The third day of any music festival is always the tricky day. The initial burst of excitement, eagerness and exuberance have been tempered by late nights, a few too many beers, and a weariness that no matter how good the bands are going to be, you’ve had your fill, and the lift-off is just that little bit harder to achieve. Leicester’s Handmade Festival was well placed to keep the interest levels high by having a strong line-up in venues that felt intimate and distinct. There’s none of the push-and-shove from the festival organisers that big corporate festivals get. By day three of a corporate festival we too often become victims of the grinding-down of corporate sponsorship, gated entry, lunatic marauding teenage cliques, and the requisite army of festival ‘volunteers’ herding people around.
Sunday afternoon saw Leicester bathed in sunshine for once – it’s starting to feel like a rare event. The first stop was the Handmade Cinema at Wygston’s House. This was a gathering of short film enthusiasts, using a venue that is rarely open to the public in Leicester, but which could certainly play a more prominent role in the cultural and creative life of the city. A pop-up cinema is a great idea, and with some curation and introductions to the films, this could become a regular event for sure.
The first band I wanted to see was Silent Devices, who have been Leicester based for the last couple of years, and could do with a really big push. There was a lot to enjoy in their short’ish set. Silent Devices are well suited to a longer-form performance style, building-up and drawing-in the listener through carefully developed layers. Lead singer Josh Coyne has a resonant vocal presence that intimates depth and keeps the atmospherics grounded.
The Guildhall in Leicester is another venue that proved to be inspired. I doubt it’s hosted so loud an event in years. The grandness of the building gave the performances of The Demons of Ruby Mae and We Three And The Death Rattle a gothic appeal that suited their alt-rock status. Once I was back over at Firebug it was Tall Ships that really lifted me out of my day-three-stupor. Without being bombastic or self-important, Tall Ships managed to engage the Firebug crowd with a set that steadily built around a polyphony secured by some smart on-the-fly sampling. Reality is very cruel, however, and as Tall Ships worked their way to the crescendo of their last track, the power to the PA died. I don’t doubt that Tall Ships made many new fans though.
A quick run across to the Cookie Jar and I caught the last fifteen minutes of Sulk. Sulk are a bit like stepping-back into a Madchester/Shoe-Gazer moment. Watching this London-based band, with a keen sense of thrashing guitars and miserabalism, was right up my street. A few more people at the venue would have given Sulk a chance to shine a little more. My final stint was back at Firebug and Dutch Uncles, who gave a warmly received set in a packed, hot and sweaty venue.
So I’ve enjoyed spending the last three days wandering about Leicester. hearing new bands, seeing some old venues that really open up the city in an affirmative way. This is the second city-festival I’ve been to in the same month, and I don’t doubt the potential that city festivals like these have to become regular events that encourage grass-roots participation. Sound City in Liverpool ran Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and I wonder if a future Handmade Festival would benefit from trying the same trick? Are there any more under-used venues in Leicester that could be opened-up? Are there opportunities for parallel festivals to be grouped around the main music festival? Can we make more of the photography and creative arts that take place in Leicester? Can the strong spoken-word and literary communities in Leicester find a place and be part of the events? The potential for alt-cinema, alt.music, alt.culture alt.art, or indeed alt.anything, could be the steps that Leicester needs to take in order to win a higher profile for it’s culture and arts?