Luke Foo Guest has been away during Smithdown Road’s redevelopment, so he was delighted to spend the day at the free all-dayer they staged last week. Warning: Wrist injury depicted.
Smithdown seems to have increased in importance these past few years, but unfortunately this writer has been away and missed much of its evolution.
Part of this success seems to be the increase in bars and eateries beyond those takeaways which I knew it so well for. The Smithdown Road Festival has managed to catch my interest each year but I’ve never been able to attend.
The festival is sponsored by local businesses with a little extra help from donation buckets that are dotted about the venues, bringing together the local and student community of Smithdown. So when I found out that it would return for a single day (outside of its usual May schedule), I had to go down and see it for myself.
The Handyman Supermarket is iconic with the area as it stood for some 50 years selling hardware supplies. Now the horse’s head peers over a microbrewery that serves a variety of craft beers and inside various local musicians played acoustic songs during a miserably wet early afternoon.
Defend Vinyl celebrated its first birthday during the all day festival and the bright yellow shop offered a cozy venue. Together the crowd wished Defend and a little girl called Martha a happy birthday as they sang along with Silent Sleep. The small quarters broke the barrier between act and audience allowing an intimate community to come together and enjoy some music.
I had heard good things about the food at Evil Eye over the years but still have yet to try it. I’m going to stay away from the cultural appropriation argument, not only because I don’t know who actually owns the place, but because it’s worth mentioning that the venue is ran independently and has held events to help refugees and the homeless. Unfortunately the band I saw, Sunshine Steppers, found themselves having technical issues at first but once they got going managed to perform decent soul covers.
Amidst the growth of chic bars and restaurants in the area, Kelly’s Dispensary has managed to maintain itself as a fairly traditional boozer and is well loved for it: Cheap pints are a welcome break from some of the more pricier askings of the road. Takotsubo Men performed high energy songs like Magic Shit with an aggressive “Fuck you” persona. Next up The Hushtones performed fantastic guitar harmonies that complemented what seemed like an effortlessly wide vocal range.
Jo Mary ended the evening with a lively performance in Craft Taproom that included a tambourine players bloodied wrist. In the words of a friend who joined me, “the show was active”. Loud and energetic music matched with confident and interesting personas caused the crowd to spiral into chaos and bring the evening to a close.
Any critical reader may consider the area succumbing to gentrification, a phenomenon where a local population becomes unable to afford the trendy establishments aimed to attract a bougie bohemian clientele that settle in the area. I would be lying if I didn’t think Smithdown runs the danger of going down this road, but hopefully events like the Smithdown Road Festival can do something about that.
Bringing the festival back for the arrival of students introduced new people to the area whist also satisfying the needs of a local community and businesses.
Personally I can’t wait for May to roll around and experience the full weekend. In a world so divisive it is important to create a space for everyone. Whilst I enjoyed the event, Smithdown Road has a lot of heritage and culture even before all these venues sprouted. Smithdown is the home to wide variety communities, I just hope the May event is able to cater to each of them too.
Lead image by Jamie Lindberg.