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Things Learned At: Simple Things Festival
Josh Gray , October 23rd, 2017 12:37

Josh Gray says goodbye to venues named for slave traders and hello to HMLTD, Nadine Shah and Idles at Simple Things festival.

Nadine Shah photo by Rebecca Cleal

What's in a name? Quite a lot, actually

For many years Simple Things has relied on Bristol’s huge Colston Hall to act as a centrepiece for the festival. Half the stages are inside it, and its location in the middle of all the other venues means it feels like the hub of the whole festival. So there are challenging times ahead for the organisers as Colston Hall shuts down until 2020, when it will be relaunched under a different name. Why, you ask? Because Edward Colston was a slave trader.

As Nadine Shah puts it during her unmissable opening of the main stage, “I have friends who didn’t want to come down to this because of this building’s toxic reputation. But I’m happy the owners have listened to the protests and look forward to coming back to play the Freedom Hall!” Whatever you think of the new name (“lazy American-ish cop out” comes to this writer’s mind), the removal of this controversy will only bolster Simple Things’ reputation. Massive Attack might even perform after their longstanding boycott of the venue.

Don’t sound tech for HMLTD if you value your wellbeing

One of the most astonishing live acts to emerge in the past few years, the hillbilly-spaghetti western rave punks zigzag across The Foyer's small stage like whirling dervishes. For the audience this flash-storm of fluorescent dyed hair, glam pirate costumes and sudden collapsing acts is thrilling. But for the poor stagehand who repeatedly risks life and limb darting onstage to fix the drum mic singer Henry Spychalski has kicked over for the umpteenth time, their chaotic, livewire act must have worn a little thin.

Psycho Killer is a deathless tune

The London Astrobeat Orchestra’s inspired performance of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ elicits one of the biggest audience reactions of the weekend. Taking inspiration from the band’s legendary Stop Making Sense concert, the majority of the band leave the stage, stripping the song down to just one looping guitar, before each member returns in turn to back up the full-throated audience.

The Foyer is the best venue at the festival

As anyone who caught last year’s showstopping performance from Charlotte Church and her Pop Dungeon can attest, there are very few stages like the one in Colston Hall's entrance hall. Framed on all sides by the venue's gently spiralling staircase, The Foyer provides its bands with two audiences: the horizontal one facing the band and the vertical one stretching out above it.

While previous years have seen this comparatively small stage stocked predominantly with unknown indie bands and amateur loop pedal artists, this year it boasts one of the most impressive line-ups of the festival. Diet Cig, Japanese Breakfast, Omar Souleyman and HMLTD each light up the entrance hall in their own way, cementing the consensus that the ostensible 'between acts' stage is now the most essential stage.

Idles photo by Ro Murphy

Almost all of the festival’s venues are repurposed buildings

Besides the cunning use of otherwise dead space in The Foyer and the unexpectedly brilliant acoustics for Leftfield when they play their whole glorious debut in the main hall, which was designed for 19th-century orchestras, Simple Things makes use of some fairly odd spaces around Bristol.

The Island houses both the old Crown Court and the old Firestation, where Jlin, Shackleton and Hipsters Don’t Dance try their utmost to get hipsters dancing behind giant red doors. Juan Atkins and Gramcry hit the decks at Stokes Croft’s Lakota - part ex-brewery, part Coroner’s Court - while the psychedelic Lantern (where The Quietus curates stellar performances from Children of Leir and Jane Weaver) used to be a theatre. The individuality of each of Simple Things’ venues sets it apart from other city-bound weekenders by giving each corner of the festival its own unique identity, much as you’d hope to get at a camping festival.

There is no greater pleasure than conquering your hometown

Idles have been Bristol's premiere punk rock act for over half a decade now, and any band that Big Jeff has managed to see over 25 times can’t possibly be described as newcomers. As they tear into Bristol's premiere concert hall for the first time in their career, however, it feels like Joe Talbot and his band of merry hellraisers are only truly arriving at this very moment.

Despite inheriting a rather blue crowd from Wild Beasts’ bittersweet leave-taking, Idles only have time for positive vibes. Never staying in the same place for more than a moment, the band's set boasts security-baiting stage invasions, guest vocals from random crowd members and the most venomous cover of Adele's 'Someone Like You' since that one Ice Nine Kills vomited out in 2012. Simple Things has always done a good job at highlighting talent from outside London, but often it undersells Bristol itself. By showcasing fresh-blooded acts like Idles, the festival reminds punters from across the country that Bristol's musical pedigree runs deep and wide. This is a full-blown renaissance town.

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