Originally published in the Nottingham Post. Photos by Martyn Boston.
Around 45 Nottingham-based acts played this year’s Dot To Dot festival, doubling last year’s total and demonstrating that the city’s music scene has never been in better shape. From the main hall of Rock City to the tiny stages of Brew Dog and the Jam Café, local talent was everywhere to be seen.
At the Acoustic Rooms bar, teenage six-piece The Gorgeous Chans opened the festival with a sprightly performance, pitched somewhere between Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon, which sat well with the glorious sunshine outside.
They were followed at Stealth by the equally youthful Great British Weather, whose astonishingly accomplished set became one of the talking points of the day. Fronted by a slender, quiffed and bespectacled singer in an alarmingly gaudy leisure shirt, their playing was taut, muscular and spacious, characterised by chiming, resonant guitar figures and a strong grasp of dynamics.
Later at Stealth, OneGirlOneBoy and I Am Lono both offered dark, claustrophobic melodrama, matching abrasive guitar with icy electronics.
The main hall of Rock City filled early, giving a massive boost to the Nottingham acts which opened the line-up. “I thought there would be literally five people here!” said Callum Burrows, better known as Saint Raymond, as he reached for his cameraphone. Despite performing solo, he won over the crowd with effortless charm and instantly memorable tunes.
The same held true of Ady Suleiman, whose acoustic R&B has been gaining momentum nationally. A newly developed sense of showmanship has transformed the formerly reserved singer, whose vocal prowess goes from strength to strength.
Between these two acts, Grey Hairs fired up the Rock City basement with brutal, primeval energy, dragging late night rowdiness into the mid-afternoon.
In the early evening, a packed Rescue Rooms played host to two of Nottingham’s most hotly tipped acts. Kagoule delivered a stunningly effective set, inspired by Nineties alt-rock, and cheered on by members of Dog Is Dead in the front row. Backed by a newly formed band, and fresh from triumphs at Dot To Dot in Manchester and Bristol, Indiana was in her element in front of a home crowd, dissecting the darker side of relationships with twisted glee, and enjoying every minute.
While tanked-up revellers roared along to Britpop classics on the outside patio, the Acoustic Rooms brought welcome respite. Battling with an obstinate guitar, Gallery 47 might have described his set as “a nightmare scenario”, but he soon silenced most of the chatter, most notably with a fine cover of Bob Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe and a brilliantly sung, expertly plucked rendition of Duck Footprints. Following his set, rising soul star Harleighblu gave us a stripped-down, up close and personal performance, superbly backed by Ben James on sparse, bluesy guitar.
Although national acts dominated most of the night-time line-ups, The Corner on Stoney Street continued to fly the flag for Nottingham music, culminating in a second appearance for Kagoule and a closing set by their label mates Kappa Gamma. Later still, Dog Is Dead DJ-ed at the Rescue Rooms, and Kirk Spencer brought the festival to a conclusion, with an early morning set at Stealth.
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…)
First things first: Kathrin deBoer’s supremely elegant cocktail frock deserves a special mention. With its high collar, plunging wrap-around bodice, tied belt and A-line skirt, the singer’s black and white polka dot creation was a masterpiece of stitching, which bestowed an air of effortless glamour upon its wearer.
Kathrin’s sartorial classiness was matched by her performance style. She sighed, cooed, purred and swooned her way through Belleruche’s hour-long set, her beaming geniality and understated delivery masking a deft technical precision. In terms of vocal tone, there was something of Roisin Murphy’s silk-cut smokiness about her.
The comparison extended to the music, which positioned the trio as natural descendants of Murphy’s former band Moloko, and their compatriots from the lighter, more tuneful end of mid-Nineties trip-hop.
But if DJ Modest’s funky, low-slung beats and scratches mined familiar territory, guitarist Ricky Fabulous provided the twist, augmenting the template with eclectic flourishes that drew equally from jazz, blues, soul, funk and rock.
The guitarist switched to bass for a cover of The Beat’s 1980 hit Mirror In The Bathroom. Although the original vocal tempo was retained, half-speed beats gave the track a fresh feel. The bass returned for a throbbing and clattering 3 Amp Fuse: one of several tracks from Belleruche’s newly released third album (270 Stories), which was bolstered by sampled cellos from a recent London show.
The set ended with spirited scat singing from deBoer, accelerating to breakneck speed as DJ Modest ramped up the tempo of his beats. Although Stealth’s compact performance space was jam-packed (surprisingly so, for a band which has largely hovered below the popular radar), there was still just enough wiggle room for those who felt like dancing – which, by the end of this assured and immensely likeable performance, was most of us.