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Things Learned At: A Heavenly Weekend In Hebden
Patrick Clarke , March 15th, 2018 16:34

The Heavenly Weekender begins with the magnificent Audiobooks and ends with the stupendous King Gizzard And The Lizard, and is packed with beautiful things in between.

Gwenno

In the mossy wilds of Yorkshire, in the bohemian enclave of Hebden Bridge, in beloved socialist independent venue The Trades Club, Heavenly Recordings put on three days and nights of music.

Audiobooks’ first ever show is to be savoured

King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard’s stupendously powerful set closes the weekend, and an equally excellent but utterly different show opens the festival on Thursday evening. What’s even more extraordinary is that this is their first ever show. Audiobooks are a two-piece, with polymath David Wrench on synth and guitar and Evangeline Ling on vocals and saxophone, and their short set has such an unshakeable effect.

In a way, it’s all over the place. They make a curious pair - Ling in a Cossack hat and a dress handpainted with impressionist swirls, the silver of Wrench’s long hair and beard mirrored in his all-white outfit - and musically they lurch from off-kilter elevator music to titanic throbs of foreboding semi-industrial electronica, calling at all points in between. Ling tells eccentric spoken word short stories – accents and all – and then takes command with a straightforward, powerful blast of voice.

There are many different forms of expression within Audiobooks’ half-hour set, yet each works with immense power in its own right; it calls a colossal array of influences and touchstones to mind, but combines them with intriguing, fresh brilliance. On occasion, Audiobooks sound like Unutterable-era The Fall, fronted by Bjӧrk singing lyrics written by a Brontё. What could be better than that?

Gwenno’s current moment is something special indeed

Gwenno Saunders plays on Thursday night, so it’s the only headline set that isn’t rammed. It’s a sizeable crowd, but there’s breathing room for her beautiful and broad psychedelic sweep. Her new album, Le Kov, is recorded entirely in the Cornish language; it’s a special record that's provoked a heartening level of attention, debate and exploration, and marks this little stretch of her career as particularly significant-feeling.

She’s begun playing regularly with a full band, who provide layer upon lush layer of transporting instrumentation, and the set feels especially potent as a result. The glistening wave of psychedelic sonics that greets the choruses on ‘Tir Ha Mor’ are beefed up so much that they become otherworldly, while ‘Eus Keus?’ is a sublime cut of hypnotic call and response. Gwenno herself holds centre stage with supreme charisma; the whole set is superb.

The Orielles are more than meets the eye

It’s remarkable how totally different the Trades Club feels the following evening as the room is overwhelmed by what seems like every teenager in the Calder Valley for much-hyped indie newcomers The Orielles. They begin to arrive during Dan Stock’s opening solo guitar set, and by the time support band Boy Azooga are underway the floor is already buckling under the weight of the crowd. Their enjoyably springy indie, peppered with flourishes of guitar and extended juddery grooves, set things to a simmer as an inner circle of eager adolescents begins to emerge, separating the crowd in two.

It boils over once The Orielles appear on stage. They’re a band it’s easy for the snobs to be cynical about – there have certainly been groups that sound like this before – but as a live presence the they offer more than you might expect. Their set ebbs and flows from slinky, slow pop packed with that distinctly potent small-town melancholy to relentlessly bouncing riffs, and occasionally sears into a gloriously carnivalesque detonation of samba, complete with (literal) bells and whistles. The Orielles are a deceptive lot; though their influences are easy to spot they have an innate ability to provide a watertight live set that hits every beat.

It’s hard not to sound a little tedious when one writes with such admiration of the hold they have over this particular crowd – “Ain’t it great to see the kids getting down to some good old guitar music rather than that Ed Sheeran shit, eh?” as one older member of the crowd puts it to me afterwards as the crowd spills out into ongoing carnage in the street outside – but the show has an undeniably infectious effect on the been-there-done-that generation too. It’s joyous, energising and essential to the weekend.

The Orielles

For the ultimate aural cleanse, look no further than Halo Maud

For the regulars who’ve committed to the entire weekend, by our final bleary-eyed morning arrival at the Trades Club on Saturday there’s a kinship and camaraderie among us that goes beyond the usual oh-it’s-you-again that one might expect after three days in the same room. You trudge upstairs to the bar, and any seat among the smattering of punters slumped nobly around seven-or-so small tables is a welcoming spot. The Trades Club seems to inspire this sense of hospitable refuge; there’s something about the no-nonsense, inclusive socialist principles at its core that seeps through the mortar.

It’s a good job too, because we’re all feeling a little fragile. The after-effects of Heavenly head honcho Jeff Barrett’s compelling late-night DJ set are still keenly felt, and there’s a matinee show coming up plus the looming, intimidating prospect of King Gizzard’s titanic closing set – their enormous black tour bus casts its shadow over the front door as if to really hammer home this looming semi-dread. One wonders if we’ll be forced to crawl over the finish line.

Praise be, then, to Halo Maud’s early afternoon show, a gig that refreshes and cleanses the very soul. It’s seated, the windows are blacked out to shield us from the merciless daylight, and the music is sweet, soft, beautiful and all-consuming. Formerly of Melody’s Echo Chamber and Moodoïd, she flickers between English and French over sweeping psych backed with a spine of elastic bass, driving drums and subtle ventures into the proggy outer reaches. It’s a trip that sneaks up on us, and when it drops us back in the room, we’re entirely reset.

King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard are a band for the ages

So then, to the main event: King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, the undeniable monarchs of Antipodean psychedelia. They’ve been spotted sheltering from the freezing Yorkshire winter in The White Swan pub around the corner during the matinee shows, and arrive for soundcheck to a clamour of expectation. The Trades Club is to be filled to capacity and the thin corridor that leads to the main room, currently closed off to allow the band to set up, quickly becomes a tight squeeze.

When the doors open the crowd pours forth, and before long people have clamber atop seats and tables to assure a view. 77:78, a new band from The Bees’ Tim Parkin and Aaron Fletcher, play to what already feels a full house, even as more and more people squeeze through the door. 77:78 make an interesting juxtaposition as an opener, calm, smooth and louche among a room full of nervous energy and jostling bodies. Backed by blasts of crisp brass, they have much of The Bees’ suaveness and cool, and though it feels a little like they deserve more direct attention, their show is an enjoyable primer.

There’s not even a round of applause when King Gizzard walk on stage, more a collective intake of a single deep breath. The room is cramped, dark, claustrophobic and strangely quiet, but on the millisecond their dual drummers simultaneously hit the first thud of opener ‘Rattlesnake’, something snaps. The tension isn’t so much lifted as it is supercharged, speeding excitedly upwards faster and faster until it hits an escape velocity, a scorching supersonic intensity so blistering that you wonder whether the band can continue to keep it harnessed.

The rest of their set, over two hours long and never less than 100% engaging, feels almost as if they’re racing to keep up with themselves, forever teetering on the brink between motoric calm and complete chaos. The two drummers create a strangely mechanistic edge, like a ceaselessly pumping combustion engine at the heart of King Gizzard’s hurtling motion, while the rest of the band twist their way through mazes of fire, funk and freakout psychedelia. In the tiny Trades Club, this power is boosted even further, pushed to another peak, if such a height can exist.

It’s hard not be hyperbolic about a show like this, and in many ways the glee that radiates from the faces of those who’ve witnessed it is a product of more than this single, stellar set. The last three days have seen two of British music’s most righteous forces combine: Heavenly and the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, two pillars of light in an industry saturated with soullessness and gloom. However brilliant the bands are – and they really have been brilliant – it’s these two vessels, and all who keep them afloat, who are the real stars of the show.

Thanks to Paul Clarke for the photos

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