So yesterday (7th April) I headed down to The Railway to review the Road to Blissfields Winchester competition, where four bands duked it out to try and gain a spot at the local festival. I was competing in the competition for young writers to review it and hopefully win a press ticket to the actual festival. You can’t say much in 250 words so I’m using this review to say what I really want to say about the night, and hopefully to offer a real criticism of the acts in a way that might be useful to them and also useful for people who might enjoy their sounds. Pre-rant over, now I can get into it.
After a little delay with getting in, and some very, very loud shouting from one of the organisers, the night was kicked off by Taming the Savage. Fronted by Josh Savage, they played a driven set, fusing hard rock and indie styles into something fairly individual. Guitarist Harry layered Strokes-esque guitar lines over the top of the solid rhythm section of bass, guitar and drums. The band did look a bit nervous, which was understandable considering they were tasked with getting the night going, but it would’ve been nicer to see them really let go and rock out a bit more. The crowd reaction was pretty positive with lots of nodding heads around the stage. The highlight came when they debuted a new song, full of stop/starts but pulled it off perfectly, showing off how tight they were, despite having a stand-in bassist. They closed the set with a rendition of the only song I had heard before the night, Take Off Your Shackles, a more balladic tune, which I will leave here as a taster off the band.
The next act to take to the stage was The Joys of Sleeping, aka Sam Hatchwell. Stepping in at the last minute with just a loop pedal and what looked like an amazing guitar was pretty brave thing to do. Sam’s music is very atmospheric and very delicately crafted, and he told us he normally has a few other people on stage with him when he plays. This would’ve helped a lot, as it was hard for him to get the whole style across with just what he had on stage. When he did call upon a guest bassist and guest guitarist to perform a song apparently only written 25 minutes before the gig the set really got going, and respect must be given to the guitarist who delivered an awesome solo and also did some great vocals too, and most importantly showed the potential for what the music of this band could sound like when it all comes together. I’ll leave the only track the internet seems to have by this band, Dude York Pt.1, right here.
I should state clearly, that I had never heard of any of these bands before I knew the line-up of the gig, and the first time I heard their music was in the morning beforehand, while doing a bit of research. That said, I really, really liked Winterhours, the third band of the night. Their sound is heavily americana influenced and roaring guitars built up to soaring choruses as the band really rocked out. They were phenomenally tight and the love they had for music came across really strongly in their performance, despite having a stand-in drummer (who was excellent). A great performance of their new single Sleepy House was the highlight of a set unfairly cut short, singer Alex J Dunne’s voice sounded fantastic when reaching for the higher notes in the chorus. The recording sounds like someone slapped Bon Iver in the face and told him to man up and rock out, and it is no surprise that they have been getting plays on 6music. I would strongly recommend downloading the single from iTunes, as I really enjoyed this band, and will definitely be keeping tabs on them.
The last act in the battle was Ben Goddard and the Heartbeats. I don’t want to be mean, it’s not very nice to be critical of a local band, and it’s not very productive, so I’m just going to come out and say it. I didn’t like this band. The music was just too poppy for me. I heard the word ‘love’ said more times in 20 minutes than in my entire life, and the fan club at the front trying to get everyone dancing along felt far too cynical, however well intentioned it may have been. Nevertheless they went down the best out of all of the acts in the night and their performance was ridiculously professional and polished, with each song being performed spectacularly tightly. You can judge them on your own with their latest single, This is Love, here.
As the night grew darker, the judges conferred and we were treated to a performance by Arp Attack a band already at the festival, and as their set proved, deservedly so. Currently in the studio, they delivered a gutsy set of almost all new material which sounded fantastic. Sampled beats and an array of synth sounds, layered over live drums and treated guitar, while frontwoman Frankie danced away, doing everything from singing to synths to grabbing some sticks and joining drummer Kev. Their sound was a fierce brace of electro-pop and jerky rhythms, sounding something like an all electronic Slow Club would be. They’re about to embark upon a little tour of the UK once out of the studio, and I strongly recommend going to see them, especially as chatting to them revealed that they were all really nice people.
Finally, with references to Highlander, the winner was announced… Ben Goddard and the Heartbeats will now be joining Arp Attack, The Noisettes, Lucy Rose and many more at this summer’s Blissfields Festival. Go check it out.