(Disclaimer: due to very badly timed exams we were unable to attend any of the Friday events, and had to leave early on the Sunday night, as such none of that stuff will be in this review).
City based festivals are the best of both worlds; a huge variety of music/events within easy reach for the simple price of a wristband, and a solid excuse to drink in the early afternoon but without any of the camping or mud. Leicester is a funny city, a huge percentage of it is beautiful, well maintained green spaces, but there’s also some really ugly concrete buildings, sitting right next to ye olde architecture and cosy narrow streets filled with boutiques and pubs. It feels deceptively small and suburban, but has a thriving music scene, thanks in no small part to the efforts of venue Firebug.
We start off the weekend by heading to Bishop Street Methodist Church to see Katie Malco. Her gentle but powerful vocals and charming between-song-chat are the perfect companion to the late afternoon sun that sneaks in through the church’s high windows. It’s an extremely engaging and impressive performance, she mentions that the next song she’ll play is a cover of a friend’s song that “he sometimes lets me play”. The song turns out to be a cover of the solo efforts of a member of Tellison. The high quality musical company she keeps is obviously doing no harm to her wonderful blend of laid-back yet highly emotive sound.
After a short break we head over to Firebug (only a wander away, there’s definitely something to be said for how easy to find and close the venues are). Upstairs the cheery sound of My First Tooth booms out, they’re slick and charming and a joy to watch. Then it’s another short walk to the People’s Photographic Studio to see We Were Promised Jetpacks. They’ve gathered quite a crowd and their gloomy yet commanding and distinctive sound is a nice contrast to the light-hearted efforts of the previous bands.
Johnny Foreigner are the final band of the night, we leave We Were Promised Jetpacks slightly early to ensure we’ll get into Firebug as the upstairs is not a big space. The Birmingham quartet are (as usual) huge fun. They begin the show by wandering in and out of the crowd singing ‘Johnny Foreigner VS You’ entirely a capella, a trick they used last time they played here but it’s such a touching and wonderful technique there’s no reason for them not to repeat it. The next forty minutes or so fly by and there’s a lovely moment of calm between the angstier tracks when Riff Glitchard echoes out. It’s perhaps not the tightest song of the evening, but it’s so beautiful on record that doesn’t matter, and Johnny Foreigner’s charm has always come somewhat from their occasionally shambolic, but always enthusiastic and enjoyable performances.
Due to total exhaustion from a busy day yesterday we don’t make it to any of the venues until Sky Larkin at Firebug, which means we’ve missed The Handmade Cinema as well as a few other bands. Sky Larkin are fun to watch, they make good music and admittedly it’s perhaps a little samey live, but they’re all extremely talented and seem to throw out each track with utter nonchalance belying the complexity, and it might just be the way they refuse to pause (even for applause) between each track that makes everything feel a bit blurred together.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve not had much opportunity to see new bands, something that’s always an exciting prospect at festival (entirely my own fault, there’s plenty on here) but we make it over to The Guildhall in time to catch most of We Three and the Death Rattle. It’s obvious almost immediately that this is something special, the lead singer’s powerful stage presence is almost impossible to tear your eyes away from and the aggressive and rhythmic yet melodic sound echoes around the slightly incongruous setting (The Guildhall is a listed building and looks like this inside). They’ve got the swagger of Sleigh Bells and an unusual habit of playing the Theremin, which as a friend of mine remarks “is interesting, but never sounds nice”.
Back over to Firebug for the wonderful Tall Ships who are on their usual top form. We sneak out just as they finish what is possibly their most popular song ‘Ode To Ancestors’, in what is such excellent timing it might well have been planned.
The reason for our early exit is to catch another group representing the fantastic Scottish music scene, The Twilight Sad. Playing in The Guildhall seems the most natural thing in the world for them, it’s wonderfully creepy and the atmosphere is something no one in that room is likely to forget any time soon.
Handmade Festival is only in its first year but it’s the most organised and relaxed festival I’ve ever been to, the atmosphere is also the most friendly of any gig or festival I’ve seen in a while. It’s clear that the people putting this on are doing it out of love for these bands and this city,I can only hope that there will be many more years of this to come. It makes Leicester feel a very exciting place to be.