Live Review: Bingley Weekender 2023 – Bradford & Bingley Rugby Club, Bradford 04.06.2023 – 06.06.2023

Huw Williams

A shocking weather forecast was not enough to dampen the enthusiasm for Bingley Weekender 2023. A huge amount of credit must go to Bradford & Bingley Rugby Club for hosting this significant event on the North of England’s summer festival calendar with great success.

The festival kicked off on Thursday this year, with an opening night party, headlined by Manchester indie legends Happy Mondays.

They might be more than 40 years into their career, but with the core of the band still very much intact, they still know how to do it, with the crowd dancing in the rain to classics like Kinky Afro and Step On. Shaun Ryder was understated somewhat to the back of the stage, perhaps not 100% as he announced he’d just been sick just before coming to the stage! Rowetta remains a vocal powerhouse and Bez, with new found fans from Dancing on Ice and Gogglebox is on the verge of becoming a national treasure. His energy and performance was one to remember over the course of the weekend.

Friday brought significantly better weather, and the mood was very much a matching one. Filling up steadily throughout the day, the crowd filtered in to make sure they were there for Friday night’s headliner – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.

But long before that, Andrew Cushin got the main stage line up off to a cracking start. The 23 year old Newcastle songwriter has been honing his craft in the US in recent weeks, and has been steadily growing in presence for the past couple of years. Collaborating already with Friday’s headliners, he’s a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. A small crowd was in by the time he took the stage, but it was a happy, rocking one in response to a well crafted 30 mins of Geordie indie-rock.

The nature of the festival site meant that dashing between the 3 stages was not too arduous, and well worth the effort to catch bands across the day. I watched the first half of Dead Pony‘s set on the Discovery Stage, and the Glasgow indie-rock 4 piece continue to grow in stature, delivering with swagger and presence, led by Anna Shields posturing, posing and intense vocal performance.

From here, I’m dashing across the rugby pitch to catch Afflecks Palace‘s set on the main stage. Laced with Stone Roses influences and a characterful performance from singer J Fender, the Manchester foursome are an exciting prospect and I’d expect to see them rise up the festival bills as the years go on.

Staying on the main stage, Kate Nash was the highlight of Day 1. Crafting her persona and performance for nearly 20 years now, Nash is a genuine festival crowd pleaser, and knows just how to put her set together to bring the crowd along. By song 3, Nash is off the stage and on the barrier, seemingly in danger of being dragged into the enthusiastic throng, but all the while delivering her blend of pop-indie-punk to a crowd that simply can’t get enough.

Liam Fender on the Discovery Stage was somewhat underwhelming, perhaps thrown off by a 10 minute delay in getting on stage, during which time he’s seen hanging out and smoking a cigarette before finally climbing the ramp to the stage. It’s a small crowd here, and there simply wasn’t enough energy for me to get them going.

Jake Bugg on the other hand was picking up nicely from where Kate Nash has left the main stage crowd. Classics like Lightning Bolt and local favourite Trouble Town (the theme to Halifax based drama Happy Valley) had the crowd singing along with his unique voice. Over a decade since his breakthrough, it’s clear that Bugg has a wide appeal with those who have been with him from start singing along, and kids of 10 to 15 years old also bellowing out the lyrics to every song hoisted aloft on the shoulders of proud parents.

Gallagher‘s arrival on stage to close the evening’s proceedings was a little low key and he didn’t look in a great mood. Indeed the crowd didn’t warm to the band immediately, and some slightly ill-judged banter put up the backs of some proud Yorkshire folk. Nevertheless, there was a predictably enthusiastic response when the Oasis classics rolled around, but you do feel Noel will need to do a bit more when he comes back to West Yorkshire in December.

Saturday’s forecast promised a total washout and that perhaps explained the small crowd at he start of the day. As it turned out, it was warm and dry, and the unexpected summer heat was well served by the bars that had solved Friday’s hour-long waits for service.

Nowhere was this sunnier mood better reflected than on the New Music stage, slightly hidden away at the far end of the rugby pitch behind a bar and food concession.

Opening the day on this stage was Australian family outfit Little Quirks, easily the happiest bunch of performers I saw all weekend. Sisters Abbey and Mai Toole (vocals and drums respectively) are joined by cousins Jaymi on mandolin and Alex on bass. Swooshy, vibrant, endlessly energetic indie-folk provided a perfect start to the day, with songs about rain and bassist Jaymi’s cat drawing an increasing number of people to the front to hear what was one of my favourite performances of the festival.

The Clause continue their rise up the ranks too, and gave an accomplished performance on the main stage. I have to admit when I first saw these guys play at Oporto in Leeds, I wasn’t blown away but they’ve come a long way in 18 months and are a credible addition to any festival line up. Their hard-core fans were in attendance, but they will have won a new army of supporters over this weekend due to the drive and energy from the band and the charisma of front man Pearce Macca. Having hit the main stage at IOW Festival this year, they’re sure to keep rising up the bills on the strength of sets like this.

Early afternoon slots can be tricky ones at festivals, but I doubt many are as adept as The Lancashire Hotpots at bringing a crowd to life. Their unique blend of working mens club folk music and genuine comedy genius translates out of the social club and on to the festival stage better than you can imagine. Veterans of the festival circuit , this is a finely honed set, extolling the virtues of Lancashire DJs, your neighbourhood bin men and Egg, Sausage, Chips and Beans to the delight of the crowd. Dancing, swaying and even conga-ing around the festival arena, this was a triumph of a set, keeping the energy and mood up as the weather threatened with showers here and there.

A dash to the Discovery Stage found Johnny Borrell’s new project Jealous Nostril serving up a set of catchy, if slightly predictable numbers, serving as a decent warm up for the Razorlight set that was still to come.

Sleeper showed that they still have what it takes, with Louise Wener still a huge draw for men of a certain age! Don’t let that take away from the performance though. The band sound as good as ever and in full instrumental trim (compared to the stripped back tour that brought them to Leeds recently), they sounded great and had an appreciative response from the crowd.

Razorlight clearly benefitted from Borrell’s earlier run out as they delivered a classy set, showing why they’re a great draw at any festival. Dropping songs like In the Morning into the set early got the crowd interested from the off. The polished sound and easy manner on stage kept people connected as did Borrell’s charismatic and energetic performance. 50 mins in and closing with America rounded off a quality piece of work.

Ian Brown headlined but in all honesty to the disappointment of a lot of the crowd. What has become something of a trademark “karaoke” style performance is beginning to risk becoming a parody of someone whose position in British music history should be untouchable. Many drifted away early as Brown grumbled and restarted his way through a set devoid of Stone Roses classics that would surely have brought some more people on side.

To the final day, and again the weather played ball, and what had threatened to be a mud bath was an altogether more civilised affair. Again the crowd was slow to assemble, but it did gradually pick up throughout the day. It meant that arguably the best performance of the day was only witnessed by about half the number that should have seen it. 

The Lottery Winners, in an early afternoon 30 minute set lit up Bingley. Affectionately dubbing it “Bingles”, Thom Rylance is a consummate front man who has the ability to bring a crowd onside in an instant. He’s funny, cheeky and immensely disarming, but Rylance is far from the full story. Rhythm section Kate Lloyd and Joe Singleton underpin an infectious indie-pop beat on opening number Worry. There’s a chance for Rob Lally on guitar to flex his vocal muscle too, as he takes the crowd through the chorus of Much Better that they willingly sing back. They’re an “overnight success” that took 15 years to emerge, but they’re here for the long haul, and deserved to be far higher up the bill than they were.

Away from the mainstage, Tom A. Smith gave a great performance, showing how he’s really coming of age on this year’s festival circuit. Well worth catching when he returns on tour later in the year.

Similarly, Nieve Ella‘s outing was well received by a small but appreciative crowd showing how she’s made the leap adeptly from Tiktok stardom to the real life stage. A blend of 90s edged, guitar pop hits the perfect notes for the crowd.

On the New Music stage, The Sheratons tear it up with a decent crowd gathering to see the local boys deliver an energetic and urgent indie-rock set, comfortably competing with the big name on the main stage at the same time. To some degree, it’s a shame they were up against James Bay, as they may well have commanded (and deserved) a much bigger crowd.

Back on the main stage, New Model Army were a slightly leftfield choice in this company, but nevertheless, the Yorkshire band put on a good performance returning to Bingley, as they put it, for the first time in 40 years. Their fans had assembled in number though, with one fan spending the entire set hoisted above the crowd, singing her heart out.

The Zutons were a popular choice too, with their upbeat set keeping the crowd going and culminating in the very popular rendition of Valerie. By the time James Bay arrived on stage for his accomplished set, there was a good crowd in attendance. The rain that had threatened earlier finally came down in a short sharp shower, but it didn’t dull the crowd who were delighted to hear, and sing along to, hits like Hold Back the River and Let It Go. As Bay left the stage, the rain blew through, leaving a rainbow behind the stage, colourful and vibrant matching the mood of the crowd who were now ready to welcome Sunday’s headliner.

Travis showed their skill for entertaining a festival crowd too, in a similar way to Razorlight the previous day. Hitting the ground running with Sing was a great move, as even those with just a passing interest could get involved from the off. Fran Healy and the band expertly weaved their more well known hits  – Driftwood and Flowers in the Window – throughout the set, while offering those more familiar with their back catalogue a good range of their material. Closing out with Why Does It Always Rain on Me? brought the festival to a strong conclusion, and one where we were happy that, for the most part, it hadn’t rained on us, leaving us free to enjoy a wide-ranging, eclectic mix of music over the course of the 4 day event.

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