TWINFEST: various venues, Northampton, June 22-25 2017
For those who do not know what it is, Twinfest is a music festival where bands from Northampton get together with bands from the towns in France and Germany that Northampton is twinned with; Poitiers and Marburg respectively. It is held at a number of venues over one weekend.
Thursday, The Pomfret Arms
Twinfest 2017 starts off right where Mano-Musikfestival (the sister event held in Marburg) finished in March, with the English bands who travelled to Germany in March welcoming the travelling German bands to Northampton.
Opening night, held in The Pomfret Arms converted barn, kicks off with a performance by Northampton folk duo The Straw Horses. Corinne and Rob were a huge hit in Germany this March, and their 30-minute set today proved why, as their immaculate performance matches the beautiful venue to perfection. Second to perform are Marburg’s post-rock instrumental band LDMR: well half of them anyway. With Mattes and Stefan not arriving until Friday morning, guitarist Jan and drummer Arne take to the stage alone to perform a few stripped back versions of the bands songs. The two musicians, despite missing 50% of their band, have the audience at the fingertips for the full length of their set and perfectly wet the appetite for what the German bands have in store for their hosts in the days to come.
Following LDMR were their best friends from Marburg, and travelling partners, garage-rock duo Helen. Starting off with the incredible track ‘Berglied’ [a song that will go on to generate massive sing-alongs from the audience at every venue they played across the weekend] Thomas and Franz wow the jam-packed venue from start to finish and leave to a rapturous applause, with plenty of new fans in tow.
Bringing the music part of the night to a close is local alternative/indie band Deaf Trap. Opening with a brand new, and as yet untitled, track the four-piece have the barn jumping from the first minute. Second and third songs, ‘Black Mass’ and ‘Digging a Hole’, see a riotous mosh-pit breakout, with the latter receiving a huge sing-along from the onlooking crowd. At one point bass player Tom Wright just about managed to keep playing despite being crushed under a falling PA speaker knocked over by the relentlessly dancing crowd, with a couple of sharp crowd members luckily jumping in to save him on this occasion. The band finish their set with crowd favourite ‘Fate Thinks’. It’s a fitting way to close the opening night with the band having closed their final set of the Mano festival back in March with the same song, in front of the overflowing Szenario venue in Marburg.
As is customary with Twinfest, the opening night was a chance for the travelling contingent to meet their English hosts and this tradition continued long into the night in the glorious Pomfret garden. A great evening of music is thus rounded off with many life long friendships beginning. This is what Twinfest is all about – and why the event is one of the most loved on the local musical calendar.
Friday, The Charles Bradlaugh
Day two begins with a large crowd immediately filling The Charles Bradlaugh to see Helen, with a lot of new faces joining the crowd members from their previous day’s performance who have come to see them again. Another impassioned performance from the duo see the band really hit their stride and set the tone for the whole evening. Franz and Thomas [two of the most humble people you could ever wish to meet by the way] throw everything into their performance and the crowd responds lovingly to that intensity. Their music, charisma and stage presence easily transcends any language barrier. They will clearly be a huge hit in any country, anywhere in the world.
In a role reversal from the previous day LDMR followed on from Helen, this time with all four members present and correct. If you have never seen LDMR it is difficult to do justice to the atmosphere they create with their purely instrumental music. It is simply electric. The addition of Stefan and Mattes transforms the band into a musical powerhouse that is immersive and evocative – and the lack of any vocals is truly irrelevant.
Then the crowd gets their first opportunity to see this year’s visiting French artists, the first of which being the incredible Hrundi. The French duo consisting of Jean-Francois and Nicolas are almost indescribable…How do you categorise a band that sets up a red telephone centre stage surrounded by four keyboards and a robot? With intrigue flowing through the venue Hrundi deliver a captivating set filled with moments of synth pop, comedy and funky dance bass lines that has the audience laughing and dancing in equal measure.
Returning headliners Presley Johnson are up next and, with the gig serving as an album launch party after a three year hiatus from playing live, the excitement in the venue is palpable. The four-piece deliver an rip-roaring set consisting of new and old material, each song going down a storm with their adoring crowd [new song, and current single, ‘Do It All Again’ being a stand out track].
After a break the aftershow party begins with local band, and Twinfest/Mano veterans, The Snakeman 3 taking the stage. Frontman Kenton Precious (a key figure in the Twinfest team) is on superb form leading the band through all of their [non]hits and ensuring that the energy in the room is not lost. Fan favourite ‘Where’s Cheadle?’ stands out as the highlight of the set on this particular occasion.
With the hour getting late the second French artist, acoustic-folk singer Violette, takes the stage in what was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the festival. As with any gig after midnight you would fully expect the crowd to have dwindled in numbers. Not tonight. The English, German and French audience members all come back into the live room and, in a beautiful show of unity, all sit on the floor of the venue together to take in Violette’s beautiful voice. This unique and very heartfelt moment really sums up the vibe that is present all weekend.
Closing the second night of the festival are local rap/hip-hop five-piece The Drunken Mandem. Armed with a set full of huge singles, as championed by Radio 1 no less, the band ensure that the brilliant second day finishes with the Bradlaugh dancing, laughing and drinking well into the night.
Saturday, The Lamplighter
The always popular, purely acoustic section of Twinfest at The Lamplighter sees the pub garden full of festival goers from midday. Velvet Engine and Paul McClure kick proceedings off nicely in the cosy garden as the beers began to flow again. Stellar performances from Keiron Farrow and then Corinne Lucy followed with numbers in the pub increasing significantly as the afternoon progresses.
The festival then witnesses a particularly entertaining performance from a returning Tom Rose, a Twinfest veteran, before the incredible King Biscuit Boys play. Having only managed to bag a slot at Twinfest due to a band member recently moving into the area, the two-piece play through an array of musical styles, with an even bigger array of musical instruments, and keep the audience completely engrossed throughout.
Rounding off the acoustic session is one of the heroes from the previous night, French artiste Violette. Having clearly won a lot of new fans at The Charles Bradlaugh the night before, The Lamplighter garden is bustling with people eager to see her perform again. Tracks ‘The Rose’ and ‘Bluebird’ stand out in a set that suits the environment to a tee – and a worthy headliner to a fantastic afternoon of acoustic music.
The evening session, held across both the downstairs bar and upstairs function room, starts with French duo Hrundi. The downstairs bar is already full by the time the band arrived ‘on stage’, and they do not disappoint. Telephones, robots and synchronized dance lessons were all on show once again as the local audience danced lovingly along for the whole set.
Moving upstairs we encounter alternative rock duo Drinsipa. Clearly a huge hit with the travelling German bands in particular, their set sees numerous mosh pits breaking out, and the crowd ferociously demand an encore – and the first signs off a wobbly floor begin to show [a problem that would become a much bigger issue later in the night!]
It’s starting to seriously get hot in here, and sweat levels are approaching ’90s Roadmender levels. No matter though, for The Mobbs are here and they are, no jest, the best pub rock band in the land. Taking the garage templates laid down in the 60s, 70s and 80s and that means aping [to varying degrees] Them, Dr. Feelgood and Thee Milkshakes. What you get every single time gig is substantial energy levels, a rhythm section to sacrifice your firstborn to, and buckets of sweat, passion and focused anger [some of the latter is actually directed towards you the audience, but don’t take it too much to heart]. And tonight they play many tunes from last year’s ‘Piffle’ album, which means you also get some A-grade boot-stomping tunes. What more could you want from a live show?
LDMR from Marburg are a “post-rock” stoner/shoegaze instrumental quartet. Come back, they are actually very good! With cascading, waterfall-loud sheets of guitar creating a wall of noise they have an excellent foundation to build upon. Step forward their superb drummer, who is their own version of Gene Krupa, with dexterous skills and fluid responses to his band mates twists and turns to make this intense performance one to remember. Surely these guys are first on the list to bring back next year, please organisers.
The Jackal Nine have risen from the dead. Supposedly having split last year, the grungey alt-rockers are back (for good?). Except tonight doesn’t quite go as they would have hoped. After two songs the show is pulled by the landlord as the ceiling is bending from all the moshing. To avoid a collapsed ceiling and many injuries, it’s the right thing to do. But the look of disappoint on the band’s, and most of the audience, faces is a tearjerker and no mistake.
But at least spirits are immediately raised again with the appearance of Fox Chapel. The Northampton four-piece are the epitome of moody, proggy indie with a dance beat that’s as solid as they come. Their punk edges have tapered off in recent times to offer up in their places a more vulnerable core. The chorus-effects/washed guitars and edgy vocals of new single ‘Lie Low’ bring to mind The Cure and The Horrors. Their multitude fans go wild as soon as the things starts, and with good reason. 2016 single ‘Ice Cream’, meanwhile, with it’s post-punk leanings is dialled into the heart of the alternative ’80s scene. They finish their triumphant set with a new song that is angular, deep, and relentless. These guys need to tipped for the top in 2018 by some influential tomes. The debut album, when it lands, could be really something special.
Sunday, The Black Prince
Twinfest is something we try to go to every year. Between Eid and Twinfest it was certainly a weekend to show off the multicultural nature of one of the largest towns in Europe. We arrive just as the first artist begins her set.
Almost as soon as arrive there’s Katie Paton, who is performing with the VHS Pirates. She’s heavily involved in the local music scene, and a long-time friend. As always with Katie she was ready with a hug and a smile. Organisers Bee and Kenny are their usual friendly and welcoming selves. They have worked hard to make a go of it and they’ve constructed a fantastic new stage and made the Black Prince a place where bands really want to play. Some of the local bands even helped build and paint it. Recently The Drunken Mandem, a local band of young rappers with a great sense of fun who also played earlier in the weekend, shot some of their latest video there.
The clientele at the Black Prince is often described as “alternative”, at least by the kind of people who use the word “clientele”. If “alternative” means a great atmosphere that pulls you in and makes you part of it, if “alternative” means it is full of good people where even strangers treat you like a friend, if “alternative” means you go away wishing everywhere was like that… then vive la différence!
Your reporter settles at a bench near the front with some Twinfest Ale, brewed especially for the occasion. It’s a decent light bitter and a good session beer. The first act is Violette from Poitiers, who sings harmonious and melodic acoustic numbers. This pleasant and relaxing set is an agreeable way to ease everyone into the proceedings. At this point it begins to rain a little, just a bit of spotting though and absolutely nobody is bothered. Northampton takes the stage next with The VHS Pirates. Although missing one of their front men, Toby, the band have a surprise up their sleeve with local artist Katie Paton stepping in to help cover his absence nicely. They are a mostly reggae-oriented band but also go into jazz funk territory, a bit of ska and even some rock and indie. The band, as they always do, have the crowd dancing along throughout their set, with track ‘My Girlfriend Left Me’ in particular gaining a huge reception. So many local artists are underrated for their versatility and talent. The VHS Pirates are definitely amongst them.
The next band are guaranteed to wake up anyone on a lazy Sunday afternoon [possibly including the dead]. The first German act of the day, Helen, are just two men, one on guitar and the other on drums. They start with a bit of melody and harmonica but that does not last and soon they aree into a blistering set of heavy guitar and frantic percussion. As Kenny says when he introduces them they are two guys who sound like 20. They have clearly brought some of their local fanbase with them, and there is plenty of headbanging at the front of the stage. Tracks ‘Berglied’ and ‘Karpowitz’ are huge singalongs, as they have been most of the weekend, and with the band clearly revelling in the presence of some new found fans they bring the energy levels up to one of the highest points of the whole weekend.
It was back to local for the next act, The Wax Lyrical Sound. Just two weeks after promoting their new EP at the Prince they return for the last day of Twinfest. Frontman and lyrical wizard Simon Meekey is known for his eccentric outfits. For the EP launch he wore a Pacman jacket that glowed in the dark. This time he wears a Bugs Bunny t-shirt, with aliens on his socks, trainers and the front of his baseball cap. Apart from the one song where he wears a sombrero. As part of the set he reads out a statement in French and German that he has painstakingly learned, to great applause. Never one to back down from a challenge, he patrols the stage with great confidence and takes the crowd through the band’s high energy set with ease, often entering the crowd to perform up close and personally with the onlookers. The Wax Lyrical Sound have their own style that mixes rapping and soul oriented vocals over rock guitars, and their set covers everything from songs that are just for fun to political and social comment, and even one about the movie Halloween.
If all that sounds eclectic, and it was, it does not prepare for what came next. Poitiers took the stage again with Hrundi. How to describe their music…Two men, one on bass guitar and the other on keyboards, they mix in samples with funky beats and rhythms that remind one of everything from French cabaret to the soundtracks from old US TV shows. Very different and hugely entertaining, like so many today they get people dancing and laughing all through their set.
After last night’s debacle The Jackal Nine manage to squeeze onto the bill, which is actually handy as Luna Rosa are a last minute cancellation. Their super heavy alt-rock is real punk purity; we witness a group who are local heroes to kids. Said kids mosh appreciatively at the front throughout the whole set. It’s not music that’s gonna change THE world, but it certainly does seemed to have change quite a few worlds in attendance tonight. They finish with a doom version of Gorillaz ‘Clint Eastwood’, which is proper cheeky, and works better than you would imagine in your head. It also manages to raise spirits as the sun begins to set and energy levels need a boost. The salvage job is successful completed, chaps, hats off.
Sarpa Salpa are making waves in the town and it’s not very hard to see why, based on this performance. They really have the songs, such as debut single ‘Across The Water’, to punk-funk themselves from local stars into a future buzz band. The slightydelic indie-dance thing is a big, er, thing in this day and age, and the still young and innocent SS [as no one is calling them] are better than many of the big boys, frankly.
Next up are Monarchs. We will forgive them from breaking the Twinfest rule of not actually being from Northampton [they are Kettering boys, natch] because they are SO DAMN GOOD. They ooze confidence from the moment they kick off with ‘Eyes, Lies’ and that alone immediately wins the non-converted over. They do that polished heavy rock things that sits alongside Queens of The Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, and Royal Blood. That they’ve some stellar tunes played with a fanatics touch is the icing on the cake. Sam, James, and Jamie are heavy players and are here to rule over us. Begin grovelling now, serfs.
Last up, headliners The Barratts. These guys are both making sure they head the Northampton pack out the door into the wider world, having already made entries into surrounding areas and London. The five lads are indebted to The Clash, Libertines, and Killers in their pursuit of the good times. They display pop hooks from the downtrodden. On ‘Same Old Kids’, ‘Match Of The Day’, or ‘A Certain Time Of Night’ – and indeed every song they play here – they have energy to burn, and there’s times where it’s like watching a pure speed-freak /ADHD exhibition. “Exciting” doesn’t even cover it. Imagine what some further refinement to their craft will do for them over the next year. This was the best way to end Twinfest. Northampton music is in safe hands with The Barratts flying the flag.
The final few hours are a time for everyone involved to reflect on a truly wonderful weekend. Old friends reunited, new friendships started – and some of the best music that Northampton, Marburg and Poitiers has to offer. Twinfest 2017 can be considered a huge success and will live long in the memory. Roll on 2018.
Reporting by Jordan Birch, Phillip Wight (Kingsthorpe Jazz), and Phil Istine
Photos by David Jackson and Phillip Wight [Kingsthorpe Jazz]