TWINFEST
July 25th – July 28th 2019
Northampton, various venues

THURSDAY, THE LAB
The weekend starts early at Twinfest, the annual hootenanny / shindig that celebrates all that is good about the music scenes of Marburg, Poitiers and Northampton. Tonight is special in that we get just the German and French acts, and it’s Oclaire‘s honour to kick us off. Before we get to the amiable German fella, can New Boots just point out that it is literally a sauna-type atmosphere in here tonight, as befits the hottest day of the year. If you didn’t go we will simply say: we suffer so you don’t have to. Not that we really did, what with what’s happening on stage. Oclaire is a man who frenetically strums his acoustic guitar, and sings his heart out. Playing songs from his recent sophomore album There Is More, his songs are open like gaping wounds, a space for him to pour his jumblebox of emotions through a redemptive filter and find some solutions to share with us.  We are blessed to hear them.

From solo to duo, and French pair The Aries. Jeanne Casseron and Chloé Bonnet are your chanson for the evening, as they give off sweet and unassuming vibes. They sing solely in French, so goodness knows what the songs are actually about, but one would hazard a guess they are as charming in word as they are in voice. A nifty version of the Beatles classic ‘Across The Universe’ is the icing on the cake.

Cressy Jaw are your solidarity brothers, a trio who take on social and environmental subjects and pull no punches, Reggae-type songs, the rest of the tracks developed into a wild mixture of punk, grunge and blues. Their tight songs switch between reggae-rock and RATM-style alt-rock noise. Their reggaegrungepunk works surprisingly well. 

By the time Bazouka Groove Club unleash their primal rock’n’roll the Lab is producing casualties, and standing outside and listening to the music is becoming a real survival option. Luckily there’s enough punters around for our German friends to work their magic, and work the crowd. Theirs is a modern alt-rock sound mixed up with more of a noughties pop-punk spirit. Singer Basti took his top off [it was definitely a night for that], people moshed until they, literally and figuratively, dropped: it was one of those instantly memorable nights.

It would have been easy to have gone home now satisfied. Bazouka have absolutely destroyed all listening, and the body count is still rising alongside the steam. Yet Full Fiction still have something in their locker to make you reconsider any premature evaluations. The slightly bashful French trio have got some musical chops, as they unleash their slightlydelic punk rock that gets heads nodding furiously, even without anyone knowing the songs. FF felt like the awe-inspiring bonus album track you were not expecting. Tonight the taxi ride home was very, very beatific.

FRIDAY, THE LAMPLIGHTER
The Vincent Vega Band start off proceedings at the Lamplighter in suitably sharp and sophisticated style. Drummer-less and acoustic they are on fine laid back form. Tonight, the band’s sparse, stripped back instrumentation leaves plenty of room for their lyrics, reminiscent of a lo-fi Scott Walker, to shine. Their songs play out like snippets of kitchen sink dramas; held together by moody bass lines and decorated with pretty viola passages. ‘Claude’ and ‘Fireflies’ are particularly well-received moments in a superb opening set. ‘Tout royale pas de fromage’, as they might say in Paris.

Following, in the spirit of these events, with something completely different are Krankhead, aka Mio Flux & Patchy, The Rockstar. Their party-starting hip-hop gets the crowd well warmed up, starting football chants as well as a one-fingered salute to the new prime minister that is much appreciated by the Twinfest crowd.

Upstairs at the Lamplighter, with its fireplace and atmospheric lighting, it feels more like a classy house party; a setting that fits quirky folk-pop duo The Aires quite well. The first of the acts from Poitiers tonight, they instantly win over the Northampton audience. Songs sung in a language the audience may be unfamiliar with are very much dependant on the strength of the performance, but this pair have a wonderfully expressive stage presence and vocal harmonies that cross any language borders.

By the time those watching The Aires get downstairs quite the crowd has amassed for local boys The Barratts, whose mid-evening set showcases why they are quickly becoming one of the towns biggest acts. Punchy indie rock with stinging guitar solos and an assured presence marks them as a force to be reckoned with. By the second song things are already getting rowdy at the front, and your left with the impression that the band are destined for bigger venues than here. The band closed with ‘Lights Out In London’ leaving the audience howling for an encore, but it was already time for the next act to start upstairs.

Oclaire, one of the musicians from Marburg, is up[stairs] next. An acoustic singer-songwriter with a punk spirit and a big heart, he talks openly about the mental health issues that he’s dealt with as he sings about learning to be positive. Throughout the set he drinks from a cup of green tea due to the bad throat he developed on the plane over, and apologises. But his voice is in no way hindered, and he storms through his set with a bit of audience participation.

Back downstairs for the second of tonight’s German acts and Cressy Jaw keep the night pumping with their mix of reggae, punk and bluesy rock. While the audience had thinned a bit since The Barratts, by the end of the set the room had filled up again and there was quite a bit of dancing down at the front. The band’s final song tuned into an extended jam session, with each member of the three-piece getting a spotlight and inviting the audience to join in.

The final act on tonight are Full Fiction, from Poitiers, who pretty much level The Lamplighter with their full-throttle rock and roll. The songs are largely instrumental, with some occasional screamed vocals, but the draw here is the face-melting guitar playing and raw power of the band as a whole. Partway through the set a pit opens up at the front, the front man leaping over the monitor, guitar in hand to shred amongst the audience. The set comes towards its close with the him dropping his guitar on the floor and kneeling over it, attacking it to coax out all manner of sounds. A powerful end to a great night of music from the three cities.

FRIDAY, THE GARIBALDI HOTEL
At 26°, The Garibaldi resembled a blazing inferno, though, the topic of conversation was how it was not as hot as the Lab the day before, when temperatures had reached 37°. The newly formed Joe B. Humbled & His Band opened proceedings with their debut performance, fronted by Joe Martin on guitar and vocals [also known for GOGO LOCO and previously The Mobbs], and joined by his brother Jon Martin on bass and Alex George on drums. The band performed previously-released tracks ‘The Straight & Narrow’ and ‘To Be True’ with some new numbers, such as, ‘Why Did You Kiss Me’ and the never heard before track, ‘Bloodshot Eyes’. With less jumping around, this is Joe’s opportunity for more singing. The new solo venture stays true to Joe’s blues and rock’n’roll influences, with an added essence of some soul. Their admirable cover of Alabama Shakes ‘I Don’t Wanna Fight’ gave severe evidence to said soul influence. With a live performance that was true to the record, Joe B. Humbled are a musical treat with lush, panoramic tones reminiscent of influences from the likes of The Doors and Buddy Holly.

“Are we all drinking ir-responsibly?”, asked Jordan Jones, as he took to the stage. The Keepers were up next with two new faces to the indie-mod quartet. Introducing Charlie Pinnacle and Jack Isaacs to the mix, The Keepers still delivered a tight knit performance. The setlist included some older anthems such as ‘Here Comes The Spring’ and ‘You’re All I Need’, as well as, still-to-be-released ‘Velvet Hands’. Opening with the lines “Don’t take me to the movies, take me to a cemetery,” the song is influenced by the line from beatnik poet, Gregory Corso’s ‘Marriage’. A riotous performance of ‘Cocaine Champagne’ from frontman Jones had the crowd’s eating out of the palm of his hand, as he used the bar as an extension of the stage, crouched below the hanging industrial lighting.

Next on the bill were the night’s hosts, Deaf Trap, marked by Tom Wright’s signature suit and Matt’s ever-impressive beard, they performed before a moshing crowd, whilst meanwhile others melted and fanned each other on the outskirts. The set included firm favourites ‘Guillotine’, ‘Fate Thinks’ and ‘Dirty Echoes’, as well as upcoming single ‘Face’.

Bazouka Groove Club headlined the evening. The conscious-rap group performed in their native tongue, to the remaining survivors of the room, headbanging until the very last note, the audience demanding an encore which was gratefully received.

SATURDAY, THE POMRFET ARMS
In true summer fashion the rains come in early on Saturday and by the time the Saturday leg of Twinfest is open the picturesque beer garden on The Pomfret resembles an overgrown water feature. But the show goes on, and in the barn Laughing Man Marsh kick things off with Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, and it definitely isn’t. The band played a solid set of blues-rock with a mix of originals and covers, ending in a storming cover of ‘The Chain’, assisted by two of the festival’s organisers on vocals.

Due to the delays in starting this is immediately followed by singer-songwriter Andy Hawkins, who apologises for being slow and not as funky as the preceding band, but that’s no problem. The emotional songs complement the atmosphere of this rainy afternoon and capture those inside.

This is followed by another set from Marburg’s Oclaire, whose emotional folk-punk has been one of the many highlights of the festival. While on stage he is sweet and just happy to be able to play music for people, his songs are still sung with emotion and power that could fill a much bigger room. He ends the set in the middle of the audience with an unplugged sing-along rendition of Frank Turner’s ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’.

Following this, and something you don’t see that often, is Northampton’s Jack Vs Hotdog, a solo performer appropriately dressed as a sausage in a bun. Starting with a Scroobius Pip line seguing into a fantastic cover of AJJ’s ‘Brave As a Noun’ he plays through a set of originals and covers ending with ‘Please Don’t Feed The Crackheads’, a song deemed not safe for anybody.

Another wonderful find from our French twin city has been The Aires, and despite technical issues they once again wow the crowd with their francophone folk-pop. Despite self-deprecatingly referring to some of their songs as “stupid love songs” they wow the afternoon audience, whose calls for an encore at the end of the set are actually answered in the shape of a cover of Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’.

Fossilheads are next and the self-descibed folky/comical/theatrical/eco-political duo’s songs about the looming global climate catastrophe are as timely and pointed as they are funny. The pair are fantastic performers with great chemistry and stage presence. Songs about climate change denial and corporate greenwashing are delivered with a mix of comedic character work and incredible musicianship. As per their introduction, they do indeed put the ‘ooh’ back in ‘existential doom’.

After a delay due to more technical issues Jono and the Uke Dealers take to the stage. Whilst ukuleles are commonly seen as somewhat of a gimmick or at best a bit twee, the band is never in danger of seeming like a novelty. The band balance heavier political tracks with lighter fare, but either way underpinned by assured songwriting and performance. They performed well known tracks ‘Beautiful Things’, ‘Speccy Four Eyes’ and ‘Joe Meek’s Ghost’ with Katie Paton, known for P-Hex and Kings Gambit, joining him on stage for a sobering song dedicated to the troubles in Palestine. The slightly abridged set is brought to an anthemic close with new anti-war track ‘Old Grey Wolf’.

New Boots couldn’t get into the barn for Kings Gambit, as it was packed with people dancing to their pirate-esque dance folk-rock. Old-time rockers The Mental Straights were up next with some nostalgic numbers, followed by Tom Rose & The Heathen Orchestra. Tom stunned audiences into submission with his Nick Cave-esque, gravely, macabre tones and Tom Wait style quirky charm, completed by his heathen orchestra, featuring not one but two percussionists. The band performed some personal favourites ‘Dance to Hell’ and ‘Trouble’s What You Got’.

Your correspondent got right to the front for rock-garage, heavy-blues trio, Full Fiction, from Poitiers, France. They tore it up with their guitar-humping, floor-rolling solos that were so epic frontman Camille Pizon broke a guitar string. With more hair-flicking than a l’Oreal advert, Full Fiction, proved their worth. Bazouka Groove Club performed again, before psychedelic rockers King Purple from Corby, the penultimate band of the evening. They delivered their smooth panoramic sound, with intricate layers interwoven with different shapes and textures. The atmosphere was dense, and drenched with entrancing guitars and hypnotising melodies.

Cressy Jaw headlined the evening, with their reggae punk-rock, managing just four songs before they were sadly unplugged. The revelries still carried on well into the evening though, with the night-time hours melting into day for many of the bands and festival goers.

SUNDAY, THE BLACK PRINCE
With a few still jaded from the night before, and the weekend catching up with many, some acoustic acts were just what the doctor ordered. The crowd congregated, sat cross-legged before the stage, in atypcial intimate setting. Dan Plews was up first with his beautiful acoustic guitar/ ukulele variety performance. 

Duncan Bisatt was up next with original tracks; ‘White Shoes’ and the ethereal ‘Captains & Kings’. Duncan’s track ‘Capybara Love Song’ became the soundtrack to the rascality and roguishness during their trip to Marburg earlier this year, for ManoFest, that saw them miss the flight home. It was met with knowing appreciation from those in the travelling party. Duncan performed his up and coming single, ‘Young Man’, and had local audiences laughing to tongue-in-cheek number, ‘£1 Town’.

The Aries were next on the bill with their charming Francophile tunes, that were rhythmic, upbeat and humorous. As much a duet in life, as they are on stage, Jeanne and Chloe’s friendship shows through in their performance.

Occlaire, from Marburg was up next. The solo acoustic artist delivered his dynamic compositions, ranging from soft to loud in a colourful alternation, conveying passion and emotion, supported by catchy melodies. One could lose oneself, just for a moment, and wander through the alternate planes of the music.

Next up are Rolling Thunder, a relatively new, lively indie-rock five-piece, who stepped in at the last minute. Very tight from the get-go, they jangle and fuzz like true pros even at this early stage of their career. Chant-worthy choruses are their trade in stock, and with the likes of ‘Break In At The Nachtwinkel’ and ‘John Doe’ you can already see them being firm festival favourites throughout the land. Some more variation amongst the bangers wouldn’t have go amiss [the New Boots lighter remained firmly in pocket throughout], but they have an awful lot to work with there already. Popular already, gang spirit, and charming banter from singer Charlie: they have all the right ingredients to do great things in 2020. The boys certainly made an indelible mark, and are here to stay.

Cressy Jaw really are very good musicians, that much is clear by their fourth weekend appearance. After the disappointment of an abridged set last night they really turned it on to an appreciative crowd. The songs seemed more 4/4 today, the reggae edges smoothed off [or maybe that’s just New Boots’ brain after four days of drinking]. The drummer from Bazouka Groove Club got up to join in with a double-drumming solo which was one of the many highlights of the weekend’s festivities.

Our next act, Baby Lung, bring some perfect Sunday afternoon relaxed vibes. Max, the two Matts and Harry are the NN band who only began a few months ago, but now seem indispensable to our scene. The quiet drama encased in all their sax-filled, jazz-chorded indie-pop is as seductive as it is unexpected from a band from the East Midlands [we can say that, right?] . Following highlights ‘Casualty’ and ‘She’ is final song ‘Falling’, which, with the help of a devilishly handsome guitar solo, ratchets up the drama to fever pitch. The love affair has just begun, Northampton.

Full Fiction, who have been reminding us of Hyll all weekend, are still on fire today. Their Thee Oh Sees/King Gizzard wig-outs have been propelling everyone out of any stupor they may be in. Proper good guys.

Locals The Jackal Nine are back for a one-off. Like they were back at Twinfest in 2017. Why mess around trying to be ace every weekend when you can do a show every couple of years and knock it out the park with ease? They start with a lengthy intro music, the spoken word effort from Meatloaf, ‘Wasted Youth’. The busy room knows they are going to burst into life any moment now. And when they do it’s with considerable vigour; like a bat out of hell, perhaps. The mosh pit is perpetually busy as they work though their intelligent punk rock repertoire – ‘S.A.D’, ‘Gruffalo’, etc – with gleeful abandon, as you might imagine from people having not performed for that long.

“You gotta choose between those who love you and those that wanna own you” states Danny Adams, the singer/guitarist. “This [his protruding middle finger] is a toast to Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and all their ilk”. Toward the end of their set a young rapper called Paton comes on briefly and gave it some serious, glorious attitude. Then there’s the ‘Fuck Brexit’ chant, and you can quietly be assured of their political leanings. In these tumultuous times the Jackal Nine are a reassuring presence, so we’re quite sad that they now go back into the toy box. Time to start a petition perhaps…

Bazouka Groove Club are again monumental. There’s a small stage invasion tonight, and plenty of crowd interaction in general. So pleased to say this weekend they’ve lived to the quality of that first-rate band name.

Phantom Isle are the final band of the weekend. The Northants-and-now-in-London band are doing great things wherever they land, having the songcraft to match almost any new band around. They dress up in ritualistic outfits to scare the bejeesus out of us Sabbath-observing folk. They open with ‘Channel’, then run through a confident set which includes the recent singles ‘Focus’ and ‘Four Walls’. Their indie-psych pop is infectious and skyscraping, and they feel like worthy headliners for an eclectic festival which has covered a range of styles.

And that’s it for another year. Time for a lie-down. See you in 2020.

Words by Phil Moore, Rachel Thomas, Sonny JD, and Tom Rose

Photos by David Jackson and Phill Phree