Since when did Leeds Festival bake in the sunshine all weekend without a drop of rain? I can’t remember it ever happening. I’m much more used to slopping around in the mud and wandering between stages for shelter from the rain than kicking back with a few beers on the grass near the main stage. Although at £6 a pint it really was only a few beers! The queue for the Co-op outside the arena gates went around the block for much cheaper stuff.
Those that know about Leeds get there on the Thursday morning to stake their claim on the best weekend camping spots, and for some quality live music on the Festival Republic Stage that night. It is the only proper stage open, but to ease you into a busy weekend we have BILK, Indoor Pets, WhenYoung and Easy Life who all put on a great show, with Indoor Pets being my personal favourite from the set.
They come across as a Brit Weezer with tongue in cheek lyrics about society matched with some thumping guitars. It’s not easy being a fuzzy toned rock/pop band these days but Hi has been on my regular Spotify playlist for over 12 months now and shows no sign of losing its popularity. Seeing them play that live as track two in the set just made it worth the early trip out.
Leeds/Reading is the traditional post GCSE results party weekend, so you are looking at a very young crowd, and for some their first ever experience at a festival. Consequently, it feels like the DJ/Dance tents are rammed, and the live music stages less busy. An interesting development for Festival organisers to wrestle with, Leeds/Reading have put more rap/dance based acts on the main stages this year than ever before and the biggest crowd pull for both sites was clearly Billie Eilish, even Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters did not attract more to the main stage than the 17-yr old.
Sadly, we all know that teen peer pressure for drinking alcohol and taking drugs is a hideous UK societal problem, and not knowing your own personal limits and the strength of these products will always result in a tragedy. I’m seeing young girls puking in corners of the festival and then huge hour-long queues for water and food in the full 30-degree heat of the sun. Organisers must learn from this and have contingency in place for extra water points and more food vendors. Thankfully the security staff at each of the stage pits were much better organised – filling water bottles and offering recyclable cups out at every opportunity they could. That said, the majority of punters had a festival they will never forget, so many smiles and laughs – the weather here makes such a massive impact on outdoor music festivals, all the Leeds Festival Virgins will return next year – you can guarantee it.
Friday was always going to be busy as it was Foo Fighters day, and the single day tickets sold out in advance very quickly. However, there was a ton of other talent on throughout the day. With The Faim playing on the 2nd stage (Radio 1/NME), frontman Josh Raven was able to exploit every inch of the massive stage. A decent crowd turned up and more were attracted in when they heard the superb funky rock sound from this Aussie 4-piece. They are touring (much smaller venues) later this year so catch them before they become the next INXS.
At Leeds/Reading you expect some surprises although hearing that The Sherlocks are doing a secret set tomorrow is more meh than exciting, however, local Ripon girl Billie Marten is spotted at the BBC Introducing stage, and it’s a perfect accompaniment to hot sunshine and a chilled-out vibe sitting on the grass. Blue Sea Red Sea and Mice were great to hear amongst all the noise from the other stages.
If you wanted some noise though just head down to the Main Stage for Yungblud if he doesn’t get you jumping around within the first 2 mins of 21st Century Liability – there is something physically wrong with you. Confidence oozes out like the sweat we are all expressing, he even has the audacity to cover a Machine Gun Kelly tune I Think I’m OK and brings him out on stage to join in!! Never has a local rising star from Doncaster, who was playing tiny clubs only 12 months ago, deserved to be seen on a main stage at the biggest Northern English Festival. “I was standing there 2 years ago in this field” he announces, well he gave Frank Carter a run for his money in the audience participation stakes.
Frank is a master though, and even the new barrier system isn’t going to stop him orchestrating female only moshpits and female only crowdsurfing. I’ve seen him do it so many times now though that it doesn’t feel like a breakthrough moment anymore, more like just part of the show that you come to expect. He’s still firing on all cylinders and the live show is where it’s at for Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, they have more energy and audience connection live than can be heard on their albums.
The Distillers meanwhile play most of the Coral Fang album in their afternoon main stage slot. It’s been 15 years since Brody Dalle & Co stood on a Leeds/Reading stage so they waste no time in thrashing out Sick of it All from the Sing Sing Death House album. Most kids here though are looking a bit bemused by it all and head to the Radio 1 stage for more Machine Gun Kelly. He’s brought the full Hotel Diablo set with him and some surprising choice of covers – anyone for a run through of Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil?? We also get our 2nd version of I Think I’m OK but this time it’s lacking in some Yungblud.
Enter Shikari are doing their own double set day, one on the main stage and then again in The Pit later tonight, they break the record for the greatest number of streamers and confetti used inside the small tent – everyone leaves looking like Frank Sidebottom with their own sweat and confetti papier mache head.
I have a conflict of artists next, both The Amazons and Anteros are playing different stages at the same time. Seen both of them several times, so I catch half a set of each – Anteros proving to be the better entertainment in my opinion. Mainly because frontwoman Laura Hayden is the natural successor to Debbie Harry as a sugary but slightly psycho vocalist. Anteros should be playing much bigger stages, the band are incredibly tight, and their debut album released only this year should put them as potential Radio 1/NME Stage contenders. The Amazons are already at that level and still pack a heavy punch of old-time rock and roll, Junk Food Forever still remains one of my favourites, setting them clearly higher than the average current bloke rock band, like the errrrr Sherlocks.
Surprise of the day came in the shape of US band Palaye Royale who really tore The Pit a new one with their kamikaze attitude to performance. Vocalist Remington Leith was everywhere, on the subs at the front, and at one point climbed the scaffolding and jumped over the guitarist. Impressive gymnastics and guitar histrionics from a band I had never heard of, however, anyone that opens with The Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog is already winning in my book. F*cking with my head is a stonking tune and they are my ones to watch out for, having missed their support slot on the Enter Shikari tour earlier this year.
Finally, we have the 2-hour Foo Fighters show, which is probably what most of the Leeds/Reading band budget has been spent on this year. It is spectacular in its simplicity. You basically have a great Rock band playing all their hits without any major theatrics (aside from Taylor Hawkins drum riser going as high as the main stage roof) and a frontman who is probably THE finest of his generation, and becoming a legend to rival his older peers from the classic rock era of the 70’s.
Dave Grohl can do no wrong and Reading is his favourite festival in the world, so Leeds is like a practice run for the real thing that happens down south on Sunday night. Opening with The Pretender and Learn to Fly (complete with some guy in the sky on a powered glider) it starts as it finishes, hit after hit through around 23 songs and it doesn’t relent in the power or performance. Leeds does get a special guest that Reading didn’t, in the shape of Grohl’s daughter – Violet. She joins him for My Hero but then has to fly back to the States for school meaning that Reading gets Rick Astley instead. I think we win on both accounts!!
Taylor and Dave exchange roles during the Under-Pressure cover, which is normally where Hawkins shows off his vocal prowess, however a young punter dressed as Freddie Mercury was invited on stage and proceeded to upstage him even when his ‘tache fell off. “Get off my f*cking stage” Grohl growls at the end. Only in jest, but they quickly regain the upper hand by playing All My Life in quick time. “Done and on to the next one” we unbelievably have 9 songs still to go!!
That set was worth the day ticket price and with fireworks, an AC/DC Let There be Rock cover and Everlong we were completely finished for the day. Friday at Leeds Festival and already everyone more than happy with their weekend.
Saturday was a more pop than punk day but ending on an Aussie high. An early start at midday for 2 bands I was desperate to see – Zuzu, because I love her lyrical stories about space aliens set to a strong scouse accent, and Bloxx who I had never seen before but really enjoyed the power that came from frontwoman Ophelia, when she sings “You’re F*cking with my Headspace” – you listen up.
I’d put it down as a tie, however, The Sea Girls were even better, finally a bloke rock band that have a bit more style than tracksuits or parkas and grabbing yer balls (Sorry – The Story So Far!). Much needed at the time as the rest of the line-up was a little too sugar for my liking. Guitarist Rory Young is like a Duracell bunny bouncing on one leg and the choruses are made for singalongs particularly All I Want To Hear You Say. Great to hear a full set because the last time I saw them at Kendal, the lightning struck the site and closed everything for half an hour.
No such chance of any rain this weekend, even a little cloud would have been nice and would have stopped some of the sunburning down on the main stage area, Charli XCX is out there in front of a few thousand cheering kids pulling out the Icona Pop I Love it very early in the set, which gets them all bouncing around.
Carefully avoiding The Sherlocks we chance upon Twisted Wheel’s set in the Festival Republic tent and surprisingly enjoy hearing Lucy the Castle in all its glory once again – these Mancunians have tried hard to shed the bucket hat wearing brigade and I’m glad they are back on stage again following the break up 5 years ago.
After the lads we need some dance and head out to the Radio1 Dance tent of all places – Who’d have thought!! Anyway Becky Hill is about to take to the stage and it is rammed in there with Rudimental, MNEK, Sigala and probably The Voice fans, to watch Becky perform in some kind of sexy alien two piece outfit. An arresting sight and sound close up and it wouldn’t be the last time we visit this tent tonight.
Royal Blood are on the main stage – and rightly so, they are really the only draw for me here today. Proving that a two-piece band can actually make it to sub headline status at Leeds Festival, it probably hasn’t been done since The White Stripes. I’m still amazed at how Mike Kerr gets that sound from a Bass (Yes I know it’s all pedals) but it is lost in those thumping tunes like Loose Change, Little Monster and of course the finale Out of the Black. Have they done enough to warrant a headlining slot in a couple of years? – Let’s wait for album No. 3 before we make that decision.
Someone is having a laugh at the festival line up booking office – Sea Girls on at the same time as Swimming Girls, Pale Waves on before Circa Waves and Puppy on before Pup, that’s before we get into the latest urban rap artists Fredo and Dave – Never have rap acts been given such non cool names since Derek B launched Bullet from a Gun in 1988.
We do catch a bit of Puppy though, and it’s a pleasant alternative, almost prog like with a Sabbath/Weezer mash up of sound, hard to describe – but surely that’s a good thing. Playing most of their debut album The Goat, this 3-piece from London are carving a new niche at this festival but it’s a shame that there weren’t more people there to see it.
There is an unwritten rule that whenever The 1975 are playing a festival, Pale Waves are also on the bill. The two seem inseparable and have toured arenas together recently in the UK too. My favourite pop goth is Heather Baron-Gracie so it’s no surprise to me that I’m going to be watching Pale Waves smash another set of great tunes – opening with personal favourite Eighteen too! There’s another horrendous clash though with femme fatale Izzy Baxter Phillips indie fuzz band Black Honey. Another case of half a set each. That’s the beauty of Leeds, it is the biggest festival in the North of England and yet 5 of its stages are in very close proximity, so other than the main stage – set hopping is very possible.
I left The 1975 for the many that went to see them, I’ve seen the show this year at Sheffield Arena, so knew what to expect and I’m certainly not one of the many that have put this band down. They have worked hard for years to get there, they have a great pop sound and some foot tapping tunes but after all the pop stuff today I really needed to let off some steam and following a recommendation from 2 other photographers – saw the best thing to hit pure punk in 25 years! They are called The Chats and come from the sunshine coast of Australia.
The Chats fuse old school punk like Sham 69/Ramones with their Aussie brogue, and the 3-piece perform no frills 3 chord pub shout-a-longs that are stripped back and raw to the bone. Identity Theft, Smoko and Temperature are immediate thumpers that send a few surfers over the top of the crowd on to quite helpless security unprepared for what was about to happen. Bassist and main mouthpiece Eamon Sandwith looks like an angry Angus Young who cuts his own hair into a mullet. His gurning techniques are unparalleled and tonight he tries to orchestrate a swap of some weed for 2 pieces of Naan bread and a beer, with anyone in the audience. One lucky punter managed to secure the goods! Clearly the new find of the festival and I’ll be checking out their gig this 4th December when they come back to play Leeds Brudenell Social Club.
The last day of Leeds was all about one girl – Billie Eilish. Originally on the 2nd Stage, but as happened at Glastonbury, was urgently bumped up to Main Stage, and in reality, could have easily headlined Sunday. She drew the biggest crowd over the whole weekend and the phenomenon just continues. Everyone was jumping to those dark electro beats and breathy vocals. Incredibly impressive for one so young she worked the crowd from side to side and then had some softer moments with Ocean Eyes showing that she really does have a beautiful voice to go with the baggy dayglo green fashion and darker musical overtones.
Twenty-One Pilots and Post Malone could not follow it, even joining forces to play Oasis Don’t Look Back in Anger just didn’t cut it – we had seen the best already and if Billie Eilish isn’t headlining in the next few years I will be amazed.
Elsewhere during the day Sophie & The Giants put in another great performance, Soph’s voice is closely aligned to Florence Welch, but she is much less of a floaty fairy, check out The Light and also they play York on 13th October at The Basement.
Twerky dance moves were in force with both Mabel and Stefflon Don provising a bit of glamour to combat the mainly blokey bill once again. Leeds/Reading has yet to really tackle the whole women at festivals issue. Yet more women/girls are now attending than ever before and some of the best performances this year were by women, with Billie Eilish as a leading contender to finally get a female headliner.
A new young Leeds band created a stir on the BBC Introducing Stage, they are called Fudge and started by creating their own mosh pit of around 20 people, and from that group 2 lead singers emerged at varying times to get on the stage before rejoining the fans/support group in the field. It felt similar to a chaotic Idles performance, except this was probably more unorchestrated. A stunning tweaked version of Rage Against the Machine‘s Testify ended it all though, which shows a certain degree of balls to cover that mammoth tune.
This years festival in Leeds probably had the most eclectic line up, the highest temperatures, the least amount of food & drink vendors, and yet the best one for some years. It has to move with the music tastes of 15-25 year olds otherwise it will stagnate and become just another festival. Long may it continue to champion new bands and artists from all music genres.
All Words and Photos – John Hayhurst