For this year’s John Peel Day celebrations, twenty promoters pulled together an eclectic line-up at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes in London. Across three stages an exciting array of bands came to entertain the crowds, pay their respects to one of the most important figures in music and raise some money for charity.
With so much going on in one place it was impossible for a single pair of ears to catch everything, but with such a dense program of events there wasn’t a dull moment throughout the ten hours of live music on offer.
I started the day in the acoustic room where Head Of Programmes (aka James MacGregor) was playing a beautiful set of his gentle Oldham/Callahan-esque songs. Due to the layout of the venue the acoustic room was quite near one of the other stages and if the doors were open sounds could bleed through. Unfortunately James was up against the grindcore madness of BAANEEX, which at times overpowered his gentle delivery, but in no way took away from the heart and soul of tracks like ‘Southern Cross’ which kept the crowd focused.
Following James was Paul Hawkins (minus his Awkward Silences), playing a set of tracks from his fantastic album. His vivacious sense of humour and charm from the outset portray him as the indie Jack Black. He performs ten-minute murder ballads alongside one of my personal favourites – ‘I’m In Love With A Hospital Receptionist’ – which tells the tale of a man forcing injury after injury upon himself in order to meet the receptionist he has fallen for. The odd mistake here and there are quickly pasted over by his personality and an impromptu cover of Nick Cave’s ‘The Mercy Seat’ brings his set to a close.
Remaining in the acoustic room (there were comfy chairs in there) for another artist delivered one of the early highlights of the day. Superman Revenge Squad played through their new album (Dead Crow Blues), interspersed with some of their earlier material. Ben Parker (singer, songwriter and guitarist) seamlessly blended tales of his life into his songs, shifting in and out of storyteller and singer effortlessly. Accompanied by Martin Webb on the cello they demonstrates that whilst they still remain relatively unknown, everyone who comes into contact with them cannot help but fall in love with their astounding lyrics and musical prowess.
Managing to prise myself out of the comfy chair and explore the rest of the venue I headed upstairs to hear the fairly pedestrian sludge-rock of Cove. As an active bowling alley the dichotomy between “Peel Day Punter” and “Bowler” made for an interesting one. During several bands sets there were cheers mid-song when a strike was scored and confused family members were often caught gawking like meerkats at the more unusual acts. This only added to the magic of the day as Peel was all about mixing things up.
Returning to the kingpin stage downstairs after the Indieoke (essentially Karaoke with a live band (fear not I did not partake, so no videos of me murdering a classic will appear on YouTube)) was a set by event organiser George’s band Former Utopia. Playing as a tight three piece they belted out jarring riffs from a heavily distorted acoustic guitar supported by a solid rhythm section. Following them was the twin engined assault of NITKOWSKI. Both guitarists positioned themselves in the crowd whilst facing the drums and during their micro-precise shredding propelled themselves backward into the audience. This astonishing and visceral assault on all the sense left me with only one choice – yes, it’s back to the comfy chairs of the acoustic room.
In true Peel fashion leaping from the noise to the twee made perfect sense as back-to-back were The Vatican Cellars and Model Village. Both provided lush layers of vocals and much appreciated relaxing vibes that captivated the jam-packed acoustic room.
But it was a jaunt back to the main stage that provided the highlight of the event. Having been captivated by their album Nedry were a must see for me, and they did not disappoint. Often musicians with a heavy reliance on electronics can struggle in a live setting, but the opposite was true for this astounding three piece. As Matt Parker and Chris Ambling brought their respective noise from guitars, laptops and pads, vocalist Ayu Okakita put across a performance that was nothing short of spellbinding. Like a conduit for the music her voice and dancing twisted and turned into an almost tribal hypnotic performance. After the first song she politely asked the audience to step forward, drawing them closer in, before weaving her transfixing-spell again. Walls of complex beats and waves of sub-bass shook the venue, bowling families starred on in disbelief and it became apparent that Nedry are a serious contender for greatness.
Whilst many of the bands on the bill encompassed the sprit of John Peel, several had formed after his sad demise. Although downstairs Seymour Patrick, from John Peel favourites, Miss Black America was preparing for a solo set (although he would be joined by Mat Anthony on electric guitar for some tracks). Again the room was packed as Seymour played songs from his solo project (Open Mouth), his current band (Ten City Nation) and of course Miss Black America. His incredible voice, guitar work and charisma enthralled the crowd who cheered and whooped at opening chords to the many classics he rolled out. ‘Talk Hard’ (one of my personal favourite songs ever) was exceptional; fused with promise and emotion. Its energy bristled through the room invigorating every member of the audience. Seymour also took the time to talk about how John & Shelia used to ring the band up to check how they were, once again reminding everyone (both artist and audience) why they were here today.
I missed Bearsuit (who I really wanted to see) as scheduling meant it was impossible. But I was free for the final band of the day – Ice, Sea, Dead People. Bursting ear drums with their opening salvo of ‘Hence:Elvis’, sprinting into the crowd and playing with a jaw-dropping tightness and intensity. They throw shapes, fuck with the air-conditioning and generally own the room. They reek of confidence and attitude; knowing glances between the band make it obvious they are aware of the fine form they are on tonight. With such a complex and ferocious set no control is lost, the songs sound more alive and dangerous than they do on their debut Teeth Union and this high water mark provides a perfect close to the performance element of the day.
When the bands finish the DJ’s start and the party continues late into the night. The day was without question a resounding success, with a friendly atmosphere brought on by appreciative and respectful punters alongside well-organised management. After six years there is still much heartbreak at John’s passing, but the variety and quality of the bands make it obvious that his legacy is still going strong.