LARKS IN THE PARK
Sefton Park, Liverpool
FIFTEEN groups from Liverpool, playing free over the August Bank Holiday in the great (Victorian domesticated) outdoors — what better way to dispel the messy “festival” image?
The holiday atmosphere of “Larks” (now in its fourth year) has always been something for the community: attracting curious music-loving locals as much as the normal function of the park on any sunny Sunday — “Bring a picnic” urged the posters — and that’s probably the reason for its success. There are as many children and dogs as bizarre hairstyles, mingling in appreciative relaxation.
That’s the mood, too, in which the music is heard, and that’s what devices the choice of bands. So if the line-up doesn’t equate exactly with the 15 best groups in Liverpool (though some of the best are there), it at least reflects the wise range of music being made in the area — wider than most people would think.
In terms of impact, they fall roughly into three (overlapping) groups. There are the contenders, like Lalabambam and Numbers 28, with the right basslines and the right voices to send them in their right direction, and enough ideas of their own to get them there.
Then there are the crowd pleasers — who will probably however never pull their own crowds outside an event like this — mainstream and musicianly, like System 22, Always The Now, or Dark Continent. There are specialists in this category. Malfunktion threaten to “put you in a disco mood”, which is quite an alarming proposition at five o’clock in the afternoon. Bad To The Bone appeared last on a chill Sunday, announcing that it was “time for some shitkicking r’n’b,” and did a fine job of getting rid of the stragglers.
The Outer Limits had a similar effect on a hungry crowd the following day, but to be fair their rockabilly sounds a lot more convincing when they’re busking in Liverpool’s shopping centre.
This still leaves a good proportion who can’t be overlooked so quickly. Some of my favourite Liverpool groups are among them, and they’re all favourites for the same reason — because they’re not the same. They don’t sound like “Liverpool groups”. There’s still individuality around if people will listen to it.
Three proud combos on Saturday’s bill didn’t get justice from the sound, but anyone who’s seen them before knows they’re good.
The High Five in fact have two of theirs out on a single soon (on Liverpool’s Probe Plus label), and I’d love to say the same about The Farm without much delay: there are some germs in their set, like the haunting “Somewhere” (sent us a tape lads!).
Sunday began with Malchix, an intriguing mixture whose dynamics veer towards heavy metal at times but whose style is quite individual. Last time I saw them they had a mere electric violin; this time they have the Liverpool Chamber Orchestral And the strings are as integral to the sound as the guitars of anything else.
Best group of the day are the equally individual Reverb Brothers, who have, as well as their very own juke box, style and wit and more genuine songs than anyone else playing on the bill. Each one stands up to be counted and I wasn’t the only person I caught humming along with them.
If the Reverb Brothers are perfect for the radio, a wise programmer would probably think twice about one of Monday’s groups, the infamous Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Coming from London, they left behind part of the group and the more extreme manifestation of their image, but it still wasn’t exactly family entertainment. Theirs are songs in search of a 12 inch dance mix. They belong in the clubs, but what kind of clubs is probably best left unsaid. Their dirty talk charmed the more excitable members of the audience. Their wonderful eccentricity charmed the others.
Undoubtedly the best group, though, was The Room. The inspiring confidence of their sound proved as potent here as in the darkness of the clubs, sweeping across the open spaces to impress itself upon the indifferent in a richness of sound that’s uncluttered and perfectly focussed.
After all, individuality won the day (or days) and even though innovation was no criterion originality still got in: It’s reassuring to remember, every time I hear a record that makes me cringe “Oh no, not another ‘Liverpool sound’” that there’s still plenty of choice. All it needs now is for more Merseyside musicians to remember it too, to realise that they don’t have to sound like that — and for ears outside Sefton Park to understand that most of them don’t.