As well as for films, those festival-heads at Leeds have also found time to turn their heads to music. The Fuse Leeds 09 festival has just finished and although I didn't go quite as mental as I did at LIFF 2008 (and will probably do again this year) I did manage to accompany Ms. Plants to the closing night showing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 2 May. After what we saw, I regret not making more time to see some of the other stuff.
As with Film Festival, Fuse is intended to allow up and coming artists from the local area and around the world to show off what they can do, rather than the established, popular bands. Often, this will result in a more rough and ready experience, but also this allows for a more personal experience, as the audiences are smaller and the acts are not hidden behind a barrier of flashing lights, burly bodyguards and restraining fences. It definitely makes you feel like you're looking at something genuine rather than the super-polished choreographed and slightly detached routines you might see by a multi-million dollar platinum band.
On our gig, the main theatre was about half full, which equated to perhaps a couple hundred people getting comfortable to see the three acts of the evening. The seating spread from the circular stage up a steep slope, creating a Roman amphitheatre shape. This is what we saw:
Nancy Elizabeth (site)
A home-grown Indie talent, Nancy Elizabeth came on very quietly with no introduction and sat down at her piano, and treated us to (I believe) Sense, her first song of the night. Her voice is vaguely reminiscent of Dido, although with a saxon/medieval bent, and very delicate, able to hold soft notes on the edge of being heard without breaking up. Nancy was joined thereafter by two other women, one of which played the harp, the other general percussion, with both helping out on backing vocals.
Nancy moved between instruments seamlessly, from piano to guitar to harp with ease. Hugely rhythmic songs flowed from the stage, some highlights included I'm Like the Paper and Coriander, and especially Feet of Courage, on which she used a shaker, a chair and a drumstick and her tapping foot to hold three separate rhythms, as well as singing the words. Definitely a superb talent, the works were slow and deliberate, soothing and inventive. 7.5/10
The Acorn (site)
All the way from Canada, The Acorn formed a six-piece band, missing their only female member Keiko Devaux for reasons unknown. Two drummers and three guitarists, plus one guy on an absurdly small keyboard makes for a large sound blasting from the amps, but the music was perfectly executed, an indie-flavoured folk sound with clear inspiration from the Canadian and American heartlands. The double drum set meant that each one of their several songs had a strong clear beat, balanced by a mixture of electric and acoustic guitar arrangements. It was a lot of noise in a relatively small theatre, but well done, distinctive music with inventive lyrical wording. Highlights included Crooked Legs and Dents, the latter of which showed off the perfect and meticulous synchronization between the band members. 8/10
A Hawk and a Hacksaw (site)
New Mexico as a home town and a slight cough picked up by accordion master Jeremy Barnes allowed a certain amount of humorous swine flu ice-breaking smalltalk at the beginning before the band set about assaulting the senses with a series of tunes reflecting hometown influences mixed with flavours of Romania, the Czech Republic, France and England. Without lyrics, the four-piece band used accordion, violin, trumpet and lute/clarinet to create their folk music, which consisted of pieces you would expect to be played at large social events in South America. The music was often very fast-paced, and often made provision for each of the band members in turn to have a little of the limelight, which was particularly impressive in the case of violinist Heather Trost, whose mastery of the instrument was the main focus of the event. Though it wasn't particularly my cup of tea, it was an enjoyable peek into the genre, and was made more personable by the encore, which involved all four members abandoning their amps, and playing right next to the front row, before walking up through the crowd and pausing to sit for a while in spare seats, playing all the time. You could hear them playing long after they had left the auditorium (through the audience exits!). 7/10
A really enjoyable night. Looking forward to next year, when we'll definitely look closer at what's on offer.