August Bank Holiday rolls around again and here in Liverpool that means the Mathew Street Festival. Seemingly now recovered from the 2007 debacle where the outdoor stages were cancelled at the eleventh hour, this year's event had the streets closed and the six outdoor stages setup on both the Sunday and the Monday. The event has attracted criticism as well as huge crowds, because of the emphasis on tribute bands (it grew from the annual Beatles convention which saw many bands from across the world arrive in Liverpool to play the music of the Fab Four), but this year the organisers have moved to address that by also adding a 'fringe' element showcasing new bands in indoor venues. As well as that they set aside one of the outdoor stages for new or original bands on the Sunday, however the main attraction is that there is something for everyone, and so the traditional line-up of tribute acts drew the large crowds once more. There's so much on that you cannot see it all, and so what I will write about here is the music I got to catch over the two days.
On the Sunday there was a stage devoted to the 1970s; with tributes playing the music of Squeeze, T.Rex, Roxy Music, KISS and even the Bay City Rollers (!) Hotter Than Hell, a European-based KISS tribute played at midday on this stage and drew a decent crowd. They've played this event before and came dressed as 'Love-Gun' era KISS complete with make-up, costumes and axe-shaped bass. Their 'Gene' was almost indistinguishable from the real thing, and they gave a short set even including 80s hits such as 'Lick It Up'. Their 'Paul' sometimes strained to reach the Stanley high notes, but let's be fair - that voice is not easy to pull off! So an entertaining start, even though they didn't have the pyro and effects of a real KISS show, they were fun all the same. However, I still prefer Dressed To Kill! Following that it was a trudge through the crowded streets to the Classic Albums stage; Guns 2 Roses were due on at 1pm and had an expectant crowd (estimated at around 5000) waiting. However they were held up by around 15 minutes (cue jibes at emulating the real Axl a bit TOO much!) and we learned this was because they had been stopped by the police on the motorway heading up to Liverpool! They were literally struggling through the crowds to make it onto the stage and managed to play a shortened set of only about 5 songs. That was a shame they had to shorten it, but it's a tight schedule at this event. We therefore got treated to 'It's So Easy', 'Paradise City', 'Sweet Child Of Mine' and 'Welcome To The Jungle' with hardly any chatter. There was however time for 'Axl' to let us all know they would be performing later that night at 'Revolver' a rock club just across the Mersey in Birkenhead. So yours truly noted that and made hasty plans to head over there that night!
Following that it was a choice between T.Rex tribute 'TooRex' on the 70s stage, or on another stage set up by the Superlambanana, was 'Are You Experienced' - a Hendrix tribute which has become an established act at the event. Hendrix won, and so I headed over there to watch guitarist John Campbell and his pals. When they concentrated on Jimi favourites they were good, but their set fell a bit flat at the inclusion of Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone'. I assume Jimi used to perform this song himself, but this was drawn out into an audience participation slot and in a short set, that's a mistake. Just deliver the hits! With all these acts, they're used to playing for longer in bars and clubs, so it really doesn't pay to do something like that. When 'Hendrix' or John Campbell did the favourites like 'Purple Haze' and 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return)' he and his band went down better. After this set I took a break as standing up straight for hours does my back no favours at all, and headed for a bite to eat and a sit down. The last act I wanted to see that day was 'Mercury'; a Queen tribute who were slated to play on the main stage sited near the Mersey Tunnel. This stage was themed on Live Aid and had tributes to many of the well-known bands who played that day. Usually Queen are represented by the Argentinian band 'Dios Salve a la Reina' but this year we got a different tribute band. However, their approach and look is the same as almost everyone else who performs as Queen - put the singer in that yellow jacket and white trousers and give the guitarist a Red Special copy! So many tributes to Freddie focus only on that 1986 look, and from this fan's viewpoint I'd like to see one of them dress as he did, say circa 1978. Anything to change the constant stream of yellow jackets! Singer Joseph Lee Jackson did do a creditable performance as Freddie, he has the moves (and particularly that swishing right arm) down pat, and has a powerful voice. He hasn't got Freddie's range (but who has?) and sounds more like later-era Mercury than the earlier incarnation, but he did do the hits justice in my view. Despite being a Live-Aid themed stage, the set Mercury gave included later hits like 'I Want It All'. To their credit, they, like Dios Salve A La Reina, do the whole of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' live - including the 'Galileo' bit which even the real Queen never did live. It does help when you've got about 50000 backing vocalists in the audience, of course! The crowd at the main stage was enormous, so much so I had no hope of getting anywhere near the stage so I watched it from the back! In fact, I was closer to the stage when Queen played their last gig ever (at Knebworth) than I was this day!
Later that night I did make the trip over to Birkenhead to see Guns 2 Roses; the venue (Revolver) puts the bands on so late though, that it was midnight when they finally appeared! That means that for me, it is necessary to drive to the place as there's no realistic way of getting back over to our side at 2am in the morning. The fact that there was a big stage at the exit of the Queensway tunnel also meant a diversion through the new tunnel further up the Wirral, but the trip was worthwhile to see the band play a much longer set even including a couple of 'Chinese Democracy' tracks! For GnR fans who are disillusioned with Axl's antics and revolving door line-ups, try these guys - you'll get a full set and they will turn up (traffic police permitting!) and play!
The next day turned out to be a scorcher, I'd expected rain but the sunshine brought the crowds out in huge numbers. I was later getting into town than the previous day, and the first act I saw was local blues legend Connie Lush. She's been around the scene for many years, and has won multiple awards. She showed us why during her short set on the 'Female Singers' stage, demonstrating a phenomenal range and power. Although she is a little too purist 'blues' to my Metallic tastes, there's no denying she is amazing. She and her band 'Blues Shouter' play frequently across the country and abroad, worth catching when in the area.
Following that, I took a bit of a chance (!) while resplendent in a Led Zep T-shirt, and headed over to the 'Modfest' stage. This celebrated the 1960s Mod era with tributes to such acts as The Kinks and the Small Faces, but among this line-up was one Bruce Foxton - the genuine article with his sort-of tribute band From The Jam. When he put this band together he had original Jam drummer Rick Buckler along for the ride, but the sticksman has since left the act and nowadays Mark Brzezicki (once of Big Country) is in the drum stool. The crowd at this stage was substantial, with what I suspect were Anfield Road End regulars from the 1980s packing the front! Chants of 'We Are The Mods' emanated from that area all through the set, as the band (featuring Weller soundalike Russell Hastings) ran through a crowd-pleasing set including virtually all the Jam's hits. Fortunately no-one pulled up your correspondent for the choice of T-shirt (although it's long enough ago now to confess, I once saw the Jam in 1981) but, powerchords are powerchords whether played by a bloke in a suit or in denim and leather! The irony of hearing 'Start' (which is a blatant rip-off of The Beatles' 'Taxman') played at an event that has its roots in Beatles celebration was not lost on me, nor was it lost when they played 'Eton Rifles' - David Cameron's favourite song of course and presumably one liked by fellow Eton pupil Iago Foxton - Bruce's son! Those old songs were politically charged but now, it's just a nostalgia trip and one that did go down great with the crowd to be fair. For all that, I wouldn't go and see them live indoors - doubtful the crowd there would be quite so tolerant of a Metal fan - even after all this time!
After that energetic set, it was straight over to the Classic Albums stage for another one - by 'Nervana'. These guys had travelled across the Atlantic to play this event, although not Seattle (they hail from Boston) they played tracks from the 'Nevermind' album to an enthusiastic and large crowd. Their 'Kurt' lost some accuracy points from me though; not because he was right-handed (I can accept that!) but he looked far too healthy to be Cobain, plus he had clearly washed his hair and shaved! Tut-tut, you've got to look like you've been eaten and thrown up to carry off the Kurt look!
That said, they played great - 'Teen Spirit' went over really well as you'd expect and they even did 'Endless, Nameless' (the hidden track). So although I blame Kurt for just about everything that went wrong with the rock scene in the 1990s and since, this was a good one.
Following that, I was going to call it a day but decided to wind down by watching at least one Beatles tribute at the festival they inspired. There were two stages devoted to Beatles music on the Monday; one concentrated on the early period and the other on their later output. The dividing point was 'Revolver' and so the last band on the 'early Beatles' stage were to perform that album. Handily, the band were themselves called Revolver! Hailing from Dundee, they played all the album from 'Taxman' (it was nice to hear that song after hearing 'Start' earlier!) through to 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. As they had a few minutes to spare at the end, the compere allowed them an encore and told them it didn't matter what song they played as long as it was early Beatles - so they ended the day with a rendition of 'All My Loving'. It was noticeably more laidback in this crowd than for the other sets I saw, but that was a good thing from my point of view since I was fit to drop by that point! All the members of Revolver took lead vocals, although not always the ones you expected - the bassist took lead on 'Yellow Submarine' for example, and the drummer sang several songs.
So that was my Mathew Street Festival for 2010; once again it proved to be a massive draw for people far and wide, and it's to be hoped next year is as successful. As I write, I read that the local council are actively seeking sponsorship for next year's event - fingers crossed that a media partner gets involved (I'm looking at you, Radio City and Granada TV!) as that would help push it still further.