As the record label that was responsible launching the careers of Saint Etienne and Doves, not to mention bringing the Manic Street Preachers to the masses, Heavenly Recordings status as one of the UK's most influential independent labels is already secure.
Having celebrated their 25th birthday at Hebden Bridge Trades Club in January 2015 with a four-day event featuring the likes of Jimi Goodwin, Mark Lanegan, Temples, and Toy, it was somewhat fitting they would return again this year with a similarly stellar line-up. Featuring some of the artists from that inaugural gathering, the second Heavenly Weekend In Hebden Bridge proved to be a momentous occasion.
Taking place from Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd, DiS has to hold its hands up at being absent from the first night's proceedings (a more tranquil affair involving Duke Garwood and M Craft) as we were in Sheffield watching another Heavenly act Amber Arcades kick up a storm at the city's Harley venue. Nevertheless, the following evening was something of a celebratory event in itself.
Openers The Orielles might be the newest signings to the label and still in their teens, but their incendiary take on lo-fi grunge pop was a joy to behold. Hailing from just up the road in Halifax and buoyed on by a large crowd, the trio mix noise-tinged interludes with searing melodies like The Pastels in their prime. While still early days (although the band unbelievably started playing together from the age of nine!) in their careers as it were, they're almost certain to be staples at many festivals up and down the land this summer and, without question, ones to look out for.
Following them are another trio The Parrots, whose no-nonsense garage punk has already won them a large number of converts since signing to the label last summer. Having put out their first LP Los Niños Sin Miedo in August, the Madrid outfit's songs have become something of cult favourites among those who've seen them live. And while they sing in their native Spanish, it doesn't stop several people in the front row mouthing every word back at them. Of course, no Parrots show would ever be complete without an inevitable stage invasion, which in turn means singer/guitarist Diego García repays the compliment by landing in the crowd towards the back end of the set.
Hooton Tennis Club played the first Heavenly Weekend In Hebden Bridge two years ago, only at that time they were relatively unknown themselves, having only just joined the label's roster. This time, having released one of 2016's finest albums in the shape of second record Big Box Of Chocolates they're one of this weekend's biggest draws which probably accounts for the near pandemonium that ensues out front for the entire duration of their set. Old favourites 'Jasper' and 'Kathleen Sat On The Arm Of Her Favourite Chair' are well received, but it's the songs from last year's record that resonate the most. Particularly when someone announces the subject of lead single 'Katy-Anne Bellis' is present in the room this evening. Afterwards, label founder Jeff Barrett will play a DJ set comprised mostly of obscure soul cuts intersected by the forthcoming single ('Boyfriend') from another new Heavenly signing Confidence Man, which keeps the party rocking well into the early hours.
With Friday's hangover having subsided, Saturday's openers prove a more soothing affair in the shape of Preston-based duo Britain. Fusing reverb-laden soundscapes with dream woven vocals, the duo - Katie Drew and Joey Cobb - recall the halcyon days of 4AD and Creation from a time when bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins broke new ground. Playing in front of a blinking montage that's one part BBC testcard girl and another part broken TV, their incandescent shoegaze musings make for a mouthwatering entree to the evening's entertainment.
Which is just as well because headliners Toy are on fire. Literally. Playing a set encompassing material from all three of their albums to date, they're a visceral beast whose metamorphosis from shy psych rock dreamers back in 2011 seems fully complete. The epic couplet of 'Kopter' and 'Fall Out Of Love' from albums one and two respectively find themselves dispatched early on, while songs like 'Clouds That Cover The Sun', 'Jungle Games' and 'Another Dimension' off last year's Clear Shot take on a whole new meaning in a live context. Early single 'Motoring' brings about the weekend's first crowd surfers while 'Heart Skips A Beat' also makes a welcome return that results in frantic moshing not entirely in sync with a band like Toy. An elongated 'Join The Dots' brings the set to a pulsating finale as guitars and amps become battered and bruised in the melee that ensues. New acquaintances are made and the mayhem continues long into Sunday morning's dawn chorus.
By Sunday evening - "sold out" signs out in force once more - the groans of excess have turned into buzzes of anticipation. This time last year Annelotte De Graaf and Amber Arcades were an unknown quantity on these shores. Now, with a critically acclaimed album under her belt in the shape of 2016's debut Fading Lines, they're one of the most eagerly awaited acts on the circuit. Playing as a four-piece this evening (usual keyboard player Ella Van De Woude is currently focusing on her solo project), their half hour long set perpetuates the old adage "short but sweet" with extra credence. Their re-interpretation of Nick Drake's 'Which Will' lends it a chiming dreampop mantra that's reminiscent of early House Of Love, while the other new composition played this evening (provisionally titled 'Rock Song') is more upbeat in the shape of 'Come With Me' or the album's title track. Elsewhere it's business as usual, with both the aforementioned and closing number 'Turning Light' bringing about various shapes and contortions from the masses out front.
Closing the show and the weekend's festivities are Temples, arguably the biggest name on Heavenly's current roster. Although debut long player Sun Structures came out three years ago, there's a growing sense of excitement brewing around March's long awaited follow-up Volcano, not least in the wake of lead singles 'Certainty' and 'Strange Or Be Forgotten', both of which display a mature pop element to Temples' make-up and unsurprisingly find themselves among the most well received songs in the entire set. When they play older numbers from the first record such as 'Colours To Life' or 'A Question Isn't Answered', both delivered at the beginning of the set, the room erupts not for the first time this evening. The glam rock stomp of 'Keep In The Dark' coupled with 'Ankh''s swirling psychedelia give way to an extended run through 'Mesmerise' that owes more to the prog rock meanderings of Yes (whose badge bass player Tom Walmsley is wearing) or Focus and displays another string to their ever expanding bow. The opening bars of 'Shelter Song' result in yet more crowd surfing as the Trades Club's quaint surroundings find themselves shaken once more. Having played here at 2015's Heavenly Weekend, it's a triumphant return for Temples which can only bode well for the coming months ahead.
Photo by Ian Weston