Leeds Festival. Two words that will give anyone from the North of England either happy memories or a resentful frown. Last year, being unable to go, I was sadly the latter. But this year, I made it. I’m writing this from my bed, a novelty which has not yet worn off for me, and I’m so covered in bruises that I was considering attempting to play connect-the-dots – an idea I quickly threw away once I touched the pen to my arm and remembered all over again how sore I was. This, of course, is my way of beginning to explain what a fucking fantastic week-end it was.
I cleverly decided to bring a friend along with me who hadn’t heard of most of the bands who were playing, aside from the obvious, and who wasn’t a fan of many of the bands she had heard of (Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, etc). This meant that I could slyly enforce my own schedule upon her while saying, eyes wide, “But are you sure there’s nowhere else you’d rather be?” Of course, there wasn’t, leaving me free to rejoice in all the live music I wanted. I am a total live music whore, I’ll admit it right up. If it’s a band I’ve never heard of, I’ll listen (and probably dance, being unable to sit still). If it’s a band I don’t like… I’ll still dance. Hence the busy schedule – I was determined to make the best of my time.
The weekened opened with Mariarchi el Bronx. I’d heard tell of the Bronx’s mariarchi set and was intrigued to give it a chance. There wasn’t much else that I would be missing, so we headed on down to the Main Stage and seated ourselves comfortable. I’ll admit right now that I know next to nothing about mariarchi; Wikipedia tells me that it’s from Mexico and consists of of at least three violins, two trumpets, one Spanish guitar, one vihuela, one guitarrón and occasionally a harp.
Thanks to Mariarchi el Bronx, I also know that it’s forgettable. Mariarchi music is not something that interests me, in fact; it sounds like music that I expect to hear in the elevator or maybe when put on hold during a phone call. The costumes amused me, the stage presence was disappointing, and the reaction from the crowd was, understandably, almost none. Opening the main stage on a Friday afternoon is difficult, nevertheless, Mariarchi el Bronx were not, in my opinion, a success.
Up next were Fightstar, and we decided to stick around out of interest. Known to most as ‘Charlie-from-Busted’s-new-band’, Fightstar sounded mostly like a lot of noise… and not in a good way. (Yes, there is a good way.) I, personally, can never take them seriously after Busted, and Fightstar sound like a poor imitation of many better bands – so why not listen to the better bands instead? The most interesting part of their set was when the people around me started yelling out Busted songs as requests. I was hopeful that Charlie & co would play an impromptu version of ‘Air Hostess’ – sadly not.
Heading over to the Lock Up tent, I managed to get front row for Chuck Ragan. I’d heard nothing of his music before, aside from a pretty spectacular cover of ‘Wreck of the Old 97’ from a punk rock Johnny Cash tribute album, but as the ex-frontman to one of my all time favourite bands, Hot Water Music, I figured he was worth a look. And he was.
Chuck is now a folk singer/songwriter, and his music is catchy and fun while having a deeper tone to it. I knew he was doing folk, but I didn’t expect to find it as enjoyable as I did. It was one of my Leeds festival highlights, and Chuck has a great stage presence, even going so far as to throw free CDs into the audience at the end (although, I’ll admit I ducked, not wanting a sharp edged CD cover to hit my head at high speed).
At the NME tent, we managed to catch half of Metric’s set, including the fantastic ‘Monster Hospital’. Emily Haines is an amazing frontwoman, stomping around the stage in a glittery dress that I unashamedly coveted. However, they soon made way for the artist we were really there to see: Patrick Wolf.
Patrick Wolf is every inch a performer, with nothing but dramatic openings and gestures from start to finish. This isn’t to say that the focus is taken away from his music, rather, it adds to his performance and becomes a part of it. Appearing on stage in one of his famous unusual outfits, white-blond hair tied back, Patrick displayed his amazing singing talents, going on to also demonstrate his keyboard-playing abilities. With a costume change halfway through the set, not to m ention some surprisingly earnest banter, Patrick never failed to entertain, including his gloriously indulgent twirls along the barrier. Definitely one of my Leeds festival highlights.
The next band we caught the end of were Mad Caddies at the Lock Up tent. They were undeniably fun, and you only had to glance at the audience to see that they were having an amazing time. Skanking and dancing all over the place, it was riotous entertainment and I couldn’t stop smiling during the whole three songs I was there.
After Mad Caddies, I made my way to the barrier for The Bronx. Not sure what to expect after their lack of stage presence and, frankly, dull performance earlier as Mariarchi el Bronx, I was pleasantly surprised when they arrived on stage in a whirl of energy. Screaming and throwing himself around the stage, Matt Caughthran at one point climbed halfway up the tall pole in the middle of the tent and did a backflip into the audience, setting the tone for the rest of the set.
It was impossible to stay still during their particular brand of noisy punk rock, and the set was over surprisingly quickly. At one point, Caughthran stood up on the barrier and demanded that all crowd-surfers be sent to him, ‘to deal with’. If I’d been tall enough to see and not flinging myself around in the pit, I’m sure that it would have definitely been something worth remembering.
After The Bronx finished and I’d had time to recuperate from their energetic set, Thursday took the stage. This was the third time I’d seen Thursday and they were similar each time, satisfactory and enjoyable but not particularly gripping or exciting. ‘Consistent’ would be the best word to describe them, and they did their best to get the crowd involved.
Friday finished up with Rise Against. The atmosphere was phonomenal before they even took the stage, with the tent packed full, causing barely enough room to breathe. Everyone was excited, and the music playing only added to the tension, with spontaneous sing-alongs to Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle’ and Blink-182’s ‘Dammit’. Rise Against finally delivered an amazing show, playing a wide selection of songs and gaining a fantastic response from the crowd. They were the perfect choice to finish the night, and left me feeling exhausted in the way that means I know I’ve had a good night.