Whereas before his licks sounded ornate and elaborate, on this record they are far more central to the overall sound, particularly on ‘Keepsake’, a lip-biting stomp that will have you fighting the urge to crack out the air guitar.

Elsewhere, the album slips in a wide range of cultural references, from the suitably cinematic ‘Mulholland Drive’, to the joyous ‘whoa’s of Allen Ginsberg tribute ‘Howl’ (which would make an excellent follow-up single) while ‘Here Comes My Man’ is a clever nod to the Pixies.

Read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room click here.

RIP MCA – Why Adam Yauch’s death will be a great loss to music

Adam 'MCA' Yauch of the Beastie Boys (1964-2012)
Photo: Flickr User: Michael Morel

“I’ve got more rhymes than I’ve got grey hairs / And that’s a lot because I’ve got my share”

With lyrics like these, it’s obvious that Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch was no ordinary rapper. Self-aware, self-deprecating and acutely witty to the last, he was the creative heart of the Beastie Boys and his death, at the age of 47, will be felt throughout the music scene, from hip hop to punk and beyond.

At the time of MCA’s death, the band were reportedly planning a return to their roots in the form of a full-band punk tour, making the news so much more of a shock when it emerged earlier this weekend. Not that it was completely out of the blue – Yauch’s health had been a matter for concern ever since he was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland back in 2009.

A true musical pioneer, Adam Nathaniel Yauch co-founded the Beastie Boys in New York in 1981 with Adam ‘Adrock’ Horovitz and Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond. Originally a hardcore punk act, the band spanned the genres as the years went on, famously supporting Madonna on tour in 1985 and being banned from the UK in 1986 for provoking the trend for stealing VW badges from cars and wearing them as oversized necklaces.

True pioneers of both white boy rap and rap rock, without Yauch and the Beasties we quite possibly wouldn’t have Rage Against the MachineEminem or Linkin Park. MCA’s deep gravelly voice was integral to the band’s sound, providing a perfect counterpoint to the nasally tones of Mike D and Adrock.

Beyond music, Yauch was a committed activist with many causes to shout about, from environmentalism (the band appeared at the 2008 Live Earth concert) to non-violence. He even went public with his views on peace in the Middle East during the band’s 1998 VMA awards acceptance speech and the Dalai Lama paid tribute to Yauch upon hearing the news of his death:

Adam had helped us raise awareness on the plight of the Tibetan people by organizing various freedom Tibet concerts and he will be remembered by his holiness and the Tibetan people.

For many, the Beasties were the first hip hop act to reflect this left-wing liberal sensibility. From the late 90s onwards, they railed against bigotry in all its forms, proving that rap music doesn’t have to be all about self-aggrandisement and blatant machismo.

To read the rest of this article on Virgin Red Room, click here.

UPDATE 10/08/12: Beastie Boys star Adam Yauch’s will bans music in ads – what a legend!

The Cribs – In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull (album review)

The Cribs - In The Belly of the Brazen BullIt would be fair to say that The Cribs’ Ryan Jarman has had a fairly tough time of late. Ending his high-profile relationship with singer songwriter Kate Nash, as well as his musical alliance with The Smiths‘ former guitarist Johnny Marr left him in something of a dark place. In an interview with the NME earlier this year, he admitted to periods of self-loathing and depression, but claims that this is now behind him due to the excitement of releasing his fifth studio album, backed as usual by his brothers Gary and Ross.

‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ is the result of this period of introspection and Dave Fridmann is the latest name in The Cribs’ revolving roster of producers (The Flaming Lips,WeezerMogwai). In terms of progression this record seems like a step back towards the band’s earlier work as a trio, with standout tracks ‘Chi Town’ and ‘Come On, Be A No-One’ both offering seriously catchy hooks and snarling punk vocals. Those expecting a barrage of riffs and singalongs in the vein of 2007’s ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ will be disappointed, however.

‘Glitters Like Gold’ is a hard-hitting and direct opener, but the laborious ‘Jaded Youth’ and the cumbersome ‘Uptight’ fail to keep up the tempo. Indeed, the band’s style remains distinctly coloured by their hit-and-miss collaboration with Marr on 2009’s ‘Ignore The Ignorant’.

What’s more, there is a noticeable leaning towards the most abstract soundscapes of Sonic Youth, no doubt influenced by their brief dalliance with Lee Ranaldo on their six-minute epic ‘Be Safe’, which featured on ‘Men’s Needs…’ and was their most ambitious recording to date. That is until you hear the last track on this new album…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Frank Turner – The Second Three Years (album review)

Frank Turner singing liveIt takes a pretty prolific songwriter to turn out four albums in six years and still have enough left in the tank to record two twenty-track compilations. But not only has Frank Turner managed this, he has done so with style and aplomb, especially on this, his second collection of live tracks, b-sides, covers and rarities.

‘The Second Three Years’ crams together the non-album tracks from his 2010 ‘Rock n Roll’ EP, the special edition bonus tracks from last year’s ‘England Keep My Bones’ LP, as well as a broad selection of punk, folk and pop covers; from Wham to Nirvana, and from NOFX to Take That.

This compilation is an essential purchase for any serious Frank fan, but it also works suitably well as a far-reaching introduction to one of England’s greatest songwriting talents. Right from the opening acapella verse of ‘Sailor’s Boots’, Turner’s voice is enthralling; by turns gentle and powerful, intimate and abrasive.

There’s also plenty of evidence of how his music has developed and matured…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Kick Up The Fire / Scholars / Lonely The Brave live review

Live at The Bowery, New Oxford Street, London (18/11/2010)

It’s not often that you go to a gig and come out raving about all three bands on the bill. But it seems like many people will have come away from the Bowery on Thursday night with a sense that they had discovered at least one excellent new band.

Lonely The Brave began the night in epic sweeping fashion, with reverb vocals and resounding riffs aplenty. Their Pearl Jam-meets-30 Seconds to Mars stylings definitely deserve a bigger venue.

Sam Nicholls: Scholar

Scholars were a different proposition altogether, with front man Sam Nicholls launching himself into a frankly petrified crowd and screaming every word as if his life depended on it. Once the audience had got over the initial shock, the charm of Scholars’ energetic pop-punk took hold, with a fair share of heads bobbing and toes tapping by the end of the half hour set.

Heading the bill were Kick Up The Fire, who were celebrating the launch of their self-titled mini-album. Lead singer Kenny Wastell cut an apologetic figure, and made it clear that the audience shouldn’t expect similar levels of lunacy to their predecessors.

Kick Up The Fire are one of those bands that worm their way into your head, they may not sound jaw-dropping at first, but after a couple of listens their alt-rock tunes really sink their teeth in and refuse to let go. It’s easy to see why Rock Sound said that their mini-album is “a record for which the repeat button seems custom-designed”.

Kick Up The Fire: Springsteen Fans

Covering every contemporary hot potato from lecherous politicians (No Hotel Room) to hypocritical religions (The Never-Ever Ending Story) in half an hour left the audience baying for more and KUTF duly obliged. The decision to repeat the two-minute anti-corporate sing-along No Fun In London instead of trying something more risky was ill-judged, however, and took some of the gloss off an otherwise flawless performance. There’s nothing wrong with leaving an audience wanting more, especially if you’ve yet to write a mediocre song.

Wastell confessed that he is currently a “fresher granddad” at age 29, but this can clearly be used to their advantage, as the fresh-faced girls in the front-row (presumably actual freshers) seemed like a pre-made street team. If they can fulfil their potential on a full-length album, there seems no reason why Kick Up The Fire can’t take 2011 by storm.