The Wirral hosted the second Skeleton Coast Festival, Getintothis’ Mark Rowley and Peter Guy enjoyed a day of musical discovery and in Hoylake.
As the Merseyrail groovy train rolls into Manor Road from metropolis Central, it’s not obvious at first glance that being entered is a land where pirates and buccaneers once roamed freely.
This is, nevertheless the Skeleton Coast; home of the ‘Grace Darling’, Captain Jim, Billy Bones and Nev Skully. A skeleton key could well be all that’s needed to unlock a trove of songful treasure awaiting us in Hoylake Parade.
The Wirral Peninsula has long-since been an oasis of musical heritage, boasting the likes of The Lightening Seeds, The Coral, and more recently Bill Ryder-Jones, Hooton Tennis Club and She Drew The Gun as its own.
Much of the music to be heard at this 10-hour non-stop live extravaganza has its roots and origins in this locality.
Skeleton Coast Festival brings together a range of musicians, many of which are signed to Skeleton Key Records, and is a celebration of what this community, its wider catchment and the record label (homed at the recording studios in Parr Street, Liverpool) has to offer.
The venue, previously a school, has been transformed into an immaculate centre; with its high shine polished floors, modern decor and accessible lift all contributing to make it a prime facility. Inevitably, it still has the look and feel of a school, with old assembly hall and school dining canteen providing the spaces for live music.
What was previously the staff room and the outside playground provide ample space for bar and catering facilities; with vegan and burger options, racks of vintage clothes, a DJ stand and canvas sheltering (along with seating areas) filling the outside space.
Organisation of the event was especially slick and the arrangement of set times meant the only musical clash of the day was the wash of Paddy Steer’s high hat cymbal. A short walk up or down stairs and five-minute comfort intervals separated the two stages, and the performances that adorned them.
Arriving just in time to catch the opening chords of Plastic, it was instantly striking how likeable this four-piece rock band is. To a man, they gave it their absolute head-banging all, as if playing to a packed tent at Glastonbury, only blinking very occasionally to realise they were rocking away to a sparse audience of 13 people (including sound technicians)! The room did fill up deservedly, as the band rocked a bass-heavy sound for their remaining set.
Following an inaugural year which showcased new talent like The Mysterines, Jo Mary and Psycho Comedy, the second year was no different with Laurie Shaw excelling early doors with his high octane brand of fizzing rock and roll, The Movamahs hurtled through post-punk addled lunacy while War Room Records‘ AGP excelled with gentle chaos blending with vocal euphoria which coursed with anguish and beauty.
Another beautiful touch was the Red House Gallery exhibition which was installed into another of the classrooms as assorted psychedelic artwork (largely by Ian Skelly) mixed with a variety of prints including icons from Prince to Paul Weller while the centre piece of the room was The Coral‘s memorabilia from the live shows and diving helmet and goggles from their recent Distance Inbetween promo shoots.
Underlining the sense of togetherness of the festival was the fact that the more established musicians – Bill Ryder-Jones, various members of The Coral, several of By The Sea (Liam Power sporting his Indian Jones wear) and Miles Kane – not just moonlighted in some bands (see Paul Duffy featuring with Marvin Powell) but were quick to mingle with friends and family alike. Even on the merchandise table was Hairy Records’ veteran and all round Merseyside music legend Carl Walkum from much-missed Hairy Records. It just gave the event a genuine feeling of unity and camaraderie.
— Danny Hawthorne (@Danny_efc1878) August 5, 2017
Festival headliners, Cabbage, previously signed to Skeleton Key Records, with whom they released a series of EPs, the band signed a worldwide publishing deal with Blue Raincoat Songs in April of this year. The Cabbage bandwagon continues to gather pace, and it is just reward for a band that has written some very decent punk anthems and has put itself about arguably more than any other band, these past 12 months.
Kicking off their set with Kevin, they took a few songs to get into their stride. By the time Dissonance rang out, and Lee Broadbent sang about, ‘walking out towards the lake clutching a hammer’, the fun had properly begun. From then on it was a roller-coaster of Cabbage catastrophes. Never has the song Dinner Lady been sung in a more apt setting! Next stop for the band Tour Bus is the Sicilian indie festival bonanza, Ypsigrock. The endless tour of gigs, festivals and high profile prestigious support slots continues without let up. Keep those space guns in yer pockets when you reach Sicily, lads!
Earlier, Jane Weaver brought her repertoire of gorgeously woven songs to the party. The beautifully melodic and understated Slow Motion, with its synth-infused sound and meandering lyrics, ‘let’s get together we can change it sometimes, everything’s amazing and the silence reminds us we are lost …’ was simply marvellous.
Josefin Öhrn and The Liberation started their set in amazing fashion with State I’m In and completely looked the part. Stage-lighting was used to dramatic effect, creating an ambience that blended perfectly with their sound. Further highlights included the stunning Take Me Beyond and the driving Rainbow Lollipop.
Returning to familiar territory, The Sundowners were completely at ease, playing on the main stage to a packed hall. Fan favourites included the mesmeric Ritual and the beautifully dreamy Hummingbird, with its irresistibly simple but effective hook, ‘Fly little hummingbird’ … floating off on a current of air.
Meanwhile, Paddy Steer created a stir with his one-man brand of musical eccentricity, featuring computerised electro-synth instrumentation, a Peter Frampton-style talk box, conventional drums, and an array of masks and hats that were worn during the show.
The day however belonged to the fresh out the traps new bands on show, trying to cut their teeth on the way to becoming established (and one day possibly a household name).
And after a wonderful bounty of jewels and riches at Skeleton Key Festival, it was time to head home. On arrival back at Manor Road station a gentle wind blew before the train came in. Feeling great and happy to be homeward bound.
Six of the best new bands at Skeleton Coast Festival 2017:
A large crowd gathered in the upstairs hall in anticipation, to see if this trio (two thirds of which are on summer recess awaiting GCSE results), could deliver and improve on the gig they’d played at the festival last year, along with the others in between. The answer to that question was an emphatic ‘yes’, as Lia, George and Chrissy blew away every single present mind and body, with a show of rhythm ‘n’ blues guitar-rock so gutsy, it had the whole house struck dumb with awe.
The two lads making up the rhythm section, extremely talented though they are, can be thankful that they are two of the luckiest musicians alive. Lucky not just for what their abilities enable them to contribute, but because they share a stage with a lead singer-guitarist so fine, that as a unit they become quite simply … The Future of Rock ‘n’ Roll. No pressure guys.
It was no coincidence that the room was packed by not only proud parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and school mates, but just about every musician from all the other Wirral-based artists that had a part in the day’s proceedings. This was where the Wirral music community physically came together, to get down with the party.
Signed to Skeleton Key, with a new EP Wind Before The Train out currently, Marvin played a mesmerising set of alluring acoustic songs with delicately soothing vocals. The title-track to his previous EP Salt was especially hypnotic. It’s safe to say, Marvin is a massive talent and is fully deserving of the attention and plaudits he is currently receiving.
Deja Vega is essentially an alt-psych guitar trio from Winsford playing hard driving, unrelenting music with an immense noise. Their sound is aided by the powerful vocals of singer-guitarist Jack Fearon, who cites influences as diverse as Joy Division, punk and Krautrock.
The band particularly benefitted from the superb projector lighting, which enhanced the visuals to accompany their music. Also, the drummer won the award for ‘Best Shirt of the Day’ (despite being run close by Peach Fuzz’s lead singer/guitarist and Lee Broadbent of Cabbage).
Cut Glass Kings
A duo made up of drummer and guitarist, the lads performed a stirring set of songs, in some cases not dissimilar to the heavier tunes that are the domain of one of the current best bands in the world, Tame Impala. With an ardent, intense rhythm, encompassed by searing psych-infused guitar effects, the band smoked from start to finish.
Fresh from their heavy schedule of touring (mainly as part of the This Feeling circuit of clubs and festivals), The Strawberries delivered a blistering set of psych-imbued rock with jangling riffs, cool bass and sing-along choruses. The lads entertain with a swagger reminiscent of Blossoms, and with just cause. They have the potential to usurp the achievements of Britain’s recent media darlings. Their bassist has the ability to chip in with excellent lead vocals also.
After a shaky start, Jack got into his stride and managed to recite his extremely witty poems from memory, without the need to look down into his scribbled notebook. Postromantic Autosatisfier is an instant classic, as is the one about the Pope, the Bishop, temptation and The Queen. Jack is a fantastic talent who, with further experience, will no doubt blossom into a confident and accomplished performer. The raw talent and ability is definitely there. He may one day be able to emulate the greats, like John Cooper Clarke and Michael Smith. On a social level too, Jack could be spotted at virtually every other performance of the day, jigging, clapping and giving it up for his brothers and sisters in arms.
Six moments of Skeleton Coast
1. Hummingbird performed by The Sundowners. A beautifully dreamy folk song, with an irresistibly simple but effective hook, ‘fly little hummingbird’, floating off on a current of air.
2. The army of friendly staff greeting at reception or serving in the bar; and the tireless stewards (especially those called upon go beyond the call of duty to clean up puke off the gent’s toilet floor) who seemed to manage everything with a smile.
3. Josefin Öhrn and The Liberation opening with State I’m In. Make no mistake, there was no better song performed in the whole festival than this. It’s how the Velvet Underground might have sounded if Nico had stayed around for White Light, White Heat. An absolute killer track that builds up to a crescendo, with sumptuous psych-fuzz feedback and atmospheric keyboard, over a motoring pulse and perfect vocals.
4. The moment The Mysterines temporarily lost their sound mid-song as the power blew and lead singer guitarist, Lia Metcalfe continued to belt out her vocals unabated, showing the extent of just how deeply powerful THAT VOICE really is.
5. The stage-lighting in the main hall was top-notch and added a visual ambience and atmosphere to complement the music emanating from stage centre. Great things can be achieved with a projector, but only if you know what you are doing. And these guys did.
6. Paddy Steer cutting his hand during his first number, but soldiering on in fine-trouper style until he’d said his thank you and goodbye, before making the request, ‘Can I have that First aid box now?’
Photographs by Getintothis‘ Keith Ainsworth.