Thursday, June 09, 2022

Live At Leeds: In The Park Makes Its Exceptional Debut

Live at Leeds has, since its inception in 2007, been a popular one day metropolitan festival operating in a number of different venues across the city, traditionally during the May Bank Holiday weekend. 2022 sees a change to that formula as the original festival  is pushed back to later in the year and renamed “Live at Leeds in the City” and a new festival, “Live at Leeds in the Park” takes place just outside of the city centre in nearby Temple Newsam. The festival takes advantage of the infrastructure in place for the Slam Dunk North festival which takes place on the previous day.

As always Live at Leeds provides a strong lineup with established bands like Bombay Bicycle Club, The Vaccines and Sea Girls alongside newer up and coming acts such as The Mysterines, Lauren Hibberd and Zuzu etc, but not forgetting local stalwarts The Pigeon Detectives who can always be relied upon to provide a memorable performance especially in front of a home crowd. 

The first artist I caught was Lauren Hibberd, she took to the stage in an all-orange suit, strutting around the stage and playing a number of new songs to promote her upcoming album ‘Garageband Superstar’ which comes out on 19th August, and will feature her newest track ‘I’m Insecure’. Her performance was fun and energetic, bursting with personality. She opened the main stage with a bang, but it’s clear to see she will be climbing higher up the bill for future festivals. 

Soon after, I caught Dream Wife playing at the DIY Big Top stage. Singer, Rakel, ran onto stage screaming the lyrics to fan-favorite ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ jumping all over the stage, there wasn’t an inch she didn’t cover. They followed up with ‘Hasta La Vista’ - a slower yet equally as catchy track. Later on in the set, Rakel took out a golden machine and blew fake money out of it and into the audience “Everyone leaves Dream Wife shows RICH” she screamed before resuming the song. Dream Wife never disappoint live, and this was no exception. 

The Blinders were definitely a stand-out act for me at this festival. For the majority of times I have seen them live it has been in their adopted hometown of Manchester and it therefore always surprises me that outside of Manchester, such as today on the Hill Top Stage at Live at Leeds Festival they aren’t as high on the bill as I would personally expect.

Since the departure of original drummer Matthew Neale in 2020 The Blinders have expanded from their original 3 piece line up to a five-piece with the addition of replacement drummer Thomas Castrey, second guitarist Eoghan Clifford (Previously of Cabbage)  and keyboard player Johnny James joining the original member's guitarist and vocalist Thomas Haywood and bass guitarist Charlie McGough.The live sound of the Blinders has always been something to reckon with but with the expansion of the line up, I find that there is now a greater depth to the onslaught of sound coming from the stage whenever the Blinders plug in! That being said, keyboard player Johnny isn’t present with the band on stage today and neither was he at their gig the previous night when they headlined Stoke’s Your City Festival. No explanation was given at either gig so we’re left wondering what the situation might be within the band at the moment. Not wondering for very long though as once the band kick in with their short 30-minute set there’s little time to think about anything other than just how good the Blinders are as a live band; They opened with new song ‘Ritual Of The Crocodile Men’ and played through a host of both early and recent material.

The Blinders really are a phenomenal live band, I've seen them 12 times now and they always seem to improve. 

Next up was Sports Team, who have been around since 2016 and have released a number of singles in that time but didn’t come to most people’s attention (including mine) until the release of their first album ‘Deep Down Happy’ in the middle of 2020. I first saw them last year at the Neighbourhood Festival in Warrington where they clearly had a following but this year at Live at Leeds that following seems to have grown exponentially to the point at which they could almost be headlining the MTV Main Stage where they are today playing a late afternoon slot!

The tightly packed crowd could sing back every word of each song’s lyrics, almost drowning out lead singer Alex Rice’s vocals through the PA. I’m not sure that this stage was too compatible with Alex’s desire to be amongst the crowd, The stage was quite high off the ground and there was some distance between that and the front of the barrier. Nevertheless, it was a journey he made a few times during the set, including crowd surfing supported by the audience members. He also delivered a bottle of Jameson’s whiskey to someone in the crowd; I’m not sure of the back story to this but it was perhaps thanks to an audience member assisting him in his crowd surfing endeavors, Standout tracks from Sports Team’s set would be difficult to choose but ‘Fishing’  ‘Here's the Thing’ and ‘M5’ had the crowd singing along the loudest. 

Following Sports Team’s set, Sea Girls took to the stage. The crowd was ecstatic instantly, singing along to all of their hits such as ‘Violet’, ‘Call Me Out’ and ‘All I Want To Hear You Say’. guitarist Rory skipped around the stage enthusiastically as singer Henry delivered vocals poised and centered. As well as crowd favorites, they also played a number of songs from their new album ‘Homesick’ which came out in March.

A real highlight of the band’s set was a track from this album called ‘Lucky’, Henry sang the wordsBut I'm on fire tonight // Yeah, I'm on fire tonight // Yeah, I'm feeling f***ing  lucky and the odds are with me // Yeah, I'm on fire tonight” and looked down at the crowd in amazement as they sang every word back. They ended with ‘All I Want To Hear You Say’ which got the crowd bouncing and screaming like no one else had managed the whole day. Sea Girls have been rapidly climbing festival bills over these past couple of years, and it’s only a matter of time before they’re the headliners. 

Next, was my highlight of the whole festival; Zuzu. I had seen her twice before around 4 years ago supporting Peace in Derby and she was good then, but I couldn’t believe how much she had improved when I saw her today. Everything about her set seemed perfect, her vocals were phenomenal and her band played excellently. She was playing one of the smaller stages, which was the Dork presents stage. It seemed unbelievable that she was playing a stage this small, as to me she definitely seemed like a main-stage act.

She played older songs ‘What You Want’ and ‘Get Off’ as well as new tracks such as ‘The Van Is Evil’ which was a real set highlight. This was a track off her long-awaited debut album which came out in November of 2021 entitled ‘Queensway Tunnel’. I think the future will be very bright for Zuzu, and once more people become aware of her I think that her success could be never-ending. 

Finally, it was time for The Pigeon Detectives on the Hill Top Stage and an expectant crowd was gathered but strangely enough, I found myself the only photographer in the pit! The band started, as they’ve done whenever I’ve seen them before, with ‘Romantic Type’, the first track from their first album. Drummer, Jimmi Naylor kicked things off with an extended drum intro to the song while the rest of the band assembled on stage and finally singer Matt Bowman appeared to the delight of the Live at Leeds crowd.

Anyone who’s seen the Pigeon Detectives before will know that Matt is unlikely to slowly build the audience up and instead comes straight in with all guns blazing and that they will also play all the songs that the crowd wants to hear (no slipping in a new song that nobody knows). The crowd joined in loudly and enthusiastically with all the sing-along choruses. Matt’s antics on stage probably provide nightmares to whoever is in charge of health and safety for the event whether it’s balancing on the top of the barrier, climbing the scaffolding at the side of the stage or enthusiastically swinging and catching (Mostly) the microphone. Matt told the audience that he wanted the tallest crowd at the festival and instructed them to look to their left and right and decide who was best suited to either being on someone’s shoulders or carrying someone on theirs, a large number of the crowd dutifully obliged. He then stopped the song and said that the security had told him that they couldn’t do that, “F**k security, we’ll look after you” he proclaimed! And the song restarted. The Pigeon Detectives have a long history with Live at Leeds, indeed, they played twice at the second event in 2008 and many more times through the years, let’s hope it’s a tradition that continues! 

This was the first-ever Live at Leeds: In the park and what a success, it was. Facilities, security, and organization were all on top form as well as the lineup was exceptional. The event seemed very accomplished, everything went perfectly and all bands started exactly on the dot of their start time. The future of this festival is bright, I will definitely be attending the next one. 

All words and photos by Jazz Myatt 


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