After having a great time at the festival in 2018, I returned to Leeds ready for more multi-venue fun across the city with my buddy Aaron.
After a long journey from Norwich the awesome Zeitgeist crew sorted my photo pass out with zero hassles, as always, and we headed straight over to Nation of Shopkeepers to see one of my favourite singer-songwriters Bessie Turner. It was utterly rammed, as expected, and the security at this pub venue were doing a sterling job keeping everybody safe. One of them very kindly smuggled me stage-side and I managed to get my first shots of the day. Bessie has an utterly beautiful voice and it's always a pleasure to see her perform.
Then over to the magnificent O2 Leeds for Drenge. Once again the security were top notch and being very vigilant with their bag searches and pat-downs. I love to watch music in this arena with the choice between chilling out on the balcony, or uninterrupted views down on the floor. There were tough shooting conditions from the photography pit in front of the stage, as Drenge favour low-light, but I managed a couple of ok shots. I enjoyed the first half hour of their set, and it would have been the perfect amount. But it dragged on for another half an hour. I don't think they have the material or the variety in their sound to warrant an extended set, and it seemed they were filling a lot. Decent band nonetheless.
Next up was the 'Dance to the Radio Stage' at the venue Church. I got some fantastic shots here last year with the magnificent stained glass window and halo lighting rig behind the stage. We caught the very end of Shadowlark's synth-ey indie-pop set which was sounding great. However, I have got to say something about the horrible state of the venue. It looked and smelled like it hadn't been cleaned since last year, there was almost no security and the vile toilets had to be violating some health and safety laws. I walked out feeling pretty disgusted by the place. Shadowlark did not deserve to play in such a crummy venue.
We then nipped into the totally rammed Student Uni at Leeds Beckett Uni to catch a bit of Ghenghar. I do like this venue, but by 5pm I wanted something a bit more upbeat. It felt like the venue was primed to kick off and ignite, and Genghar aren't the kind of band to do that. I remembered wistfully seeing Spring King and Pulled Apart by Horses smash the same stage up last year.
After a quick bite to eat we headed back to the O2 to catch Sam Fender who thankfully smashed a homerun right out of the park. What a performer he is?! He's such a likeable and confident lad, armed with great songs and a winning personality. He finished with a brilliant cover of the Oasis anthem 'What's the Story, Morning Glory'. Not many artists could get away with doing that. The ram-packed room agreed as they sang along deafeningly loudly. Top marks there my man.
Sadly we had to miss seeing the fantastic 'She Drew the Gun' for a third time as my old legs were already tiring and I couldn't face running all the way over to the University of Leeds and back again to the O2. We were staying put for the next band on our itinerary; The Sherlocks. (It did help having a nice balcony seat and a beer on the go). They played a pretty decent set and I thought they sounded good, despite lead singer Kiaran Crook apologising for being 'rusty'. Nonsense. They're a quality band.
I then went for a bit of a wander and caught the brilliant Lion's set on the second stage at Leeds Beckett; the Gigwise Stage. But still it wasn't kicking off! It was up to Ibibio Sound Machine on the Momentum and Independence Stage downstairs to get the party started. And man oh man did they. Who'd have thought that at a festival dominated by indie rock and acoustic singers, it would be African funk that did the job. Now I'm biased as I'm already familiar with their music, and I urge you to check them out, but the ten or so performers on stage, consisting of a drummer AND a bongo player, a three piece brass section, a guitarist, two backing singers, and the superb lead singer Eno Williams played an absolute blinder. The whole crowd seemed very keen to get down and groove to their sound. I enjoyed every second of it.
I then returned to the O2 once more for Sundara Karma. Could they continue the vibe and keep the energy up? Almost. They're a good band, and I got some decent shots from the pit. But the artist programming this year just seemed slightly off. The 9pm slot deserves someone who can get a venue moving and singing along. Sundara Karma got two pretty good songs, but I can't help but feel the slot deserves someone more energetic and armed with some proper anthems.
In retrospect we should have then headed over to see Tom Grennan headline the Farah Stage over at Leeds University, but we decided to swing by Church again (despite its grubbiness) to see the mighty Slow Readers Club. I discovered them last month at a sold out gig in Norwich and rate them highly. Huge mistake as they were late on stage, and after twenty minutes we gave up. The bands social media wasn't clear what the holdup was, and nobody in the venue could be bothered to tell the frustrated audience either. Whatever the reason we left the shoddy venue once again feeling disappointed.
Even so, the day as a whole was ok, and very well organised (with the exception of Church), but it was by far the best festival experience I've ever had. 4/10
Published on 08 May 2019 by Paul Jones