We'll begin again with the latest Leeds Arena chat, who despite previous saying that both Kaiser Chiefs and Elton John would open the 15,000 capacity venue, went and sprung the surprising news that Bruce Springsteen would be the first to grace the arena this July. Naturally tickets sold like the proverbial hot cake and discussion moved away from booking speculation towards the ticketing side of things as the secondary ticket market quickly became flooded with people looking to make a quick buck. Alongside this local ticket outlet heroes Jumbo and Crash Records were harshly not given an allocation to sell; heart-warmingly the Leeds music scene jumped to their defence with a mass subscribed to Facebook group taking aim at the arena which received plenty of press. Despite later claims from Crash Records that it was unnecessary and that they expected things to be different for future gigs appropriate to themselves and Jumbo Records. Only time will tell if this will be true, but many people will be definitely keeping an eye on how Leeds Arena interacts with its community for future events.
As we have finally edged out of Winter, many minds are longing for festival season and several local line-ups have to taken shape as a result of several major announcements recently. Skipton’s Beacons Festival have gone with Django Django for headliners, plus Solange and Local Natives further down the bill. Live at Leeds has both Everything Everything and The Walkmen on the bill amongst the usual mix of the hotly tipped national bands and popular local bands. Wakefield’s Long Division have managed to snare The Fall as headliners, plus Ghostpoet and Jeffrey Lewis. There’ll also have Howard Marks and Josie Long adding a slice of comedic variety to the musical fare.
We’ll begin the new releases with Scaramanga Six, a cult phenomenon of a band known for their thunderous flamboyant style of rock; and a relentless presence in the Leeds rock scene since the mid 90s. Their seventh studio album, Phantom Head (released 1st April on Wrath Records), is one to look out for as it saw the band embark upon an ambitious pilgrimage to Chicago to work with kindred independent mind and the recording engineer legend that is Mr Steve Albini. This time round they also bolstered their ranks with a couple of new recruits including a second drummer, and you can hear the first preview of this new material with the theatrical brute that is track 'Blunt Force Trauma' below. I've also spotted tucked away on their bandcamp, a career spanning 'introduction' mix covering their first 6 albums and available at a pay what you want price, should you want to delve deeper and not know where to begin.
Ever since I first mentioned Hookworms on this column back in June 2011, it’s been difficult not to include them each time I put this column together, such is my excitement for this band. With their album release Pearl Mystic, the mainstream music press finally seem to have caught up and taken notice, albeit with some outlets suggesting that the band are spearheading a supposed psychedelic/krautrock resurgence. Released on Nottingham’s Gringo Records, the record sold out of all of the pre-order copies and had to be immediately repressed.
The accompanying launch gig at Brudenell Social Club was similarly popular, and saw a capacity crowd treated to the typically powerful and absorbing Hookworms live experience, this time complete with striking projections. All of this new found adoration is not without good reason - upon the first hearing of Pearl Mystic it’s evident that this album is well above being some musical fashion trend. It’s a finely balanced listen - there are ambient moments such as 'Since We Had Changed' and 'In Our Time', with its deep languid bass line guiding the listener around an emotive slow dance in a blizzard of fuzz, whilst reflective and alluring in their own right these respites have the added benefit of giving the explosive tracks like ‘Preservation’ and it’s buzz-saw guitars all the more kick. I could waffle hyperbolically to the bottom of this page, but let’s be honest DiS’ Dom Gourlay does a much better job in contemplating what makes it so great with his exceptionally rare awarding of a 10/10 here. To accompany the release Leeds videographers Anthologies produced this engrossing live session, filmed inside the Suburban Home Recording Studio where Pearl Mystic was created…
Owen Brinley will be a familiar name in Leeds from his previous inventive projects and after a spell out of the spotlight he has returned with a new project going under the name Department M. Now older and wiser, Owen has left the guitars behind and is now melding his wondrous songwriting vision with layers of lush 80s analogue synth, as well as incorporating intriguing industrial sounds, and of course that voice and it’s flooring capabilities. The debut single ‘I’ll Fax You An Apology’ (below) is a slice of melancholic indie-pop incomparable to anything currently being produced in Leeds at the moment, and is out now on 7”. There will be also be a celebratory launch gig on Friday 29th at Wharf Chambers, featuring support from two new locals acts which have both featured on this column recently, making for a very strong line-up of the finest new talent that Leeds has to offer. The first being Menace Beach (who release their excellent new double A-side single via Too Pure this week) and electro-pop purveyors Swimming Lessons. The bands will be followed by a DJ Set from Pulled Apart By Horses until the early hours so you can make a full evening of it.
Elsewhere it’s been a mournful time in the indie-pop scene with several stalwarts including Shrag and Standard Fare falling by the wayside in recent months, however Leeds’ Just Handshakes are now more than ready to help flood that void. Unlike a lot of artists, they’ve spent a good few years carefully honing and perfecting their sound with several singles and EPs releases before rushing to make to produce a long player. Judging by the first single 'London Bound' (available as a free download from Bleeding Gold Records), with it's lush wistful vocal moored to guitars and keys summoned straight from C86 heaven, these subtly developments have obviously been worthwhile. It has a modern sheen to it, yet simultaneously manages to sound like a forgotten classic, and will be the perfect accompaniment to the train of red tail-lights that typify southbound M1 journeys. Head Brudenell bound on 1st April to see them support Teen.
Another band preview material from a forthcoming album are post-punk four piece Post War Glamour Girls with their single 'Jazz Funerals' out next month on 7” via I Like Records. Frontman James' blusterous growl rollicks over over a shuffling sea of shimmering guitars and cymbal splashes, as they manage to squeeze in so many wonderful little ideas and lyrics that are individually strong enough that many of their peers would weave whole new songs around those moments, but for PWGG’s they are just a small part of their distinct tapestry. The track glides to an end on a lyrical refrain of “no-one’s listening” – they definitely will be if the rest of the album is of a similar standard.
You may recognise the name Ben Siddall from his time spent writing songs under the much acclaimed moniker The Lodger, and you might also recognise Sarah Williams from drumming and vocal duties in Wakefield trio The Research. The pair have been navigating the difficulties of being based in both Leeds and London, and via the M1 they have been work on an exciting new project together; one which has allowed them to journey in new musical directions – The Birthday Kiss. The first sweet fruits are a double A-side 7” featuring two charming, jangly synth-pop numbers, available via Death Party Records. They will be playing a launch party for the release at Wharf Chambers on Friday 5th April with Unmade Bed (ex-Long Blondes) and Scandinavian indie-pop addicts Finnmark!.
As usual there's plenty of great gigs happening and top promoters Dirty Otter have planned a rather narcissistic alldayer titled 'National Dirty Otter Day'. We'll let them off though as it's a killer bill headed up by Fang Island, as well as featuring Blacklister, Tangled Hair and a whole bunch of other raucous noise makers, all happening at the Brudenell on 13th April. Plus they've got Marnie Stern playing Leeds on 3rd June and there are earlybird tickets available for £5 (!!) so all credit to them.
I have previously mentioned the seemingly multi-armed, one-man-band that is Juffage on these pages before around the release of his Semicircle album. Well our favourite Chicago native is limiting himself to just one Leeds gig this year, and it’s set up to be a cracker. Taking place inside the majestic Left Bank on 26th April, he will be surrounding the audience with an array of loudspeakers, guitar and bass amplifiers, ghettoblasters, and Leslie speaker cabinets, to transform the cavernous space into an instrument in its own right. He will also be helped out by fellow Leeds musicians including Katie Harkin (Sky Larkin, Wild Beasts), and Tom Evans (Vessels), who will help him convert the venue into an “immersive sonic cauldron”, as they perform one-off interpretations of his new material. There's plenty of material on Juffage's soundcloud, but I'd also recommend a youtube search to whet your appetite as you can see how much of an industrious live performer he really is.
There are plenty of other great things happening out in the peripheries too. Just a short train ride away, Halifax promoters Doghouse have been putting on loads of great bands recently, the pick of the bunch has to be their grand coup in bringing Efterklang to Halifax Minster on 19th April. Hebden Bridge Trades Club upcoming gigs include The Fall, King Creosote and Edwyn Collins, so it's always worth keeping an eye on their listings too.
Anyone looking to hear some of the best things coming out of the hotbed of talent that is our West Yorkshire neighbours Wakefield should make Philophobia Records one of their first stops. The label has released albums from some of this columns favourites including Runaround Kids, The Spills, plus loads more and they celebrate their 5th birthday very soon. To welcome this milestone there will be an alldayer of epic proportions taking place at The Hop in Wakefield on Sunday 31st March, featuring 13 bands of their choosing. Philophobia show no signs of slowing down either, with the recent release of The Michael Ainsley Band’s buoyant American pop-punk infused album 'Cyclone'. Singles ‘Happy to Stay’ and ‘Long Distance’ both have catchy choruses which hint at a youth spent with a copy of Dookie never far from reach, and are no doubt energetic live favourites (and you can see them at the aforementioned alldayer). Plus Buen Chico will be returning with their first new material since 2011 due out on the label next month, by way of an EP entitled ‘The Patron Saints Of Lost Causes’.
Finally, I caught a few words with Melvin Benn (Managing Director of Festival Republic) at the recent Leeds Festival launch and amongst other things asked him with all the changes happening at the festival (new bookers, new stages, new branding, and new ticket purchasing options) whether there would be any changes with regards to how local bands have opportunities to play the festival. He stressed that he was "very happy" with the BBC Introducing Stage and the quality of acts that it brings to the festival each year, as well as the annual Futuresound competition that takes place at The Cockpit each year.