Whisper it, but while we never seem to be too far away from the latest new wave when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, spring and summer are definitely on the mind, and surely … hopefully … better days await.
It’s been a long, long time since my last live event, and my most recent visit to nearby favourite water hole The Continental in Preston was on Leap Day 2020, when The Amber List, West on Colfax and The Cornelius Crane held court and were on fine form.
By then there was already a feeling that difficult times and decisions were ahead though, with just two more live shows following for me before the first lockdown. And as well as the devastating human toll, there have been business casualties and financial worries for Lancashire’s treasured independent venues, as is the case across the UK.
But while it’s somewhat unnerving seeing those out and about among the daffodils on my adopted patch as if it’s VE Day, and while none of us want to tempt fate, there’s a genuine feeling of optimism right now, the return of live music integral to any ‘recovery road map’ for music lovers.
Across town, The Ferret on Fylde Road, Preston, has already announced and either sold out or shifted plenty of tickets for its first scheduled shows – its guests including Damo Suzuki, The Blinders, Evil Blizzard, The Primitives and Goldie Lookin’ Chain – and the same is true for The Continental on South Meadow Lane, under its recently-added live venue banner, The Boatyard.
Having already announced a Conti return for The Nightingales – watch this space for a full feature/interview next week – the same promoter, Tuff Life Boogie, i.e. our Rico, announced an ambitious three-day event in late August, taking over The Boatyard and late-night slots at its sister venue, the afore-mentioned Ferret, for a weekend event ‘featuring the cream of the UK’s indie pop scene across two stages over three days’.
By the time last weekend was out, it had already sold out (although there is a waiting list for returns), somewhat negating my need to publicise the event in the first place … but I’m more than happy to celebrate the event all the same, so let’s just go with the flow, right?
Also involving ‘sinister short stories told by some of the country’s best writers and a chance to be Mark E. Smith’ (more of which later), the ambitious event’s headliners include Glaswegian crossover indie darlings The Bluebells, in a super-rare appearance south of the border.
Closing out the Sunday evening of Preston Pop Fest, they’re a band the promoter labelled ‘genuine chart-toppers’ – the power of TV advertising having taken ‘Young at Heart’ to a belated 1993 UK No.1, for a single that first charted nine years earlier.
And it’s fair to say the band’s principal songwriter and guitarist Robert Hodgens, aka Bobby Bluebell, was looking forward to the prospect of a visit.
“Our last gig was actually the last gig played in front of a live audience in Scotland – in October 2020 at SWG3 in Glasgow. We have more festivals lined up though, and we’re coming to Preston straight from a two-night event in Glasgow.”
Line-up wise, Bobby (guitar) is set to be joined by fellow stalwarts David (drums) and Ken McCluskey (vocals) plus Campbell Owen (bass, also Aztec Camera), Mick Slaven (guitar, Bourgie Bourgie), Andy Alston (keyboards, Del Amitri ), and Douglas McIntyre (guitar, The Jazzateers/Creeping Bent).
Bobby added that fellow Bluebells guitarist Russell Irvine ‘might be there in the audience as our guest’, and as for the last year, it’s clear The Bluebells haven’t sat around waiting for bookings.
“We’ve been very busy with the re-release of Sisters and working with other bands. I was working with Texas amongst others, and we did a hell of a lot of lockdown gigs for ‘charidee’.
There was also a successful online ‘listening party’ for Sisters, the band’s sole full-length album, originally released in 1984 (a big favourite at Captains Log HQ in my fanzine days),hosted by Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, another ‘highlight’ for Bobby.
And while dates for the Sisters remaster/reissue project were lined up then postponed, he hopes they can be completed soon, adding that the band will record a new Bluebells record ‘eventually’.
Right now, the focus is on his other band, The Poems, and the McCluskey brothers’ own venture, their respective albums Young America and Favourite Colours set for simultaneous vinyl releases. But August shouldn’t be too far away. Any memories and anecdotes spring to mind of past shows in Preston or elsewhere in Lancashire?
“When we played there first in the ‘80s, we were amazed at how many skinheads there were!”
Are you in touch with any of the other bands on the Preston Pop Fest bill?
“Yes, we’re really looking forward to meeting up with Jasmine Minks, The Orchids, and Amelia Fletcher’s Swansea Sound – Amelia used to come to our gigs in the early days.”
So how did Rico la Rocca (the inspiration behind Tuff Life Boogie) manage to get you on board, what will it cost him with regards to a band rider, and can we expect old school post-punk shenanigans from The Bluebells on the night?
“Rico is a legend, and we thought our pals The Pastels were playing too, so it seemed like a great adventure after a year of nothingness.”
I wouldn’t rule out that promising possibility of The Pastels performing quite yet, to be honest, and I dare say we’ll hear either way at some stage soon. And on a mighty bill also including Lancashire’s celebrated Ginnel and Vukovar, and fellow Prestonians Baboon and Fighting, the afore-mentioned Rico said, “Preston is proudly following in the footsteps of Paris, London, New York and Madrid by hosting its own Pop Fest: a celebration of inspiring, affecting and resolutely DIY pop music.”
Also from north of the border are Friday night headliners Close Lobsters, from Paisley, who with Essex outfit and fellow returnees and Saturday night headliners The Wolfhounds featured on the NME’s genre-defining C86 compilation, both outfits big favourites of this scribe since the start.
More to the point, perhaps, each of the first two nights’ headliners have produced exceptional new LPs in the last 12 months, and Wolfhounds singer David Lance Callahan will also be playing a solo set during the weekend.
Meanwhile, defining indie-pop labels of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Creation and Sarah, are represented by The Jazz Butcher, The Jasmine Minks, returning Scots outfit The Orchids – who proved a big hit on their last visit four years ago -and Robert Sekula (of 14 Iced Bears).
Stuart Moxham, the songwriter behind one of the most influential albums of the early ‘80s, Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth, also features, as do indie-pop legends Amelia Fletcher (Talulah Gosh/Heavenly) and Hue Williams (Pooh Sticks), appearing together in the afore-mentioned Swansea Sound.
John Peel favourites Yeah Yeah Noh, The Great Leap Forward and Dave Jackson (who appears in The Room in the Wood) are also booked, as are ex-members of Age of Chance, Bogshed, Lungleg, and The Stretchheads in new projects.
Rico added: “Preston Pop Fest also has a cracking selection of new acts, most of whom have never played in the North West before. Jetstream Pony have been picking up a massive buzz since issuing their self-titled debut album last year, and their dreamy, propulsive pop tunes with elements of shoegaze are completely addictive.
“Sheffield’s Potpurri supply space age bachelorette pad music delivered with a glacial cool that belies their warm hearts. And US Highball are the latest addition to the great tradition of Glasgow jangle-pop bands like BMX Bandits and Teenage Fanclub, and Anglo-French outfit Love Tan recall the untutored sexy innocence of another Glasgow group, The Vaselines.
“Marcel Wave include members of Sauna Youth and Cold Pumas, channel early Fall and Stranglers musically, and feature the trenchant vocals and poetry of writer Maike Hale-Jones : quite simply a stunning combination.
“London outfit Barry provided the indie-pop anthem of last year with ‘Liz Naylor’ and cannot fail to put a smile on your face. Laura Fell is a superior singer-songwriter, who has already established herself as a major talent with her debut album Safe from Me.
“Michael and the Angelos are a mystery-solving, draft-dodging beat combo, obsessed with freak-beat and Pebbles compilations, and Thee Windom Earles are the North West’s gnarliest garage-rock combo.”
Furthermore, at midnight each evening, the programme in the Conti will wind down with a sinister tale told by one of the UK’s premier writers.
“Nicholas Blincoe started his career in the arts with a rap 12” on Factory Records in 1987 and Manchester music and nightlife informed his early run of superior crime thrillers like Acid Casuals and Manchester Slingback.
“Cathi Unsworth was a journalist for Sounds and Melody Maker before publishing first novel, The Not Knowing, in 2005. Since then she’s carved out a reputation as one of Britain’s foremost noir writers, producing five further novels and numerous short stories.
“And Graham Duff wrote and starred in Ideal, the surreal sitcom which featured Johnny Vegas as a small-time dope dealer. This year he publishes The Otherwise, a much-anticipated horror film treatment, co-written with the late Mark E. Smith.
“Speaking of whom, Preston Pop Fest also offers you the chance to be the Hip Priest yourself, fronting The Fallen Women, the live Fall karaoke band primed and ready with a huge selection from the Salford legends’ repertoire.”
Preston Pop Fest, scheduled for Friday August 20, Saturday August 21, and Sunday August 22 at The Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston (PR1 8JP), with late-night sets and DJs at The Ferret, Fylde Road, Preston (PR1 2XQ), sold out within a matter of days. However, there is a waiting list for returns, and if you didn’t manage to buy a ticket in time, there’s plenty going on at both The Continental and The Ferret this year, as Rob Talbot and Matt Fawbert recently revealed to me in this handy addition to the above feature.
Matt Fawbert, the new general manager at The Ferret, told me the venue’s last full-capacity gig was back on March 20th, 2020, starring Mancunian singer-songwriter Danny Mahon.
“We managed to do a short run of limited-capacity seated and socially-distanced shows in autumn as well, all of which sold out in advance. This run got cut short by local restrictions hitting Preston, so we had to close before the last of our planned gigs.
“Over recent months we’ve been running weekly livestream gigs, various live acts from the area – filmed live on our stage behind closed doors, and broadcast over our social media platforms – usually via facebook.com/ferretpreston, many of which can be watched again via Youtube at youtube.com/ferretpreston
“Live music is missed massively by everyone, from performers to audiences. It’s going to be quite emotional when we finally get to open up properly, it will probably feel too good to be true at first. Gigs have a way of connecting people – not only through the music, but the shared experience and friendships that are built in the crowd, on the dancefloor and in the beer garden!
“We’re confident the dates released by the Government are very possible … for a change! The work of the Music Venue Trust has been instrumental in helping keep grassroots music venues not only financially viable but positive about the future and the possibility of opening up this summer.
“There’s definitely an appetite, we have a number of sold-out shows already, and responses to our new announcements are always positive. Also, loads of bands, artists and agents are getting in touch, clamouring for gig dates, which is a great sign – that had all but dried up over lockdown.
“There’s loads in the pipeline for this year, our autumn programme is almost full, with the various rescheduled shows and new dates added recently. Wolfgang Flur (ex-Kraftwerk), Goldie Lookin’ Chain, The Blinders & The K’s are all sold out, with A Certain Ratio, Cabbage and The Primitives not far behind.
“We’re now focusing on the next few months, and May 17th will hopefully see us allowed to run another series of socially-distanced seated gigs, which we’re in the process of planning. Then from June 21st it’s apparently full steam ahead, so we’ll be booking plenty of events to take us through summer.
“Also, our annual multi-day music festival, Glastonferret, returns on the August bank holiday after a forced year off. This year is the 15th anniversary – with the first Glastonferret way back in 2006. As usual, we’ll be turfing the inside of the pub, extending our beer garden and booking the best acts to fill the whole weekend, going all out for a four-day event (Thursday, August 26th to Bank Holiday Sunday, August 29th).
Meanwhile, Rob Talbot, events head honcho at The Continental, told me the venue’s last show involved a packed-out night for Ska Face.
“The pandemic hit just as we were due to host a show with folk legend Martin Carthy. After being rescheduled four times, that still hasn’t happened, but hopefully will this September.
If everything goes to the Government’s plan, we’ll be kicking off – live streamed events aside – with a massive weekend at the end of June, with the AC/DC Experience on Friday (June 25th) and The Vibrators on Saturday (June 26th). And people definitely seem to be ready, judging by ticket sales!
“In fact, we’ve loads lined up for the second half of 2021, including The Amber List’s album launch (watch this website for more on that soon), a show with doom-metal giants Conan and Gandalf the Green, The Nightingales (again, watch this space), Salvation Jayne, the Anti-Nowhere League, and the UK Subs.
“What’s more, our world music strand is set to return with Afrobeat combo Alafia and roots reggae from the Golty Farabeau Band. We also have some of the best tribute acts in the country – some you might expect, some you won’t!”
And for more details of all that, you can head to this link for the Conti.