Coming at the end of a landmark month for Nottingham music, which has seen three city acts gain national recognition for their talents, and the first ever chart-topping album for a local artist, the Branch Out Festival offered a perfect opportunity to savour and celebrate the rich diversity of the current scene.
Over the course of ten hours, over fifty acts performed at seven different venues, all for free, leaving punters spoilt for choice as they dashed from venue to venue, programmes in hand.
The day began at Nottingham Contemporary, with a mystery “Blackout” performance in The Space. Guides led us – ten at a time, hands on shoulders like a conga line – into total darkness, with strict instructions to leave phones switched off. As no advance notice was given as to the performers, our ears were our only guides.
Eerie electronics morphed into pounding dance beats, which ebbed away into a field recording from a New York subway station. A male voice – John Sampson of Swimming – sung plaintively over a piano backing. A female voice joined in, and gradually took over, her soulful torch songs flowing into each other without a pause. For many of us, the voice was almost instantly recognisable; this was the wonderful Natalie Duncan, stepping away from her regular set list and delving into her massive stockpile of unrecorded songs. There is something very special about listening to such heartfelt music in the dark; it frees up the emotions, allowing for a very direct connection with the artist. A great start to the day.
From 3pm onwards, other venues started to open their doors. Over at Broadway, acoustic singer-songwriters were the order of the day, kicked off by Frankie Rudolf and Joe Danks, and concluded by Hannah Heartshape and Hhymn, the sole band on the line-up.
In the Basement of Rock City, Parks were an early highlight, delivering a crisp set of tuneful indie rock to an appreciative crowd. Practical Lovers were an altogether darker proposition, with their doomy electro powerfully sung by the vaguely alarming Jack Wiles.
A quick hop around the corner took you to Stealth, and another line-up that focussed mainly on guitar bands. This proved to be the rat-run of choice for rock fans, who could stop off at the Rescue Rooms bar between sets. Those who enjoyed Boots Booklovers, I Am Lono and Pilgrim Fathers were busily spreading the buzz, while one of this reviewer’s personal highlights of the day came from the brilliantly acerbic Sleaford Mods, whose bitter verses decrying their more fame-hungry fellow artists drew mid-song cheers. Meanwhile, the upstairs floor of the club played host to a vast line-up of hip hop MCs, including local legends such as Cappo, Jah Digga, 2 Tone and Karizma.
Offering a more relaxed ambience, the Alley Café provided gentle respite from the mayhem. A similarly easy-going vibe prevailed at Antenna, where spectators could dine at their tables while watching the acts, supper-club style. The Antenna programme was hosted by Dean Jackson, from BBC Radio Nottingham’s The Beat, who interviewed each act before they took to the stage. The superb line-up included Gallery 47, back in the game after a long break with a terrific clutch of new material, as well as the hotly tipped Ady Suleiman and Georgie Rose. Later on, Natalie Duncan stepped in for an absent Liam Bailey, followed by the ever-popular Nina Smith and the sublime Harleighblu, who offered tasters from her forthcoming album.
By 7pm, the crowds were peaking at Stealth and Rock City. There was turbo-charged ska from Breadchasers at Rock City, then a quick dash back to Stealth, now jammed to capacity, for two of the most eagerly anticipated sets of the day from teenage indie-rockers Kappa Gamma and Kagoule. It was a joy to witness how quickly both bands are developing. Once rather static on stage, Kappa Gamma are now firing on all cylinders, the players crashing around the stage and hurtling into each other, without ever sacrificing the complex precision of their material. And if you timed it right, you could also have caught a storming Rock City set from Captain Dangerous, a raucous four-piece backed by a string quartet, like an Anglicised version of The Pogues.
On the other side of the Market Square, the Malt Cross did brisk trade throughout the day, with sets including Chris McDonald, Cecille Grey and Will Jeffery. Topping the bill on the mezzanine stage, We Are Avengers delivered a more peppy, sparky and uplifting set than you might have expected from their more downtempo recorded work. They were followed by Injured Birds, premiering cuts from their just released debut album, and showing us just what could be done with a ukulele as lead instrument.
With sizeable turnouts at all the venues, the scale of the festival felt just right – although a shuttle bus wouldn’t have gone amiss, to relieve the strain on our aching soles. Everywhere you went, you ran into friends, eagerly filling you in on the acts you had missed, all sharing in the excellence of the day. Let’s hope that this becomes a regular fixture in years to come.
PHOTO GALLERY by Martyn Boston >>> (more…)