Liverpool Sound City Recap – Part 2

LSC logo - simple text saying Liverpool Sound City 17-19 May 2012Ahoy hoy! Sorry it’s taken me a while to get around to concluding this personal account of the Liverpool Sound City festival. I’d like to carry on today from Friday May 18th, the second day of the conference. So let’s get into it…

Day 2 – Friday May 18th – I arrived quite early which is unusual for me. After missing the morning sessions on Thursday I wanted to make amends and see more of the conference. I met up with good friend Neil Morrin of Defnet Media and we headed to the first session of the day, appropriately named the LSC Start Up panel. I was still half asleep and didn’t take in all of what was going on but it was a discussion about starting a new business in the music industry and the challenges involved. Unfortunately I only saw the first 20mins as it clashed with the start of the LSC digital distribution panel which I REALLY wanted to see. So I snuck out as discreetly as I could for a lumbering 6ft 3 inch guy who weights over 260lbs and made my way next door.

A short of the Liverpool skyline. Looking from the arena to the Hilton over the Albert Dock.
Albert Dock & Skyline (taken on the way from the expo)

This panel was probably the best thing I saw in all of the LSC conference section if I’m honest. It consisted of some leading names in the distribution game discussing strategies and recounting tales from the trenches. As a podcaster (i.e – digital broadcaster), web developer and online musician this ticked all the boxes for me. On the panel were: Lee Morrison (Believe Digital), Ally Gray (EmuBands), Matt Parsons (Ditto), Scott Cohen (The Orchard), Jake Baumont-Nesbitt (MMF) and Phil Patterson (UKTI). I’ll level with you, I had no clue who any of them were before the event but that was just my ignorance, looking it up now they are clearly big movers in the field. The discussion was lively and interesting I thought, very engaging. I disagreed with some points and agreed with others. These are companies whose business is distributing your music onto the likes of iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and the overall message seemed to be “you can’t do it without us”. That’s rubbish. You can get your music onto iTunes, Amazon, Google Music and more through all kinds of avenues. Will you do it as effectively as them? OK probably not. I raised a couple of questions at the end, the first about Bandcamp and the second about Google Music. The panel largely dismissed my comments but they did answer to their credit. A few people in the crowd sided with me which was nice. I’m not going to pretend I know more than these people who work in this industry day to day, I’m sure using a distributor like this is highly valuable. The experience and promotion they can offer may be worth it alone. I just wanted people to know you can do a lot of this yourself with the right application and commitment. After the panel I headed for lunch with my friend Andy and then we checked out the expo at the Echo Arena. I was sorry I only had half an hour to look around the expo really. The stands were mostly music technology stuff and obviously I felt right at home. Guitars, keyboards and drum kits all over the place. I met some interesting people and saw a few demos. Sadly though I had to head off to FACT for a meeting and cut the visit short.

Following my trip to FACT I had a gig of my own with 20lb Sounds. We played the Cavern Pub at 6:15pm for the IPO Festival and it was a lot of fun. Possibly the most chaotic gig we’ve ever done as the bass amp broke, the guitar volume was up and down like 2 kangaroos in the mating season, and to top it all off the kit started falling apart and the kick drum was trying to escape across the stage. That’s rock and roll though isn’t it? We pressed on, had fun and I think the people watching did too. It was an odd crowd really, not as busy as I’d expected for a Friday night but we won them over. After the gig we hung around in the pub a while before walking back to the rehearsal room with our stuff. I like doing gigs where you can walk there in 10mins, that’s very cool. The night was still young and armed with my festival wristband I wandered into the night with the others. We had a few drinks and eventually made our way over to LEAF on Bold St where I’d been told to check out a guy by the name of Ben Caplan and his band The Casual Smokers. They were an interesting outfit with a kind of bluegrass feel to the music. Guitar, double bass, drums and violin. Very interesting stuff and Ben’s powerful voice was almost as impressive as his massive (and I do mean massive) beard. I wonder if he knows about Unix? He really should do with that facial hair. Sticking in LEAF (my home from home) I headed upstairs to see who else was on and caught an interesting 3 piece called Bear In Heaven who I enjoyed a lot. They had a really big sound for 3 people and there was a lot of instrument swapping going on which I like. I don’t know exactly how I’d describe their style really, a mixture of indie rock and electro almost with programmed synths and effects. Well worth checking out.

After a very long and exhausting day I headed home when the last band finished and put myself to bed. Satisfied and sleepy.

A shot of James Vincent McMorrow on stage at the Epstein theatre
James Vincent McMorrow & band on stage at the Epstein theatre

Day 3 – Saturday was a fairly mixed up day for me involving a LivLUG meeting in the afternoon and some podcast editing in the early evening. I made it back out later to meet friends and see a few interesting gigs though. The first stop on my late night excursion was to the Epstein Theatre, that’s the old Neptune Theatre to you and me. It’s been reopened and renamed but little else has changed as far as I can remember, despite the reported £1million renovation. It’s a beautiful venue and I’ve seen many a gig their over the years, I’m glad it’s had some TLC and it’s back in use. The architecture alone is worth checking out. I was there to see James Vincent McMorrow at the recommendation of a friend. I didn’t know much about him beforehand but he was truly excellent. His voice is fantastic, his songs anthemic and his band top class. His version of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” has been very popular. Being a musician and all round music geek I often access the different members when watching any band. I can’t help it. They were all good but the drummer caught my eye particularly. I saw the last 5 songs of the set and was really glad I did. I should have made it along earlier but never mind. After this a group of us wandered over towards the Kazimier to see 90’s Britpop legends Space. I hadn’t heard from them in years but I did enjoy their music back in the day. I thought we’d missed most of the gig by the time we fought our way into the crowd but we heard all the classics really. “Ballad Of Tom Jones”, “Female Of The Species” and “Neighbourhood”. The band seemed to be in good form although Jamie was having a bit of a diva fit and he’s a pretty hard guy to like. I’d heard that from mutual acquaintances but never knew if it was true. Picking on your roadies and getting the crowd to chant abuse at them is a good way to ensure your coffee always has a healthy serving or spit in it. Nice work. I felt a bit sorry for Tommy and the others as they apologised but we all enjoyed the music anyway. After this it was a quick hop over the square to see one of the current darlings of the Liverpool scene the Tea Street Band. This was my recommendation and I wasn’t sure how the others would take it. They seemed to get into it after a rocky start. Tea Street Band basically blend your typical house anthem style with live instruments, guitars and the occasional vocal. I’m still not 100% convinced their songs are diverse enough but I do like them and the local media are really pushing them to succeed. I hope they do.

The word on the street among all the conference industry types was that Tall Ships were the band to see, so we headed to their gig right after Tea Street Band. We made it in plenty of time and I was pleased to see the whole set. I had no idea what to expect but it was again a 3 piece with a big sound. It seems to be all the rage right now. They were much more rocky than I’d expected with grundgy guitar at times. I have no idea why they’re called Tall Ships but they did seem to be in danger of headbutting the lighting rig a few times, they were all over 6 ft tall. Maybe I’m taking the name too literally. Great set though and probably the best band I saw in the whole event if I’m honest. I’ll be checking out much more of their stuff in future. Give them a listen.

We headed back to the open garage space and saw a great bit of high energy ska from Dexter Dangerous & The Fingersmiths. I had no idea who they were but the band really put some effort in and jumped around non-stop. All 10 of them. I was massively impressed and I love ska anyway so it was always going to be an easy sell. After finished their blistering performance I assumed the band would get a well earned rest. Oh no. They were back about 15mins later in completely different outfits doing a circus style cabaret act to a lot of fast paced dance music. No rest for the wicked I guess. This was all punctuated by the 4 DJs spinning great beats and keeping the crowd going between acts. Can’t Mix Won’t Mix Shouldn’t Mix Don’t Mix is a moniker and a half but they really were great. Anyone who plays 2 James Brown records in the pace of about 10mins can’t be bad in my book. Along with stuff like Fun Loving Criminals, Otis Redding and more. All got a big thumbs up from me.

As the cabaret continued my energy was all but spent and after a short period of propping myself against a pillar I decided it was probably best to head home. This was about 3:30am. Pretty respectable I’d say, there’s life in the old dog yet. Overall I enjoyed Sound City a lot and while I would have liked to see more local bands get prime slots I think they did pretty well in organising it all. The plan is to try and make this like the South By Southwest festival and I’ve already heard the term “Scouse By Scouse-west” crop up a few times. If I had to sum it up in one sound bite I’d choose “exhausting but fun”.


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