GuilFest 2004 - 17 July 2004 - Concert Reviews

Solar Flare | Charlotte Hancy | Spherics | Egofreak
Kathryn Williams | Tribryd | Claire Toomey | Katie Melua

click on band names above to visit their official websites

slide show

Reviews © Stephen Lambe 2004 | Images © Stephen Lambe 2004
HTML and Editing © Russ Elliot 2003 | Last updated: 03 October 2004

With the Glastonbury Music festival the premier fixture on the UK summer festival circuit for many years, a variety of other venues have attempted to follow a similar format. Unlike the festivals that we attended some years ago where one or two stages were the norm, Glastonbury pioneered the multiple stage format, with bands playing on up to half a dozen stages dotted around the site simultaneously.

GuilFest, in Surrey, is one such event, perhaps a little less radical than Glastonbury on its main stage, but just as interesting in its selection of smaller acts. With a variety of female-fronted artists scheduled to play on the Saturday, Associate Editor Stephen Lambe went to check them out. Many of the performers viewed were playing on the small "Liveclub" stage in front of 100 or so people, where 30 minute sets were the norm, and this was the stage most visited.

The first band viewed were the interesting Solar Flare from Nottingham, a very distinctive four piece playing acoustic pop / rock with a slight folky lilt. Key to the band seems to be the fragile, aching voice of lovely vocalist Emma. Though her girlish singing style seems more effective on record than live, where she struggled for pitch occasionally, she is clearly a mesmeric, introverted performer with definite potential. The band can clearly write interesting songs, too. A special word should go to Ian for his excellent performance on guitar, and an interesting hat!

One of the pleasures of events like this is the unexpected, and after Solar Flare's set, we were drawn to the sound of a female voice coming from the "Ambient Lounge," where we saw part of local singer Charlotte Hancy’s set of acoustic folk / pop. Charlotte has a powerful voice and an ear for a heartfelt tune, and alongside her band of drums, bass and two acoustic guitars, a violin player added to the sound in atmospheric fashion. She is certainly another act to watch.

Another very pleasant surprise was Spherics. Though we only caught the last couple of songs of their set, they certainly left us intrigued enough to hear more. The songs we saw were melodic hard rock, which benefited considerably from Shylo's warm, powerful lead vocals and Jay’s excellent lead guitar. The live band also included keyboards, bass, drums and another guitarist. They also exhibited the most intriguing stage image of the acts we saw, with Shylo's elegant white dress contrasted against the rest of the band's black rocker-type outfits, suggesting a slight gothic persona confirmed by a number of the songs. Recent contact with the band suggests that they are much more than just a female-fronted hard rock act, but a unit with considerable talent and depth. Since their GuilFest appearance the singer of Spherics has left the band. Jay hopes to recruit a new vocalist shortly.

A couple of hours later Egofreak were on the same stage. An interesting band, this, playing up-beat pop-rock with attitude, fronted by Julie James, an excellent singer with a striking image. Alongside some undoubtedly catchy choruses, guitarist Owen Griffiths augments his excellent guitar work – he has a knack for catchy, high octane rock riffing – with some startling use of samples, synths and drum loops. The rhythms, in particular are sometimes so dominated by samples that a live drummer seems hardly necessary. If the band has a fault – and this is debatable considering the bands name and attitude – it is that the songs are SO immediate that they lack any depth. But that is probably the point.

Around the same time the Uncut Stage – the festival’s second stage - was hosting the excellent Kathryn Williams from Liverpool, and artist who has won a considerable following, as well as a Mercury Music Prize nomination, by ignoring record labels and operating entirely through the internet and work of mouth. Her gentle, wistful songs, using largely acoustic instruments including cello and stand-up bass, hypnotise, lull and charm. A good-sized audience were suitably impressed.

After a sprint back to the Liveclub stage, we caught the majority of a set by Tribryd, an impressive indie rock band fronted by the excellent Allie, a distinctive vocalist with a voice not unlike Natalie Merchant. With the excellent guitar of Rich added to the mix, Tribryd are one of those very worthy, talented bands who deserve much more than they may ever achieve. By this time – 5pm – the Liveclub stage was packed and the band received a rousing reception from an audience comprised of both their own following and many impressed new listeners.

We caught part of the set of semi-legendary Rickie Lee Jones and her band, though while we were there her poetic, rambling songs seemed to be bemusing a large main-stage audience, so we made our way back to the Liveclub stage to see the wonderful Claire Toomey from Croydon in Surrey. Expectations ran high for Claire’s performance as, having previously played largely as a solo acoustic act she was here performing electric arrangements of her songs with a full backing band. Thankfully, we were not disappointed, and Claire and her band turned in a superb performance. Though she cites Alanis Morissette as her main influence, there are aspects of Avril Lavigne in the contemporary construction of her melodies, though instrumentally she is far less brash – more like Thea Gilmore. How unusual, too, to hear someone singing in an English, rather than American, accent. She is vocally mature, though there sounds like there is certainly plenty of scope for her voice to further mature and develop, and we especially enjoyed her modest stage presence. She even apologised for some (very modest) swearing in one song. The songs themselves are superb, hook-laden and memorable, yet with plenty of depth and pleasingly literate. Claire is an exciting talent, and one that will be featured in more depth by Musical Discoveries during the coming weeks.

Katie Melua should, by now, be well known to our readers, so it is not necessary to say too much about her performance as special guest (to headliners Simple Minds) on the main stage except to confirm that she remains a spellbinding, relaxed and confident, performer whether playing to small audiences or 10 000 as she did here. We enjoyed her immensely.

The exciting thing about the day was that such quality should be so unheralded. All of the artists we saw have something to offer an audience and all deserve to be heard. Though some will be featured in more depth by Musical Discoveries, and some will not, we wish them all well and urge our readers to attend such events in the future not just to see the main headline acts, but to see as many of the smaller live bands as possible. You are unlikely to be disappointed.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England

Return to website contents