Festival fiasco in Liverpool as day 2 of Hope & Glory is cancelled

‘No festival today’

The curt message posted on social media by the organisers of the first (and increasingly likely, only) Hope & Glory Festival was the coup de grace for this event, plagued by logistical problems on its first day and cancelled altogether on the second, leaving many bands who had been booked to perform high and dry.

The event, which has been advertised for several months, was something I had not taken a great deal of notice of, as the bill featured mainly indie fare which wasn’t my cup of tea. One or two acts looked interesting but I thought at £55 for a day ticket and £85 for the weekend was a bit much to see maybe a couple of bands I might like. The event did however generate interest nationally and internationally, with fans coming from across the country and some had flown in from other countries. Held in St Johns Gardens, behind the neoclassical St Georges Hall in the centre of Liverpool, the organisers promised a range of bands playing across three stages, which right there should raise red flags to anybody who knows that part of the city.  A video that the event organisers released on Facebook shows the intended layout of the site, which they claimed would be suitable for up to 12000 attendees:

Hope & Glory Festival site layout

Hope & Glory Festival site layout (screenshot from organisers’ promotional video)

One glance at that layout makes it clear that there’s no way that site could accommodate 12000 fans comfortably. For those not familiar, the garden area is set from the street to the right (William Brown Street, site for the main ‘Great Exhibition Stage’) by a wall, accessible only by steps in one or two places.

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Location for main stage (screenshot taken from organisers’ promotional video)

Straight away that creates bottlenecks, if people wished to go from one stage to another. In addition, the main stage being set on that narrow street would create yet more overcrowding. The site was just not big enough to hold three stages – one would have been enough, and sure enough on the Saturday (the only operational day), reports of sound from one stage bleeding over to the other stages were coming in via social media. (There was a third stage, set aside for smaller acts).

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Second stage location (screenshot taken from organisers’ promotional video)

On the day itself there were enormous queues snaking down Lime Street, around the corner into St John’s Lane (to the left of the picture), leading to what appeared to be the only entrance into the site. Tickets had been on sale right up to the day of the event and reportedly also available on the day itself, going off what took place it is clear the festival was massively over-subscribed. Questions on facebook before the day were asking about wristband pass-outs, a system which was initially going to be put in place but had been withdrawn at the eleventh hour, leading to some frustrated comments even before the event began. As it became clear that nobody was getting into the site anger grew, and before long the police arrived on the scene to deal with the massive overcrowding. Some disgruntled fans gave up altogether and headed for the bars instead, while the schedule was thrown out by the disruption with acts coming on up to two hours later, playing truncated sets. One big name (singer Charlotte Church) was axed from the bill altogether, presumably in a bid to get the event timescale back into some sort of order, but she was left stranded, having travelled from South Wales with her band only to find she had no slot in which to perform. In a prelude to the next day’s events, she put out an appeal on social media for any venues in the city who might be able to put her on. That was answered by Liquidation at Heebeejeebees, who hastily arranged a gig for her within the hour.

The scale of the problem on the Saturday is illustrated by this video from the Liverpool Echo:

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Bands such as The Fratellis, Razorlight and James did get to play, however by this time many fans had abandoned hope of getting in and had left the site, leaving those already there to queue for the bars and for the toilets, neither facilities were sufficient for the amount of people there leading to yet more overcrowding. The set by James appeared to save the day for many, but a barrage of criticism on their Facebook page and by the number of tweets condemning the organisers for what appeared to be a shameful lack of organisation followed.

Instead of trying to appease or placate disappointed fans, or even showing that they might at least have taken some of the criticism on board for the Sunday, the next day the cancellation was announced on social media with those three words ‘no festival today’. That was it, no explanation, no apology, nothing. With more ‘name’ bands scheduled to play on the Sunday including Ocean Colour Scene, the Lightning Seeds and Space, that left all of those acts in the lurch. Tim Booth of James was also scheduled to play again, as part of ‘Hacienda Classical’ but after he posted a tweet slamming the organisation, they gave only a spiky response instead of the expected contrition:
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By midday on the Sunday the stages were being dismantled, as the tag #HopeAndGlory Festival began to trend and venues across Liverpool were already mobilising to do what they could to put on stranded acts, or make some sort of goodwill gesture to the people who found themselves in the city centre with their event cancelled. Another event (Liverpool Loves) was also taking place elsewhere in the city centre, their organisers were swift to invite would-be Hope & Glory attendees to their stage. Some of the bands did get to perform; the Zanzibar put on the Lightning Seeds at short notice while other venues including Magnet, and Hangar 34 also tweeted that they would make themselves available for acts who wished to play there.  The fact that these venues had to pick up the pieces after the festival descended into chaos was reminiscent of the scenes a decade ago, when the outdoor stages at the Mathew Street Festival (a free, annual event that took place across several stages in the city centre, featuring mostly tribute bands) were suddenly cancelled with days to go by their organisers. That year, bars and venues went out of their way to accommodate bands and this cancellation prompted similar scenes.

Cancellation notice (pic: David Munn/Liverpool Echo)

The whole debacle does little for the image of the city, other than to show that there is still a defiant spirit among the bars and clubs to make something of a bad situation and try to give something to those who’d wanted to spend the weekend watching live music. Those venues deserve bouquets, while brickbats are fully merited for the organisation behind Hope & Glory, a PR company called tinyCOW based in the Midlands.  This would appear to shatter that company’s credibility once and for all, however over the course of the weekend stories emerged that the people behind tinyCOW have previous history of staging events which went wrong. In a particularly disgraceful twist, their twitter account not only passed all blame onto a production manager, condemning him for not installing walkways in time and – worst of all – publishing an email address for all complaints to be directed to him as opposed to the organisers themselves. This was rightly condemned on social media by fans who saw it as the buck-passing exercise it was. Meanwhile, the fire was turned up still further on Tim Booth who got a post from the festival organisers’ account telling him to ‘go back to your yoga’ – a bizarre comment from the organiser to one of their main acts:

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When the dust settles on this debacle, there are questions to be answered. First of all, did anybody do any due diligence on this company who arranged the festival? It has emerged that they have a track record of disputes for previous events, were no questions asked of these?  Secondly, how did they get a licence to stage this event in a space so obviously unsuitable for the amount of people who came? The site was far too small for a projected 12000 people, there were bottlenecks owing to the layout of the land, there were obstacles everywhere and getting around must have been nigh-on impossible. With all that in mind how could it possibly have been passed as safe? Linked to that, and thirdly, who signed it off? Presumably the city council must have cleared it, questions must be asked about their role in this fiasco. On the evidence of the reports, it must be considered miraculous there was not a disaster at this event, which would have been catastrophic for this city. At the very least there should be a resignation from within the council department who passed this event as safe to go ahead.

As said at the top of this post, the musical fare offered at this event was not to my taste, nevertheless when live music events are staged here I want them to pass off well, leaving visitors with good memories – not the frustration and anger which must be felt by visitors after this fiasco. The tickets were not cheap – unsurprisingly there are many calls for refunds, which have also been batted away by organisers referring people only to their ticket agents. That, like so much of the attitude from them, is insufficient and insulting. It is to be hoped this has not caused lasting damage to the city’s hard-won reputation for staging events, nor the ability of the city to attract name acts to perform in Liverpool.

As it was, there was better and more effective communication from artists performing at the event than there was from the festival organisers, which should mean that this company will never be trusted again to deliver a large-scale event in this, or any other city.

CD: Inglorious ‘II’ (Frontiers)

This was an album I meant to do a write-up on long before now; I went to the band’s Liverpool in-store appearance in May and picked up this record on the day, but ‘stuff’ kept intervening and it’s only now, with me out of gig-going action temporarily that I have got around to this one.

Inglorious are the latest in a long line of British rock bands touted as ‘the future of rock’; they were saddled with a tag of ‘The New Deep Purple’ by some commentators, which I thought was a little unfair. For one thing Deep Purple didn’t hit their stride until their fourth album and then only after a change of singer and bassist! Also, when Purple were at their peak, they were also at their most dysfunctional, something that this band could well do without as they make their own way in the rock scene. The tag was one this band could never live up to, and their debut album of last year showed promise, but ‘In Rock’ it wasn’t.

The band are built around singer Nathan James, whose pyrotechnic vocals certainly attracted attention. They have striven to present themselves as a band, not just a vehicle for the singer, but such is his voice, his presence, that he does dominate the spotlight, just as (for example) David Coverdale before him did with Whitesnake. However all the members have contributed to the songwriting on this album, including guitarist Wil Taylor who, after recording his parts for ‘II’ parted company with the band at the end of 2016, to be replaced by his own predecessor Drew Lowe. Taylor has since formed another band (Deeva) and has been back at Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios this year (where this album was recorded), working on new material.

So what do we make of this follow-up album by Inglorious? CD in the deck, let’s press play…

It certainly gets off to a good start with ‘I Don’t Need Your Loving’; typical of their old-school rock style yes, but it’s a catchy number which ticks all the boxes. Hard riffs, singalong chorus and an early chance for James to show off those pipes. From there though, the album is full of material that could have been written by any number of those bands in that long line of acts that came before them. Titles such as ‘Hell Or High Water’, ‘Taking The Blame’, and ‘Change Is Coming’ give away what to expect even before you get to them, that this isn’t going to break any new ground. The playing is fine, the drums kick with enough wallop and the guitars slash away with intent, but these songs just don’t stick. Like the first album, you’ll come away with the impression you’ve heard this record many times before, the only thing that makes them stand out is the voice. There are fast-paced rockers (‘Taking The Blame’, ‘Hell Or High Water’), slower songs (‘Making Me Pay’), ones with Whitesnake-style gentle intros which bring the band in with a wallop (‘Tell Me Why’, ‘Change Is Coming’, ‘Faraway’), guitar workouts for axeman Andreas Eriksson such as the shred solo on ‘I Got A Feeling’, but this is an album that is a distillation of so many 1980s hard rock bands, nothing you haven’t heard many times before. It is all so familiar, that the only reason for picking it up is if you’re a particular devotee of James’s vocal style.

The in-store appearance aside, I’m still yet to see this band live (they are touring the UK in October 2017) and I’m sure they’ll cook up a storm live, but for me they need some stronger songs – even if that means an external writer. They can imitate the style of previous bands, but there is little to innovate here. I’m afraid this album only reinforces the perception that it is a vehicle for James, however hard he tries to tell us otherwise and I still feel the way I did after hearing this band’s debut – sooner or later he will be recruited into a supergroup or will be offered a solo mega-deal, one he would be crazy to refuse. This is a band made up of dependable, solid players but fronted by a singer who cannot be confined by this act for ever.

Inglorious II

Inglorious II

3gtrs

3 – Decent

 

EP: The Sex Pissed Dolls ‘Maniac’ (Sex Pissed Dolls)

It’s been a turbulent month for all-girl punk/new wave cover band The Sex Pissed Dolls; first of all they parted company with both their guitarists only days after their much-anticipated appearance at the Isle of Wight festival, then they were struggling for a while as to what they should call themselves. They’d been shortening their name to ‘The Dolls’ on some bills, in order to allow themselves to be more easily advertised but for a brief period last month they were calling themselves ‘The Septic Dolls’. Fortunately the group’s management reconsidered that move and they reverted to their original name, having presumably decided that it just couldn’t be bettered.

In amongst all of that, they were also having to bed in two new guitar players. The new members have taken on the stage names of their predecessors and have had to hit the ground running, performing at several festivals and also at Silverstone, where they played for a crowd of Formula One fans following the recent British Grand Prix. Now they have finally released their debut EP consisting of three tracks of original material, produced by Steve Brown (who produced The Cult’s ‘Love’ album among many others) and recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio. The EP is available now as a download and will also be released on vinyl in strictly limited quantities.

It isn’t made clear on the information provided with the download who wrote these songs; the new tracks have been performed live since March, when the previous Connie Rotter and Kitty Vacant were still in the band. They did post a photo back in February showing the group in the studio (along with Tommy Scott of Liverpool indie-rockers Space), which suggests that the line-up as it was before June played on this EP. With all three tracks safely in my music folder then, let’s fire up the MP3 player and give them a (virtual) spin.

The first thing you’ll notice is that all these songs are short; no more than two-and-a-half minutes for any of them. Definitely true to the punk spirit in that aspect, then! Lead-off song ‘Maniac’ kicks in with a riff reminiscent of Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’ and some strong vocals from Nancy Doll, with nice harmonies on the chorus. In this one, the lyric warns a ‘wannabe Ted Bundy’ just what he is dealing with here (‘you don’t realise, you’re kissing a maniac’). All these tracks are counted in by Anna Key’s drumsticks and next song ‘Shitty Old Town’ is one inspired by the experiences of one of their fans, living in a small provincial town which could be anywhere in Britain (‘living in a place with no energy’). Nancy’s vocal inflection here is Southern/Estuary English (she’s actually Northern!) and the guitar riffs here are harder and more jagged than on the first track. Last track ‘Sci-Fi’ is another chantalong designed to have you pogoing across your living room (if your knees are still up to it!). ‘Maniac’ is the pick of these three songs for me, although all have gone over well on stage when they’ve been played live.

The Dolls have always performed a selection of covers from a diverse range of bands coming under the punk/new wave umbrella, which has meant they’ve covered a huge range of styles. All of these are short, snappy high-tempo songs that remind me as much of their near-namesakes the New York Dolls as the Sex Pistols, which is no bad thing. Now that they have some new blood in the ranks, it will be very interesting indeed to see what direction their future material will take.

Sex Pissed Dolls 'Maniac' EP cover

Sex Pissed Dolls ‘Maniac’ EP cover (click image for Amazon link)

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving