After last year’s excellent – and I mean really excellent – festival, this year’s was eagerly anticipated from the moment when the early bird ticket confirmation arrived in my inbox. A hotel was booked well in advance upon the recommendation of a Bevis Frond friend, and that not only got us closer to the festival, but also got us better accommodation at a cheaper price by way of the Liverpool Hampton By Hilton.
I tried to organise cheap train tickets but was a day or two too slow to get anything for less than £100 return, and so opted to drive up on the Thursday and back on the Sunday. In the event the road gods must have felt particularly well-disposed toward us as even the M6 traffic was reasonably well behaved, ensuring that we got there in less time than on the train for around half the price.
One ‘feature’ of last year’s event was the excellent weather and the pessimist in me felt certain we wouldn’t be similarly blessed this year. Fortunately I was to be proved entirely wrong, as not only did the rain stay away but the sun came out and coats were largely left behind in our hotel room.
As the months passed the line-up went from excellent to sublime, and I felt certain that disappointment was sure to result from the inevitable clashes, although in the end they were astonishingly few.
So, with the promise of excellent music, a comfortable room nearby, good company and fine weather, we approached Camp And Furnace on Friday afternoon full of optimism, only for the start to be delayed for half an hour for some unspecified reason! Never mind we got to wait in the sunshine with our fellow freaks.
When we finally got in an explored the site it was evident that a great deal of thought had gone into this year’s festival and there were several nice touches that reflected that, although not all of them worked as well as they might have done. I liked that the performance areas were less cluttered, and the opening up of the first floor for record sales as part of that freed up space and certainly made vinyl shopping with Piccadilly Records a less noisy affair than last year when the record emporium was downstairs. Less welcome was the noisy hookah tent that occupied the area directly outside the venue. That would have been located across the street to encourage people to step away from the doors, plus in my opinion there was no need for there to be loud music playing, as there was an abundance of that inside after all.
Having mentioned Piccadilly Records I should probably point out that my first task was to buy copies of the 12″ compilation and 7″ pressed up for this year’s festival, which were then promptly returned to the safety of our hotel room. Both records are excellent, and as with last year’s Trouble In Mind comp I have paired my 12″ with a copy of the program. When a friend accidentally bought a copy of The Heads’ reissued Everybody Knows We Got Nowhere from Probe Records I ended up taking that off his hands too, so I had a reasonable vinyl haul without having gone nuts (very easy to do in Piccadilly and/or Probe).
Making a welcome return was Liverpool Craft Brewery, although there was a feeling that the prices had gone up considerably since last year, with many of the beers coming in at almost a fiver a pint. Never mind, the excellent specially brewed PZYK ale was very palatable and didn’t break the bank at £3.50 a pint.
So, records bought and beer in hand I guess I should get around to talking about the music! The line-up seemed oddly biased toward a big day on Saturday, something the ticket sales may have confirmed given that Saturday sold out whereas Friday didn’t. As a result my list of must-see bands on Friday was relative short, with the only clash being between Black Bombaim and the Allah-Lahs:
- The Asteroid #4 – muffled sound at the start of the show meant it was hard to get into, but when that was corrected (seemingly at the flick of a switch) they soared, taking me along with them.
- Wolf People – again the flow of the set was hampered by the odd technical hitch, but they were otherwise powerful and engaging and it was good to finally catch them live.
- Black Bombaim – definitely the best performance I saw on Friday and possibly the best of the weekend, too. I’ve got to see these guys do a headline gig at some point!
- Klaus Johann Grosse – the quirky, smiling Swiss Krautrockers had us all dancing along to their distinctive sound, closing out Friday night on a high for me.
So on Saturday the list was a little longer:
- The Janitors – their characteristic driving ‘dark psych’ sound with hints of post-punk came across well live, as did the anti-fascist statement that introduced one number.
- Bonnacons Of Doom – had the makings of an excellent show but sadly I left early on account of a clash with The Lucid Dream
- The Lucid Dream – apparently they played their second album in full so it lacked the segued sonic tsunami feel of last year’s set, but it was good to hear them varying their material and we were simply transported to the other realm by an another route!
- Anthroprophh – a stunning solid wall of howling noise/psych rock of the shock and awe variety that left my senses reeling and ears ringing
- Hills – excellent performance for a band rarely seen outside of Sweden playing tracks off Master Sleeps that included Rise Again
- Teeth Of The Sea – psychedelic post-rock, very visual, occasionally bordering on dance music with organ-shifting bass lines and blazing guitar riffs vaguely reminiscent of The Prodigy, but set well apart by the inclusion of trumpet.
- GNOD (+ Dave W. of White Hills) – an organic, pulsing improvised performance, that not only included my favourite track from Drop Out but also a rare chance to see them in guitar mode.
- White Hills – a great closing set (for me) that not only included an old favourite by way of No Game To Play but also Antronhy on the drums.
I missed out on a couple of bands I wanted to see, namely Lay Llamas (I queued for an hour for a pizza – it was that or force down another lack-lustre burrito) and Goat (there was no admission to the packed Furnace performance area after White Hills), but having seen best part of a dozen bands I went away happy nonetheless.
That said I felt there was room for improvement in some areas. Black Bombaim’s performance could have done without the self-absorbed idiots who were mugging for the cameras and trying to crowd surf, and an early intervention from security would have been very welcome there, not least for the young woman that one of them was pawing. I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of having to step in and that distracted me from the show, which was otherwise sublime.
Indeed at the end of the day on Friday I was a little dejected at a perceived absence of the sense kinship I felt with everyone I spoke to last year, and wondered if a slightly different crowd had materialised this year on the back of the rave reviews (mine among them). Hard to say really, and in fairness there was little or nothing the organisers could have done about that anyway.
However, better control over the volume would have gone a long way. Three days later my ears are still ringing from the sound system in Camp that was being over-driven in what I can only assume was an attempt to make up for a lack of quality with quantity. It is not cool to blow out people’s eardrums if you are into music and this really needs to be addressed next year, although I am now investing in pro-quality earplugs as a result of the hammering my ears took.
And finally as far as ‘opportunities’ go, the toilets barely kept pace with demand and the gents’ urinals from last year would doubtless have made a significant difference to the near-constant queues that resulted from their absence.
So, having got my grumbles out of the way I’d genuinely like to close out on an upbeat note. My faith in festival-going humanity was restored when the gregarious and ever enthusiastic Dave Cambridge of Cardinal Fuzz introduced us to The Janitors plus fellow psychonauts Kevin (from Holland) and Ricardo (from Italy), restoring something for the international feel of last year. Add to that a chat with the equally music-obsessed Jason Stoll and Neil Murphy of Mugstar (sadly absent from this year’s line-up) and suddenly all was well with the world again. It was great to meet up with Frond-friends (heh, Bevis-buddies) Gavin and Vanessa too, and we enjoyed many a good natter with them.
Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia remains a great festival and I will be desperately sorry if I can’t make it next year. However, the organisers have set the bar very high in terms of the line-up this year, and maintaining that sort of quality while hanging on to their uniqueness will undoubtedly be a challenge for them.