Liverpool’s North docklands, or Bramley-Moore dock to be more precise is the setting for the Sound City festival, with views across the Mersey on one side and the city’s skyline poking up on the other. The festival is now in its ninth year and its second year in its new home at the docks rather than scattered around various venues in the city. Having taken on board some criticism over the layout followin last year, this time the stages are all a good distance apart and the fairground has been scrapped, it makes for a neater more accessible site where the focus is on people being able to get between the stages quickly. The festival has also been cut down from three to two days this year. The sun is shining down on Merseyside this weekend which is a godsend because the last place you want to be in bad weather is on the banks of the River Mersey.
Warrington band Viola Beach were tragically killed in a car crash in February along with their manager Craig Tarry, on Saturday afternoon they were honoured with a tribute taking place in what would have been their slot on the main stage, a bittersweet and fitting celebration of the young bands career.
Southampton based Band of Skulls play an impressive set of their bluesy guitar-heavy songs to a large crowd at the Atlantic Stage as the sun is setting on Saturday evening; ‘Hoochie Coochie’ and ‘Killer’ are highlights. I’m sorry but Sleaford Mods are just not for me, so while they were entertaining half (and bemusing the other half) of the crowd at the main stage, I wandered off to see what else was going on across the other stages and stumbled upon local band Sankofa who were playing to a jam-packed crowd inside the tiny Mailchimp Record Store tent. The psych band has been making waves in the North West for a while, having supported the likes of TOY. Their blissful melodies and infectious riffs are nothing new in the grand scheme of the recent psych resurrection; however Sankofa are enjoyable watch nonetheless.
This year Sound City decided to dedicate the vast Baltic Warehouse venue to dance music with local promoters FREEZE curating the programme and hosting some huge names across the weekend including Hot Chip, 2ManyDjs and Leftfield.
Just one day after the release of their second album ‘The Ride’ Catfish And The Bottlemen take to the stage for their first festival headline slot, the Llandudno band have a long-standing love affair with the city, and with the festival itself having applied to play in 2011 as an unsigned band; It’s credit to both themselves and Sound City that they are back five years later to headline. Judging by the amount of t-shirts brandishing their name and album artwork that are spotted it seems many people are only here to see them and the crowd at the Atlantic Stage at 10pm on Saturday is of epic proportion.
The band arrive on stage to their now signature entrance song The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’ with singer Van McCann basking in the adulation as he points his microphone out into the crowd to hear the voices sing back every word to him, he fits every inch of the perfect frontman mould and the band thrive on a festival stage. The set is packed full of hit after hit, from Pacifier to Cocoon to Fallout. Their debut album ‘The Balcony’ has become a collection of anthems to a mainly adolescence fan-base since its release in 2014 and it looks like ‘The Ride’ will follow in exactly the same way with the most of the crowd already knowing all the words to new songs ‘Soundcheck’, ‘7’ and ‘Twice’. Sure Catfish And The Bottlemen may not be doing anything different or writing the most intellectual lyrics but if you want to jump around, screaming the words back to your mates there are few indie bands around at the moment that provide such a perfect live experience to do so.
Despite various after party’s going on in town we end up in the old Dockers pub the Bramley-Moore opposite the festival site while trying and failing to get a taxi, quite an experience to say the least…think along the lines of an episode of ‘Shameless’ and you are almost there…
Despite our Saturday night pub experience, we kick Sunday off relatively early with Bill Ryder Jones on the Atlantic Stage; the effortlessly cool local boy, and former founding member of The Coral also played on the main stage last year and always provides the most relaxing, chilled out vibes of the day, helpful to sooth our heads. “This one’s for that lovely piece of land over there” he declares motioning across the water to Birkenhead before he plays single ‘Two To Birkenhead’, ‘Satellites’ and the poignant ‘Wild Roses’ are also highlights.
It’s fair to say The Dandy Warhols are veterans nowadays having been on the scene for over 20 years, the US band from Portland have managed longevity in an ever changing industry and remain capable of putting on a great live show, we very luckily ended up on the side of stage for the Dandy’s performance and it was great to watch from “the other side” of course the crowd erupted for their massive hit ‘Bohemian Like You’ singing along before the vocals had even started, by no means a one hit wonder though they have an impressive back catalogue of songs such as ‘Godless’ and ‘Be-In’, a perfect band for the hazy sunset. Circa Waves, another Liverpool band also played Sound City last year, but this year their success is measured by a booking on the main stage. Despite a few technical difficulties with the stages power supply they play a triumphant set packed with all their singalong favourites including the impossibly catchy ‘T-Shirt Weather’ and ‘Fossils’, their sound is perfect for the sun filled evening and proves their worth as a band made for a summer festival stage.
Pete Doherty, surely a festival booker’s nightmare thanks to a history of going AWOL. No such worries in Liverpool though as The Libertines frontman is on stage at exactly the right time and also looks incredibly well, it’s a joy to see Pete and his band headline the North Stage on Sunday evening, it’s a more gentle affair than a Libertines gig with ‘You’re My Waterloo’ and ‘Last of the English Roses’ providing the sway along, arms aloft moments before Babyshambles track ‘Fuck Forever’ reminds us that it wouldn’t be a Doherty gig without being slightly ramshackle.
Thanks to another problem with a power cut on the main stage we manage to catch most of Pete Doherty’s set before heading back to catch headliners and local heroes The Coral. It was the most anticipated performance of the weekend, a homecoming for the Wirral band who were playing their first show in the city since the release of their seventh album ‘Distance Inbetween’. Despite the technical difficulties earlier on they powered through a set packed full of old and new material delivered in front of a mesmerising kaleidoscope lightshow. The new songs are more psych influenced, comparable to Tame Impala and prove there is more to The Coral than reminiscing about their past. The last quarter of the set is jam packed with hits to keep the fans happy though; ‘Pass It On’, ‘In The Morning’ and of course ‘Dreaming Of You’, seeing this band close Sound City in front of their home crowd is the most fitting end to another great weekend had at this festival.
Words and photos by Gillian Fish