COVID upset a lot of major music event plans last year. And while it continues to wreak scheduling havoc, the Live at Leeds Festival thankfully went ahead for 2021, after its sad pause is 2020.
Back in 2019, I reviewed the all-dayer, which actually kick-started Record Weekly’s foray into gig write-ups. That almost makes it doubly exciting that, for 2021, I was invited by Futuresound to attend and recount this incredible multiple-venue extravaganza as press*.
For a little extra context, 2019 also saw Sam Fender assume the stage as he was just taking off into rocket-propelled stardom. He’s been on the up ever since — especially as his sophomore album, ‘Seventeen Going Under’, has just topped the charts (on 15th October 2021). It’s simply more evidence that Live at Leeds really is the place to discover emerging talent that will soar into the stratosphere. So, you’d better keep a beady eye on these acts…
Any day that starts at Headrow House is a winner. A warehouse-esque gig space, ambient neon lighting, excellent acoustics that lend themselves to that rumble of the bass — it has all the right ingredients. That’s why it was the ultimate turf for Conrad’s note-perfect pitch, which not only cut the ribbon on Live at Leeds proceedings for me but, on multiple occasions, gave me goosebumps. The electronics on his tracks deliver this sort of house-meets-pop style, and his innately powerful pair of lungs surely nod to him being a future BRIT Award nominee…
Alongside his band — Mike and Lucas — Conrad’s set started with a new track, ‘Hollow’, which was apparently only the second time it had been played to a live audience. ‘Living For The Weekend’ was an obvious hit with the crowd, but it was the epic vocal harmonies and next-level guitar solos of ‘Hindsight’ and ‘Blue Blooded’ that particularly got my vote. ‘Lost’ was a real treasure though, too, which the singer mentioned he’d written long before the pandemic, though it oddly echoed feelings throughout various parts of that period and afterwards as well.
Conrad was nothing short of mind-blowing, so why wouldn’t I follow up one explosive set with a sensational Spyres chaser? A no-brainer. The four-piece hail from Glasgow, which is something of an immediate box-ticker for me, but they’re also massively gaining momentum — and rightly so. Their talented line-up is fronted by joint female vocalists who also know their way around a searing guitar solo on their almost-matching Telecasters. If the whole band isn’t an advert for both Fender and Dr. Martens as well, I don’t know what is.
‘Fake ID’ came first, then the Leeds Beckett crowd was gripped by the raucous ‘Wanna Go Home’. Their whole set got brasher as the 30 minutes went on. Spyres’ blend of fierce indie-rock is expertly matched for this modern era of thrashing alternative sounds — it’s no wonder they keep getting booked for shows. They promise a boisterous injection of youth, too, especially when you’ve got rippers like ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘Otherside’ in their repertoire. What more can I say? They utterly blew the roof off.
While Spyres have all the trappings of future headliners, so do swim school (TRNSMT would be the obvious choice, no?). They’re easily one of the biggest bands to watch right now, especially on the Scottish music scene — yet they’re just so unassuming. I witnessed their warm-up and mic-check before the room — unsurprisingly — filled. You could tell from the dialogue from lead vocalist and guitarist, Alice Johnson, that they didn’t anticipate that response or crowd. She mentioned that they’re from Edinburgh, so they imagined nobody would know who they were. Well, far from it. I spoke to Alice afterwards and confessed that I was delighted to finally see them after missing their sold-out King Tut’s slot in August. What I didn’t spell out in the flesh was quite how immense I think they are. I was there, not just as a reviewer, but a beaming fan in the front row. Their songs have been the soundtracks to my summer, and it was a blessing to hear them played just inches from me.
They’re an experienced outfit on the gig and festival circuit right now, with charisma, energy and genuine modesty, plus a smidge of humour when drawing the crowd closer — “We’re Scottish, we’re friendly”, Alice smiled at one point. ‘see red’, ‘everything you wanted’, ‘let me inside your head’, ‘anyway’ and the outstanding ‘outside’ were just as delicious when blared through amps as they have been in my earphones since the EP’s release. Wow.
Fortunately for my feet, deep tan (another band with a lowercase naming convention) were on after swim school at Hyde Park Book Club, so I could stay put and claim my great space right at the front. Their distilled cocktail of experimental indie with very mild Warpaint vibes is seriously cool. They’ve got an edgy, hard-to-replicate sound which was like putty in the hands of the venue’s acoustics. Their haunting, piercing, quirky style really shone through in ‘camelot’ and the brand-new tune, ‘tamu’s yiffing refuge’. For me, the impressive bass chords made it.
At the devilishly dingy Key Club, Bob Vylan was my just-gone-8pm precursor to the big Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes show. Naturally. It started with meditative metal, which suitably riled the crowd up. The Londoners served a raging helping of head-bangers. You can’t miss out on seeing them if you’re a Strange Bones fan either — hence me going. Their tracks are ultra-politically-charged and their concoction of hard rock and rap/grime is very decent. It also brought about the first proper mosh pit I’d been on the sidelines of since pre-pandemic. The entire room was shaking during the enormous ‘We Heard You Want Your Country Back’.
It didn’t take long for those famous “Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire” chants to begin, moments prior to the stabbing opening riffs of ‘My Town’ booting the set into motion. Pulsating strobes and kaleidoscopic lighting illuminated the room as the crowd-surfing commenced — Frank himself was in there at one point, as was Deano while still playing his guitar. Legend.
After releasing the full record, ‘Sticky’, just the day before, it was like an album release party for the punk band. They wheeled out the lot: ‘Cobra Queen’, ‘Cupid’s Arrow’, ‘Take It To The Brink’, ‘Original Sin’. I’d seen as well that Lynks’ show had been amazing earlier on, so I was starting worry I’d royally missed out. But then guess who came out on stage? Yep, both collabs — ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Go Get A Tattoo’ — were played with Lynks’ assistance, while all dressed up. It was the most magical carnage.
The atmosphere wasn’t a flicker less than electric, from Carter’s crowd engagement to even the on-the-ground guest appearance from BBC Radio 1’s Jack Saunders. And while all the fresher tracks from this self-dubbed “Arctic Monkeys meets Slipknot” were belters, The Rattlesnakes didn’t scrimp on the old faithfuls either. ‘Kitty Sucker’, ‘Devil Inside Me’, ‘Juggernaut’ and ‘Crowbar’ brought serious fire. There was even an earth-shattering cover of Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’. I can’t really thank them enough for such a sick performance. What a night.
In fact, what a day in general. The ball got rolling with Conrad’s awe-inspiring sounds and I left the O2 after seeing Frank Carter feeling every bit as dazzled. Live at Leeds, you’ve pulled rabbits out of hats again. Fabulous stuff.
*Please note: press pass kindly issued on behalf of the Futuresound Group.