Liverpool Music Week 2008

30th October-6th November

This is the fifth Liverpool Music Week and the biggest yet. It’s the UK’s largest winter music festival and one of the biggest events in the city’s musical calendar.

Since it began in 2003 as a Merseyside answer to Manchester’s In The City music business showcase, the event has changed it’s spots every year, but has grown consistently in both size and the profile of its headline acts, though the event still puts on a large amount of local talent.

Suitably on the opening night, the first act we catch in the chilly confines of Nation, a venue more used to housing 3,000 sweaty clubbers than a few hundred grimacing indie fans, are The Seal Cub Clubbing Club. Over the last couple of years, this band have consistently been one of the most original and exciting of Merseyside acts, but have so far failed to make that leap into the popular consciousness.

Their music is based around intense and multi-layered soundscapes and frontman Nik Glover’s atmospheric vocals, all tinged with an element of pop. This is the first time we’ve seen them for a while, and there seems to be a renewed sense of purpose in the band tonight though and they play with a whole new level of tightness and vigor, pushing the experimental aspects of their sound even further. Hopefully the new, improved Seal Cubs will find the audience they deserve soon.

Post Seal Cubs, The Fall, emerge, minus Mark E. Smith, all looking fresh-faced and young – unlike their boss. Despite the lack of Marky, we’re straight into classic Fall mode: dark, twisted and funky.

Smith eventually enters stage right and casts a beady eye over the audience before shifting into his unique vocal style. Like with the Seal Cubs, the Fall’s music is all about the feel that they give off, vibrations that get deep inside you and lead you to somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous.

Other Fall fans have informed us that a gig with these guys is either going to be one of the best or worst shows we’ll ever see. Well, tonight, E. Smith, wearing something resembling a grin, is on form. He manages to convey this despite the fact that he’s clearly fucked off his face and greatly resembles the mad old man on the bus who makes you nervous when he whispers in your ear.

But despite this, Mark E. Smith conquers this night by doing what he does best – putting an unintelligible world to rights, unintelligibly. Encore? What do you think?

We’re out again on the next day for Goldfrapp at Liverpool University and, suitably for Halloween night, the soundtrack from The Wicker Man is playing as they emerge, dressed as druids, save of course for Alison Goldfrapp herself, decked out in her usual extravagance.

On arrival, she asks the crowd to desist in any flash photography, as it’s ‘distracting’. Most punters take her advice, but the odd flashgun still goes off and two songs in, we only get a few bars into ‘A&E’ before, apparently angered by the continued flash, Ms Goldfrapp storms off the stage in a huff.

As might be expected there’s a lot of dissent in the ranks, and bitter murmuring as people contemplate that a show they have just paid £22.50 plus booking fee to see might be over after less than two songs. A few minutes later though, one of the band emerges and announces that they’re going to come back on, but will leave again if there’s anymore flashing. As Alison et al return to the stage, the majority of sound coming from the audience isn’t relived cheering, but dissatisfied murmurs and booing. Goldfrapp have got to do a lot of work to win this crowd back.

Once the music starts up again though, things quickly start to look up and the murmurs die down as ‘U Never Know’ kicks in. We quickly fall for Goldfrapp’s unique style; disco with depth, glam with a dark underbelly, and their great knack for shifting quickly from throbbing songs that make you grind to delicate and multi-layered songs like ‘Little Bird’.

We tease and encore and, as the whole shebang ends of a thundering ‘Sex Machine’, the earlier incident is forgiven. Maybe you can get way with being a diva in this town, but only if you deliver the goods.

Having been felled by illness, it’s the following Wednesday before we can sample Music Week events again, but we’re back out at one of the free all-evening events featuring local and up-and-coming bands that has always been the core of Music Week.

Unfortunately, some of the city’s best bands have had to pull out of tonight’s proceedings at the last minute, all struck down apparently by a similar condition being bravely fought by yours truly, but we do have Voo, who’ve been plying their stirring jangle around the city for a few years. Influenced by the likes of Guided by Voices, they make heart tugging but dynamic pop music that is both joyous and sad in equal measure.

Next up is a lad called Hackney Carriages, who looks to be another one of those MacBook troubadours in the same vein as Patrick Wolf and Get Cape.Wear Cape. Fly. His lyrics are more G.C.S.E than Sixth Form and his overloud computer backing tracks are creative rather than good, but he’s pretty, emotional and wrapped in a plaid-shirt, so no doubt he’ll find an audience.

In the next room, The Down and Outs do a good impression of an American-pop punk act, somewhere between Dropkick Murphy’s and Less than Jake. All good clean unpretentious fun, but after the umpteenth song that sounds exactly like the last one, we disengage our attention.

Back in the backroom are Dananananackroyd bright young things who ignite straightaway and keep on burning with little let up throughout their whole set. Playing with mind-grabbing volume and effort, they have enough bounce and visceral power to hold you attention for a long time, and a fair amount of audience interaction keeps everyone on their toes. It’s their sheer enthusiasm that keeps them going, but they have an edge of depth in there as well.

goFaster >>are another local band also apparently also hit by illness tonight, but they solider on. Based around an infectious keyboard-pop assault and local-dialect lyrics, they’re like Mates of State on cheap Scouse speed. They hold their own despite being obviously subdued, but weren’t at their best tonight.

Johnny Foreigner share what a lot of tonight’s bands have – enthusiasm and oomph – but they’re just not as good as Dan Ack. More dynamic perhaps, but there’s less feeling and consequently they’re less overpowering. Overall this year seems to lack some of the bustle of previous Music Weeks, and we feel that the larger amount of headline acts have spilt the crowd somewhat from just hanging around in a venue and seeing who might turn up, which has been key to the fun of Music Week in previous years. As JF grind to a halt though, things end on something of a high, and it seems there’s hope yet for next year’s week of music.

By Kenn Taylor

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