Review | Ladyfest Bristol

nme covers 2

‘For Whatever Reason’.. (Access); Annie Gardiner, 2012

Installation of copies of NME magazine from 1989-2008. Piles of magazines divided by gender of artists depicted on the cover, as follows:

Female – Male – Both – None

 

2012 Bristol Ladyfest, 6-8 July

“It’s all about access” says Annie Gardiner of The Hysterical Injury, during their inspiring performance, on the second night of this year’s Bristol Ladyfest celebration at The Fleece. It’s a reference to the motivation behind Ladyfest as well as a fitting introduction to the song ‘Rosettas Waves’ (Sister Rosetta).

Ladyfest, which originally started in Washington, United States, is all about access. Access to and exposure of women artists and musicians, not just for other women to identify with, relate to and enjoy, but with a view to the bigger picture – that is, fair representation of women’s musicality as the norm – on the front cover of music magazines, at mainstream festivals, on indie-night billings every day of the week, in concert halls and jazz clubs. It’s about actively organising women in music, embracing diversity and change.

Diversity is what makes Britain great and we are the experts at it, us women; we celebrate difference, to the very core. It’s what you get at any Ladyfest, the world over. Both nights at Bristol Ladyfest have one beautiful theme: multiple genres. From low folk-indie (This Is The Kit, Straylings, Rozie Plain, Rachael Dadd), to intense indie rock (Drunken Butterfly, Rita Lynch), to gloom pop (The Horn and the Hunt, She Makes War), to adorable, biting punk (Crash Paris, Bellies!), big folk pop sounds (Mary Epworth) and including The Next Big Thing (The Hysterical Injury, Shrag). The overall effect of such intent is emotionally and intelligently draining, if you’re not hard-core. We are hard-core. Front line stuff, us. Of course, there are men in (some) of the bands but in general it is still, in the majority, lovers and brothers, or old punks/musos putting their ego on the backburner, having realised it got them no-where, who can “work with” all this multiplicity.

Hold your breathe cos this is a festival where women’s musicality, marketing and organisation, wins a 100 per cent rating, so we are in the unusual position of it being the girls are appropriate to name and link every band – and we are covering 10 of them.

Friday:
Annette Berlin + Crash Paris, Bellies! + Gaptooth + I Am Horse @ The Hawaiian Bar

Saturday:
Drunken Butterfly + Rita Lynch + The Horn and the Hunt + Straylings + Rachael Dadd + Rozi Plain + She Makes War + The Hysterical Injury + Mary Epworth + Shrag + This is the Kit @ The Fleece, Bristol

Kicking off the proceedings are local quiet-riot grrrls and purveyors of punk-folk, Drunken Butterfly. Despite their newly-recruited drummer being unable to play the show, the band still deliver an engaging, albeit stripped-down, set as a two-piece. Their short-but-sweet set consists largely of old favourites, as well as a grunged-up cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, during which Darcie’s low register vocal purrs against Alice’s rhythmic strumming.

Perhaps a Patti Smith reference is lazy but it’s justified. Something about Rita Lynch’s blood and guts outpourings of passion, her absolute vulnerability, warrior-like and tender in the same breath, leaves us in no doubt she’s lived and breathed every utterance… and survived, stronger, more urgent and focused than ever before.

Exiting her penultimate song as if stepping out of a trance, she wipes her brow and tells us, ‘I’m working hard for Ladyfest’, and you get a sense of the years she has put in, the respect she commands and has toiled so hard for. Watching Annie from The Hysterical Injury nodding and grooving up front, our first thought is of some kind of passing of the baton – but there is more than enough room on this bill, and many more to come, and for Annie and Rita, both have never been more necessary. By the time we get to last track, ‘Losing’, everyone is on their feet, a beautifully simple hook of a melody in the chorus that is both obvious and genius at the same time.

 

 

Straylings are storytellers, twisting folk to pop with a swish of a pretty skirt and a pensive stare at the floor. They are totally DIY (no middle men or women), yet they have received a decent amount of radio airplay and fuss in the brighter corners of the media, most notably by Steve Lamacq. No wonder, because song’s like ‘Carver’s Kicks’ or the brilliantly named ‘The Unravelling of Mr Ed’ fill a room in a thoroughly soothing Mazzy Star manner but with a deeper, darker more-urgent undertow.

Rachael Dadd doesn’t want to be rich and famous all by herself, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t entitled to exposure and respect as a formidable musician. Most here know to expect the low-folk, awkward indieness, like ‘Tsobumi’ from latest album Bite The Mountain and the smooth-beauty of her vocals (with This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables and Rozi Plain in a supporting role). She plays clarinet, ukelele, keyboards, banjo (though not all at Bristol Ladyfest) and also devises her own songs – more to the point, she makes perfectly-formed individual felt bags for her DIY CD’s. (We buy one of the little felt bags to carry our brand new Shrag album Canines.)

 

 

Rozi Plain, who is in This Is The Kit 70 per cent of the time, wears the same bands iconic, trademark crochet beanie hat – off but still done up with its solitary wooden button, around the neck, like her mate Kate Stables; with other various TitK members arranged in different places to their norm (Yes, Rachel Dadd too, pregnant, and happily confused with tiredness. It’s quite endearing.) Rozi’s new album, released last month (Joined: Sometimes Not Joined) features a crochet shape on its cover. But last year’s EP See My Boat and ‘Humans’ are tonight’s stand outs. It’s easy to see why All Tomorrow’s Parties have invited the This is The Kit community to Minehead’s December festival.

 

 

As it says in her self-styled blog, record label, Laura Kidd, otherwise known as She Makes War is indeed gloom pop. BUT, she fails to mention the magic ingredient, which is the endearing personality of the Tree of Life tattooed woman herself as a performer; as quirky as Laura Viers, as real as Courtney Love.

She Makes War displays a flair for highly addictive arty intervention, such as spontaneous wandering in the audience with a megaphone, using pedals to loop effects, layer vocals, new wave electronica meets beat-poet. The grunge-influenced guitar which opens ‘Magpies’ but there’s always the traditional soar of a good emotive pop tune and that voice: clear and warm, making musings and melancholy safe and precious, at the same time.

Everything in life lets you down, in the end, except for The Hysterical Injury. Be very clear, their current penchant to introduce unlikely influences into debut album Dead Wolf Situation originals, are mash-INS not mash-ups; that would really be a telephone-box red, red herring because this drum and bass duo perform these perfectly formed living, breathing moving-towards-you, clean, fresh, clever songs on point.

It’s a beautiful thing to see new toys on stage, (vocal enhancer, pedals at the vocal mic) being played with – not at all nicely – and hear Annie introduce ‘Rainbow Thunderclap’ with electronica star and DJ, Ms Kitten and Patti Smith mash-in, spanning 50 years of women  in music “just like that”. Both brother (drummer) and sister (bass) make equal impression, as original performers and talented musicians. How do you take it that far and know when to pull it back and turn, twist it in to a digestable song? It would be pop music, only it blows your head off.

Mary Epworth plays to her own tune (fulsome folk-pop) with supporting accomplished musicians and vocalist, but they pretend they’re a band, a unit (thus the awkward on-stage banter). This type of determination (to lead a band of experienced chaps and keep faith in your original ideas) quite frankly takes guts, and emanates in tonight’s performance more powerfully than all the unusual instruments and guitar swapping. Big melodies with an unnerving confidence, like ‘Black Doe’ coupled with off-the-wall “oom-paah” dark-side folk like ‘The Saddle Song’ seem a little at odds with this hipster environment but we are excited that she’s bought the mainstream to the ghetto.

 

 

Shrag play snappy, shout-out, pop punk with lyrics that dig the knife in deep: landlords (‘Tears of a Landlord’), human behaviour  (‘Show Us Your Canines’, ‘Chasing Consummations’).  There’s a lot of them up there – 2 keyboards, 2 guitars – and bass and drums. Lead vocalist and keyboard player, Helen King, a petite woman in black, hiding her face with her hair, is the one that’s holding our attention; like a flowing river, fluid and fast moving, both terrified and amused at the same time, refreshingly unpredictable, which totally suits the restless nature of the band. This is all very good news for the underground music scene and the new album, Canines is a stormer. Shrag know they are part of the Next Big Thing pack (after the obligatory years that go in to overnight successes).

 

 

A bill that boasts frequent collaborators Rozi Plain, Rachael Dadd and This Is The Kit is a pretty exciting prospect. What is most impressive about this band is the vocals. The unique melding of head honcho Kate’s voice with Rachael’s and Rozi’s is seamless; the result, sublime. The three women are clearly very aware of the power of their vocals, both separately and together. As well as beautiful harmonies, there is a playfulness within the vocals which creates multiple, textured layers. ‘Earthquake’ particularly stands out, with its whoops of exhilaration. A version of ‘The Turnip Turned’ by Whalebone Polly (Kate and Rachael’s old band) also shines, further referencing the interlocking of the women’s musical careers.

This Is The Kit’s sound is not straight-up folk. Whilst it contains banjo, finger-picking guitar and ethereal vocals, there is also distorted guitar (provided by Neil of Bristol’s The Liftmen) and even very gentle tips of the cap to Krautrock. This Is The Kit are the perfect example of the type of innovative and breathtaking music that has been fostered in Bristol and, although the band is mostly resident in Paris, tonight’s show saw a welcome return.

Emma Thompson, Ngaire Ruth, Jo Gate-Eastley.

Where are the photographers and writers, the artists, young wannabe promoters and those with independent press officer dreams, who should be swimming in the same small pool as these artists and bands?

If you are interested in writing or snapping for the girls: ngaire@thegirlsare.com (Live Editor) emily@thegirlsare.com (Picture Editor)

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