‘VARIOUS ARTISTS’ – ‘RITUAL UNION’ FESTIVAL, BRISTOL 1.10.22
The ‘Ritual Union’ Festival is a multi-venue festival in Bristol. It has been repeatedly recommended to me for quite a while, but this year has been the first opportunity that I’ve had to attend. The festival is set in five venues all within a few minutes’ walk of the Rough Trade record shop in Bristol.
The festival starts for me with The Lounge Society at the SWX club, which is the festival’s largest venue. The Lounge Society have been on my radar for a while, but this is the first time that I’ve actually managed to see them. They come from the undeniable rock ‘n’ roll hotbed that is Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. They are signed to Speedy Wunderground and their debut album, ‘Tired Of Liberty’, was released at the end of August. They played an instore performance here in Brighton at Resident on 1st September, and prior to that they were in Brighton as support to Pip Blom at the Concorde 2 on 15th February – Read our review HERE.
Unsurprisingly most of today’s set comes from the album, although a key exception is early single ‘Burn The Heather’. Lead single ‘Blood Money’ is about the concept of greed seeping into the corridors of power worldwide, something from which our own Government is not exempt. Much of the early part of their set is jerky post-punk reminiscent of the Gang Of Four. However, there is far more at work here than that. ‘People Are Scared’ even has a section with a hint of early Pink Floyd!
The band are very versatile musicians: the three man frontline frequently swapping instruments. They also take turns on lead vocals. One of them occasionally plays synth too. At one point the synth has a Hammond organ sound that makes them sound like ‘? And The Mysterians’. They rock out very effectively as well. There are a lot of influences at work here, but the band are greater than the sum of those influences. They’re a very exciting live band. On first listen they are a post-punk band, but I would say they are more than that: post-punk double plus.
The Lounge Society setlist:
2. ‘Cain’s Heresy’
3. ‘People Are Scary’
4. ‘Blood Money’
6. ‘No Driver’
8. ‘Beneath The Screen’
9. ‘Burn The Heather’
10. ‘Generation Game’
I next make my way to Strange Brew for the very wonderful Mandrake Handshake. This is the sixth time that I’ve seen them, and not only do they seem to noticeably improve with every gig, they somehow seem different every time too.
They are a band of many flavours: late 1960s psychedelic rock, Hawkwind, Krautrock, jazz, techno, Stereolab influenced vocals, and other sounds that are simply beyond definition. This band take you somewhere else entirely, and inexplicably they give me an immediate urge to smoke weed. They have a new EP coming out on 18th November. Get it, and see where it takes you. You can read about their headline show that we covered from back in January HERE.
I’d heard some good things about Willie J Healey, and he was next up at SWX, so I trogged over there. I like the idea that sometimes he plays solo, and sometimes with a band. Today, on the bigger stage, he has a full band. The band are clearly highly-skilled and there’s a great deal of chemistry between them. However, this is clearly a band of ‘musos’, they could easily be session players.
There are lots of ‘tasteful’ minor chords thrown in. The vibe is like a cross between the latter-day Steve Miller Band, and Chris Rea. The music is functional and workmanlike, but after the last two acts that I’ve seen, it is undeniably safe. It’s not background music, but it’s getting there, which after what I’d been told about Willie J Healey is very disappointing. Nothing to get excited about here: next!!!
I find solace with Prima Queen in Rough Trade, on the shop’s very impressive sound stage. This is the fourth time that I’ve seen Prima Queen, and they’re another band who seem to get better each time. They tend to have a different line-up almost every time I see them as well. The first time I saw them in February, in addition to their standard four-piece line-up (two guitars, bass and drums) they had a synth player and a cellist; the next couple of times they played as a four-piece; today they’re playing as a duo of the two core members Louise Macphail and Kristin McFadden. Upon questioning them about this, I’m told that it’s only a temporary situation, the reason being that their rhythm section is unavailable for this gig. Normal service will resume for their next scheduled gigs.
Today’s stripped back performance highlights the quality of their songs. Their exquisite harmonies are showcased, as are their lyrics, which are wonderful evocations of everyday life. For example, in ‘Milk Teeth’ the narrator wonders “does she know the smell of the shampoo in your hair”. ‘Butter Knife’ remains an incredibly sad song whilst also being achingly beautiful. There’s some wonderfully delicate finger-picking there. Current single ‘Eclipse’ gets an airing, as does the already classic ‘Chew My Cheeks’. Set closer ‘Mexico’ features some very lyrical lead guitar from Louise. One of the key things about Prima Queen is that their material is very varied. They don’t write in a particular style or try to stay within the parameters of a particular genre. They don’t sound like anybody else – they sound like Prima Queen. I would hesitate to say that I prefer Prima Queen without a rhythm section, but today’s gig has been particularly awesome.
They’re on tour this autumn, and whilst they’re unfortunately not playing Brighton, they are playing the Lexington in Kings Cross on 28th November. The Brighton & Hove News Music Team caught their performance with Lime Garden at The Hope & Ruin back in February – Read our review HERE.
The Prima Queen experience today has been quite calm and relaxed, “a bit like a yoga class” as Louise Macphail puts it. Panic Shack are not like that. Not a bit. They’re a feisty punk band from Wales, overflowing with attitude. They take the stage and dance to ‘Macarena’ by Los Del Rio. It’s not a bad thing to have a bit of levity before their set opener, ‘I Don’t Really Like It’ which is a sturdy response to toxic male behaviour. The lyrics suggest that this behaviour may be up to and including sexual abuse. The last third of the song is fast and punky and makes it clear that this band can look after themselves.
A mosh pit quickly develops and doesn’t really subside for the rest of their set. Many of the songs are drily humourous like ‘I Don’t Wanna Hold Your Baby’ and ‘Jiu Jits You’ (“I do jiujitsu, I’m gonna jiu jits you”). ‘Mannequin Man’ appears to be about a man with no personality, whilst ‘Who’s Got My Lighter?’ is about losing one’s lighter that’s just been bought at a convenience store, and repeatedly calls out the brands of lighter that can be purchased in such establishments. There’s been a buzz about Panic Shack and it really is deserved. They’re a killer live band, and their material is witty without ducking the serious issues. For once, a band who are worth the hype. The Brighton & Hove News Music Team also caught up with Panic Shack at this year’s Great Escape on 13th May (Article HERE) and then again in August at the Rebellion festival in Blackpool (Review HERE).
Panic Shack setlist:
1. ‘I Don’t Really Like It’
3. ‘Jiu Jits You’
4. ‘Cash Piggy’
5. ‘Meal Deal’
6. ‘Mannequin Man’
7. ‘The Ick’
8. ‘Who’s Got My Lighter’
I make my way from Rough Trade to SWX2 for Talk Show. The south east London based band consist of Harrison Swann on vocals and occasional guitar, Tom Holmes on guitar, George Sullivan on bass and Chloe MacGregor on drums. They specialise in fairly hard, danceable post-punk. Drummer Chloe MacGregor is a revelation, as to my mind she plays just like Reni from The Stone Roses.
Undeniably that’s high praise, but by God she deserves it. They’re a cracking live band, with some very inventive guitar from Tom Holmes, who may very well be my new guitar hero. Nothing seems to faze them either. At one point they acquire a very drunk stage invader, who doesn’t seem to quite know where he is. Harrison gently but firmly guides him back into the audience. Talk Show are well worth checking out. There are no Brighton or London dates scheduled at the moment, but they have recently released an EP entitled ‘Touch The Ground’.
Time is moving on so I run downstairs to the main SWX venue for Los Bitchos. Their set tonight is very similar to the set I saw at ‘The End Of The Road Festival’ a month ago, (Review HERE) but is no less enjoyable. However, one change is that they appear to have a different second guitarist this time. He seems to be actually enjoying himself, whereas the previous incumbent looked as if he was wishing that the stage would open up and swallow him!
This band’s rhythms are totally spectacular. At one point the guitarist plays a pair of tom-toms with just the bassist and drummer accompanying her, and it still sounds utterly awesome! The key thing about Los Bitchos is that they have fun. The guitarist and keyboard player sing impromptu backing vocals off-mic. They have fun: the audience have fun. What’s not to like???
I head back to Rough Trade for Leif Erikson. They purvey West Coast and MOR influenced rock. It’s very mid 1970s. Pleasant songs with some nice guitar. Early in the set ‘nice’ seems to be a key adjective for this band. Second song ‘Question Time’ is a bit more ballsy than the set opener, and would have been a better opening song. However, everything goes back to the default ‘nice’ setting. The songs are good, the playing and singing is excellent, but I can’t help feeling that there’s something missing. As the set progresses, missing ‘something’ starts to annoy me.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this music, but overall I find it a bit pointless. It’s yacht rock. It harks back to a golden era that probably didn’t really exist. It has as close a relationship to reality as the current Government has. There are plenty of things going on in the world at the moment that songwriters could be addressing. There’s nothing wrong with escapism per se, but now isn’t the time. Or to flip the coin over, maybe it is….
I stay in Rough Trade for that venue’s headliners Honeyglaze. This is the sixth time I have seen this band in nine months, and they have come a long way: from supporting at the Lexington, (Review HERE) to releasing their first album, to headlining one of the stages at a festival, and they seem to be taking it all in their stride. Previously they would appear shy onstage, almost apologetic. Now they aren’t scared of having a laugh together, and let’s face it, bassist Tim Curtis has one helluva sense of humour.
If they’re more relaxed onstage it doesn’t detract from the music, not a bit of it. Indeed, tonight they open with what I think is a new song. It’s called ‘TV’ and celebrates the wonders of terrestrial television. It features some very powerful singing from Anouska Sokolow, and a cataclysmic ending with drummer Yuri Shibuichi giving his best Keith Moon impersonation. Most of the set however comes from their rather magnificent debut album, the inventively titled ‘Honeyglaze’, for which they played an instore gig at Resident in Brighton on 30th April (Review HERE).
To be honest, there’s simply no arguing with the material on there: the self-deprecating ‘Young Looking’ for example, with its line “I know that I look seventeen”. I hope ‘Female Lead’ isn’t autobiographical, with the narrator bleaching her hair to look like Madonna, and then having to wear a hat until her hair grows back.
Tim Curtis still makes all of the stage announcements, but there’s nothing particularly gnomic tonight – maybe he’s taking life a bit more seriously! I hope that’s not the case. He does have his phone on charge during the gig though. Well, Rough Trade can afford the ‘leccy! Honeyglaze’s set finishes with ‘Childish Things’. I hadn’t noticed before that there are definite hints of Nick Drake in that song. There’s some great light and shade there too. Anouska’s vocals are noticeably increasingly self-assured. Indeed, the band in general seem almost to grow before one’s eyes. I’m sure that this is just the beginning of a long journey for them.
Thus the ‘Ritual Union’ Festival ends. It’s been incredibly well put together, and like many festivals, my only real regret is that I can’t be in two places at once! I will, however, definitely be here next year. You should be too.
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