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After the pouring rain of Friday and Saturday I finally ventured out into my first day of Lancaster Live – or Lancaster Live Festival of Music, to give it its full title – this year’s replacement for ‘Lancaster Music Festival’ which has been running for while without so much of a semblance of interest from me, or from the student community as far as I can tell.
This year had been marketed much better, with banners and posters of not only the existence of the festival but also the line-up of artists set to play at each venue plastered about town. What had put me off the festival in my other two years at university was both that I didn’t know any of the bands playing and that I knew none of the places in which there was music being played: it seems to be that students have an aversion to the ‘old man’ pubs full of locals drinking real ale. This year however, I was feeling more adventurous: whether this was my newfound love of attending gigs on my own or the listing of some more student friendly locations for shows, such as The Study Room and Crafty Scholar, I’m not sure; but I am glad that I ventured out!
The festival had been running for two days before I joined the festivities, and you could really tell; most of the crowds seemed to be at ease with how things were running and were reading the complexly structured ‘Gig Guides’ with ease and the floor of my first venue, The Study Room, had clearly taken a beating the night before, as it was as sticky as you’d expect from Hustle!
This was the venue of my highlight of the day: The Rest are a Brit-Rock cover band, which sounds a bit cliché, but they were right up my street. At almost an hour long the band had a packed set featuring some big songs, including ‘Parklife’ (Blur), James’ ‘Laid’ and ‘Changing Man’ by Paul Weller as well the obligatory Oasis hits ‘Live Forever’ and the crowd pleasing ‘Champagne Supernova’. The audience was as you’d expect for a middle-aged Brit-rock band: people singing their hearts out to try and relive their days gone by. This wasn’t the sort of crowd I’d been expecting, but it reminded me of The Cavern in Liverpool; everyone was simply enjoying themselves, and that’s a beautiful sight that we don’t see too often anymore.
There was a similar story in Robert Gillow, Molly Warburton’s covers of crowd-pleasing acoustic floor-fillers. She had a loyal crowd boogying and crooning along to her versions of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, ‘Man in the Mirror’ and ‘Half the World Away’. The highlight of her set for most patrons of the bar was Amy Macdonald’s upbeat classic ‘This is the Life’.
The Stonewell Tap was the home of what I expected from Lancaster Live, a soloist with an acoustic guitar singing country songs that no-one in the pub knows. It may sound boring but it totally fit the atmosphere it was in, Eleanor Bennett’s wistful and effortless vocals floated through the pub while everyone else was talking in hushed tones and getting on with their day: such a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere would not have been achieved without her presence.
‘Welcoming’ was the main theme of the weekend, it seems. I went into a lot of bars across Lancaster that I had never been to before and that I would’ve otherwise felt out of place in, but Lancaster Live made regulars open up not only their doors, but their hearts to these new punters.
The pick of these new pubs was The Taphouse, where a bar draped in hops created a characterful atmosphere suited to Amy Rae’s vocal talents; she was even comfortable enough to switch up her set of covers to play a beautiful rendition of one of her own songs.
That more artists didn’t do this, electing instead to stick to covers, was a slight downside to the day in my eyes. Of course I understand the importance of winning the crowd over but I think that if I were a performer I would regret not using this stage to get some publicity or to promote my own work.
Another criticism of the weekend was how the organisers tried to squeeze some of Lancaster’s nightlife traditions into the schedule: of course it mirrors other festivals in that the DJs come out at night, but I just don’t think marketing self-professed “Lancaster legend” DJ Wez at Crafty Scholar as something special for this weekend and including it on the line-up was the right way to go about it. Instead I much preferred the approach taken on Sunday, where the bands and performers carried on into the night rather than having the standard weekend experience again.
Overall, Lancaster Live is a great weekend that I would thoroughly recommend! There’s something brilliant about wandering around town between venues and hearing music and the clamour of laughter seeping out onto the streets; and it is much more convenient that similar multi-venues in bigger cities where half the time is lost to walking between acts and venues.