26th-28th July | The Wyldes, near Bude, Cornwall
Photos: Matthew Hawkey
There aren’t many festivals whose programming revolves around looking for the next big thing. It’s very much the way of festivals to pack out fields and tents with acts that are safe and known. Leopallooza has always dared to give you acts that you’re likely to be glad you saw close-up here first, before they quickly disappear behind a large crowd, ticket demand and bigger prices.
Those who were close enough to catch every bead of sweat falling from IDLES last year will think of their forthcoming sold-out Alexandra Palace date and know how few opportunities to get so close to them remain. Those who had the joy of Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading of Her’s will be solemnly grateful that they shared a brief moment in their foreshortened story.
With a well thought-out site, it’s easy to make the best of the stages at Leopallooza. With the Main Stage and the Second Stage next to each other, you can simply switch from one band to the next without even lifting a buttock. Even the those with ale-assisted ailments need only shuffle a short distance left or right if they want to get closer in. Friday opened with a pleasing crowd for Cornish drum & brass party-starters, Badcore Horns. They had the requisites to turbocharge the atmosphere: baritone sax, a bad language family singalong and energetic hair.
Sophie and the Giants gave us Florence and the Machine vibes and Gengahr left us suitably flowered up before Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard delivered one of the sets of the weekend. Imagine The Lemon Twigs without the posturing, or what really good beer was like before they called it ‘craft’ so brewers could put it in smaller cans and charge more. Lead singer and guitarist, Tom Rees proved that you could snap strings with vigorous abandon and still thrill musically.
Who’d have thought that the ‘Special Guest’ advertised was actually going to be much more than an unfilled slot when the programme went to press? The cynics were firmly silenced when Seasick Steve, landlocked for the evening, growled into action. Local resident he may be, but very few festivals have people phoning them up and asking if they can play.
Other Friday highlights included the permanently fresh and uplifting Bad Sounds. The Mono tent almost stole the show from the Buzzard boys with the garage rock of Gaffa Tape Sandy and the gritty, swirly Psychedelic Porn Crumpets took us into the wee small hours with no desire to sleep. Friendly Fires headlined the Main Stage with a set that was slick and well-received. With the sultry evenings rivalling what any Ibizan jaunt might, The Silent Disco, The Treeline and The Hong Kong Ping Pong Club drew heavy crowds, with stand-out sets from Emerald Rose Lewis and Mr Stabalina.
Saturday risked peaking extremely early with Hedluv + Passman. If Cornish rap and a man that looks like an Australian fast bowler wearing only tightie-whities doesn’t sound like your thing, you probably would have stayed and listened anyway – so endearing were they. Moving from Hedluv + Passman’s songs warning you about the perils of Camborne to Annabel Allum delivering songs about rich kids buying their way into the music industry later that afternoon was a fine example of the diversity that Leopallooza brings. Allum’s songs had real force, both musically and lyrically.
Like a relief map of an alpine stage of the Tour De France, as well as having a mountain-top finish from The Vaccines, the mid-evening, consecutive slots from Lady Bird and Childcare were also significant back-to-back summits, not just of Saturday, but of the weekend. With the inevitable Slaves comparisons, and not just in the ‘brother from another mother’ nature of Lady Bird’s Sam Cox and Slaves’ Isaac Holman, Lady Bird showed that they can take it a step further and stylistically wider than their more vaunted Kentish punk purveyors. Childcare are as much a concept as a band, but you can enjoy them on many levels. If you’ve already boshed your braincells with lager, lager, lager, lager and shouting, their infectious indie-funk will get you. If they started a commune near your house, it’d be hard to resist moving in.
You can’t leave a festival without deciding which headliner won. It’s like ‘Best In Show’ at Crufts. The Vaccines undoubtedly took that particular rosette this weekend. Justin Hayward-Young had all the attributes that people lauded from Brandon Flowers when The Killers headlined Glastonbury. The whole band reminded us that you can be showmen by letting the songs be the show, rather than the personalities of the band. It felt like they were sharing their songs with us, very much like a house party in a field.
Sunday’s early highlights were the sunny, chilled, bluesy soul of ‘Some Say’ by Joanna Cooke and the rugged UK-Americana of William The Conqueror, offering many excuses why we should get home and check out 2018’s Bleeding on the Soundtrack. If Vampire Weekend is your thing, then they weren’t at Leopallooza, but Kawala were. The Mono tent also drew many a listener away from the main arena to hear Heavy Lungs and Moriaty, showing just how much this brand of ‘noise’ (as my old Dad would call it) is here to stay.
The real headliners of Sunday were Elvana. An Elvis-fronted band playing Nirvana songs and grunged-up Elvis songs is always going to suit those high on life after a weekend of sun-kissed fun. It’s possible to argue that Presley and Cobain played similar cultural roles in their time, although cutting vastly different figures. What you couldn’t deny after Sunday night is that like red wine and coke, or blue cheese ice cream, it’s a combination that works. How do you follow an act like that? Headliners, Feeder, are probably still trying to fathom that out now.
You can tell that Leopallooza is a festival that started as a gathering of mates. Those mates are still involved and still highly visible. They’re still smiling. To run a festival that aims to be the friendliest music event in the whole country is a bold aspiration. To send people away knowing they’ve felt at home is all you need to know about how Leopallooza’s mission statement is more than just words on a page.
See the video for ‘Double Denim Hop’ by Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard here: