It’s all over to Birkenhead this weekend as we celebrate for the first time the beauty of Future Yard Festival.
Tucked away next to the mouth of the Queensway Tunnel is a corner of land that looks out over to Liverpool on one side and North Wales on the other, home to some serious musical talent and of course not forgetting the late John Peel. Jumping off at Hamilton Square it’s a short walk over to the festival site which is based in some of the Wirral’s historical buildings such as the Priory and the Town Hall.
It was also an opportunity to showcase the newer venues, Bloom in particular, which is a versatile community space focusing on promoting mental health awareness and providing a strong music and culture link for the area. Our first impressions did not disappoint. Stepping through the Chapel into the Priory outdoor stage, a beautiful green space opens up, shadowed by the RFA Fort Victoria on the side and the facade of the chapel as the stage backdrop. Sunshine, check. Future Yard Lager, check. Oh go on then – some halloumi nibbles, check.
Samurai Kip start proceedings off for us. Their stagecraft was well honed, which is often a sticking point for some young bands who perhaps aren’t at ease talking to a festival style crowd. In these situations fans can easily be won over by personality as well as the music. These lads are making waves in a relatively low-represented genre, cooked up in Sound‘s basement alongside the likes of The Blurred Sun Band. Some wonderfully catchy songs that pull the rhythm and bring us that free and open sound where hip-hop, jazz and psychedelic blend and cross over. A good start it seems!
Moving over to the ‘Special Guest’ spot, recently revealed to be non other than the Friday evening headliner Bill Ryder Jones, many had underestimated the size of the intimate Chapel stage (roughly 30 capacity) so the queue became a gig in itself. A nicely placed speaker outside the chapel gave us latecomers a nice idea of the goings on inside, as Bill accompanied himself on piano (apologizing for some ‘bum notes’ in the process) in what is a wonderfully up-close glimpse into a quieter set.
And just like that with a wave of energy we’re blasted back to reality, or perhaps further away, by our next Priory stage artist The Intergalactic Republic of Kongo. A band all dressed in traditional white robes and thumping out infectious rhythms we’re brought along on frontman Mike Title’s journey whether you liked it or not. We did. A personal highlight was his openness to bringing audience members (or literally carrying them at times) on to the stage, and one young boy in particular who was asked to scream down the microphone. After 2 or 3 test yells to adjust the volume, it was a rawness and an in-the-moment look into impromptu musical moments that shape a band’s performance. At times Title jumps into the crowd and his swirling movements and carefree attitude soon allowed a magnetism of like-minded fans to circle around, enjoying the joyous energy and passion the band delivered.
Over to the brightly coloured Bloom Building, the community vibe is clear from the start. An outdoor area with fresh coffee and an open area close to the stage selling local arts and crafts next to the bar. Birkenhead’s newest music venue was about to attempt to survive a Queen Zee set. Tip-toeing the line between indie-pop & all out punk, and having seen some of the band’s more explosive shows, this was still up there in terms of drive and power. With a loyal fan base they seem to be creating their own counter-culture to coexist alongside the queer-culture and punk scene. Just as at ease in glitter-clad jeans as they are in a plain white t-shirt, the music really speaks for itself. Queen Zee is inspiring a generation that doesn’t rely on anyone to get where they need to be, in this case spouting music that on the surface is a 2-minute long punk track, but deeper down holds some political sway and emotional messages.
With the night running away from us it’s time to get back over to the Town Hall with Oxford’s Willie J Healey providing some well-written and emotive music tied up with a brilliant performance overall. In the same ball park as The Magic Gang, their set had been designed in such a way that the show had a sense of purpose and each song felt right in its place. Personality being a massive element to new bands, their mixture of humour and emotion was a dead set to win over some new fans for sure.
In the priory stage Stella Donnelly provided laughs and jokes amidst her catchy set featuring a rather Australian sounding Liverpudlian, quickly followed by Strawberry Guy’s selection of hazy, laid-back songs to get us ready for the Friday’s headliner over in the Town Hall.
Bill Ryder Jones has his fair share of fans. After co-creating The Coral, he’s gone from strength to strength. Performing to a capacity crowd he was in his element, his quiet and croaky demeanour between songs back up his claim that he still gets nervous, which is a nice trait to see from someone who also has played to huge festival crowds on numerous occasions, perhaps it was the link to his native Wirral that produced some extra adrenaline.
His music, spanning over an hour, took us from full band heavy-hitting Satellites to the more tender Seabirds, the latter solo guitar and voice. His stage presence certainly lacked some of the usual vigour and at times was receiving some glares from band mates, but it’s all part of the live show. The crowd didn’t seem to mind one bit as there were calls out for particular songs Ryder-Jones was only too happy to oblige them. Friday night in Birkenhead’s first Future Yard Festival a huge success.
Expecting to wake up to the usual post=festival aftermath, we were pleasantly greeted at 1pm with a pristine site. A quick chat with our friends Extinction Rebellion (who recently boycotted the parking bays on Bold Street) who are doing wonderful things for raising awareness of environmental aspects we can alter in our lives, and we were away again.
Meilir opened up the Priory stage, soft vocals with unusual accompaniment from a type-writer at one particular moment, which is always welcomed as a memorable exhibit. Hailing from Wales, the Focus Wales initiative were also responsible for other acts during the day including Ani Glass and HMS Morris. Tori Cross, whose intimate Chapel performance showcased her angelic and fragile facade backed by a strong voice and empowering lyrics, rounded off her show with a beautiful rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love That I’m Feeling’.
With the day feeling slightly more laid-back than the Friday, HMS Morris did a wonderful job of bringing out a disco infused spice to the day. One to watch for the future, it set the scene nicely for the next artist in the Chapel Alex Temeko, who had more of an 80’s vibe to his songs, using some classic drum sounds and distinctively retro keyboard sounds to give us a flavour of that nostalgia.
Munkey Junkey did very well considering the smaller crowd a little later on in the Town Hall with a hugely energetic performance. A highlight was their song Look Down Below, and an out-there cover of Cher, which is a bold move but the band took it in their stride.
Trudy & the Romance had a brilliant spot, just bringing in the late afternoon before the later artists, it was an ideal time for the distinctive singer’s voice to bring in some listeners who were milling around. Their sound, self-described as ‘Mutant 50’s Pop’ is rightly rather difficult to pin point exactly where it lies. Then again, why should it have to fit in a box? Fresh from SXSW Festival and ready to head back off to the States it seems the perfect time for these lads to flourish. Their set was well received with their mixture of surf, rock and old school rhythm a hit with the festival crowd.
As we progressed into the Saturday evening, the band choices were difficult. With around 30 minutes each at least there was time to switch between stages. As a small note to the organiser, it was a welcome relief to not have to walk over 15 minutes between stages as can be the case sometimes. So, just catching Brad Stank it was a mellow and relaxed vibe were he played off the audience well. Formerly of Trudy & the Romance his solo work seems to produce some well worked songs that push toward new-soul and hip-hop. In and among the usual festival activities, there were some wonderful exhibitions from Forest Swords and Kazimier, highlighting technology and resonant sound being link up and controlled by a computer programme.
Future Yard Festival along with Bido Lito deserve a lot of credit for their first festival of hopefully many to come from Birkenhead and The Wirral, with the chance to put local musicians back on the music map and bring in a whole wave of potential tourists to the area around Hamilton Square and beyond.
To find out more about Future Yard Festival and future events visit https://futureyard.org/