Tuesday, 15 May 2012

On Third Day We Rose... to the Occasion

It may not seem so to you, but to us, it seems like only yesterday since we were reporting back from the Liverpool IPO 2011.

It may seem somewhat ridiculous to still be reporting on an event that happened some 10/11 months ago, and amazingly we now are on the eve of the 2012 festival, but we started this, so we'll finish. Just because somehow our own lives and events got in the way of us completing our review, we did take notes and photos and somehow feel we'd be letting down both the bands we enjoyed so much and ourselves if we didn't finish what we'd set out to do. So this is our third day and probably the best of the festival for a whole bunch of reasons.


Rudimentary Confusion – Things got off to a great start with Rudimentary Confusion, a band we'd seen just once before, but were happy to see again. With more than a passing nod to the hard rock three piece 60's chic of The Experience or Cream, the band centre around thrashing guitarist and vocalist Matthew Withey who certainly cuts a dash in his Quality Street hat and thinking man's cravat. Half close your eyes and you might even mistake his pixie-like presence for a parallel universe's Johnny Thunders long lost younger sibling.

Although there are powerhouse trio references, RC (as I affectionately refer to them now) merge these obvious ingredients with an altogether Irish folky blues which permeates pretty much of all of their material.

Sample 'Without You Blues', not a million miles away from the traditional 'Whiskey in the Jar' but we have to get to the end before the band finish with one of their best, the reflective 'This Town', a homage to somewhere close to their hearts and features a brash folk/blues, with some frantic guitar pyrotechnics from the aforesaid Matt. RC's recorded output seems mainly to consist of live takes, which certainly suits their persona, but we'd like to see some studio sourced sides to emerge in the near future.


The Beat Rats – New York visitors from earlier festivals - we never had - but everyone says you must see the Beat Rats – we weren't disappointed. Evoking Hamburg leather clad Bier Keller Beatles with hint of MC5 and that dirty Detroit je ne sais quoi in tow, the band deliver authentic Mersey steeped rock and roll with the kind of infinite appeal to an audience of a certain age and disposition that for many would see them part with their soul and a good deal more.

Having the benefit of nostalgia and more the Beat Rats blend their obvious British Invasion sound with solid roots Rock n Roll and serve it up with a fine honed precision that makes it look so easy – but as their fellow musicians at IPO will attest, making it this good and real, takes years of fine craft and accomplishment.

Whilst not attempting one iota of originality The Rats actually achieve a sound, depth and shear grit that few of the original Beat Bands of the early/mid 60's could attest . Apart from maybe the Stones, the Pretty Things and a few others, many sounded quite innocuous when trying to get as down and dirty as these guys.

Some highlights: the instrumental 'Ratfink' throws surf band chic and Ventures grooviness into the pot. Whilst the cheeky rewrite of all things 1963/4 Beatles 'My Jolana' will have Fab Four fans spotting where they copped a variety of riffs and runs.

The Beat Rats can be found most weeks somewhere in the Big Apple propping up some suitable dive, but for this weekend only, we were glad to see them at the Cavern shaking their thang.

Fuzzy Halo – I don't know what it is about Scandinavian pop, but this area of the world somehow has captured a major foothold of the genre we love and keeps on serving up the goods. Fuzzy Halo from Stockholm generally keep to a fairly safe modest jangly mid 60's beat scenario for the majority of their 30 minute set, peppered with shy polite thanks in between each number. However they surprise us with 'God Help Us' which seems to mark a more mature turn in their songwriting and reaches beyond the mere Beat Group derivative to introduce twists and turns and diversions which suggests hope for the future.

They continue with 'Long Road' which has a lovely infectious opening guitar figure and a laid back short middle section which continues this more slightly subversive direction. Certainly we are eager to hear them develop further down this more interesting path and maybe an album in the near future if there's not one already?

One slight annoyance on the otherwise groovy smooth running of Cavern Club was the introduction this year of rope barriers and bouncers blocking the stage whilst Fuzzy Halo and at least one other act were on. I imagine this is to prevent people during peak tourist period of charging the stage and posing for photos as some are wont to do. Kind of understandable for a brief moment but do we really need the roping off of the acts that followed when once the tourist influx had receded? Hopefully this blight won't be around in 2012?

The Carousels make no secret of the fact that they firmly align themselves with the trappings of mid 60's chic as mod bouffant hair and paisley circles abound in amongst the Rickenbacker and Hofner guitars. Make no mistake we are in a folk-pop world here where the neither the Byrds or Starry Eyed and Laughing would be out of place alongside these chaps . 

Although, interestingly I think this is their intended focus, indisputably their best song is the distinctively Dylanesque 'Winds of Change' with it's wheezy harmonica and bump and swing tempo. We purchased a demo CD from the merchandise stand but The Carousels promise a proper EP early in 2012 for which we've started saving!

I've been mildly critical of the Liverpool IPO event in the past which appeared to have included one or two indie orientated artists who might fill an afternoon slot but do not qualify as contributing to the wider Power Pop remit I believe promoter David Bash wisely sets himself. On this occasion I'm happy to report that save a few fringe acts early on in the week that prestigious platforms have been largely occupied by wholly deserving artists. The Beta Rays are one such band that firmly fall in the mixed bag box I plonk Indie acts in. Nothing wrong with what they do, and in fact, establishing themselves as a cut above the usual bland non-descript indie tag the Beta Rays acquit themselves well.


They definitely possess stage presence and a lead singer who knows how to utilize a formidable set of pipes. With material like 'The Girl You Are You Are' (shades of Be Bop Deluxe meets ELO meets The Jags) and 'What Do You Do When You're Alone?' (big, bold and dense) they demonstrate that they qualify themselves as more than fit to fill stadiums of the future with their anthemic yet catchy brand of lightly pop coated indie swagger.

Moving to the backstage of the Cavern, bigger and more traditional than it's older sibling, it has come to be regarded as the premier sounding post in the world famous venue.

We were delighted to be greeted by the rather wonderful Kinbeats, named so as they are made up of three brothers and a cousin, misplaced from Germany via Kilburn! Their similar construction to the Beach Boys is not lost on us or other fans as their beautiful blend of closely related vocal chords is one of the Kinbeats enduring strengths. I overheard one diehard in the audience venture that they were the best harmonies he'd heard in the Cavern since the appearance some years ago by the fabulous Avenues (now sadly defunct) – a bold claim – but these guys are not short of the mark.

Often they sport rich four part harmonies which are achingly beautiful, including an acapella rendition at one point, mostly though they rely on two part harmonies from front line brothers Arthur and Patrick Ralla, who provide the focal point visually and musically.

Their songs range from soft and gentle to medium pace and relaxed, rarely do they do hard, but when they do, they carry it well and the contrast is quite marked and is mostly revealed in their closing songs.

Our favourites of the set included 'New Morning' which for a moment recalls the Rutles and 'Cheese & Onions' in it's Lennonesque descending pedal note intro and 'Shine On' which has the trade mark harmonies that make the band so beguiling.

(Now known as Wide Sea since they lost a member and readjusted the line-up, and have spent some time supporting the legendary Edwyn Collins on a US and European tour and recording a new album. Their first long player I believe, 'A Place To Call Home' is available now on AED Records and realises the band live and much more.)

Without warning Ulysses seem to emerge from a sea of feedback and chaos, amid the unprecedented rising temperatures and swampy sweat of the Backstage Cavern to bring us a heady mix of acid drenched cacophony mixed with glam stomp and roll. We had no preconceptions but ladies and gentlemen we were gobsmacked!

They fired off instantly into the infectious 'Eye on You' all chants, stabs and starts, hardly letting up the pace for a minute as guitarist Luke Smyth whacks an insubordinate foot pedal or two before we're into more instability and maybe shades of a Bowie copped riff into the next number. Before long the drummer who we later learn is Shane Maximus (yeah really) takes command of his kit like a herd of unruly cattle, pretty soon he's tamed the toms and demands his stage space. It's rare to see a band in this day and age, certainly one you'd never seen before, to field a set of four different personalities who establish themselves quickly enough for you to form an impression you then keep with you when it's all over. 

In some ways they put me in mind of The Who – not that they sound, look or imitate them - it's that identifiable four parts of the whole that connects in a very real way. We did see the band twice (one day after the other) so I guess it's to their advantage that this impression is felt so acutely.


Later the chaps from Bath steam into the memorable 'Why Why Why' which suggests a Steely Dan backbeat, complete with a Skunk Baxteresque guitar solo.

More than any other song 'Sometimes' suggests some of the hallmarks we reckon define important identifiable elements of the Ulysses sound. There's the slightly skewed boogie throb of Hawkwind, then some 70's glam rock fused with the American acid of Randy California's Spirit and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. This mash oozes from out of the craziness and loveliness from every pore and screams Ulysses. I know If I had it – I'd bottle it!

They finish the first time with 'Dark Old Days,' which has occasional flashes of The Move at their peak, then a bit of fairground nonsense, then we are into an acidy jam which culminates with all members bar the drummer hunched around one mic for a percussion extended tag-out (see lead picture).

The second time we saw Ulysses, they finalled with a Beatles cover I've never heard anyone else do – 'The End' from Abbey Road complete with powerhouse tub thumping from Shane and the outstanding 3 Beatles successive guitar solos but this time with only Luke and other plank spanker Tom Satoryal doing the honours. I mean who else covers this song? What an impressive finish – phew!

If I had one criticism, and this is only after an appreciable passage of time has passed, it would be that Ulysses does not capture the excitement and mayhem of their stage performance on record. The fun and frivolity is there, but somehow that controlled chaos, that trying-to-keep-the-lid-on-the-genie is not present. Of course it's early days, and there's plenty of time for all that , and it's maybe a lot to expect after only one album? Meanwhile we look forward to when we next see this incredible revue again. For us this was definitely a major Power Pop Review highpoint and perhaps the IPO band of the festival this year! _____________________________________________________________

How to follow that – well, with something quite different. Longplayer kick off with a killer instrumental – how many bands do that these days?. 'Space Place Cafe' is one part surf, one part Ventures/Shadows and another Allman Brothers 'Jessica' . The Shadow Man as the band called him effortlessly peals off beautiful melodic and scintillating liquid guitar lines, which melt like sticky delicious candy into a satisfying whole. It's a great and startling opening which makes the audience sit up and listen.

The Shadow Man steps up again to lay down a rootsy introduction to 'I Won't Let You Down', a song which although unashamedly pop traditional suggests they've been paying attention in their ELO/Travelling Wilbury lessons. The bands material although in many ways retrograde traditional pop is meticulously executed and their presentation so charming that their set goes by in a breeze.


Although it gives you that deja vu it appeared to reach into the past without sounding merely derivative as is so often the danger in this genre. Clearly enjoying themselves, Longplayer often construe themselves into a Shadowslike guitar thrust and wavy dance which assures them of much audience approval and delight.

Hiding a light under a bushel was keyboard player on stage right, with a formidable voice, strong compositional ability (and a rich pop past) up his sleeve. The main singer/guitarist confided in us later that they swapped duties for stage, as Goran (for that is his name) preferred not to front the band. Clearly this arrangement worked well as we were none the wiser during the performance, only learning of this fact afterward during a relaxing chat.

We purchased Longplayer's album which they kindly autographed, and were not disappointed on getting it home – we strongly urge you to buy a copy – it's one of 2011's best kept secrets.

Night After the Prom - an almighty surprise awaited us when the penultimate act of the night hit the stage – we hadn't read David Bash's programme blurb in advance so we didn't know what to expect.

Kicking off with The Doobies 'Without Love' led by a sassy Hispanic girl, the band of post Prom Night performers on a high, caught the audience open mouthed as they motored through one great rock classic after another. Their must have been at least twenty performers as singers, guitarists, drummers etc changed pretty much with every song.

It sounds a bit cheesy on paper, and it could have easily been so, had these teens not played and performed the material so well and convincingly. In many ways it didn't seem like we were a million miles away from The Kids From Fame via Glee and as much as those programs are loaded with a cosy cheese that smacks of precocious stage school brats, here something different was seemingly at work.

Bombarded by flabby modern commercial pop: endless talent contest karaoke fodder, unison laughable emoting tepid boy bands by the half dozen, autotuned pyrotechnic kid divas invading eardrums like pesky insects – a bunch of switched-on high school teachers have introduced their students to a time when pop was enjoying its developing purple patch – obviously talented, the kids have embraced their elders wisdom, knowledge and skill.

True these kids were hand picked from a Performing Arts Academy from California, but on whatever level you choose to view it, this was an unqualified success and kudos to the teachers and the performers – this was a joy too good to miss.

As the clock approached 2pm we chickened out, missing the Sparkle*jets UK for a second time – sad, we really wanted to see these guys ever since we discovered them on an MP3.com CD back in the 90's – but it was not to be.

We actually saw three more acts on Saturday but are saving them for a part 2 tomorrow, then we are into Sunday's billing.

For Your Further Enjoyment:

Kin Beats (now Wide Sea) - http://www.widesea.co.uk/

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