Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends

My husband and I have never been disappointed when we have gone to the annual Liverpool International Pop Overthrow Festival and this year was no exception; indeed it would be fair to say that this one turned out to be probably the very best we have ever attended. This is due in part to the broad mix of bands and artists from all over the world, and the great friends and acquaintances we've made over the years at the event. This particular year was the 9th year running for Liverpool – kudos to promoter and all round IPO guru: David Bash – in a year that has seen artists possibly harder to contact (MySpace decomposing to some extent) he surely did his homework.

For those of you who have attended the event on a regular basis there was the return of many favourite bands in addition to quite a few new surprises. As in the past the ambiance of the three venues, Cavern pub and club (with its 2 stages) enhances the experience of hearing such wonderful music. You have the rich history of the Cavern plus the semi-fanatical music lovers of this festival combined with the worldwide tourists who have made the trip to see the legendary Beatles birthplace. We've been to the same festival in New York also, but none approaches the fun, diversity and draw of Liverpool.

In the past we've only been able to attend 1 to 2 days of the festival but this year we decided to spend as many days as we could due to the very rich bill being sported this year. Now having stayed for most of the festival, we know there is no way we will ever only attend for a short spell. In total we ended up seeing over 40 bands and although at the time it seemed like the merry-go-round would go on forever, in reality it was all over far too quickly.

Upon arrival, the sky was blue, the birds were chirping. I was practically running to Matthew Street in my excitement to get there. Mr Qwerty was close behind with his camera to capture the moment and beyond...

Liverpool International Pop Overthrow Festival Review 2011

We will combine reviews where we saw an artist more than once and indicate thus: (x2) - but we'll comment as though it were one performance, with some deviations, naturally.


Richard Snow & the Inlaws (x2) - We were late to the Cavern Pub, the scene of our first concert. The room was uncharacteristically busy for the late afternoon and the IPO schedule, but we were pleased to see it so. Obviously our first artist Richard Snow was responsible for the healthy draw.

We had missed Richard at previous IPO's and Debbie in particular was familiar with his last album and we were both eager to see this talented singer/songwriter and his band. He was chiefly featuring songs from his forthcoming third album: Am I Really That Boring?

First song I remember was Middle Class Girl which was dedicated to Margi (audience member and fellow midlander). The recorded version is swelled out sonically with semi-lengendary figures: powerpop luminary and Brian Wilson Band member: Nelson Bragg, along with singer/songwriter and star ascendant Anny Celsi - quite a coup for Richard and delight for our ears. Not that the heavy friends were present on this occasion, but Richard and the two members of his band all sing and make a sound big enough you'd swear there was at least an extra phantom member or two! From it's catchy " GIRL/Girl" call and response intro it arrests the listener from the very beginning.

Richard songs are full of melody, ringing Searchers/Byrdsian guitars and beautiful pin sharp harmonies. His somewhat ironic tales of real life are often insightful and can hit a truism many of us can recognise – on 21st Century he sings “21st Century sucks and blows... -'s modern life I fear” – too true mate!

Next up is the pretty If You Don't Rescue Me, with its Paul Simon fingerpick and wonderful Beach Boyslike tag out.

Stop Your Crying echos a slight 'Don't Fear The Reaper' figure but takes it off in a different direction with another lovely call & response vocal so beloved by Snow and us fans of vocal harmony.
The past occurs again in Take Me Back Home Again where Snow explains the double edged sword of looking youthful “When I was 18 I looked like I was 10”.

Last and best, the show stopping number from the new album is title song “Am I Really That Boring?” with its infectious twiddlly opening riff, almost Claptonesqe, and Joe Jackson type shouty vocal. Snow then goes on to list a set of scenarios which I guarantee will have most of you nerdy/anal pop types identifying with 90% of them – Mrs Q & I exchanged several glances of recognition even on first listen. You can check it for yourself here.

Richard Snow has an intimacy and spareness of expression that captures common experiences and relates them with candid honesty, plus a rare gift for melody, harmony and hook. He connects well with his audience and sometimes you might think, we've found the British Marshall Crenshaw – Ladies and Gentlemen – this is a good thing!

Sara Lowes - After some technical difficulties (yes unusual keyboard set-ups can be a pain in amongst a sea of predominant guitar bands in a festival situation) Sara's stunning songs came as a complete surprise – we had no idea what to expect.

A bit of piano noodling begins her set – I thought she was still messing about – suddenly this changes gear and gives way to a solid crunchy riff recalling early Steely Dan – turns out this is the leading track from her new album 'Back To Creation'. Later there's a suggestion of Chicago in the anticipation of some phrases as the drummer plays also some brass (how?). Listening to the album somewhat later, it becomes apparent that Sara dresses her arrangements with fabulous brass intervention a la Chicago/Blood,Sweat &Tears. Fans of this most creative period of pop/jazz grooviness will definitely enjoy Sara's twist on the fusion.

There's always a danger with female singers who practice open heart surgery about their life and loves to stick them in some cosy sub-folk category. Although we detected some strong traces of Renaissance in their airiest of phrases, there were also equal parts Andy Pratt, Ben Folds and even Traffic – very fine company indeed.

Onwards and Sara introduces 'Something I Don't Know' a song closer to classic white soul than anything else she has played thus far. I've always admired artists that are not tied by genre – great stuff.

It turns out that Sara is originally from Barnoldswick but based in Manchester and studied classical music, plus she has done quite a lot of session work for the likes of the fab Micah P Hinson, King Creosote, Jim Noir and The Earlies. Thus she's quite the seasoned pro, which belies her seeming young innocence and modest presentation – I hope she doesn't mind us saying?

IPO often surprises us – Sara was one of the first to make us sit up, take notice and appreciate the eclecticism. One to watch definitely.

Eskimo Blonde (x2) – It may have been my imagination but there seemed to be a buzz in the air, an anticipation during the set-up period for these guys from Aberdeen, Scotland. An act that we were fortunate to get to see twice across two days. First time, on the Cavern big stage they prove that they are a force to be reckoned with – our second look later confirms that the intimacy of the Cavern Pub is far more comfortable, as the band relax and connect with their audience when they can see the whites of their eyes.

With no nonsense they are soon ready and kick off with Something for the Weekend a song that cops the riff from Bad Company's 'Feel Like Making Love' but far more puts me in mind of the excellent early 70's London hard rockers Stray.

Effortlessly, they soon slip into the next number 'Happy' where a great thump and grind riff starts things off as soon the chorus escalates to a soaring hook line. The band follow that enduring line of outfits influenced by the unfussy classic rock of the mantle laid down by Free but also encompass the now sadly defunct but brilliant Moke and the great Canadian band Cry of Love. Eskimo Blonde are our next great hope to occupy this space.

Lead vocalist Mike Laszek has a great edgy rasp to his voice; in the high points he elevates this to a controlled whine which soars above the back line to accentuate the all important hooks. Complete with blonde spiky hair, he cuts a fine outline against the Cavern backdrop; close your eyes for just one moment and you can hear a young Bryan Adams at his creative best.

Mike has strong support from the rest of the band, led by their slightly nerdy looking lead guitar player, but he belies his bespectacled demeanour and delivers a constant stream of interjecting rips and runs complimenting their sharp and infectious riffy tunes.

The band's penultimate song begins with a Talking Heads' 'Psycho Killer' bass line but develops into a full scale AC/DC style four on the floor rocker. Called Trip it's a definite stage high point. They finish with a new song harshly and ironically christened by their leg pulling home audience as 'Shit' but is in fact currently titled Heaven Almighty. It's a great finish to a great performance.

Eskimo Blonde deliver a very polished, confident and powerful set, chock full of bump and grind riffs and infectious choruses. Highly recommended and definitely one of the IPO highs in what proves to be an exceptional year!

Advice: Take a trip and try to see It their way

“We're the fill in band” announced besuited Corner Laughers (x2) singer/guitarist KC Bowman as he stepped up to the microphone. The first band I've ever seen at the Cavern proper not to be introduced by IPO head honcho David Bash or his partner Rina Bardfield. Indeed they were the fill in as they were unannounced on the programme. We later learn that the charmingly named Corner Laughers are an alter-ego of billed combo Agony Aunts, which are normally fronted by Karla Kane and Angela Silletto and augmented by various powerpop aristocrats such as Chris Von Sneidern. However tonight, all the way from the Bay area of San Francisco we get the Agony Aunts (albeit with Karla Kane at the helm) posing as the Corner Laughers.

Clear? No, OK never mind, what about the music? The Corner Laughers were not surprisingly, completely unknown to us. They seem to inhabit that narrow but delightful chasm left by the likes of the great Dan Hicks & his Hot Licks crossed with jug band appeal of The Lovin' Spoonful. Depending on your Point-Of-View, their brand of good timey western swing delivered with suitable quirkiness on ukulele & mandolin by the aforementioned waif-like bespectacled vocalist Karla Kane and her assembled bunch of equally whimsical similar sailors, is totally engaging. However, its fun and frivolity on the outside hides the lyrical underbelly, where we are recounted tales of myths, betrayal, ancient history and lets not forget: jerk-off boyfriends!

The second time we saw the band, later in the evening was as Agony Aunts (as billed). In many way the Corners although they are much more accessible to your actual Powerpop fan with their skew on Beatlesque melody and song structure, their inclusion of plenty of 7ths and diminished 5ths and all round R. Crumb & his Cheap Suit Serenaders references makes you realise just how very interchangeable the two bands are.

We had seen The Anydays before but such was their improvement over the last time we had done so, we barely recognised the fact. Hailing from Oxford they completed the night for us by delivering a sharp concentrated set of mod-u-like crunchy songs in an assured and deliberate fashion. Leader Drew Atkins, every inch the rock star in Lou Reed shades, red wasp-like hooped shirt and Chelsea boots, announced songs in a nonchalant, sometimes unintelligible insolence, which went well with the territory.

The audience, at this time of the night, strongly represented by the tourist fraternity (The Cavern naturally attracts many unconnected to IPO visitors from all over the world) seemed to treat the band with an undeserved disinterested indifference, which frankly amazed this writer. Somebody was tired and it wasn't the band.

Nonetheless, they didn't allow it to affect their performance and continued with a great animated elan.Their best song blew off our socks, called Tambourine from their just released new album 'Move'.

You should buy it, and we look forward to seeing The Anydays again soon.
We'll be publishing our review of the next day at IPO (Friday) in a few days time.
For Your Further Delectation:

Corner Laughers -
Eskimo Blonde
Sara Lowes -


Jeremy said...

Thanks for this review, I'm most impressed and envious you managed to see over 40 bands.
Your Sara Lowes review has inspired me to stream her new album from and I'm enjoying it.
Looking forward to your next instalment!

Margi said...

Lovely review of a really good day at IPO.

Happen to catch Eskimo Blonde and I too was blown away. Really hoping to catch these guys at another gig soon.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Andy said...

Great blog guys. I love IPO!

Richard Snow said...

Thanks for the kind words about me and The Inlaws

Anne-Marie said...

Look at me sneakily getting in on your photo! ;-)
Didn't even realise, must be getting immune to people taking photos now.
Loving the reviews, can't wait for the rest!

cruz992 said...

Looks like a great time! Nice pics. Next time let's see Mr Q!

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