Friday night – Bill Ryder Jones @ Mountford Hall
The BBC 6 Music Festival in Liverpool kicks off with DJ Stuart Maconie introducing one of Merseyside’s own: singer songwriter Bill Ryder-Jones, tonight backed only by his guitar, his voice and an accomplice named Lucy on the cello. ‘I suppose I should ask you all how you’re doing…’ he teases, before cutting off the replies of the front rows with a wry smile and ‘I didn’t ask…I’m not particularly interested.’ He opens with ‘Mither’, a track from his latest album ‘Yawn’, which loses nothing in this stripped back arrangement. As well produced as Ryder-Jones’s studio takes are, it is a testament to the songwriting that all it needs is two instruments, Bill’s singing and an enthralled hometown crowd. This is followed by an acknowledgement of the tragic death of Liverpool band Her’s on the week of the festival, whilst on tour in the US. Liverpool’s music scene is built around a sense of community, as it is in any city, and the tributes to Her’s throughout the week from various Liverpool bands and artists has served as a reminder of why weekends such as this one are important. Ryder-Jones times and phrases the tribute perfectly, understated yet poignant, and the audience match it in their response.
This is followed by ‘Don’t Be Scared, I Love You,’ and ‘And Then There’s You’, both from ‘Yawn’; next song ‘There’s Something On Your Mind’ Ryder-Jones introduces with the promise that “You can dance to this one.” The ripple of laughter that meets this is shot down with “It wasn’t that funny”, this time met with genuine laughter. It is this brand of warm yet sarcastic humour that works so well in Ryder-Jones’s lyrics; “there’s a fortune to be had from telling people you’re sad” he sings on ‘There’s Something On Your Mind’, a line which perfectly undercuts the sentiment of the lyrics, well-timed doses of self-deprecating humour as a method of mitigating the unashamedly sentimental subject matter. Ryder-Jones uses the technique as effectively on stage as he does in his music: the pockets of applause and cheers at the end of the song are met with a wry “it’s not a competition…” The highlight of the evening is ‘Wild Roses’, perhaps the standout song from 2015’s ‘West Kirby County Primary’, the chorus of which sounds as if it were written with the sparse arrangement of just guitar and cello in mind. The festival opens with a reminder of the power of simplicity in live music; for all the intricate lighting, complex backing arrangements and dazzling showmanship in the world, the quality of the songs comes first and foremost. The rest is just noise.
Saturday daytime – Skinny Pelembe, The Coral @ Camp and Furnace
Saturday sees the festival occupying the Baltic Triangle, with Camp and Furnace’s resident polar bear positioned next to the bar clutching a BBC 6 Music sign. The danger of staging a festival over several venues across a weekend is that the cohesive festival atmosphere can be lost, yet Camp and Furnace manages to retain it; the modest outside area is packed with people enjoying the weather, and inside the bars, pop-up coffee shops and tables selling vinyl records are all seeing plenty of custom. One room sees a succession of Radio 6 DJs interviewing bands – Nemone hosts a particularly interesting conversation with some of the people involved with Liverpudlian institutions such as Eric’s, Cream and Quadrant Park to discuss the history of the city’s dancefloors. Meanwhile in the next room a set from Doncaster band Skinny Pelembe attracts an impressively large and engaged crowd for half past one in the afternoon. New single ‘No Blacks No Dogs No Irish’ goes down well. By the time Craig Charles bounces onstage at 3pm the largest crowd of the weekend has assembled – he introduces The Coral with the assurance that, although he has never seen them live in the UK before, he once witnessed them “blow Blur off the stage in Berlin.” The Wirral band are old hands at working a hometown crowd, having headlined Sound City in 2016, and the more recent songs, particularly ‘Outside My Window’, go down just as well as the more familiar jangle of ‘Bill McCai’ and the acoustic ‘Pass It On’. Yet the pitfall with a band like The Coral is that, if you write a song as good as ‘Dreaming of You’, any set you play will be defined by when that familiar opening bass riff appears. The Coral do the sensible thing and place it at the very end, with James Skelly more than helped out with the vocals by the room as Camp and Furnace briefly transforms into a popular Wood Street karaoke bar. Seventeen years since opening The Coral’s eponymous debut album, ‘Dreaming Of You’ remains head and shoulders the best song to come out of the city in the intervening years.
Walking out of Camp and Furnace and back into town serves as a reminder of the brilliance of the Baltic Triangle. The unseasonably warm weather doesn’t hurt, but the walk from Greenland Street to Liverpool One is filled with people of all ages enjoying their weekend; milling in and out of the music venues, teenagers skating on the ramps, adults enjoying drinks in the many outdoor gardens. You wonder if more of the festival could’ve been held here; there are enough venues, and plenty of surrounding businesses who would’ve enjoyed the footfall – more so than surrounding the Olympia and Mountford Hall. When BBC 6 Music opened to the airwaves in March 2002, the Baltic Triangle consisted of little more than a series of derelict warehouses, empty spaces that had once been dedicated to the manufacture and trade of goods. Now the Baltic Triangle manufactures ideas, trades on the city’s creativity, and does so brilliantly. That this cluster of streets, which only recently had so little going for it is now so vibrant is the weekend’s biggest success story.
Sunday night – Hot Chip @ Eventim Olympia
Upon setting foot in the Eventim Olympia any notion that the 6 music festival might have been staged solely in the Baltic Triangle is quickly forgotten. The Olympia is a grade listed theatre that is gradually but surely falling apart, built in 1905 and seemingly last painted in 1965. Watching the stage from the middle balcony gives the impression of watching a gig through a letterbox, and one staircase leading up to the top balcony boasts a pretty sizeable hole in the ceiling. Needless to say, it is brilliant. It has many times more soul than any other venue in Liverpool, a genuine charm to its staircases and balconies, the feel of a dilapidated, haunted Edwardian town house. I start off in the standing area, wander upstairs to try the middle shelf and eventually end up in the press area at the top; wherever you sit or stand in the Olympia, it feels as if the band are playing nearer to you than anybody else, always somehow a few feet away. The thin walls and doors mean that wherever you are in the building, the music fills every inch of space; tonight, wherever you position yourself, Hot Chip make the floor move, the walls vibrate, the ceiling shake. The Olympia will not be a part of Liverpool’s music scene forever, and when the last of these spaces close their doors there will never be venues like them again. The venues we build to replace them are spacious and clean, smarter and far more practical, and far, far less enjoyable to go to.
Hot Chip bring the curtain down on the festival with the weekend’s tightest set, seamlessly transitioning between old favourites and new tracks with the calibre of a band that has been headlining festivals for years and are due to do so again this summer. Live debuts are given to ‘Spell’ and ‘Hungry Child’, both of which are promising omens for upcoming release ‘A Bathful of Ecstasy’; the latter in particular has a heavier dancefloor focus than previous offerings, and may go some way to explaining the album’s title. The old favourites are given a new lease of life in live performance: Hot Chip’s usual five piece is expanded to a seven on the road, and the presence of two percussionists gives an organic energy to opener ‘Huarache Lights.’ By the time the band play ‘Flutes’ from 2012’s ‘In Our Heads’, the Olympia crowd is bouncing, as frontman Alexis Taylor leads the band in a pleasingly naff synchronised dance routine.
It is in the home straight that Hot Chip show their class. Few bands can boast a song in their catalogue as certain to get a crowd moving as ‘Over and Over’ and the Olympia is more than happy to oblige, bouncing through the chorus and parroting the verse back to Taylor – “Laid back? I’ll show you laid back…” Having already shown off some things old and some things new, Hot Chip turn to something borrowed: ‘Over and Over’ leads into the savage opening riff to the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’. It is an inspired choice of cover, timed to perfection. The transition is breathless, a remarkably well executed change of pace and proof of the band’s versatility – had the electronic indie not gone to plan, Hot Chip may well have ploughed a furrow as a punk outfit. Finally, Hot Chip close out the BBC 6 Music Festival with 2008 classic ‘Ready For The Floor,’ a pulsating, joyful finale and a highlight of a weekend which has seen many of them.