Fort Rox mini festival, Newhaven, 12 August 2006
Newhaven is not the first place you would consider to hold a music festival, but Newhaven Fort was an inspired choice. The square inside the fort acted as an auditorium and the surroundings were very apt for an event hosted by British Sea Power. The fort was completed in the summer of 1871 and designed by Lieutenant John Charles Ardagh. The fort was used for both world wars and is steeped in local history.
The promoter for this event Lisa Maisey hopes that this will be an annual event and on the evidence of Saturday's performances this will be very welcome.
The first band on were The Honeycuts an under 18 band from Lewes. As I was running late I missed them, although I didn't miss the next band up Jacob's Stories. Having read up on this band I was looking forward to listening to a show which has been described as 'likely to give Radiohead a few sleepless nights'. It is always hard for a band to come on when the audience are still arriving, getting their beers and in some cases lunch. Jacob's Stories is a band fronted by a local lad called Stuart Lee and he does sound a little like Thom Yorke but this is were the similarities with Radiohead end. The songs were very drawn out and lacked the dramatic impact of his mentors. I always feel it is unfortunate when critics liken bands or artists to well established talents as it often leads to an anti-climax. I don't know about sleepless nights but if Thom Yorke is suffering from insomnia this lad's music could be the answer. The set ended most comically with a literal whimper, you could sense the collective cringe in the crowd.
Next up was Charlottefield, fronted by the hardworking Thomas House, after Jacob's Stories it was great to see a band that appeared to be enjoying themselves. This was a frenetic set, full of dramatic well worked songs, I couldn't understand what the enthusiastic Thomas House was singing, but it didn't really matter. At last the crowd had found something it could move to and move it did to Ashley Marlowe's pounding drums. They have a haunting sound which is well orchestrated with a flowing guitar sound which reminded me of early spaceman 3. Thomas' hard edged voice complimenting the deep bass lines made for an entertaining set. I have seen this band play inside dark venues were they work really well. It seemed a bit at odds that the sun decided to make an appearance during their set.
The next band up was The Research, a band I always assume to be Scandinavian, they remind me at times of the Envelopes and the Wannadies with their child like take on their musical production. This band are not Scandinavian, they are a three piece band from Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The bands singer and keyboardist known as Russell (the disaster) has a gentle shy sounding voice which softens your mood. He sat on a rickety stool and played his keyboard like Hendrix played his guitar. The bass is played by Georgia who also lends her vocals to give a smooth texture to the overall sound, and Sarah who plays the drums nice and basic allowing the sweet pop sound flow. The lyrics tell of lost love and loneliness in nice easy to understand segments such as the addictive 'I Love You But I'm Scared I'll Fuck It Up'. They also have a song called 'I Say Yeah Yeah' falling in line with this modern obsession with this word yeah, ('The Yeah Yeah Yeah's','The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song', 'Clap Your Hands Say Yeah' etc).This band will make you smile, they have a great sound and they interact with their audience well. Fans of the Super Furry Animals and the Flaming Lips will like this band as they have a similar storytelling approach to their song writing. If you haven't seen this band make the effort to go next time they play near you its well worth the effort.
Next up are 'My Latest Novel' and they begin with what sounds like a massive intro to Oasis' 'Whatever', but that's where the similarities end. This band is a five piece outfit from Scotland and has a very soulful Belle and Sebastian sound. They have also been likened to Arcade Fire; although it would be unfair to compare them as they do have a unique folk stop start risk taking attitude to their music making. With their violins, xylophones and percussion it's a marvel they remain so well orchestrated. The soft vocals melt over the sublime and tuneful sound. There is drama and great build up to this bands music which never fails to leave the audience smiling and in full appreciation. 'We are pleased the weathers good.' the singer said, ten minutes later the rain started to fall, although no one seemed to care, it just seemed like a good idea to get under the stage overhang and get a bit closer. There was a great reception from the crowd who had now settled into this festival and were now clearly enjoying themselves.
The next band on were The Duke Spirit and this band are undeniably great. They seem to have everything a rock band should have, great pounding bass and loads of energy. The lead singer is the stunning Leila Moss, who has the stage presence of a female Iggy Pop her energy compliments the high octane sounds emanating from the rest of the band. This band had finally got the audience dancing, the surrounding fort made a great backdrop as well as keeping the sound crystal clear. This band is hard to categorise but there are slight similarities to P.J. Harvey, in that dark soulful way. You never feel let down when you see this band live as they always seem to be up for the occasion. Leila's vocals sound great over the tinny guitars which are played with passion by Dan Higgins and Luke Ford. The bass and drums act as a solid canvas for pure rock and roll artistry. This band are a must see, if they are playing near you, go and see them you won't fell short changed.
The last band of the day was the festivals hosts British Sea Power. To have the festival based in Newhaven Fort was an inspired idea and to have BSP host the event was somewhat ironic considering the setting. The fort was built in the late 19th century and used in both world wars. Lieutenant John Charles Ardagh was an artistic man and that can be seen in the way he incorporated the landscape into the design of the fort. This was a brilliant venue for a festival and hopefully next year they will be able to extend the license past 6 o'clock as this was a great day out.
British Sea Power played a storming set of greatest hits; they were quite possibly the best I have ever seen them live. They accepted the mantle of hosts and went on to wow the crowd. 'The Decline of British Sea Power' was perhaps one of the best albums of 2003. A band who allowed their artistic ability to shine through and take risks with their music making. These risks paid off and this afternoon the military like drum roll seemed very apt in the environment we all found ourselves in. The band uses the blueprint of Joy Division and Psychedelic Furs to give a great retro sound to their raucous on stage persona. This was a band at ease with itself and the audience could not have been more appreciative. Everyone was enjoying the moment as this great festival came to its finale. Someone in a bear costume came on stage to dance with the band. Hamilton looked like he was going to smash his bass over his head at the end then changed his mind only to find the head had snapped. I had heard from certain people that BSP had lost that edge, ok their second album 'Open Season' was not as spiky and raw as their first but on this performance the news of the demise of British Sea Power is very much premature.
Words: Neil McLennan
Photos: Justin Evans
More Fort Rox mini festival photos, Newhaven, 12 August 2006
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