I knew my trip to Leeds was going to be one for the ages – it was a whirlwind weekend planned around the Oxjam Leeds Takeover Festival on Oct. 22. The Oxjam festivals, held in various towns, are fund raisers for the charity Oxfam, which fights to end poverty worldwide. (https://www.oxfam.org/) For just 10 pounds, music fans could see as many of the 50 bands participating as possible.
Our plans included a full day of exploring and visiting with internet friends on Friday, then attempting to see 13 bands on Saturday at various venues around Leeds City Centre – and we very nearly accomplished our plan! We made it to 10 of the 13 bands we were desperate to see.
Fittingly enough my husband, Jack, and I brought the Pittsburgh weather with us when we left Thursday afternoon to fly across the pond. Various friends offered words of advice ranging from “bring your woolies” to “it will be wet and rainy.” The weather averaged 50 degrees and while it was spotty with rain early Saturday, it was sunshine otherwise. You are welcome, Leeds!
While the trip there and back is a whole other story, I’m going to focus on the festival itself and how amazing it was to see the comradery the bands had for one another.
After we arrived and found our hotel, we had the afternoon to explore the city and walk the route to the venues we would be spending time in on Saturday – the main ones being Milo (https://www.facebook.com/milobarleeds/) , Santiago Bar (https://www.facebook.com/santiagobarleeds/) , The Red Bus Station (https://www.facebook.com/TheOldRedBusStation/) and The Crowd of Favours (https://www.facebook.com/TheCrowdOfFavours/) with one trip up to North Brewing Co. later.
Leeds is such a pretty city … I was in awe just looking around at the mix of old architecture and modern. Steel and brick, glass and stone – all blended together in perfect symmetry. The only confusion – once we realized street names are actually on the buildings – is the winding streets. Ours over here are mostly straight and parallel … not so in England.
Also, being that cars are driven on the left, one needs to be acutely aware of traffic at intersections, lest one becomes a road pizza. At least hailing a cab was not as difficult as we thought it would be.
After several hours trekking around Leeds, we found ourselves at Milo to see the stage and in need of a refreshing beverage. I quickly became a fan of Aspall Cyder. It is so smooth and crisp and goes down far too easily. No wonder Milo ran out of it early Saturday afternoon!
It was there that our dinner dates – Londonite Hannah Clive and locals Ben Evans and Jon Lander (both of Red Light Revival) met us. It was hugs all around feeling like long-lost friends as we got acquainted for the first time in person. More drinks were downed and then we were off for a fine Pakistani/Indian dinner at Aagrah, one of the best curry houses in Leeds (http://www.aagrah.com/) .
After a great night’s sleep at our hotel, The New Ellington (http://www.thenewellington.com/), we set off Saturday afternoon to begin our musical day, getting wristbands at the Red Bus Station. Just up the street near Santiago was Zaap Thai Street Food (http://www.zaapthai.co.uk/) with a ton of yummy sounding dishes on their menu. It was a good thing we ate a hearty lunch, because it was nearly midnight before we ate again.
Our first show started at 4 p.m. at Milo, with The Dangerhounds. These lads were one of the main reasons we had flow 13 plus hours to be at this festival. With cider in hand, we climbed to the second floor where the narrow room is that holds the stage – imagine a shoebox with a cracker packet for a stage and you’ve got the picture. Packed, I think it could hold about 50 hot, sweaty bodies, band included.
Then as we entered we were surprised to discover the stage crew setting up was none other than the boys themselves. Here in the U.S., most bands, even small ones, have a stage crew of sorts who help them get ready. It took but a minute for Adam Hume, singer and guitarist, to look up and see us and come rushing over with open arms for a big hug. I never realized how tall Adam was until he was standing next to me and towering over Jack, who is a good 6’3”. It was so exciting to finally chat in person and see them perform.
A short bit later they were ready and stormed right into their set, playing all the songs we already knew and enjoyed from them, from “Santiago,” “Stop Crying’” and “Big Bad Wolf” to their newest tune, “Revolver.” The lads were in fine form and sounded great musically. It was a pleasure to look around the room and see the members of Mint and The Brazen bobbing along to the music. Hannah was with us too and couldn’t wait to tell Adam how much she loves them and their music.
One consistent thing we noticed throughout the day was that despite the primo quality of all bands involved, rarely was there a packed room. We expected to struggle to get into some of these shows, but had easy access to all of them – too easy! It made me a bit sad to find some excellent bands playing phenomenal sets to a handful of fans and other band members.
Following The Dangerhounds were the equally fantastic Mint, led by Zak Rashid. Their new EP “Happiness is Heroin” sets the bar pretty high as far as the diversity of sounds, but nothing was lacking … as the guitars cracked the first notes of “Living and Dying For” the ambulance siren-like notes came wailing through.
Their tune “Elise” has cracked the UK Viral 50 landing at 11th place, at last reference. It’s no wonder either, as the song is a pure delight. The room was electric throughout their set, and I swear the floor was bouncing during “Wolves” and “Wonderland.” Keep an ear out for “Spoiled,” a new cracker coming soon. It was a real thrasher.
When they finished we had a few minutes to chat and take a quick snap with Zak before rushing off to the Red Bus Station to catch singer/songwriter Alex Hulme already mid-show.
Just a singer and his guitar, Alex programmed in a few loop backing tracks for support and entertained the relaxed crowd who huddled in a small room, excited to see this young man from Liverpool play. Hearing “Little Lives” and “Climb” live was brilliant.
Alex warmly greeted everyone between songs, dancing around in his socks. Be sure to check him out, he has a ton of tunes available on SoundCloud.
At the end of Alex’s set, we rushed up a floor to catch the start of Apollo Junction’s performance. They were running behind unfortunately, and we only caught the opening song, “Begin.” It may have only been a warm up, but it still sounded really good and made us wish we could have stayed longer.
Set to play after Apollo Junction were Sheffield brothers Tom and Phil Goodwin, who make up Cellar Door Moon Crow, and as they stood in the crowd prior to Apollo Junction’s show, we had a chance to speak with them for a moment and tell them how cool we thought their music is and how gutted we were that we would miss their performance.
That was the hardest part of the day – trying to decide who to see and who to pass on. Not an easy decision, let me tell you!
From there we ran to catch the second half of Red Light Revival’s southern blues-tinged set and watch keyboardist Ben Evans do battle with a wayward palm tree that kept falling over on him.
Their Southern blues-inspired music is so good, it’s reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. “Standing in the Shadows” is a true classic waiting to happen.
Musically, the guys put on a great show and it was standing room only in Santiago’s upstairs room.
We stuck around to see the start of the show from Partisan, who had traveled down from Manchester for the day.
In September, we were lucky enough to catch Partisan in their first visit stateside when they played at Pianos in New York City. That night they were fantastic and had the joint jumping, and their Leeds show was no different.
There was crackling energy surrounding the lads as they played brilliant tune after tune, starting with “Two Lovers” and “Pushing Up Daisies.”
We could only stay for a few songs then went off to Crowd of Favours where Hannah Clive was just starting.
Hannah is so amazing to watch perform. She is smooth and comfortable on the stage, whether behind a guitar or just a microphone. She started with her solo songs, trying out a few new, unreleased ones before playing crowd favorite “Fire.”
Then she added Jon Lander, guitarist for Red Light Revival, for background accompaniment and noodling. It was a really good pairing.
Then, as a special treat, Alex Hulme joined Hannah for a new spin on The Beastie Boys classic, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right.” It was slow and stripped down and perfect. It brought the house down – what a way to close the show.
Then we made our only trip to North Brewing Co. for Manchester rockers Sly Antics – after unfortunately missing Judas there. I have heard their show was stellar and am gutted to have missed it.
We caught a cab to go to the brewery as it seemed a long walk, but was actually longer as the cabbie was unfamiliar with its location.
After a trip or two around a few blocks, we found it and got settled before the band started. While the brewery warehouse location is huge, being on the outskirts affected attendance, as only a handful of people were on hand to witness one of the wickedest performances of the night.
Sly Antics just slayed it! The trio of Sam Hudson on guitar, Lee Hudson on drums and Chris Allen on bass, tore famously through their debut material, the “Captive City” EP. It was awesome to hear “Lights Go Down” and “Morning Games” played live. The acoustics were severely lacking in the warehouse, but the boys put on a solid hard rocking show. It was well worth the trip out-of-the-way to see them.
Lee kept having to corral his drum kit as pieces kept bouncing away from him. At the end of the show, his thumbs were shredded and bloody. They really gave it their all.
Rather than wait for a cab, we decided to leg it back to Santiago for Your Illuminations, a young pop punk group who put on an impressive show, filled with swagger and fairy lights. They tore into their songs “Heart Will Explode” and “Hey Scarlet.”
I was very excited to see these lads play live, but also disappointed they were playing to a nearly empty room. It didn’t matter though, they played as if they were performing in front of 500 fans. That’s true showmanship.
By the time we made it down to Milo, we had missed both Stray Scene and The Brazen, who had to cut their act a bit short due to things running behind and a previously scheduled show to follow. We did get to catch up with everyone in Milo though – I’d liken it to a Hollywood A-listers party for musicians – sharing drinks were The Brazen, Partisan, Stray Scene, Red Light Revival, Hannah Clive and more. It was a party to end all parties.
Just to be in the presence of such musical celebrity was fantastic. It was what I had hoped would happen, but never dared dream it would end that way. Throughout the day I met so many people — band members and other radio and internet media folks and just music fans who had read my interviews and recognized me – it was overwhelming. I have never felt so comfortable and so at home before.
I hated that the night had to end and the next day meant our long journey home was about to begin. We ended up in a kebab shop for a pre-midnight bite before hopping a cab back to the hotel to rest up. In the morning we enjoyed a delicious full English breakfast with Hannah, who had booked a room for the night in our hotel.
While this was my first trip to Leeds, and England in general, it won’t be my last! One weekend doesn’t even begin to cover all the fun to be had here. A much longer visit is in order next time, with a whole roster of great bands to see again – and some to see for a first time.
So until next time — Thank you, Leeds! Love ya lots!