The 2018 Freshers Festival illustrates the strength in depth of Coventry’s independent music scene

It could be said that, aside from the much-adored Godiva Festival that celebrated its 20th year this summer, the people of Coventry just don’t turn up for music events like in other cities. I’ve already moaned about this.

This year, Coventry’s new promoters LiveLoud have worked to change this with a series of live music events, most recently the long-awaited12-bands-in-one-night, open-to-the-public exhibition Freshers Fest.

At a fiver a ticket on the door and earlybird tickets at £3, it’s no wonder the event was rammed with music lovers of all kinds. But it wasn’t just something to occupy an average Saturday night – this was on people’s radars for months. It was an important evening in our home, the City of Culture 2021.

Operation Guillotine, one of three bands of the evening with a pop-punk inclination, saw animal Alice Clarke stomp around the stage with a vengeance. The band’s catchy, almost Green Day-like style was a perfect opening act, with final track Burn warming everyone up. Yeah, I did just say that.

Some interesting rock ‘n’ roll interpretations of pop songs surfaced, including Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, which surprisingly worked. A snapped guitar string couldn’t stop them – a show of solidarity from Everything Aside singer Kate Thompson saved the set as she willingly shared her strings.

What’s Left are an intriguing troika – a band of fairly unimposing young men with a blistering attitude and the tunes to match. Their short set boasted an undeniable Royal Blood ilk and dirty, thunderous scope.

Despite being rather under the radar, they brought the chaos and personality, with the illusive frontman being entirely self-deprecating and comical between tracks.

 

Everything Aside, our pop-punk veterans, weren’t marred by their initial technical difficulties. No Mistakes is a beautiful, chilling display of emotion to detract from their more forceful tracks, and Layers was their heaviest and most ambitious track of the performance.

Mara Falls shatter all assumptions in indie rock music. Yes, their tracks are classically rooted in anthemic choruses and recognisable guitar lines, but there’s a nod in the direction of a Nine Inch Nails-inspired, electronic integrand. Alert were the stragglers: all ears and eyes were attuned to our Coventrians’ set, which featured two new songs.

Fan favourite Getaway cracked and fizzed along with the emphatic light show, which was painstakingly timed to the punchy percussion. New offering Baby I’m a Hurricane tore through the speakers with its unmistakeable Mara Falls sound, while all-in-black members visibly relished the unfamiliarity and rawness of the track.

The Ellipsis, whose music is riff-heavy and radiates thespian vibes, delivered a powerhouse performance. Their tracks translated stronger live than on record, but this is only because they’re so elevated when performing. The band played as though their lives depended on it, and drummer Alex Bonsor’s glasses regularly slipped down his face with the sheer vigour of his performance. Bassist Harry Green belted: “the drums are falling apart, the mic’s gone, but we’re still f*cking here, Coventry”, moments before lead singer Henry Bristow fell off the stage with one of many signature, frog-like jumps.

One devoted fan, Lucie Dauphiné, travelled 600 miles from France for the performance, having followed the foursome since 2014. “I just said f*ck it. I love them too much!” she confided, glowing: “Sure, I’m travelling alone, but I’m not alone because of the bands.”

The event wasn’t all rock-centric though. Soul singer-songwriter Jordan Mackampa is a bit of a celebrity in his own right. With an 11-date European tour in the works, Mackampa was like a little slice of royalty in the evening’s roster.

His professional, honeyed tone rang around the room, and at one point, he stopped his dedicated band 30 seconds into a song because “I want to get it right for you all”. One fervent audience member grabbed my notepad and scribbled about Mackampa’s ‘emotive, quasi-Caribbean lilt’. Stealing that.

The Desert Yetis, frontmen Turner-and-Kane-like in their pea coats, offered dark tunes that wouldn’t sound too out of place on Arctic Monkeys’ AM, while Parade shook things up with some groovy, 80s synth sounds.

Elk’s mini collection of harmony-heavy indie rock emanates a rough-around-the-edges quality. Athens, despite being on fairly late, put on an electric show, with lead singer Joe DiMarco proving to be a force of nature. Don’t rockstars ever get tired?

Free Galaxy, the penultimate band, treated us to their undeniable early Foo Fighters sound. Two songs in, the young rockers’ set was cut short, which prompted raucous boos.

“We’ve only waited all night for this,” lamented one of two frontmen Luke Osmond, and then: “f*ck it” as the band burst into fiery favourites Evolution and Everlasting. Free Galaxy shone in the name of anarchy and performed with even more zeal than usual. What’s a rock gig without rebellion?

Candid, the evening’s headliners, never fail to deliver a pitch-perfect show. Their Catfish and the Bottlemen-esque tunes Rumours and Breathless, which glittered with jangly melodies, attracted a loyal, merch-clad crowd. Although their songs are on the more tuneful side of the rock spectrum and don’t usually denote a mosh pit, fans wasted no time jostling around to the narrative of love, angst and whatever else young lads in indie bands sing about.

Frontman Rob Latimer celebrated the success of the evening, inviting one of the organisers Dan Connolly to the stage, moments before succumbing to pleas for an encore, which surfaced as Catfish and the Bottlemen’s Tyrants.

Naturally, with the evening being the first of its kind, it didn’t go off without a hitch. The bands changing over meant sets were cut short, words were had, and protests about pay were beckoned from the stage. Politics ensued over the running order being changed based on ticket sales.

Are issues to be expected from an evening with 12 bands on one stage? Yes. Does it detract from the hard work and thrill of the evening? No.

It’s nights like these that bring our city together. We’ve had pop punk, indie rock, soul, and many other genres blended into one big molasses of Coventry culture, with a compass of music fans to soak it up.

Dan Connolly and fellow organiser Joe Grady adopt a hands-on approach to revamping the Coventry music scene.

They spoke of their goals to provide a platform for local bands, signed and unsigned alike. Connolly mused: “If local bands are pushing 10 people to Birmingham, why can’t they push 30 to Coventry?

“The interest of bands and then fans proves the point that something was missing here.”

Grady agreed: “Bands are now approaching us. Tonight’s been a success, but it’s just the start.”

The pair hope to create a two-day festival in the Coventry Cathedral ruins, with Grady confidently guaranteeing it will happen. He continued: “We’re from Coventry and we’re for Coventry,” to which someone nearby howled the Play Up Sky Blues chant. It’s not over yet, Coventry. It’s barely even started.

To find out more from Live Loud visit their website here.

Written by Sam Ewen. Image credits Adam Goss.

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