Returning for it’s 5th year, LIMF overcomes the obstacles to retain it’s central place in Liverpool’s summer gig calendar.
LIMF had to put up with a lot this year, all of it out of their hands.
Aside from train disruptions – not only during a strike on Sunday but through a lousy service on Saturday that had us waiting nearly an hour for a train to the festival with three passing us by entirely – there was also the elements to contend with.
This got Friday off to a middling start. The Garage Classical event should have been a summertime triumph, but what started as some mildly annoying rainfall became a downpour of monsoon proportions immediately before So Solid Crew came on stage.
Speaking of whom, from my memory there were about 20 members of So Solid Crew back in the early noughties. There were only three present on Friday, with most of the more famous members (Lisa Mafia, Romeo) conspicuous by their absence. We’re not really sure that counts as a “Crew” (what even is the standard number of people in a crew?). But they made up for it by ensuring the weekend got off to an energetic start, trying their damnedest to get a reaction out of the crowd in what must have been the worst conditions the festival have ever faced.
It was also at this point that it became apparent that the new VIP area at the front of the stage wasn’t the brightest idea. Even though there were probably around a thousand people outside of this golden circle, inside there were probably less than a dozen, meaning the band were playing to a few miserable people in waterproof ponchos.
This kept up for the majority of the weekend, ponchos aside. With a few exceptions – Saturday headliners Gorgon City, for example – the VIP area was practically empty, which could easily have impacted performances. The need for the festival to make money and keep it free is obviously important, so I do sympathise with LIMF for the decision, but it was pretty clear that it wasn’t working. Perhaps a cornered off area further back would be a better idea.
Before the main Garage Classical event, a video played on the screens presented by Spoony, in which he lauded Garage as perfect summer music, describing scenes of the sun beating down and arms waving in the air. It felt like some kind of cruel joke given the torrential rain we were experiencing at the time.
The rain was so bad that we couldn’t stick around for the whole performance for fear of contracting trench foot, and we were so miserable that we have sketchy recollections of what we did see. No matter how covered everyone was – raincoats, ponchos, umbrellas – everyone was still soaked through. Some people didn’t mind. One guy was dancing around shirtless, totally oblivious to the weather.
Massive kudos to the people who stuck around and the performers themselves. Can’t say we blame Artful Dodger for cancelling.
Obviously, this impacted the other stages too. We feared for our friends at KCC Live hosting the Academy Stage that headliner Gazelle would be playing to nobody, but thankfully there was a small group of people who stuck around.
The It’s Liverpool stage fared better with numbers, with early highlights coming from Pink Kink and Xam Volo’s commanding, powerful performance. Headliners The Farm may not entirely be our cup of tea (in fact we left to get one mid-set as the rain bettered us), but they still have a massive fan base in the city, and they weren’t as weak as we were. They danced and bounced through regardless, all seeming thoroughly entertained.
The Bandstand Stage was curated by Mellowtone over the weekend. The lake separating the stage and the crowd has always been mixed depending on who is playing. It works better for more laid back acts, as people could easily lounge on the green in the distance. But even that has its disadvantages.
We saw both sides to this on Friday. Nick Ellis performed a haunting and evocative set, as the rain dampened the ambient sounds of the park and the sound quality crossing the water was as close to perfect as we have heard. Then during Edgar Jones’ set, the skies truly opened and there was an accompanying rhythm from the rain hitting the bandstand roof and a mild waterfall pouring off it.
Thankfully, Saturday didn’t have those problems, despite a slight shower in the afternoon.
The sun beat down and the areas of the park that were deserted the night before were alive and vibrant, and it finally felt like LIMF was happening, even if the best acts appeared to be away from the main stage.
The Academy Stage once again proved to be the most important of the weekend. Rewarded with a good sized crowd of open minds whenever the weather was favourable the acts used the most of their short sets to showcase themselves, and well from what we saw.
Saturday alone saw Joseph Mott display his many talents with a set list of his older mix-tapes and newer compositions in a confident and assured performance that saw him excel as not only a producer, but singer and saxophone player too.
Lilium picked up on the Academy Stage where they left off on the Bandstand – hanging off it. It’s impossible to suppress frontman Andrew‘s performances and we sincerely hope no one ever tries as his charisma is a platform on which this band will keep growing. If you don’t believe ask one of the many onlookers who were generous with their applause and whoops at the close of their set.
Mellowtone‘s Bandstand came into its own on Saturday too. Not only is sitting beside the pond a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon, but the music on offer was perfectly curated.
The DJ’s were on fire. As each act left the stage we were prevented from leaving with them as the decks produced just the songs we wanted to hear (including Get On The Boat, a relative Prince obscurity, thank you very much!). Magical. Country group The Grande became one of our unsuspecting highlights of the weekend with untouchable harmonies and tight musicianship.
As Silvastone took to the band stand, we could have sworn we were back at Africa Oye. It was clear that he is a performer who feeds off the crowd, and it almost felt like he was frustrated by the fact that we were all separated by a pond, but it only made him reach further. The chilled-out vibes were more than complimented by the sunshine, and all of a sudden it felt like peak festival.
There was more Afrobeat over on the main stage with Fuse ODG. Although his brand of Afrobeat is much more pop-infused, he definitely put on one of the strongest performances of the day, before the VIP area finally swelled for former X Factor contestant Fleur East, whose monster hit Sax got the park rumbling.
Incidentally, it was around this time that somebody asked us what time The Jacksons were playing. We assume she meant Jax Jones.
Possibly due to the aforementioned train strike, Sunday’s crowd was sparser than the day before, and it did make travelling to and fro’ Sefton Park rather difficult for many of us, and the afternoon rain didn’t exactly help matters.
Not that this stopped Corinne Bailey Ray, who brought some summery soul to a rainy day. She performed a handful of songs from her latest release Heart Speaks in Whispers, but made sure to find time to dust off old hits such as Like a Star and Put Your Record On. She even found time to drop Bob Marley’s eternally popular Is This Love to the delight of the crowd.
One of the Planet Slop team was especially raving about Jessie Reyez, who bared her soul throughout her performance.
The It’s Liverpool stage took a slightly psychedelic turn on Sunday, opening with a dose of electronica from the ever-elusive L U M E N and sets from the likes of Jane Weaver, whilst She Drew The Gun proved why they won that Glastonbury set.
Once again, though, it was the Academy and Bandstand where we saw the very best, and perhaps that is how it should be. The pop acts are a dangling carrot for the masses, to be introduced to the new talent who feel like the real focus.
On the former we had Raheem Alameen, a young man with a voice like no other who has more than earned his place in the LIMF Academy. He has an easy going presence and it is easy to see him going places. Grace Kim is by far one of the more interesting acts to come out of the city in a long time – a soulful backbone mixed with a Kate Bush eccentricity. It was also a thrill to finally see C-Two in the flesh having covered him on Planet Slop before.
Perhaps the reason Mellowtone’s band stand stood out so much over the weekend was because their line-up almost embodied the spirit of LIMF. We saw acts we knew, discovered new ones and met up with old friends.
But the real key to Mellowtone’s stage was the sheer diversity. You want some psych? Here come Loka. How about Afrobeat? Check out Silvastone. Wanna hear some soulful R&B? Sub Blue is up next, and he’s come on leaps and bounds since we last saw him. Country? Rock? Acoustic singer-songwriters? They had it covered. All of it. And that really feels like a large part of LIMF’s ethos. It strives for that diversity considerably more than most of the other festival’s in our midst, and actually achieves it. Perhaps certain stages feel a bit male-heavy at times, but that’s not the case for the festival on the whole.
With this in mind, Mellowtone won Battle of the Stages at this year’s LIMF, followed by the Academy Stage.
One thing is for sure, though; LIMF is now an undeniable part of Liverpool’s summer. Everybody goes, everybody has a great time. Friends and family mingle with a freedom that few other festivals can grant. Even if you’re not into the music, you still go – because it’s on, we’re lucky to have it and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
How many cities can proclaim to host Europe’s biggest free music event? Just one.
We hope the city and the council will continue to support LIMF as the festival itself supports the city’s artists and gifts us with such a generous weekend.
Photos by Mark Holmes, Vicky Pea and Soulfultiz