This is my fourth Sound City: two when the event was spread out over the pubs and clubs of Liverpool and two at Bramley-Moore Dock. I bought the ‘Super Early Bird’ tickets, this time, trusting that the complaints made about last year would be heard and changes introduced. Immediately after buying the tickets, changes did indeed happen – we were down to two days, instead of three. However, early adopters like me were given Sound City+ access, so I held my tongue and steeled myself to disapprove… but Sound City+ was an enjoyable day. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t have paid for it, but it was a pleasant enough: great venue, lots of freebies and Quick – the band of the day for me, awesome harmonies and a mandolin; nothing wrong with that! I’m a punter though, not a musician, so the networking opportunities offered at the event were a little limited (especially for a part-time freelance photographer like me) and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.
The day dawned bright and clear – a promising start, as last year was decidedly on the cold side. We got to the site early and walked straight in, no queues at 12:30pm. It was very quiet… and understandable if you knew about the 4pm reverse curfew: a ludicrous idea, it’s a long day if the band you want to see aren’t on until 10:30pm… so it was obvious why hardly anyone else had arrived at this point. It did give us a chance to wander around quite easily, though, and see where everything was (nice to notice that gone was the ill-conceived fairground from last year and The North Stage was as far from The Atlantic Stage as it could get… we thought. More on that later). Lots of great food stalls in the first couple of hundred yards and they didn’t seem extortionately priced given the variety and choice. The alcohol was not the same story – I know it’s not worth whining about it, it is what it is, but £5 for a single serving bottle of Echo Falls wine kept me sober all day! My biggest moans from last year were the toilet and seating situations, but both have improved this year and there seemed to be a lot more toilets – and the addition of urinals, I’m assured by my husband, has relieved (sorry) the pressure on the stalls for the ladies! We spent the first few hours at Tim Peak’s Diner, which was brilliant. I took a drumming class, which was fantastic fun, then we watched an extended samba class which was hysterical, before we caught ‘In Conversation with Greg Wilson‘, the eighties DJ pioneer, which was entertaining and a nice alternative for something to do when the music fails.
Because, oh dear, the music failed. I may not hit the target demographic for Sound City, and I should probably go to the Cambridge Folk Festival or whatever now, but I love guitar bands and loud music… so I should find something at the festival, right? I’ll try. Atlas Wynd were good on The Cavern Stage and their guitar ‘n’ drums combo made a great rounded noise… but, said rounded noise kept being interrupted by the din coming from The North Stage. Yes, the dreaded sound bleed is alive and well, having seen off nearly all of the tents from last year and leaving the poor little Merseyrail Sound Station tent competing with everything. To be honest, I don’t know what the answer is to this problem… but I don’t think Sound City do, either. Anyway, Tom Low was brilliant on The Tall Ship Stage, his new sound and direction is excellent.
The rest of the day? Head-pounding dance in The Warehouse, a seemingly endless supply of interchangeable synth bands on The Cargo Stage and many nameless outfits who didn’t hold attention spans for long, as we all bounced from stage to stage trying to find something to listen to. Us? We ended up back at Tim Peak’s Diner before heading home… two hours after the 4pm curfew.
After yesterday’s early departure, Sunday had all the potential of being a struggle. The day was sunny and warm again, the trains were on time and the pub was open just outside the festival, though, so my mood improved and, after an extensive bag check (why can’t security staff at airports be more like this: friendly and lots of banter?), we wandered into the site to work through the ‘must-sees’ of the second day – only to immediately find out that the ‘In Conversation with Dave Haslam‘ – the first thing on our list – had been moved to 4pm… probably because there was no-one in the tent! The site was very empty, much quieter than Saturday, so we wandered towards The Cargo Stage where I was stopped in my tracks… always a good sign. We caught our first good surprise of the day, as pop-rockers Heir were excellent.
It was then time for a Sound City treat, as we took our place with the competition winners for an acoustic session in a tiny room down below The Tall Ship Stage with The Dandy Warhols. Lights dimmed and Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Brent DeBoer (main pic) entered the room quietly and with little fuss… the next 20 minutes passed the same way, too, as the band played an intimate mini-set of breathy vocals and beautiful acoustic guitar. In the intense heat below deck, they looked like they were going to pass out, but they were still very impressive and I was now really looking forward to their main set on The Atlantic Stage later on. The side attractions kept coming, as next we headed back to Tim Peak’s Diner for ‘In Conversation with Alexei Sayle‘. Alexi was a joy to be in a room with and a very funny man: self effacing, genuine and a nice guy. We bought a couple of his books and he was last seen still signing all those that were thrust in front of him…
We headed up to The Atlantic Stage next and sat down at the front to wait for Neon Waltz, a band from John O’Groats who are always solid live and enjoy a bit banter with the crowd (however small). Their performance was good… until the quiet bits, when you could hear The North Stage (I’ve done that rant already). We decided to stay on for Moscow-born Shura and were glad we did, as we really enjoyed her eighties Madonna vibe – she was absolutely bouncing around the stage and looked like she was having the time of her life… always something that endears an artist to an audience. Shura’s set was a blast. The crowds had started to build up by this point, but it was still very quiet compared to 2015. Anyway, I was really looking forward to The Dandy Warhols following their afternoon performance and they did not disappoint – they were awesome. I danced and jumped around with everyone else and had a great time. Highlights, obviously, were ‘Bohemian Like You’ and ‘Get Off’ (anyone who gets “hot diggity dog” into a song is alright with me), but new songs from their latest album, ‘Distortland’, stood out, too, with ‘STYGGO’ and ‘You Are Killing Me’ worth checking out. The crowd were bouncing as one after this storming set, but we decided to head away from the main stages and to the Merseyrail Sound Station to see Tom Low again. His set had been moved to 8pm, though, and we had missed him… it’s worth pointing out that a lot of scheduled slots were changed and cancelled over the weekend, but I guess that’s the nature of a beast like this?
There appeared to be nowhere near as many people here as last year. Perhaps the advertised last entry time and apparent no re-entry policy put people off – social media would certainly suggest so. We did, however, see people being let in after 4pm, though, and the security guards on our way out on Sunday asked us if we wanted our hands stamped so we could come back in; so there appeared to have been a change of policy on the aforementioned curfew development for 2016… official or not. There are still issues with Sound City and the festival is now, let’s face it, a few big gigs in a car park. That’s always going to be a problem for regular gig goers like me… so, even after a much-improved experience on the Sunday (maybe due to an apparent lack of ‘festival goers’), I won’t be be returning to Sound City, in its current form, in 2017.
I gave it the benefit of the doubt for two years, but I will be voting with my feet next year…
Pic by Lis Garrett