Alsager Music Festival

Triumphant Weekend For Festival Organisers.

Emily Jones || July 16th

 

Saturday

Throwing open my curtains on Saturday morning had me both concerned and disappointed. Not only was this definitely not the weather I remember July giving us in previous years, it was also the worst kind of weather for a music festival to take place in. Unfortunately for the organisers of Alsager Music Festival, the weather was not on their side and much like the rest of the festival’s fans, I waited with bated breath for a last minute cancellation announcement.

Much to mine and everyone else’s surprise, AMF proceeded to encourage music lovers to head to Milton Park “come rain or shine”. So I did what everyone else did; grabbed my wellies and headed to the park.

It was soggy, humid and muggy in the park, but the rain had stopped and the people were arriving. Bands were delayed on the main stage due to weather related setbacks, but festival-goers used the time to erect their gazebos and establish themselves. There was a hell of a noise coming from the Marquee Stage, where covers band The Vectors were wowing crowds with an array of popular rock songs. Young guitarist James Sides stood proudly at the front of the stage, as he very nearly succeeded in upstaging Hendricks and Berry. A huge audience were spilling out of the already packed tent, singing along to their hearts content.

Over on the main stage, the first band of the day were just about to take to the stage. AVISO, a young, four-piece indie rock band, were tuning up to a handful of people. It’s always a tough gig when you’re the festival openers, but AVISO didn’t seem phased. Lead singer Ashton Naylor’s impressive vocal range and confident stance, dominated their performance and it was quite clear to see that these four men, were well-rehearsed and completely involved in their music.

A short walk from the main stage to the back of Milton Park found you in the beautiful Sunken Garden, where rows of hay bales had been placed in front of the acoustic stage. It’s possibly the most beautiful stage to play on at the festival, being far enough away from the other two stages to feel at peace. The ever growing Greg Murray and The Seven Wonders waited ever-so patiently, as medics tended to a minor medical incident involving an elderly member of the audience. When Murray was given the go-ahead, he dedicated ‘If You Love Me Let Me Know’ to the poor lady and his feel-good, mood raising tunes managed to bring the sunshine out of hiding. As they played through their set, the luck of the Irish kept the sun from disappearing and even made it feel a bit like summer.

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Five minutes with Greg Murray…

Are you planning on releasing new music anytime soon?

Yeah! I’m recording at the minute. We’ve got about sixty tunes but we’re whittling them down to about fifteen maybe. We’re almost there. We’ve mixed and mastered about six so far, so we’ve got about another six to go. I’m trying to get the brass section developed, did you like the brass?

I loved the brass!

Yeah! And Tom’s our juggler. We’ve got juggling as well!

Is the brass a permanent feature?

Yeah, I’m hoping for it to be. There’s actually four of them. We’re missing one today, so tonight (at Gladstone Festival) we’ll have four of them. The other one is a tuba. I’m in need of another one, maybe a saxophone which means I’d have a reed instrument as well, but we’ll wait and see. But they have to be good friends - friends before anything else - because we can nurture that in practising.

When was the last time you released music?

Well I used to do a lot by myself. I’ve released in Europe and in America - lots of different singles and different things. The last one was on a German label called Fire Station Tower Records and it did really well. It was called ‘Times Ten’ and that was.. oh god.. that was 2005! So it was a long time ago. Before that I’ve had releases in Europe on six or seven different small labels, just me by myself. But now all the people I’ve got here are all good friends. Some of them I even taught as well!

Are you a music teacher?

No no no I teach maths! Oh god no I couldn’t teach music. I don’t know what chords I play, I just make them up! I don’t know any of the bloody chords. But it doesn’t stop you. I’ve got teacher friends who teach music and as a result of that, the last thing they want to do is do music in the evenings after they’ve been teaching in the day.

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Due to setbacks on both the main stage and acoustic stage and with such a strong festival line-up, it was a mad dash between all three stages to catch a glimpse of everyone’s sets. Captain Stingray’s Groove Machine were laying down some seriously funky rhythms in the Marquee Stage, only just about managing to squeeze their full seven-piece line up onto the stage. You could hardly get into the tent, with audience members dancing both inside and outside to the driving African drum beats.

At this point, the crowds were gathered in their thousands; some with gazebos in preparation for the rain, others with fold out chairs, and everyone with a huge smile on their face and a drink in their hand. When In The Cards took to the stage to play their set, they were faced with a field full of happy festival fans, who were eagerly awaiting the music. It’s been a quiet year for In The Cards, but they seemed at home playing on the main stage for the first time. Last year, they’d managed to bag themselves a spot on the Marquee Stage after winning the Battle Of The Bands contest, before being instantly booked again to play the main stage this year. Amy Colclough’s stadium filling vocals flooded the entire field and their developed sound, was undeniably noticeable through their entire set. It seems In The Cards, however quiet they may have recently been, are really coming into their own now, with all members still fully devoted to creating the best music possible.

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Five minutes with In The Cards…

Did you enjoy your set?

Amy: Yes it was really fun. It’s the biggest outdoor stage we’ve played on for a while.

Nathan: Definitely. We played on the Marquee Stage last year but there’s more people isn’t there? We were setting up and then we turned around and the field was full.

That’s not too bad, going from the Marquee to the Main Stage in 12 months!

Nathan: Yeah I mean we finished the set last year and one of the organisers approached us afterwards and said they’d have us back this year basically. And then they put us on the main stage!

Amy: We did the battle of the bands last year.

Nathan: We didn’t have to go through that process this time, we were just put straight on. I suppose that’s progress.

It’s a great festival don’t you think?

Amy: It’s very community based I think because there’s a lot of people who come down with families which I think is really nice.

Nathan: There aren’t many things like this.

What have you been up to since the last time we spoke?

Nathan: Practising for this! We just wanted to make sure that everything was perfect. It’s a big stage so you want to make a good impression straight away. We like to make sure we’re better than the last performance. Hopefully we were.

How’s the E.P. coming along?

Nathan: We’re still progressing. It’s hard work. It’s the final details now that just need ironing out. We want to make it perfect. We want to be 100% happy and confident with it and if there’s one person that says “I’m not quite sure about that”, then we need to look into it. It’s painstaking.

Conor: We could do certain stages of it but it would be a lot better if everything was ready at the same time, then everything can happen all at once.

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Oli Ng. Photography Chris Hollingworth

Oli Ng. Photography Chris Hollingworth

Manchester based TIRADE followed suit, complete with flower headdresses, pop punk vibes and striking harmonies. Something that organiser Pete Weatherburn must be commended on is the inclusion of not just local bands but also bands from out of the area, giving acts such as AVISO and TIRADE the chance to build their audience and gain a stronger following.

Possibly the most perfect choice for Alsager Music Festival was Dirty Money No. 5, who managed to play to a dry audience, unlike their very damp appearance at Lymelight Festival earlier in the year. It’s safe to say that there was no one else like them on the main stage that day and as they played through ‘Bang Bang’, ‘Masterplan’ and ‘Join The Club’, it was evident that the audience adored them, with one woman screaming “More ska! More ska please”.

The acoustic stage was also popular with AMF fans, particularly solo folk singer Pete Shirley, whose calming bouzouki tracks were a welcomed escape from the booming riffs and thumping bass of the other two stages. Playing through ‘Beaver Dam Road’, ‘When Winter Rides In’, ‘Silver Like A Star’ and ‘Waiting For The Tide To Turn’, all tracks from his current album ‘Sunset Katy And Other Stories’, Shirley’s voice made you feel instantly at ease with the world.

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Five minutes with Pete Shirley…

How are you? Did you enjoy that?

I’m fine. I’m good now. It was a buzz! Yeah it was brilliant. It was my first time playing - I don’t know how I missed it! Great little set up down there in the garden too. A lovely little atmosphere. It’s really nice with the hay bales and everyone chilling, it’s so cool. I’d love to play it again.

What have you been up to recently?

I’ve just done a few local gigs and little festivals. I’ve got some festivals coming up later in the year and some big folk festivals too - Shrewsbury Folk Festival - and one or two others in September and October so some to look forward to later on. It’s been alright since the album came out. The album’s opened a few doors which is great!

Do you have plans to record again?

I’d like to. I’ve got enough songs I think, there or there abouts, but it’s finances because it costs a lot. It ain’t cheap as you know but we’ll see how it goes. Maybe later in the year or next year.

I love the harmonies with Esther Brennan (Jake Leg Jug Band/Brennan & Buchan) on the album.

She’s such a great harmony singer. I just gave her a rough copy of the CD and she came into the studio a few weeks later, and just belted them out. So easy. She’s such a natural harmony singer which is great.

What gigs have you got coming up?

This is it for a little while and then at the end of August I’m at Shrewsbury Folk Festival and then in September the Manifold Folk Festival, Cloggerfest and a few other gigs later in the year. Sandbach Lord Mayors Acoustic Evening Ball in November is going to be a great gig at the town hall.

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It was a different story in the marquee however, with Release throwing themselves around the stage as though they hadn’t a care in the world. This is the second time I’ve seen them pack out the Marquee Stage, so it’s inevitable that they’ll find their way to the main stage one day. Front man Caleb Allport looked physically drained as they rounded off their set, wiping sweat from his brow before being instantly ambushed by fans old and new, who were waiting to pass on their appreciation.

Back stage, Moitessier were unloading their gear in preparation for their first gig of the year. It was fantastic to see them together again, after playing their last gig at the very same festival the year before and even better to see them headlining the Marquee. They seemed excited to be reunited again, playing their blues/rock tunes comfortably in front of a growing audience. Vocalists Dan Rolfe and Steven Birchall had the perfect on-stage rapport, making it hard to believe they’d been away for so long. ‘Cherokee Mountains’ got the biggest applause, with fans dancing and singing like they never wanted it to end. Please don’t disappear again anytime soon guys.

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Five minutes with Moitessier…

Hello strangers! You’ve been away for a while!

[Comments of agreement]

Dan: We have yeah!

Steven: Funnily enough the last gig we actually played was a year ago here. We haven’t played since we played here last year.

So you’ve done nothing since then?

Dan: We’ve just been working on different tunes. We kind of had a lay away, where we were trying to collect a few different songs and re-group basically.

Steven: Life got in the way a bit you know.

But you all still want to carry on right?

Dan: Oh yeah! We’re just working on.. sort of… another album at the moment. We’ve got all the drums down and we’re just layering stuff now for that. We’re working towards that at the moment and we’ve got a few more gigs on the go which is good.

Will you be releasing the new stuff soon?

Steven: Soon is very relative to us! [laughs]

Matt: We laid the drums down, pretty much a year ago. I did the bass about three days ago, so we’re going to do the guitars next year, keys the year after..

Steven: We’re looking at a 2020 release!

[all laugh]

Dan: End of the year hopefully.

Matt: We probably only need another 16 hours on it, but it’s arranging that.

I think people are wondering what’s happened to Moitessier.

Dan: It’s nice to think that anyone even knew who we were! That’s always a blessing!

Steven: That’s really nice to hear.

Matt: At band practice we’re in a much smaller room, so we have to perform in a circular format and all look at each other… and we don’t get on very well, so at least at gigs we can all look straight forwards and make very little eye contact which each other!

[lots of laughter]

Steven: We never really practice. We’re like a country/rock Metallica!

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Then suddenly it was time for the festival headliners to take to the main stage, to finish Saturday proceedings with a bang - and what a bang it was. LazyEye have had an undeniably good 2016 so far, after managing to headline two of the best local festivals around, but it was here, at Alsager Music Festival, where they really drew in the crowds. It was quite obvious that they were an easy choice to choose as the headline act, simply by the way Scott Powell, James Corbishley, Josh Egan and Luke Brightmore delivered their set to the adoring audience, who were dancing around at the front of the stage. With the addition of their version of their BBC Introducing live session cover ‘Lush Life’ by Zara Larsson, LazyEye won over the crowds with their charm and overbearing humbleness, making each and every bystander fall completely in love with them.

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Five minutes with Scott Powell of LazyEye…

As it’s your first time playing here, what do you think of Alsager Music Festival?

Scott: It’s brilliant. Just the whole set up is really great. I love it how it’s in the middle of an area you know, it’s not in the middle of no-where like these things can often be. It feels quite community based. Everybody seems to know each other and be in good groups - it’s great. I really enjoyed it.

It’s been a good year for LazyEye; headlining the Saturday of Lymelight and now headlining here. That’s a great achievement!

Scott: Yeah we headlined the Saturday night at Lymelight which was great. Richard Buxton put us on for that. He’s a top man. We’ve had a couple of good festivals and things are ticking along.

What have you been doing since the release of ‘Katie Jones’ last?

Scott: Well I mean basically, the band formed in two periods. There was a period where I wrote songs and then the band grew, so we played stuff I’d written. Once we’d formed and kind of knitted, which has happened over the last eighteen months, I’d bring an idea to the table and we’d work on it together. And that’s a completely different sound to what ‘Katie Jones’ and ‘I’m A Stone’ and all those early songs were, so there’s a bit of me but there’s a bit of everyone else as well. The last twelve/eighteen months has been about us becoming a band really and writing together and forming a sound. The next batch of songs we release will be that, as a pose to what ‘Katie Jones’ and the other songs were.

Are they completely different or can you still tell it’s the LazyEye we know you as?

Scott: Well Corbs (James Corbishley) makes me turn up a bit. We’d have been an acoustic folk band if it had been up to me, but Corbs, the lead guitarist, is insistent that we’re loud. Everybody’s got their own little influences. Josh (Egan) is a real multi-instrumentalist - he’s a great singer. His harmonies put layers on top of things and he helps me write things that I could never have written on my own. We’re in a really good place at the moment. We’re enjoying writing and we can’t wait to get new stuff out.

What gigs have you got coming up?

Scott: We’re all over the place! We’ve got Parr Street in Liverpool coming up, Manchester, Birmingham next weekend… we’re all over the place!

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Sunday

With ‘I’m A Stone’ still ringing in the ears of every Alsager Music Festival fan from LazyEye’s headline set the night before, Sunday morning was no doubt a bit of a headache for most who’d attended the Bank Corner Takeover until the early hours. The festival was far from over though, with more live music, albeit far more laid-back, at The Lodge from 12noon. The day saw several acts such as Nick Ball, Pat Dawe, Olivia Mai, Venus Rising, Dirk Diggler’s Blues Revue and Scribble Victory, perform sets of the highest quality to an appreciative crowd that grew bigger as the hours past.

A band who were more than ready for their set at The Lodge were The Kings Pistol, an acoustic three-piece who aren’t afraid to show their “dark folk” roots. Playing tracks off their current album and their upcoming one, The Kings Pistol looked as though they could play their set in their sleep. Vocalist Julian Casewell lost himself inside the music, allowing himself to float through each track with passion and adoration. Receiving a huge applause and loud cheers from listeners, The Kings Pistol stood out as being one of the strongest acts of the whole weekend.

Later on in the evening, local favourite Nixon Tate and The Honey Club stepped in for The Taskers, who pulled out last minute. They were sorely missed, but NT&THC were a fantastic second choice, stealing the evening right out of the headliners hands. Kicking off their set with ‘All Over Now’, it was immediately clear that, much like LazyEye the previous evening, NT&THC had won over the crowds at The Lodge. Nixon Tate made it clear on several occasions that they definitely weren’t The Taskers, but after performing a blinding set, I’m sure even The Taskers wouldn’t mind the confusion. It seems you can always rely on Nixon Tate and The Honey Club to be outstanding, no matter where they perform or who they perform to. With a set including tracks ‘Honey Trap’ complete with spine tingling guitar pedal effects, crowd favourite ‘Dancehall Blues’ and an encore of the slow, ballad-like ‘Joyce’, Nixon Tate and The Honey Club kept the heavens from opening and the crowds crying for more.

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Five minutes with Nixon Tate…

Did you enjoy your set?

Yeah it was really good. I wasn’t expecting such a big crowd or such an involved one.

What have you been up to since we spoke last?

We haven’t done much to be honest. We’ve just gigged mainly - played at The Foxlowe a couple of weeks ago. We’ve got a gig in Stafford coming up on the 23rd July and then the next day is Ipstones Festival, that’s the 24th. The guy that produces our singles that we’ve been releasing has just had a baby, so he’s getting back to it. We’re in the studio in the next couple of weeks. To catch up, we’re probably going to release a double A side.

They all seem to have gone down really well don’t you think?

Yeah they’ve been pretty well received. Some more than others. The second one seemed to be the best. We got that on Tom Robinson’s Mix Tape show on BBC 6 so that was really encouraging. Most people tend to mention the second single when I speak to them.

It’s a great idea to release them all separately…

Well I guess we’ll put them all together in the end as an album or maybe two EP’s. People want a constant stream of stuff. If you release an album, they forget about it within a week. It’s difficult to keep the momentum going so we just decided to do it that way because of that.

Other than the gigs you’ve mentioned already, where can people catch you live?

In October we’re playing Music Against Homelessness with The Red Kites and The Kings Pistol and Megan Dixon-Hood. I’ve never seen Megan live so I’m looking forward to that. Apart from that we haven’t got that much. We get phone calls saying “do you want to play this in a couple of weeks?” and we say yes. It keeps it interesting. Sometimes you can end up playing the same places all the time and playing to the same people, so it’s good to get out to different places.

Nixon Tate. Photography Chris Hollingworth

Nixon Tate. Photography Chris Hollingworth

It was left to Oli Ng and The Vagabonds to close the final day of Alsager Music Festival. Having performed previously in both The Eyres and his solo guise, it must have felt a bit like coming home for Oli Ng, who opened his set with the title track off his current EP ‘Into The Dark’. Backed up with Callum Wright on guitar, Steve Miller of Arms and Hearts on acoustic guitar, two quarters of The Eyres on drums and bass, and Roger Keay on saxophone, Oli Ng powered through his set with energy and enthusiasm. It was hard to believe that only three hours before, he’d arrived back from gigging heavily with Tom Seals (who could also be found amongst the bustling crowd). It’s no wonder he’s in demand; being both a talented singer, songwriter and performer in his own right and one of the friendliest musicians around. It was visible by the smiles on the band’s faces that they were enjoying themselves and, judging by the large number of people dancing on the wet grass by the front, the audience were having a pretty good time top. One of those people happened to be AMF organiser Pete Weatherburn, who could be seen over the entire weekend revelling in the success of the festival. It had been a weekend of ups and downs, beginning with the pouring rain on Saturday morning and finishing with an encore of ‘Twist and Shout’ from Oli Ng, but it would have been hard to have found one person who’d walked away that night feeling disappointed.

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Five minutes with Oli Ng…

How are you doing?

I’m fine. A bit tired. It’s been a busy weekend. I got back from Norfolk with Tom Seals about three hours before I went on stage.

Did you enjoy headlining?

I really enjoyed that. It’s the third time I’ve played Alsager Festival. It’s the first time on my own with the band, but other times with The Eyres and solo acoustic gigs. But that was really good! They were all dancing and having a good time. Nobody went to watch the football which was really good.

It was good to hear the tracks off your EP as well as some covers.

I thought I’d throw a few covers in today, with it being a festival and in a pub as well. They weren’t that well known covers but they get people dancing. I think I played all but one of the tracks off the EP - all but ‘Whenever You’re Ready’ which is a bit of a quiet one. I just thought I’d keep it upbeat tonight. And I had Mr Roger Keay on Saxophone. I just had him up as a guest at Audlem Festival last month, because he’s played with Tom Seals, and he smashed it and so I asked him if he wanted to come down to Alsager Festival.

What’s been happening with you then? Have you been gigging?

I’ve been gigging a lot with Tom [Seals] recently. I released the EP in March and did a bit of a solo acoustic tour with Steve Miller of Arms and Hearts. We’ve had a few festivals with The Vagabonds backing band, but not many full band gigs. We've got a couple coming up but it’s just in the making at the moment really to see what works, what doesn’t work. Maybe next year we’ll kick in with that. I’m quitting my part time job in the next few months to do this full time, so that’s big news for you! Breaking news! I’ll be making my last cup of coffee in the coming months!

That’s great! You’ve got enough gigs to get by then?

Yeah. I’m going to Europe in October with bass player Nick Bayes and Leon the drummer - just a trio. And then I think there’s the potential for a tour at the end of the year with Tom Seals. I’m just going to keep playing with Tom, keep doing this, playing with whoever. I’ve got a tour in September where I’m supporting Chloe Chadwick, a country artist, which is a week around the UK. So yeah, busy, but that’s how I like it.

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My ears were ringing, my legs were aching and my throat felt like it had been grated, but walking away from Alsager Music Festival on Sunday night, I couldn’t have felt more proud. Each year, a group of hardworking, enthusiastic individuals come together to organise something amazing. Stath Kyrantonis looked exhausted as he began unplugging the sound system after Oli Ng’s killer headline performance, but when asked how he was feeling, he simply said “I can’t wait to start organising the next one”. If the world was filled with more Pete’s and Stath’s and everyone else who’d spent the last twelve months organising one of the best local festivals around, I’m sure it would be a much cooler place to live.

 

All hail Alsager Music Festival.