Wednesday 9 April 2014

#threshold14 // Day Three Review

Sunday was all set to be a slightly more laid back affair, still plenty to see and do but without the need for the superhuman omnipresence demanded by the previous two days. I starting the day by visiting Siren, to enjoy my morning brew and make designs for the day ahead, the Baltic Triangle still resonated with echoes of the previous night's madness. Siren itself is a striking, glass fronted building with a spacious and rather beautiful atrium holding the day's stage. I had little more time than it took to appreciate my cuppa before I had to be on my way however, but I knew I would be back shortly.

Legging it down to the Baltic Bakehouse, I passed Andrew AB filming Silent Cities on the corner of Watkinson Street with cellist Luke Moore, but after sharing little more than a quick hello I had to continue on my way. The Bakehouse was the venue for the Homegrown Banana's stage today, and hosting a vast wealth of talent from the Wirral, and outlying areas. Modest in size, the long café interior was packed with stage facing seating and faces smiling in anticipation.

I helped my good friend Joseph Crawford aka Creaky Bones (pictured) with his gear onto the diminutive stage, that was further dwarfed amidst his drums and guitars then took my seat amongst the crowd. A monument of positivity and creativity in performance, Creaky Bones never fails to transfer his wicked smile on to his audience as he plays. A short, sweet set encompassing slide guitar covers from Muddy waters to the White Stripes, as well as a number of original compositions displaying a wealth of talent in a defining moment in his musical uprising.

The stage saw some incredible and intimate performances from the likes of the blues infused duo Groundhog, flawless songstress Jo Bywater and the inimitable, raucous Rufus Hok, intermixed with some brave and awe inspiring spoken word performances throughout the afternoon.

A hop, skip and a jump back to Siren I had the opportunity to take some time with two more good friends, Andrew Jones and Liz Owen of Just by Chance sampling the local beers and preparing for their set.

Before the musical schedule began we were treated to a short and peculiar rendition of Alice in Wonderland by a cast of local college students. Hindered perhaps by the irregularity of the venue's available space, the cast didn't let that stand in the way of a meritable and comical performance that was certainly enjoyed by the smattering of patrons.

Just by Chance then took to the stage to kick off the day's music and immediately the charisma and confidence of the duo is apparent. Playing through a mostly familiar set, the duo's guitar prowess is matched wonderfully by their near perfect harmonies. However familiar the mechanics of the acoustic duo, Just by Chance undeniably bring something fresh and distinctive with contemporary theme and rhythm underpinned by classic songwriting structure and harmony. I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that they hadn't amassed the crowd they deserved, the long centre table occupied by a large family with seemingly little interest in the day's performances. Nevertheless, JBC played wholeheartedly to those who had come for good music, interacting well with the small audience between songs, sharing jokes and banter, injecting a warm and social connection.

Next were the demure stylings of singer songwriter Karl McCann, dressed all in black with a guitar to match. Playing through a relatively sombre set it certainly drew attention, with a strong vocal performance underpinned by an undeniable sense of fragility.

My first sight of North Wales' 'contemporary acoustic dance fusion specialists' Hedge Gods, was bass player Will's spectacular dreadlocks, as long almost as I am tall. Alongside Darren, the heavily drum laden percussionist and comparatively empty handed guitarist James, the trio arrived at the venue to set down their instruments before standing to appreciate the acts that would precede them.

As they hit the stage I was a little unsure what to expect, but with the opening bars of their first piece, amazed glances were shared all over the venue. Their sense of rhythm and band chemistry captivated the now more focused audience as they bounced from one fun-filled number to the next. With song titles such as Cockney Geometry and Selfish Shellfish, it's immediately clear that Hedge Gods aren't guilty of taking themselves too seriously and that lightheartedness was infectiously shared with the venue who was soon stomping and clapping along.

I had the opportunity to speak to percussionist Darren for a short period over a cigarette, and was stunned to hear that the band had only been performing together for a little over 12 months. I understood almost immediately that Hedge Gods were a band of individually talented performers that had a deeper understanding of a band's performance mechanics. The Hedge Gods were a truly unique experience, and the lack of preceding history with the band's music made it all the more, a defining moment of the weekend.

Threshold all in all had been an incredible and eye opening experience, and a monumental success for Chris, Kaya and the inexhaustible Threshold team. Bringing a city together as the festival did is no small feat, uniting the musicians, the artists, the performers and their respective audiences in a truly homegrown sense, but it is a feat that has been accomplished flawlessly. Even though the experience has opened up my world to myriad local artists and performers that play the city year long that I am sure to take advantage of, I simply cannot wait to experience the Threshold vibes all over again next year.

Words by Ash Turner.  Images by Adam Gwatkin (Silent Cities), Helen Basil  (Creaky Bones), Glyn Akroyd (Live Painting) and Roger Dix (Disco Ball) 

Saturday 5 April 2014

Festival Highlight // Harlequin Dynamite Marching Band

"Call me a monkey’s uncle, but it was the Harlequin Dynamite Marching Band who deserved every syllable of hype heaped on them at Threshold. And shit-me did they blow the lid off the roof! Let me put it this way, the singers had to sing through megaphones to be heard! Megaphones!! Trumpets, trombones, an army of drums and enough sax appeal to turn on Bill Clinton, The Harley’s were co-ordinated, bolshy, and brimming with swingalicious bravado. They split off into a Stomp fashioned drum-off at one point, and for a while the room was turned into Zion. Howling on for an encore, their set was rounded off magnificently, filling the room with percussive joy and careless dancing..." J.Crawford, Threshold Media Team. 

Interview // The Lemon Collective

The Lemon Collective, or TLC as they are otherwise abbreviated to, invaded the Lantern Theatre as part of the final day's fun of Threshold for 2014. Helen Basil caught up with them and, in her words, poked at their brains...

HB: So, I’ve personally had the pleasure of knowing about you guys for a while now but, for the uninitiated, sum yourselves up in a few words.

TLC: Obscure, slap-dash, artistic variety lemon shows.

HB: Who is Lemon Head and how did he end up being your patron and sole benefactor?

TLC: The Lemon Head was a rogue ex-banker. This is all we know about his shady past. Why is he our king? The short answer is he forced us. The long answer is he forced us with love. 

HB: In a time when the future of the arts seems uncertain, how do you keep going? What drives you?

TLC: Mostly 35p energy drinks from the corner shop, 20p smart price noodles and the hope that someone will enjoy our shows or like our art work. ‘The arts’ is such an umbrella term it's hard to predict exactly what is going to happen in the future, what's going to be popular, what is going to die. We just concentrate on making work that we think is relevant, and making people laugh in the process.

HB: Tell me more about your Threshold 2014 project. What was the process behind the story you were telling? What kind of impact were you looking to make? And, probably something that everyone’s wondering… will we ever see the Lemon Submarine again?

TLC: We were given the theme of Retro-Futurism, and decided to go completely off topic and start making underwater stuff. This led us to imagine a 1960's Hollywood B-movie style future setting where plastic waste is taking over the oceans. Over the course of the next few weeks we got really carried away and started dreaming up a sexless clone workforce, irradiated eels with northern accents, giant LED jellyfish that fill the sky and, of course, The Lemon Submarine. If you haven't seen The Lemon Submarine yet, it will be out and about in the build up to future events.

If we were trying to make an impact, it would probably be to make people think about what they are throwing away, because one day there may be a team of unhappy clones trying to clean it up. I think this message might have become lost somewhere in all the craziness.

HB: And, finally: what has your experience of Threshold 2014 been?

TLC: We had loads of fun, watched loads of great music, loads of stress, loads of laughs, loads of plastic fumes going to our heads. The Threshold team have done an amazing job as always, and we would definitely recommend anyone looking for experience in this industry to volunteer for them. In 2013 they took us on, gave us a venue and let us host a stage in our first year of lemoning. We are massively grateful for the opportunities and experience Threshold have given us. It's a great festival that needs to carry on happening. 

Interview and photo by Helen Basil. 

Tuesday 1 April 2014

#threshold14// Day One Review

From a wonderfully warm opening ceremony at Unit 51 through a familiar but none-so-welcome downpour, I headed pretty sharpish a short while down the road to The Baltic Social, a warm and inviting rustic venue. Laden with my camera bag and myriad other assorted journalistica I felt in that moment as if I had made a grave misjudgement of my own vigor. Immediately however the embracing warmth and aromas of freshly cooked food struck me both hungry and happy, and my worries were quickly abated. A mixture of intimate enclosures and long dining tables make the Baltic Social exactly that, a uniquely social venue.

Jerusalem born Avital Raz was sat in focus at the room's end, filling the venue with her famously individual mixture of acoustic guitar and strong vocal work flirting in resolute confidence with the edge of almost unbridled and beautifully chaotic opera at times. The night was young and many of the Social's denizens were still finding their pace, as well as friendly faces and as such the venues attentions were still divided between Raz and the weekend ahead. Raz however, all too familiar with busy social scenes such as these shepherded attention expertly.

I then found myself in District, previously The Picket, who's name still hangs on the building. The renovated District was a standing room only affair and hosting the lion's share of ska and punk this weekend, including Sheffield skasters, Smiling Ivy and Liverpool's own young busking legends Bolshy.

Smiling Ivy commanded the stage on our arrival. Young and energetic but perhaps a little tired in style compared to other more contemporary ensembles, the band played their set well, if a little raw. To say that they could not move a room however would be a falsehood, their raucous tempos, and hints of uncontrollability certainly gave the Sheffield band an edge of uncertain danger that was clearly enjoyed by the vast young majority.

All this hoofing it round town had cast a pretty fearsome hunger over me, but as luck had it I didn't have to look far. As often they are, Trenchtown Truck Co. had set up shop inside District's courtyard, casting their aromas, and after a quick frisk for cash I was tempted by the curried goat, with rice, cornbread and dumplings. A fine choice my sated belly told me.

Some delicious Carribean inspired food was a perfect choice to bolster the high energy environment of the venue and provide some much needed fuel for the hours ahead. Trenchtown Truck Co. were at District all weekend serving a variety of great dishes each evening.

The rain had tired itself by this point and hung back a while as I sped from District to 24 Kitchen Street, to catch the much heralded Science of the Lamps. On my way I bumped into the ever present Threshold photographer Andrew doing an opposing dash and shared a brief but chucklesome dialogue along the lines of;

“Hey, have Science' started yet? “
“Not yet, about to go on, have Bolshy started yet?”
“No just about to go on.”

Packed wall to wall inside the industrial epitaph turned live venue, we arrived in time to hear the closing half of multinational, Liverpool sextet Kalandra's set. A wonderfully inspired infusion of folk, rock and contemporary Nordicana that was stunningly presented, even if their modesty in a brief conversation since tells of a little dissatisfaction with the night’s performance. I have chosen to regard this as nothing more than the humility of a band that is striving for, and attaining at pace, the highest standard of performance.

Kalandra shot by Helen Basil 
All talk from then on was turned to The Science of the Lamps, starring amongst some fantastic local names, none other than Threshold organizer and all round superwoman Kaya Herstad Carney. Conceived in the back streets of Prague in 2010, TSotL has formed organically if unconventionally gaining local acclaim quickly. With a myriad influences from Vaudeville to trip-hop, with Norwegian born Kaya's own Nordic flavourings added to the pot, an evening with The Science' provided, as I suspected it would, an abundance of pleasant surprises.

Science of the Lamps by Glyn Ackroyd 
Next was a frenzied run to the spectacular Nordic church, a venue that had called to me since it pulled itself over the horizon and into view, to hear Alpha Male Tea Party bring the thunder. The photos I had seen served little justice to the sheer beauty of the venue with the towering whitewashed dome of the service room, offering something distinctly different for a venue. Appearing on stage dressed in white dust-cover overalls, Thor's hammer struck his anvil hard and true in appreciation to the sounds of the boys. A talented and technical metal trio, including a charismatic bassist turned Viking berserker shook the world for a short set.

Forced to cut our time with AMTP a little short it was time to retrace my steps back the the Baltic Social to catch a fast rising Liverpool legend, the beautiful Natalie McCool. Performing solo tonight, Natalie commented that it felt a little lonely on stage without the band, but still she had pulled quite a crowd into the venue and managed to shine over the rowdiness of the now well drink-laden patrons quite easily. A relatively short set sadly, comprising some of her more recognisable tracks alongside her personal favourites, McCool shocked no-one by performing as well as we all knew she would.

As I left the Social on my way to District, the streets were quickly filling with people making their way there too, for one reason and one reason only, the Destroyers were about to hit the stage. Dressed to both impress and perplex, the huge 14-piece band from Birmingham lorded on stage ready to bring their unique and eclectic sound to the heaving crowds. Everything from eastern European gypsy-folk fusion, through civil war era Americana to blistering contemporary Jazz lay in their repetoire, ready to be unleashed.

Spirits were high, and a massive rogue balloon descended into the fray to make matters wilder, soon to be joined by many...many more. Rather than getting frustrated or anxious with the latex balloon storm before them however, as many other would, The Destroyers played it to their advantage interacting with the crowd brilliantly and proving that no matter how crazy things got before the stage, the band had a lot more crazy in their arsenal.

An incredible spectacle to close events that evening, The Destroyers are true performance adepts that are capable of doing exactly what it says on the tin, destroy.

Words  by Ash Turner. Images by Milk (Festival poster), Helen Basil (Kalandra), Glyn Ackroyd (The Destroyers and Science of the Lamps) 

Sunday 30 March 2014

Threshold Festival 2014:Day 1:

Threshold Festival 2014 began before I could make sense of my surroundings; notepads, cameras, press-passes, and wine glasses galore here at Unit 51 in the Baltic Triangle. A ceremonious greeting from Festival Director’s Chris and Kaya Herstad-Carney gives way to the town crier’s opening roar, and the applause is unleashed from the crowd of reporters, performers and supporters. First stop for me, The Baltic Social for a taste of the exotic.

The Destroyers at District, shot by Andrew AB. 
Avital Raz

Here in the Baltic Social, I am quite content in familiar surroundings – wine, chatter, live music, and the beating of Liverpool’s heart-felt community. In this cosy venue, it’s a refined but very accessible atmosphere as the festivities get underway.

As one of my ‘Must-See’ acts, Avital bore the responsibility of opening act with great professionalism. A politically imbued acoustic wonder, Avital sets us all at ease with lullaby grace shortly before announcing ‘this next song is about peace in the Middle East through anal sex’. A fearless wordsmith, and a bold performer, Avital Raz did nothing to disappoint – an act as swimmingly refreshing as this second glass of wine.

Smiling Ivy
On to the District, this venue already feels like it’s going to morph into ‘the place to be’ come midnight. Quite clearly ska-central, Smiling Ivy keeps the flux up with some groovin’, smoothin’, bass-lickin’ goodness. A saxophonic start to the night, the dance moves are already out, and it’s hard to keep your feet still to this kind of sound. The bass is so deep my drink starts shaking like that scene from Jurassic Park, and Ivy’s energy keeps the atmosphere nice and animalistic.
Fortunately I caught the majority of Smiling Ivy’s set before skidaddling off to another venue, but they sounded tighter than an air-lock in the international space station.

Bolshy Interview:
Fortunately, the sound of badass ska bass also attracted Sam from Bolshy to the scene, and I took a few moments to question him on the nature of a big-band.

Sam, pleasure to meet you! How’re you enjoying the festival?
‘It’s great! This is our third time at Threshold and it’s always a wicked atmosphere.’

Are you looking forward to playing any songs in particular, and what’s your approach to new material?
‘Yeah we’ve got a few new ones we’re going to break out, so that’s exciting. We’re always eager to play new tunes, but we’re careful that we only play it if it’s ready. It’s a group consensus and we know what works for all of us.’

I’ve always wondered how you would manage a seven-piece band in terms of infuences/co-ordination - how does it work for Bolshy?
‘As I say, it’s a group consensus, but really we all just jam together. Everyone’s got their own influences, but we’re all united under the Ska/Reggae banner – like, I’m a bit more into Hardcore myself; Dub-Reggae, No FX type bands etc, but it all works out.’

Excellent, love No FX! Finally, do you guys have any upcoming releases the public should know about?
‘Yeah we’ve got an EP launch on June 28th, so stay tuned!’

Bolshy precede to mash up the District with their bountiful energy, but I am called away to the Nordic Church for the most dangerous Tea Party known to man…

Alpha Male Tea Party

Well the venue is certainly a welcoming sight, though in the midst of all this beauty it feels like a wholly unholy beast is preparing to crane its jaw. I’m no stranger to apprehension in a church setting, especially with the sheer force emanating from Tea Party’s instruments, but this is just the sound-check! The band strikes up, and this small flock of listeners gathers for the sermon.
For a three-piece drum, bass and guitar, Alpha Male Tea Party transformed the church setting into a truly gnarly pit of grungy guts. 

This group of dedicated noise-artists looked right at home as they punched our sensibilities with time signatures to rival Tool, and hard-hitting stop-start-boom metal guitar riffs. Simply bursting at the seams, it’s the band’s energy that I admire the most, though they certainly provided me with a metal-injection sufficient enough to last into the next decade. They interacted brilliantly with the audience – a wicked set of spirits that implore you to commune with them.

Upon leaving this sanctuary of demons, I hear the growl of badass-bass follow me down the stairs. Now mostly deaf, it’s on to something completely different.

Natalie McCool
My only problem with Threshold Festival, (and really it’s my own problem), is that I can’t be everywhere at once. The resources provided have been more than sufficient, and I never feel like I don’t know who’s playing where, or when. The level of musical variety is astounding, if only my legs worked faster!

Must. See. McCool!’  is my only thought now though. Desperate not to miss a note, I’m acutely aware of the time, and as I hurriedly push through the Baltic Social doors… the first chords gently strum away all anxiety.

I do have a confession for Natalie: I hadn’t actually heard her material until I started doing research for the festival. It began with ‘America’ from her EP Thin Air. After the seventh replay, I decided to stop melting and listen to a few more tracks – McCool was very clearly going to be a must-see act, and I couldn’t wait to experience the sound live.

True to her word, McCool treated us to tracks from her debut album, each as sublime as the last. Her finger-picking wonderment flowed crisp from her Yamaha THR series tube-amp – totally audible, and totally professional. As ‘America’ reaches its peak at ‘look into my eyes’, there’s a collective sigh of enjoyment from the audience, and I have to stop myself melting in front of them.

‘Normally I have a band behind me’ she explains apologetically, ‘so this is a bit quiet for me’. True it would’ve been the cherry-on-top to have the full band, but this singular talent bore the light of a lone star just fine.

As midnight approaches, my shirt is tugged back towards District for the Friday night finale, and I reluctantly follow after congratulating Natalie for a wonderful performance.

The Destroyers

My reluctance is soon replaced with butterflies as we head to the event we’ve all been waiting for. District has evolved further into a hive of anticipation - we’re deaf, dumb, and ready to be blinded by The Destroyers. The crowd are already dancing to the house music; and as the trumpets, trombones, drums, violins, accordions, and vortex cannons gear up, a tremendous wave of sound washes over us.

The Destroyers felt like a real party – the crowd swayed with the whole band as the speed of the ‘oompah oompah’ opener increased. Balloons of all sizes spun around the room, bouncing off the even bouncier crowd, and we raised our drinks in the air and roared our elation!

From a technical standpoint, The Destroyers were unprecedented. Perfectly timed, intricately designed, organised chaos – the music was astonishing and uplifting. This was real dance music. Balkan roots, Irish toots, and a stage full of theatricality, it was the perfect end to the night as we danced away the last shreds of energy. 

And that’s just been Friday! Stay tuned – we’ve got a whole new day ahead with even more gold in these hills!

To be continued…

Words by J.Crawford.  Images by Andrew AB & Scattershot Photography. 

Saturday 29 March 2014

Take a tour: FUTURE | VISIONS Art at Threshold

The visual arts at this year's Threshold have been gorgeous, challeging and altogether brilliant

Threshold 2014's FUTURE / VISIONS presents a range of works from artists across the UK on the theme of retro-futurism.  

The exhibition is spread across festival venues throughout the Baltic Triangle, including Unit 51, Baltic Bakehouse, District (formerly The Picket) and new venues Palmer Hill and 90 Squared.

Now you have a chance to take a tour of the festival's arts venues with artist and arts guru Jazamin Sinclair. Meet up at Unit 51 on Sunday 30 March at 1pm to take in a vast and fascinating array of creativity including the latest gorgeous piece by Liverpool Arts Prize winner Robyn Woolston and live art by the award winning Tommy Graham.

As you take the tour, you'll also be able to take in the fascinating street art pasted up by a very busy Tristan Brady-Jacobs all along Jamaica Street. 

So grab your funky walking shoes and head on out there.

(Andrea McGuire)

Threshold Festival Past...