Shiiine On Weekender Year 5

All the single ladies looking for a thick-necked, beer-swilling late forty-something male need look no further – Shiiine On Weekender is here for you. It is also here for those of us who spend the other fifty one wasteland weekends of the year willing it to be mid-November – our chance to escape the daily grind, indulge in a bit of hedonistic nostalgia and hang out with ‘our people’ once more.

From a fairly low-key start in 2015, this gathering of the tribes of Indie, Rock and Dance has gradually transformed; with this year bringing more acts, over more stages and for longer. If you fancy starting your day off with comedy or a film show; afternoon hip-hop Karaoke or a pop quiz; an evening of up-and-coming bands or stalwart festival favourites; club nights or sing-along cover bands, there really is something for everyone. Cleverly arranged to avoid clashes for headline acts, the whole event successfully manages to appear effortless; bands start on time, changeovers are smooth, the staff are wonderfully friendly and relaxed (this year, Levi is Shiiine personified – full of high-fives and contagious enthusiasm) – the festival goes from strength to strength. 

Part of the joy of Shiiine On is the anticipation – making a playlist for the long journey down to Somerset (get caught behind a tractor on that final road to Minehead and you’re in for a slow, frustrating trek); getting the card to your chalet and your yellow and black festival wristband; tasting that first, tantalizing drink of the weekend; loving the obsessively organised Excel spreadsheets which help us work out who we are going to see and when and setting ourselves the challenge of staying up for Steve Lamacq. These are the moments we anticipate all year; grabbing a drink, heading into the Skyline Arena, the hazy blur of noise and excitement, music reverberating off the walls before the main acts have even begun: all our Friday nights lead to this moment and the promise of what is to come over the following few days. We have food, booze, tea and Berocca. Shiiine On Weekender…we are ready for you…


Having read so many positive comments about Ivory Wave, I was keen to see the Birmingham five-piece with their modern take on the acid-house dance music of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. First up on the Skyline Stage they attract a large Friday afternoon crowd and their contagious Happy Mondays vibe is perfect to warm things up. On next and following the up-beat dance theme comes Reverend and the Makers, a perfect, energizing Friday evening choice and my only regret is that being lower down on the list means a shorter set for The Reverend’s own form of catchy indie pop and electronica but with Cast and Lightning Seeds still to come, the night is only just beginning. Headliner Ian Broudie is blighted by sound problems and the set starts slowly, the band working hard to overcome technical issues but hitches are resolved and the crowd is fully engaged by the time alternative culture’s football anthem ‘Three Lions’ is belted out as the band’s closer.

I’m keen to catch Deja Vega after seeing their ferociously raw set last year on the Sunday afternoon and this time they are playing the much smaller, dive-like Jaks at the back of the arena, an interesting choice after last year’s Skyline slot. Their debut album has been on the turntable at home for weeks and hearing them in this dark, claustrophobic venue really emphasizes the searing, at times overwhelmingly powerful sound this three-piece creates. The atmosphere is unlike that of any other set I will see this weekend – wild and unpredictable, screeching guitars and frantic punk screams and as singer Jack Fearon leaps into the audience, leading us into a psychedelic trance as he spins amongst us, the sound from the stage fills the room in a frenzied crescendo. The mood is electric and this is what live music is all about.

As we head towards the early hours, King of the Slums are forced into a shorter than planned set due to a broken guitar amp and we head upstairs to dance venue Reds to catch Transglobal Underground, although frustratingly we must miss Apollo 440 as 1 AM beckons us next door to Centre Stage to catch The Wedding Present’s penultimate show of the year. David Gedge and his ever-revolving Fall-esque troupe of players are on excellent form tonight, with heavily pregnant Danielle Wadey playing her guitar slung low to the side; ripping through their set with the usual intense energy. The crowd love this band and tonight You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends is our Shiiine mantra: music, memories and friends, this is why we are all gathered here.


A rarely seen November blue sky, the sun hanging low, forces us off site and into the eccentrically English seaside resort of Minehead, sticks of rock and Crazy Golf momentarily beckon, but it’s not long before we are in the pub, lured by our Irish friends, one of whom has flown over from his adopted home of Seattle to join us and later, surrounded by fellow Weekenders we head back to the site, itineraries in hand.

Hearing great things about the sets by Steve Mason and Idlewild (you have to eat and sleep at some point, however…) I am keen to see Turin Brakes’ early evening slot. Having slid off my radar after the first few albums, I am surprised to hear that the London four-piece released their eighth studio album last year and I’m glad I manage to catch them tonight: the sound is tight, the band charm us with old favourites and the tempo rises with each song. The set’s standout track is definitely Black Rabbit from 2016’s Lost Property, the power of which gets me right in the solar plexus: it is just stunning – powerful, beautiful and intensely moving. I leave wanting more.

I remember seeing Embrace around the time they released The Good Will Out, playing a free outdoor gig near Leicester Square in London; I wandered down after work one bright summer evening, wanting to see what all the hype was about, enjoyed the gig and the album and that, I thought was that. Fast forward over twenty years and here I am, barrier-hugging and allowing myself to be pulled into the crowd’s enthusiasm on this Saturday night as they belt out the favourites, charming and funny, effortless performers, the tone just right for the sing-a-long crowd: ‘it’s been a long time coming and I can’t stop now’ and I allow myself to be caught up in the moment, as Saturday night on the Skyline Stage draws to a close.

Bob Mould plays an intense late night set on Centre Stage with a focus on solo material but with the welcome inclusion of some Sugar and Husker Du tracks and the room is packed out and ready for Jim Bob who is here with his usual self-deprecating charm, to play 1991 album 30 Something. I’m sure we would all have laughed at the time if we had been told that one day there would be moshers and stage-divers to one-man acoustic renditions of Carter classics and yet here we are and the crowd shouts back every word at their beloved suited and booted singer, whose witty puns and rapid fire one-liners are rejuvenated in their current stripped-back format. 

We forget that we are now in the early hours of Sunday morning, eager for more music, more memories. These now follow with the appearance of Niall O’Flaherty and his Sultans of Ping. Bedecked in pink-leopard print trousers, O’Flaherty prowls and stretches across the stage, acerbic and wittily sexual whilst his audience beckon back as one ‘Sultans, Sultans, Sultans’: University Lecturer by day (whilst internet surfing I come across a link to Rate Your Lecturer, which provides me with the following amusing comment from one star-struck student ‘I think he’s too attractive to be a lecturer, so it’s sometimes distracting during the lectures’); charismatic, pouting pop minstrel by night. It’s Saturday and we are all in love. 


After keeping to our word and managing to stay awake for (at least a) part of Steve Lamacq’s annual indie disco, we are up and ready for The Clone Roses’ appearance on Centre Stage at lunchtime. Cover bands are a welcome addition at Shiiine On and this Stone Roses tribute band, who I have somehow missed on previous years, go down remarkably well – the room is packed, we sing collectively and I have a tear in my eye during This Is The One: this after all, is a moment we have waited for all year.

I’m keen to see Jesus Jones on the Skyline Stage after their initial Shiiine On visit in 2016 which came just as they were emerging from a fifteen year hiatus. Having watched them in various venues since and marveling at the passion with which they perform, it’s wonderful to see the size of the crowd who have gathered here this afternoon and the band whip through their set with energy and enthusiasm, singer Mike Edwards lithe and virtually unchanged since the early ‘90s.

Early evening and the mood in the arena is electric, we know what’s coming. It is Stourbridge Sunday and the Holy Trinity of West Midland indie alternative bands are soon to take to the stage for a much anticipated event; the first time that the three giants of the era have appeared on the same line up: Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Shiiine On darlings, The Wonder Stuff.

I am biased and for any hyperbole I must apologize but these bands are my youth, icons of my formative years, the musical accompaniment to life’s ups and downs and this evening’s line-up is going to be hard to beat. Down at the front for PWEI as they storm through an electrifying performance of second album This is the Day, This is the Hour, This is This; I step back for Ned’s and watch the crowd around me, enjoying the atmosphere, the familiar refrain kicking in at the start of each track, as singer John Penney holds the stage: at last they are here and I doubt that this, their first Butlins visit, will be their last. I close my eyes for a few seconds; I can feel the energy and excitement around me and it is breath-taking.

Finally, it is time for The Wonder Stuff, who have appeared – in various guises, both as a band and in stripped back acoustic form with Miles Hunt alone – at every Shiiine On Weekender. Hunt reminds us that the band have just released their ninth studio album but sardonically assures us that we won’t be hearing any tracks from it tonight. He knows what his audience want to hear on this Sunday evening: drunk, tired and emotional, high on the adrenaline of three nights of musical memories, eager to shout and sing and dance away the evening while we can before real life creeps back in… and tonight we do all those things and the band are better than I think I have ever seen them. Mark ‘Gemini’ Twaite and Malc Treece are back and we again throw our arms in the air at the familiar refrain: ‘You know that I’ve been drunk a thousand times, and these should be the best days of my life’.

I feel as though the Skyline ceiling will lift right off, such is the reciprocal energy created between band and audience, the love we share for these performers, for the memories they have created over the years, for the mix-tapes and the club nights, the hotly-anticipated new albums, the tours and the lyrics we have sung along to in the car or shouted out, arms held high, at gigs and at festivals, stretching back through the years and bringing us to this point. All of these emotions, memories and connections are shared, by all of us, right here tonight by this band that we hold so dear and they can surely feel it too.

For of course, it is the audiences who help to make this night and the weekend so special; because after all, it is the people you meet along the way, fellow Indie music fans, arriving from all over, that are so key in making the Shiiine On experience unique. Looking back at my musings for Disarm after last year’s weekender, I am reminded of these moments and this year is no exception. 

Shortly after wandering into the Skyline Arena on Friday we encounter a friendly gang wearing Shiiine On Weekender Appreciation Society t-shirts, one of whom is Laura, who I would bump into various times over the following few days. Shortly after this, I find myself standing behind a guy I had chatted to (and mentioned here) on the same night, last year. We had spoken about our favourite bands – I had told him I had not heard The Rifles before, he had assured me that I would enjoy them, we met each other’s friends and all danced together. Like homing pigeons, we all have our favoured vantage points at gigs and it seems that he and I share the same one, for here he is again and remembering one another, I thank him for last year’s recommendation.

Here is the guy I similarly recognize from previous years for his ‘Until Sally I was never happy’ t-shirt – I spot him before the Clone Roses set on Sunday and we have a chat; my name, his t-shirt, the band: it all makes me smile. 

There is also my barrier companion during The Wonder Stuff who it turns out has never seen them before, brought along by his mates, now fully converted and vowing to acquire the back catalogue. We bond over the remarkable set we are witnessing, I laugh at his shock at how wonderful this band are, chastise him for never having seen them before, for having disparaged them and now, here he is, blown away and thanking me for sharing my joy with him – over thirty years on and these bands still have the power to garner new fans.

And there is first timer David from Amsterdam, via Brighton, attending with his Shiiine On veteran friends, who I get chatting to during Sultans of Ping. It turns out that we are both Wedding Present Fans and confess to one another that we have each seen this band more than any other; our murmured conversation about the Indie music we love and his kind words, make me smile when I need it. 

These and so many others, are the people who help to make this weekend special, who we connect with due to shared passions. They create the feeling of unity which brings out the goose bumps when you’re standing together, watching the performers you love, the musicians of your formative years; when you feel a tightening in your throat at the immense power that music has to transport you, the impact that the opening bars of a song can have, forcing you back to when you first heard it, all those years ago.

Thank you to all those people: to the ones I spoke to, those I danced next to and the ones who turned to me during our favourite bands’ choruses and belted the words out together – all of you make Shiiine On unique and just maybe, I’ll bump into you, stand next to you and sing along with you, again next year.

With thanks to Sally Hamilton for the words, Sally’s partner for the photos.  The Canadians WILL return for the 2020 installment.  Mark my words.


Music Travel Diaries: The Cure, Daydream, Pasadena & L.A.

By Jacqueline Howell. Photos by Dave MacIntyre with Jacqueline Howell.

In our new series about traveling for live music, we’ll discuss live music that forms the basis of our travel, feature in-depth or capsule live music reviews of shows and festivals and review these unique experience of travel done our way: off the beaten tourist path, loosely planned wherever possible, and with appreciation for local culture, flavours and random discovery.

Pasadena is an appealing L.A. suburb which is probably best known to outsiders for its Rose Bowl and for my generation, the site of Depeche Mode’s legendary 1989 concert / live album / concert film Depeche Mode 101. “Good Evening, Pasadena!” (shouted in our best Rock Star) was the defining theme of our months leading up to our first-ever trip to the West Coast. We could see that Pasadena seemed somewhat walkable (something we are used to at home and the great benefit of all safe, walkable cities) and had all the conveniences that make travelers comfortable and the transition easier, but with a too-easy familiarity that makes the need and effort to find “real culture” of a given city a more deliberate one. There’s Starbucks, as it often is, in strip malls and in satellite form at major hotel chains that are the same everywhere as a matter of branding. There are the chain restaurants that blanket the globe, and there are uniquely American ones, regional and California ones, and there are real places – mom and pop shops, diners, what we think of when we think of finding America. More on those later.

We visited for a short trip built, like most of our trips are, out of a combination of writing and photography and a very short vacation. In our loose plan to see at least one new festival in a new place once per year – which evolved this year to mean several trips including one especially to see The Cure in a new city / one-day festival of Robert Smith’s own design – the L.A. Pasadena trip was to be even more unique for us, combined with a reunion with an old friend from back home, and her daughter we’d not seen since she was small. All of us are big fans of the Cure and so the trip was planned as a reunion and celebration of all of these milestones, and for some, a correction of time too long away from live music.

For the day-job having music traveler on a budget, you find that you are naturally driven for reasons of time and economy away from the norms of international or even typical vacation travel. While conventional thinking (much of it leftover from an earlier time when trips were always thought of as once-in-a-lifetime, an almost aberration / lottery-win) would dictate that Canadians must do three weeks and propel themselves on fumes to conquer all of the U.K. and half of Europe (or not at all) or that a trip to California MUST include the brutally expensive and highly-specific sort of exhausting fun of Disneyland, Universal Studios, Star map tours, and the reportedly seedy & sketchy downtown stretches of the Hollywood Walk of Fame X 8 or 10 days, there is another way, a better way, for folks like us. Our kind of travel also allows for a moment of radical rock star weirdness to friends and co-workers who live differently. “You’re going to California? For FOUR DAYS?” That look alone is worth the jet lag. (Sorry to disappoint, but I have no answers for jet lag, and my jet lag is another story shared with me, one stoic traveling companion, sometimes passing strangers in random airports, and more intuitive Uber drivers.)

Pasadena Daydream was announced in April amid a steady stream of announcements from The Cure who’ve been on a beautiful 40th Anniversary buzz they’ve shared with their fans in far-flung & more expected places for the past year and a bit. The Cure lives outside of time, adhering only to the 40th in their fluid, spiderwebby way. Around now was the first time we played a gig as The Cure. This is close to the release date of that record or single. (A band races to play 10:15 Saturday night at that time). And, one feels in her bones, a number of quietly acknowledged and rarely spoken private milestones beheld like contents of a locket by one of the most romantic bands left alive, who thrive and are in their finest form in decades despite any of the ravages of life, or time.

During the second year of the anniversary period, The Cure is still on a beautiful, elegant, and quietly ass-kicking roll. They were always different, and they still are, now with the keys to their own kingdom. They produce their own music, on their own schedule. There will be a new album, sometime soon. When it’s ready. Hyde Park was a legendary day in July 2018, and it was made into a globally screened concert film by Tim Pope, which the whole world of Cure fans watched on the same day, as close as possible to the anniversary, of the anniversary show (you see?) We will always treasure that we were at Hyde Park in London last year with 60,000 others singing out loud, and this year, in the cinema reliving it (by kismet, no planning needed) with Toronto friends who also attended Hyde, who love and pursue Cure shows both at home and anywhere else they can afford to go.

When you start to indulge the strange little voice inside that beckons you forth to do offbeat, tourism-free, bursts of music-based travel, you get the nagging in your gut that often must be ignored (though Scotland seemed like the magical one, maybe) and occasionally is given into. You run, or pretend to run, on a clock and a map that is radically different than the one you were shown as a child. You listen to signs and invent the same, and so you have to use care with such invented mysticism and calls from the universe. Sometimes the universe seems to be shouting. Occasionally it warns you to stay home. It runs free of life’s ups and downs and the unforgiving inflexibility of airline commitments. It’s a bit of a risky way to live. But it’s living.

Due to traveling with friends who were getting their first passports, old friends who (along with myself) always liked to obsesses over details as a way to look forward, the plan for Pasadena was different than our other music trips as a couple and the simplicity of answering only to ourselves and our weird, self-invented photo-journalism ways. All spring, I indulged myself in endless hours looking at suitcases and backpacks (for carrying on as well as a festival day bag) and mapped out where IN-and-OUT Burger and Target were, only to end up with my old (fine) suitcase and in the end, missing ample chances to try the Double Burger with Animal-Style Fries. My friends joining us have less travel experience but are yet more focused, becoming able packers and clear pre-planners – with foreign airport transfers booked months ahead while I laze into my usual Uber mode.

The Pasadena / Daydream plan is the sort people need to get through a long, dark spring in the northern part of the world, where short days and inconsistent weather including snow, ice, sleet and cold rain feel like a seasonless purgatory for 8-5 workers. And it gets us through. My friend and I find each other late at night in chats that need only the same Cure gifs we overuse as private shorthand or a line of a song to set our tired hearts right. And we all feel romantic too – not that we’d ever admit it. New tattoos to mark the occasion are planned, and in some cases carried out. Some of us can just never decide, or should maybe stick to T-shirts. All summer, while The Cure snakes through Australia, Japan, and headline almost every major UK and European festival at a pace we can only marvel at, we stay close to home and look forward to the end of summer. Pasadena Daydream will mark the official end of a band’s summer season, and at the precise end of summer.

And so it unfolds.

Here are the most important and most romantic things I take from that trip, that was over planned for the good of our spirits and under executed due, in part to jet lag; that led us down magical roads of stardust while we never saw any hand prints in cement at all; and where the Hollywood sign was just a distant blur in the smoggy fog spotted from a freeway, captured in a photo I had to define as “alleged”.

Pasadena Daydream is a smaller, two stage, well-curated line up of bands who make sense together. The scale and scope of the thing is one that ought to, and I think will, set the new bar for what festivals in North America should be aiming for and a format that can be scaled logically within most budgets whether in rock clubs, city parks or stadiums. Look at what The Cure did, organizers in Canada and U.S., and even modest capabilities. We dream of being part of such new festivals here at home, where we truly need to embrace the very British “one-dayer” in all its perfection. It must be noted that the promoter / administration at the Pasadena venue (getting in during record high heat waves on melting tar) has been widely criticized by attendees, and rightly so. We’ve been to a lot of festivals – mostly, but not only at home – and never seen such disorganization, lack of signage or void of people in charge of making sure customers have the few arrows to what they need to enjoy themselves or be wrist-banded correctly to access areas, a gap in organization creating rough and avoidable situations for too many. Time is money, and too much of it is spent in lines, full stop, to enjoy the first half of the day. There are long lines everywhere, VIP seems oversold and inconvenient, and it becomes difficult to enjoy any of the day’s offerings besides the bands themselves. We’ve avoided complaining about festival logistics in the past, but the things we and others experience here are especially frustrating both as they are easily correctable and also because they serve to undermine the good aspects of the day and take some time to recover from (physically). Logistics like this do a disservice to the bands and the name atop this whole thing, something all of us fans are protective over and believe in unconditionally, too.

The festival occurring on two stages, on the other hand, is executed very effectively. Here, it’s apparent that the people in charge of this side of things are more than qualified. While the always excellent and tireless Twilight Sad has some frustrating sound problems during their set, most of the rest of the day goes smoothly, and while internet service is patchy, attendees and a few media-types are able to exclaim about the excellent time had, notably at the reunited Throwing Muses, who bring an impressively devoted draw who’ve waited for this as well as followed Kristen Hersh’s extensive solo work.

Unwilling to travel anymore, we settle for the rest of our day with views of the main stage, where Deftones, Pixies, and The Cure deliver lengthy, flawless performances and crowd positions are found and held onto for dear life. We work out an awkward, mobile-less field system of landmarking with our friends, knowing I sound like my father back in another century, but putting in the time so I can at least find my oldest friend doing her one of a kind dances to “Caterpillar Girl”, which she is. I think, then, and later, of my friend Craig, who once united three groups of us in the pitch dark in a mass of thousands with no landmarks at all but with blinding lights and pyro coming from a faraway Prodigy stage, somehow intuiting a certain garbage can and eyeballing metres like the skilled tradesman he is, working a miracle of boy scouting, helping Dave find us all the way back there from the photo pit where he shot his bucket list band while dancing compulsively. Such achievements are what help define these experiences, when the frustrations, the money splashed out, and the sunburn fades away. These little wins make us real, proud music people.

One can evaluate the success of a live show, in a certain sense, by the churn of the crowd. The churn is minimal on this beautiful evening, especially as the sun starts to relent and Pixies deliver a headline-worthy epic set of 25 songs. I say this as a Kim Deal / current day Breeders and early Pixies devotee, they kill it. “Wave of Mutilation” is still my anthem in my heart. Find me another such line that you can dance through a crowd so (obscenely) happily uttering aloud: (sung breezily, without a care in the world):

They think I’m dead, but I sail away…on a Wave of Mutilation….Wave of Mutilation….Wa-a-a-a-ve. Wa-a-a-ve.”

In moments like that, your enemies are more than just thousands of miles away and behind you. They are in another orbit, and you are free. The Cure, in their quietly vampiric-romantic fashion, through planning this day as they did, tonight honour their contemporaries, Pixies, with an almost co-headline length set. It has all been done, one thinks, to remind all who remember outside of time as we true music believers live, of the triumphant 1989 Prayer Tour, when Pixies opened for The Cure on their US dates through the shimmering, meteoric heat of the instantly iconic Disintegration. At home, people who forget or wish to believe that the best is behind us for alternative music (or for culture) circulate The Prayer Tour poster online for likes. But we are free of nostalgia. We are all here, tonight. In the hard-won moment. Despite health concerns, fear of travel, sadness and stresses waiting back home, or the constrains of money itself.

One of the only drawbacks of Hyde Park (like Bestival Toronto before that, when the sun had the bloody nerve to beat down on Robert, Simon, Roger, Reeves and Jason, each clad in defiant black and gravity immune hair) was that the time of early /midsummer they occurred meant our heroes had to appear before the earth turned to meet them at the appointed time of dusk-where-dark-falls within minutes. Magic hour. But tonight (as me and my friend obsessively figured out a month ahead of time) the fading season is at last ideal for The Cure to take the stage.

This is a band who needs no extravagance or welcomes-to-the-stage, but we are in the age of necessary high-calibre screens and we appreciate the attractive effects, and tonight for our first time live, we get to see these things done to full effect (reportedly Bestival Toronto in 2016 was an early test / debut for the new feature, one interrupted by weather and sound issues outdoors, as well as having a limited impact due to that infernal daylight). Everyone, now, standing at every corner of this large golf course-by-day, can enjoy some sort of view. Everyone gets the full show, even if getting close to the stage is just a myth for most of us who like to eat, drink, move and get merch. The Cure is perfect tonight, the set not unfamiliar to those of us who’ve imbibed to near-overdose all summer on the joy of official live streams and secreted BBC footage, watched and cheered from our homes in midday from across time zones with dregs of old wine in hand at solo parties before the triumphant shows in Sydney, Glastonbury, and Rock en Seine.

This is the capsule of emotions and memory I write post-show through jet lagged ( / panic attack) tears, for social media in a writer’s sleepless hours. I have learned to find the romance in life, all of life. It took me ages. We who found all this music long ago in the unromantic circumstances of young loves, follow the sounds of romantic music like a beacon. There can be no regrets. Enough of all that:

Trip comedown well underway, even while still here, as friends leaving early am. We’ll never forget you, Pasadena, your lovely warm people, The Cure’s music ringing as perfect & timeless as ever in the dark summer night, our special reunion with our dear friend & her beautiful daughter and your palm trees.

Nothing is perfect. Travel is hard. Nervous excitement is exhausting. Some caterpillars bite (true story) real, authentic Diners (and the people who understand real food) still exist. American people are good & full of heart, and almost every single local person we’ve met here has the kind of faces Tr*mp & co. would disgracefully target. Shocking. Real America will not be bowed by hate or politicking. We heard none, we felt none, we were in a safe place – while a part of my mind finally admitted much relief that no shots rang out, in a large gathering such as it was. Whether in range or in earshot, it would have destroyed me.

When your hotel room is positioned just like your childhood front doors were for 20 years with your friend you are seeing for the first time in a decade, it is a sign.

Home is in your hearts. Like love, Music is immune to time, age, trends, loss or polar ice caps melting. It is tribal, transcendent, primal, religious. There are 100 ways to enjoy a festival, none of them wrong. Many of them bumbling, costly, time-wasting. It’s OK. You were there. Your very own words brought your own new group of near strangers here, now. And nearby, swirling around you, are eight-year-old wild-eyed children playing hide-and-go-seek in the dark in the crowd during the music that defines your personhood, which makes you finally relax, ignore your programmed tension and be fully present, in that magic. That’s what you’ve been looking for since you were their age, and before, it seems. That’s what you will keep. A souvenir, worth all of it. All of it! Those kids are not a strange family of four like you thought but really total strangers who had become a gang for a moment in time (not) lost in the dark. They insist with their peals of laughter that they can’t hear inside their giant ear protector headsets, this music of their parents’ youth the backdrop to their own burgeoning lives, that your worries are but a sand trap, everything will go on and real life is organic, sustainable, innate, stubborn, messy and beautiful.

And through this trip and all the best laid plans I am reminded that kids often want nothing more than endless hours in a bathwater warm swimming pool in the endless sun. For we rarely get strong, endless sun in the north. A pool that is almost private. It’s never, ever warm as bathwater in our north. Teens are right to maximize their time in the sun and under the moon, they are banking it for the long Canadian winter not far enough ahead. They are pretty smart.

Here are the unplanned discoveries we made in Pasadena and our short time going through downtown LA en route to LAX:

ANDY’S COFFEE SHOP: 1234 East Colorado Blvd. Pasadena

Located on a quiet stretch of the old Route 66 that runs through Pasadena, we visited Andy’s twice for full, hearty, traveler-fueling breakfast, avoiding the hotel restaurant & fast food chains. This is a classic, authentic diner and a place where locals eat. The prices are reasonable and the menu is large, as are the servings, and the coffee is of course, bottomless, a detail almost forgotten in today’s climate. Andy’s offers all manner of classic diner fare and was the perfect place for morning after Huevos Rancheros. While the dish is a staple in the few diners that remain in our part of the world, Andy’s felt truly authentic, with style and fresh tortillas to spare. Like true diners and the best authentic eateries everywhere, Andy’s dining room and kitchen are run by long time restaurant pros who’ve worked together for a few decades. It felt like home.

CANTERBURY RECORDS. INC.: 805 East Colorado Blvd. Pasadena

A man who’s stayed with records through more than a few music format changes tells me without apology: “We don’t have T-shirts or any of that stuff.” I’m a hopeless tote bag collector and now slip mats have become an easy and useful souvenir, and they have none of this stuff for sale. We’ve stumbled onto this record shop, a real one. Two large rooms carry a wide inventory of original pressings and quite on point reissues from the range of genres only possible for older record collectors and surviving record stores. I’m drawn by a range of very inexpensive Christmas albums from earlier eras I’ve never seen, but we ultimately buy a handful of well-priced reissues to fill holes in our collection.

AMOEBA MUSIC: The World’s Largest Independent Record Store: 6400 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Obviously. Amoeba is a LA institution where you are as likely to find your favourite touring musician shopping as to find ways to spend all your money in minutes. The place defies description, and photos don’t do it justice. It overwhelms. It’s simply everything we miss and have almost entirely lost in the world, certainly in my hometown, and that cannot be replaced even if vinyl were to come back strong forever. It is an endlessly layered but organized hall of wonders, with added-on rooms opening up around corners and with all the old film and music posters for sale to the height of very high ceilings you’ve missed since they silently disappeared, a place chock full of memorabilia, rare out of print music books you didn’t know existed but you need urgently, T-Shirts, and music, music, music. Visit one of their three LA area locations while you can.

TREJO’S CANTINA:  1556 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles

Around the corner from Amoeba Records sits actor Danny Trejo’s joint, Trejo’s Cantina. Trejo has a few taco spots including one at LAX Terminal 1, as well as a coffee and donut business, and the Cantina has a delightful casual vibe and intimate atmosphere. Most importantly, the tacos are delicious, traditional, varied and you have no choice but to try one of everything and then try a few more. My favourite was the Carnitas, and Dave loved the Beef Barbacoa best. The O.G. Margarita is perfection. The servers are friendly and laid back (as should you be) and rumour has it that Trejo pops in pretty regularly and is happy to say hello tableside, as he did with us. You win some, and you lose some. The trip feels appropriately Hollywood. Trejo’s brand, simple, well made and utterly downtown L.A. is poised and perfect for wider expansion, and would surely be a hit worldwide. It would shake my hometown to its core.

Special mention: We made our first trip to Trader Joe’s, the amazing grocery store of that region, for supplies. The cashier happened to notice my partner’s T-shirt, featuring The Twilight Sad’s newest album cover art. She says, out of the blue, “I love your T-shirt. I always thought it looked like a picture of Robert and Mary Smith.” “Get out! Me too.” I say. She asks us what brings us to town “A festival at the Rose Bowl…” I say. “DON’T EVEN!” she cries. “I’m dying to go to that and I’m stuck working. My favourite bands!” Oh how I wish we could have brought Arin along. By the time our groceries are bagged, we’re hugging goodbye. This was the mood we found in Pasadena. Friendly, open, and pure.

Pro tip: Unlike where we’re from, Uber in L.A. sometimes subcontracts out calls to outside companies. This was a surprise to us on the low-speed chase to always, always, traffic snarled LAX, where our driver entertained, chatted, and used the politest techniques we’ve ever seen to get other drivers to co-operate, and because of him we got there instead of hitting the road shoulder in desperation like other travelers. As Uber is cashless and the tip is entered on the app, this type of driver deserves a proper cash-in-hand tip. On the upside he said he’s paid hourly, so maybe it works out well for them.

With thanks to my partner and my travel companions, all the nice people we met in L.A. and Pasadena and our fellow music fans, especially the one with “The Smith / “Smiths” Tshirts featuring the hero of that sunshine-y day.

Matty Fest at RBC Echo Beach: Stellar food, Legendary Music and Chill Late Summer Vibes

Who says summer is over? Not everyone runs on schedules based on the school year. Some of us follow the beat of music, searching for chances out-of-official season to hit beaches and enjoy the unique experience of outdoor music festivals for an extra hour, a day, or a few weeks. Some tireless souls even find a way to juggle both things.

In Toronto, RBC Echo Beach famously rolls that dice for a few weeks into late summer, the outdoor concert venue sitting adjacent to the Budweiser Stage and the water’s edge of Lake Ontario. Here, visitors from spring to fall get to feel the night breezes and an amped-up lake effect rarely found elsewhere in the city, where sounds bounce off high rises and music fans walk gamely through a street and off-road map that only locals and event-goers know, the shortcut of a lifetime of trips to or through Exhibition Place, and the streetcar crawl vs. walk internal debate of recent years’ traffic snarls, all of it worth the teenage nostalgia accomplished only by wandering around in the dark on the last fumes of a beer buzz in your home town.

Matty Fest sprung from Chef Matty Matheson’s parties in the Toronto basement of his iconic restaurant Parts and Labour.

A festival that is equal parts food and music (and Matty) this year’s Fest featured The Wu-Tang Clan’s 25th Anniversary, Descendents, Gogol Bordello, Danny Brown, and Toronto’s own METZ, as well as a roster of food offerings from Toronto’s varied restaurant world (and beyond). The line up has grown over the years, and in the city’s declining corporate festival scene, stands out this year as remarkably astute. Each of these artists is completely different, cutting across geographic boundaries, eras and genres, but somehow the effect is a cohesive whole. The cohesion today comes from quality of performers, execution of the event (details big and small) and keeping it as simple as possible. We are back to grassroots, and we need to rebuild in the model of Matty Fest (and recently suspended TURF and Field Trip as well.) Each of today’s artists are here to kill, and the crowds at the main stage lack the usual churn of other festivals. People in this crowd are here to stay and want to see it all, with their kids on their shoulders and their last days of summer, for the nights have already grown cold.

Matty Matheson takes the second stage for remarks late in the afternoon, before the big acts begin their sets. He is a shambolic delight, and among the ramble which gives us a chance to rest in some shade for a time, you should know that “this whole festival is brought to you by the brokenness inside of you” and his caveat: “I’m not a stand up com-goddamn-edian.” No, he’s a magician. Matty Fest 2019 quickly becomes a historic day and a fest to look forward to in future years.

Danny Brown shows what one man and his own urgent sounds can do, in the beating sun (all while, he says, working against the abundance of barbequed ribs “too much good food….they expect me to rap?!”) Brown’s laughter is infectious and one of a kind. He laughs “AHEE HEE HEE HEE…” and is the greatest sound. The mix tape phenomenon who emerged in 2010 still has all the fire he is famous for, BBQ notwithstanding.

Gogol Bordello entered the music world with something so strange and firmly outsider-ish, but was quickly embraced by the world with their musicality, spirit, raw energy, and intimate folky-ness that only seems apparent years after seeing them the first time (then, in a steaming, over-packed club). It is only now that we hear the fully realized phenomenon that they are the closest thing to The Clash we post-punk kids will ever know, and they are stunning. They come out today performing at notch “11” and never turn down the momentum, from “Start Wearing Purple” to “Alcohol” which feels like a gorgeous dirge for ones own spirit, to the only line I write down as if it was my own: “Letting my inner saboteur run loose!” In this set up, the outer edge of stage left turns out to be the only route in and out of backstage, and to see these colourful creatures pass by us to and from stage while everyone else is unaware of them becomes a highlight. You might not expect singer and dynamo Eugene Hilz to touch you gently on the back passing through the crowd politely, but he does, and so my night is made.

No well-rounded true festival bill is complete without at least one true punk legend. Descendents have it all, honed since 1977 California. We hear their influence down the years, in a range of sounds of almost any subsequent band who claimed the word punk.  Their songs are short, furious, and angsty.  Timeless. Headliners Wu-Tang Clan have the entire site flocking to the main stage as the night grows dark and cool. They start the show with three Wu-Tang related film trailers: now that’s a move. Their video, light show and eclectic soundbites create the biggest spectacle of the night, as the headliner is supposed to do. Most of the original members are in attendance, along with the son of the much missed Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and people hop fences from VIP to get into the mix as they oughtta do.

We sampled food from around the site which seemed to be a big draw with healthy lines everywhere and a great mellow accompaniment to a family friendly day of music in the perfect breezes of September by our too-often underutilized waterfront. Our favourites were a jambon sandwich from The Swan and an unbelievably satisfying crispy fried chicken sandwich from Five Point Hot Chicken which serves traditional Nashville hot chicken, beautifully spiced and seasoned (834 Bloor Street West). The Fest prioritized minimal packaging, less waste, and aimed to sell out of all food, rather than be stuck with unsellable food. Leftovers were planned as donations.

A popular choice was the boxed pizza from Maker seen carried across the site in boxes, an ideal option for sharing with families or groups. Matty Bucks made the day a fun, immersive and “CNE” like experience, as we had a budget to spend on food (having already stocked up on bucks) and so made sure we used our budget and ate, something sometimes forgotten in the journalist’s rush from photo pit to pit and between stages.

After a recent trip away that was a logistical mess from an event attendee perspective, Toronto’s norms seem refreshing and almost nurturing. After all, if you are going to splurge on painful big stadium prices for cold tall cans of beer, said can better be swimming in ice water in the Canadian fashion, and sold by ample vendors scattered across the site accepting both hard currency and plastic. Furthermore, this should all be accomplished without wasting time away from the music in long lines. The sellers at Echo Beach are efficient and yet friendly. They kindly point out the water refilling station behind you, for later (which are manned, a luxury).

Echo Beach is a wondrous site for smaller festivals, with its cozy layout and clear paths that make the visitor feel welcome and reduce disorientation. Not to sound like a bore, but you forget about niceties like clear and useful permanent or temporary signage (in a semi-unfamiliar place you might visit once a year) until you visit another place and find yourself wandering a foreign golf course, feeling like a written off stray golf ball in pursuit of a restroom (or the supposed to be clearly marked spot you’ll need later to find your friends when the wifi inevitably fails.) Time is money. Time is now set times, we all run on them like we are crew, once we learn the hard way after missing too many acts due to time mismanagement in best forgotten festivals prior. Time is precious in the fleeting hours of September summer, with threatening gray clouds today of a kind that have blown out past festivals at this fully outdoor venue, and here at Matty Fest every single one of us knows it. We look to the clouds like demi-gods ourselves, one baleful glance each, and they move aside, scattering a few drops at intervals but obeying our collective deep need for one more day like this, for once.

We are now in a world of at least three generations of families born after Rock and Roll, and the young families of Toronto who breathe music have their children used to the flow of such days already. It’s a new and beautiful era for music festivals. Where my era’s children had only the Santa Claus Parade or Firecracker day down at Kew Beach or historic forts as places to sit on their dad’s shoulders, today’s babies have the air traffic controller headsets in candy colours, the correct rock t-shirts and the roll-with-it ability that we strived for against our parents’ suburbias and normal dinner times as burgeoning punks and post-punks, once. Now, families define themselves, vacations are as varied as places on the map, and kids under 12 can attend festivals for free (whereas many rock gigs were and still are 19+ in Toronto.) It’s great to see. It’s great to know about, and you gotta get there next time you see a poster.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre and Jacqueline Howell


Danny Brown

Gogol Bordello


Wu-Tang Clan

Gigantic All Dayer Vol. 5 – May 25th, Manchester Academy

Back for its fifth outing on a drizzly Saturday in late May (well it is Manchester and it is a British bank holiday) comes the Gigantic All Dayer: a rollicking celebration of indie favourites from the 80s and 90s. Combine a clutch of bands, DJ sets courtesy of Pop Will Eat Itself’s Crabbi, ample real ale, and plenty of ageing indie kids eager to rediscover their youth and you have the perfect opportunity to step back to a more carefree time, if only for a day.

Jesus Jones – Phone pic by Gavin Morgan.

Placed early on the bill but filling the venue immediately, are electro-rock favourites Jesus Jones; Mike Edwards as lithe and energetic as ever, snappy in fitted shirt, instantly energizing the crowd with the collection of hits we’ve all been waiting for. Having released sixth album Passages in 2018, the band have been touring extensively – they played Brazil earlier this month – and are clearly energized by the enthusiastic early afternoon crowd.

“International Bright Young Thing” “Real Real Real”, “Who? Where? Why?”, and 1990’s “Right Here, Right Now”; the latter, an apposite choice for those of us Brits who are suffering from Brexit malaise and a sense of trepidation at what the future may bring. A song inspired by events across Eastern Europe in the late 80s and influenced by the band’s experiences whilst touring in Ceausescu’s Romania in 1989, it can’t help but feel like a warning to us all – thirty years later and the message of those optimistic youths still strikes a powerful chord.

Jim Bob – Phone pic by Gavin Morgan

Gigantic favourite Jim Bob, resplendent in sparkling jacket and red sunglasses to match his patent Doc Martens is here to rattle out Carter hits; accompanied solely by acoustic guitar and ready wit. The crowd love him and readily recite back a litany of quick-fire droll lyrics from the band’s back catalogue, echoing exuberantly: ‘in a bar Johnny drinks, Johnny drinks, Johnnie Walker’ as he launches into “Prince in a Pauper’s Grave”. We hear an amusing (and probably apocryphal) tale of band rivalries between Carter and The Bluetones, from back in the day when such stories shifted copies of NME and Melody Maker off the shelves; and as one we joyously chorus back the words to the band’s 1992 anthem to the outsider: ‘The gypsies, the travelers and the thieves, the good, the bad, the average and unique, the grebos the crusties and the goths and the only living boy in New Cross’.

The Bluetones – Phone pic by Gavin Morgan.

Next up, John Peel protégés, The Bluetones, with Mark Morriss rocking his own brand of devastating geography teacher chic. Having reformed in 2015 after a four year hiatus, the band have toured extensively as well as the continuation of Morriss’ solo outings. You only have to listen to them belt out such beloved indie-pop classics as “Bluetonic”, “Cut Some Rug”, and “Marblehead Johnson” to be reminded what a enchanting band The Bluetones are, providing confidently skillful musicians, incredibly catchy tunes, shrewdly self-deprecating lyrics and Morriss’ charismatic, ready wit. The latter’s onstage banter as ever charms his crowd, self-effacing asides lampoon the band’s heritage as being relegated to Heart FM radio fodder, as he mock-laments the releases that ‘no one’ bought. “Solomon Bites the Worm” and “Never Going Nowhere” are joyful reminders of a time when alternative indie-pop entered the mainstream and ruled the air waves, and the set comes to a powerful close with “If”, a wonderful sing-along crowd pleaser from second album Return to the Last Chance Saloon.

The Wonder Stuff – Phone pic by Gavin Morgan.

So, on to festival circuit favourites, The Wonder Stuff, with a new line up to join Miles and Erica and tie in with recording their next album: bringing back sorely-missed and much-loved Malc Treece on guitar with Pete Howard on drums and Mark Gemini Thwaite on bass. The anticipation in the room, fueled by beer and excitement, is clear and when Miles Hunt arrives, suited in 1940s style high-waisted trousers and natty braces, the room erupts with a roar. It feels unbelievable that it’s thirty years since Hup but this is a set of crowd-pleasing hits rather than an album outing and the band tap into the crowd’s energy perfectly, as “Mission Drive” commences the set. This is one of those special performances – the symbiotic relationship between band and audience causing the momentum to build with each song.We know every word, we anticipate the next track, stage and audience full of smiles, the atmosphere elated. ‘Donation’ sounds particularly vehement and scathing tonight and the crowd sings along to every word as ‘Ruby Horse’ leads into ‘A Wish Away’ and ‘Unbearable’, followed by a rambunctious outing of ‘Give Give Give..’ The superb set comes to a close as always with a fiery and powerful foot-stomping outing of ‘Ten Trenches Deep’; fast and furious, Erica’s violin scratching staccato sounds as the crowd stamp and clap their approval.

Echo & The Bunnymen – Phone pic by Gavin Morgan.

Tonight’s final act – I hesitate to say headliner, as in a sense all performers today bring equal weight to the bill – gives us Echo & The Bunnymen. Following Miles Hunt’s post-punk outfit was always going to be a big task for Ian McCulloch, hardly the most Echo & The BunnEchloquacious of frontmen. It takes a while (and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from the crew) for the band to appear and by this point the euphoric energy created by The Stuffies has dissipated somewhat, making me wonder at the prescience of the billing order. But Mac is in good form tonight, reassuring the crowd that he is in a ‘fantastically good mood’. There is a lot of rather incoherent mumbling and at times it feels as though we are watching a technical display of musicianship rather than a festival performance but nothing can deny the beauty of hearing these songs live – as fresh now as they were thirty, even forty, years ago. The crowd adore “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and “The Cutter”, and when Mac announces ‘this is the best song ever written’, we are treated to a tender rendition of “Killing Moon”, the band illuminated by a cerulean glow, dreamlike and Gothic; a perfect finale to a day which has united us once more in a shared love of what must surely matter most – the power that music holds to captivate and bring us joy.

Sally Hamilton

Shiiine On Weekender 2018

Shiiine On is the festival of a generation – such is the narcissism of youth that we all believe our movement to be ‘the best’, but given the popularity of 90s based music festivals such as Gigantic and Indie Daze, the reformation of so many much loved indie stalwart bands and the resurgence of the era’s fashions (not that I ever moved on much in that respect); those of us who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s could well be right in assuming that our time, really was the best time.

Shiiine on, a name which of course references the House of Love (who played this festival in 2016), taps successfully into that sense of passionate nostalgia we all feel; it unites us for a weekend every year (and more, if you include recent additions of the Hull-Amsterdam cruise and this year’s one day event in Birmingham). It gives us a chance to escape the daily grind, to feel at home among our people and to indulge in a bit of fairly (depending on the strength of your liver) harmless hedonism and indulgent reminiscence. The venues are a great size, offering a perfect selection of spaces to watch and dance to your favourite bands and now in its fourth year, Shiiine is still going strong.


It is 5:45 PM with people still arriving and the beer not yet fully flowing, when orchestral pop group My Life Story take to the stage – a slimmed-down version of the band, with five members rather than Jake Shillingford’s grand thirteen piece collective of old. This is a great choice for the Skyline Stage, although I do feel they could easily warrant a later slot further into the weekend. As ever, Jake is energetically flamboyant, snappy in checked suit and white boots, with high leg kicks and ostentatious mic stand acrobatics; rattling through the hits from 1993’s debut single “Girl A, Girl B, Boy C” through “King of Kissingdom”, “Sparkle” and the wonderfully acerbic “If You Can’t Live Without Me Then Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?” and culminating in live show favourite “12 Reasons Why I Love Her”, playing cards flung high into the crowd, our enthusiasm ignited for the weekend to come.

Next up, Sleeper (I shy away from the Britpop tag) – back on tour and in the studio after a nineteen year hiatus and with promise of a new album. Prolific in the mid-90s with eight top 40 singles, this witty band’s return feels apposite in a time of industry dominated generic female singers, for despite the famous t-shirt’s quip, this is not simply ‘another female fronted band’. Louise Wener, once so loved by teenage and 20-something men clearly (given some of the comments around me in the predominantly male audience) still lights a spark. Unencumbered by industry pressure, Wener appears less stylized these days, relaxed and feisty, full of smiles and moves, the band tight and enthusiastic. The spark lit by My Life Story has exploded and the Skyline arena is alive as we sing back at Wener our generation’s theme tunes: “Vegas’” “Inbetweener”, “What do I do now?” and “Sale of the Century’”

Tonight’s headline are Shiiine returners Shed Seven, amazingly twenty four years down the line but – with a new album out in 2017 – still very much on the scene. They always attract a large crowd here, with Rick Wittter’s sinewy snake-hipped dancing and a back catalogue of anthemic crowd pleasers. They may not be this reviewer’s first choice but they’re a great live band and perfect for tonight’s crowd.

This weekend however, is all about pacing and plenty of music takes place after the Skyline’s 10 PM curfew if you venture out to the other venues: Centre Stage, Jaks, Reds and Inn on the Green. Tonight Reds see Shiiine’s first outing for 1990s festival favourites anarcho-punk Back to the Planet, more Ska than I remember and great fun for those of us who like a bit of grunge with our dance. A quick peek at Mozza’s favourites, Bradford and it is off to bed, in preparation for day two.


It’s easy to forget that the Shiiine experience isn’t solely about live music and that daylight hours bring plenty of things to do other than sleeping off hangovers: there are the exhibitions (this year a fascinating selection of black and white prints by engaging NME photographer Pete Walsh) and a retrospective featuring grainy gig shots of iconic Baggy dance band Flowered Up, along with press cuttings and original posters. Then there are pub quizzes and an interview with Steve Harrison, manager of The Charlatans and founder of Dead Dead Good Records; not to mention the Pool Parties and Crazy Golf.

Whilst previous years have relegated Cud to the 1 AM slot upstairs at Centre Stage, this year they are promoted to the Skyline, playing the much more reasonable – and less inebriated – afternoon slot. As ever, their performance is one of perfect pop, “Purple Love Balloon” an explosion of fun to start off Saturday afternoon; Carl Puttnam’s jerky hip thrusts and wildly eccentric stage presence charming his crowd. Cud are a fantastic live band and their current tour of set lists chosen by their fans – Just The Good Ones – is testament to the value they place on their audience; here inviting one of their stalwart fans to join them on stage, with only the logistical issue of getting up there, precluding a full fan invasion.

I hadn’t been aware of The Rifles before the announcement of their Shiiine performance and had been slightly surprised at their inclusion on a bill advertised on the basis of being a predominantly 1990s based music festival. A large crowd had gathered and I am assured by the bunch of lads I get talking to at the front, that I wouldn’t be disappointed. They are right and I’m not. The Rifles are a good twenty five years younger as a band than the majority of performers here, having formed in 2006, but their fast-paced Indie rock style fits well with their cohorts and they’re one of those bands you suddenly realize that you do know after all.. “Local Boy”… ahh yes, that song, that’s a great track!

Next up are Black Grape: Shaun Ryder has played at every Shiiine in one form or another and this year he and Kermit are back, although sadly no Bez this time. Black Grape’s 2016 performance was slightly shambolic but tonight’s set is tight and perfect for the Saturday evening crowd. Ryder prowls the stage, Kermit ever-smiling and exuberant and the crowd sing ecstatically along to “In The Name of the Father” as well as tracks from 2017’s Pop Voodoo. Ryder and co are loved by the Shiiine audience: we grew up on Happy Mondays and the Hacienda; on the excesses and the colour; there is something incredibly heartening and joyful about seeing Ryder now, free from the demons of the 90s and his unique stage presence and remarkable back catalogue unite us once more.  We are the generation who only need to hear the opening notes to “Wrote for Luck” and “Step On” and we are doing crazy dancing, transported back to student discos and smoky clubs.

There are always plenty of bands to choose from at Shiiine and whilst this reviewer didn’t catch Skyline headliners Ocean Colour Scene, reports are of course, excellent.  Reds sees dancing into the small hours with the a Post-Punk line-up of Brix and the Extricated, The Godfathers and Chameleons Vox, culminating of course with Steve Lamacq’s annual indie disco. The beer is flowing, the floors are sticky.


Rise and shine campers! Finding the 11 AM pub quiz has been put back half an hour and all tables are full with eager competitors, we head over to Inn on the Green to see Uke2 play their usual late morning slot. They have become a bit of a Shiiine institution and after all, what’s not to love about three men playing versions of indie hits on ukuleles. The crowd sing along to Stone Roses and Oasis classics; yet again we are united by a love of great music and happy memories.

Lunchtime brings an early slot for Mark Morriss at Centre Stage, a solo slot this year after 2016’s Bluetones performance. Morriss is tired and hungover, asking the audience for Vitamin C tablets, dressed like a geography teacher and utterly charming. His deadpan, self-deprecating quips delight his crowd – a large gathering for the time of day, a fact which clearly astounds and pleases him – and the mixture of Bluetones classics and Morriss’ solo material provides the perfect antidote to a late night, easing us gently in to Sunday afternoon. Morriss’ set is one of the highlights of my weekend, his words and music both tender and invigorating and it would take a hard heart indeed not to laugh with a man who mocks his own moustache and references Absolute 90s whilst sending up his own band’s hits.

Heading over to Skyline, Deja Vega are playing their first set of the day. This band (another I had missed on previous years and was keen to discover) are a revelation, raw and loud, psychedelic and fiery, this three-piece make an incredible sound. I spot Miles Hunt watching from the back and he later name checks them during his set, noting that he needs to finish so that he can catch their second performance of the day – this is an exciting new act and I too am keen to hear more.

Next stop brings us a trip down rap-rock memory lane with Senser, a band redolent of festivals and squat parties, fueled by politically charged lyrics and heavy dance beats; “Age of Panic” and “Eject” going straight for the jugular with their still powerful lyrics: ‘propaganda written out on the pages daily, I see the system as it crumbles before me, I see the system as it dies’.

A quick return to the chalet (this weekend is brought to you fuelled by a lot of strong tea) and it’s out to catch Stereo MCs, a band highly anticipated by this reviewer after I re-fell in love with their high energy electro dance pop during their 2015 Shiiine appearance. Rob Birch is as lithe as ever in trademark baggy jeans and baseball cap and marvellous singer/dancers Cath Coffey and Aina Roxx bring the band bang up-to-date with their incredible style and irrepressible energy. This is a band you can’t help but dance to, the pace doesn’t let up and the hits flow – it could be easy to underestimate the impact this band has had, with their blend of hip-hop dance and electronica and my only regret is that they aren’t given a longer set.

However, the energy created by Birch is about to be harvested by Shiiine stalwarts Peter Hook and the Light, back for their third appearance and for whom an impressive crowd has gathered. Hooky seems to be on a constant tour and arrives in Butlins after a European jaunt culminating in Poland; but his band’s energy never seems to wane. We are treated to a crowd-pleasing selection of both Joy Division and New Order tracks with the former’s “Transmission”, “She’s Lost Control” and “Shadowplay” sounding as visceral and raw today as on those original recordings, now unbelievably almost forty years old. For this tour, Hooky’s son Jack Bates has been replaced by Yves Altana from Oscar’s Drum (Altana’s recent collaboration with Kitchens of Distinction’s Patrick Fitzgerald – a band who had originally been due to play at Shiiine – hopefully next time please). New Order fans of course get “True Faith” and “Blue Monday” as well as “Temptation” and “Ceremony’” Hooky in trademarked loose-limbed crouching pose, stalking from stage right to stage left, singing directly to his front row, the crowd bouncing high on the adrenaline created by the electrical charge of live music.

As final headliners, Orbital may have appeared to be an unusual choice for a weekend of guitar-based Indie dance and whilst the light show is undoubtedly top class, standing at the back, the vibe appears to be lacking. However, this is the kind of musical experience you need to throw yourself into and doing just that and heading down to the front, the atmosphere is electric, heavy bass beats, each track looping and morphing into the next; urging you to close your eyes, feel the music, lose yourself on this Sunday night.

And so to the weekend’s closing party, with Miles Hunt an inspired choice, this time bringing a solo acoustic set to those of us happy to stay up and sing along to a well-loved selection of Wonder Stuff classics. Hunt knows his crowd – acknowledging that this gang want to hear ‘the old ones’ and his Centre Stage crowd adoringly sing back every word, as we are taken back to the start with first Wonder Stuff singles “It’s not True” and “Unbearable” and so through thirty years of music by one of the most loved and iconic bands of the Indie scene. ‘Give give give, me more more more’ we yell back at our front man, smiles dimpling his face as he  gives us exactly what we are here for, giving us hope when he urges us to ‘have a word’ with the organizers for next year.

This festival is one which, maybe more than any other, truly unites bands and their music with their fans and is one where you just need to look around you, at the smiling faces and the happy crowds, to feel that connection. There are the lads I chat to before The Rifles, one laughing as he tells me ‘we’d never get on!’ when discovering that all the bands he loves, are ones I don’t, and so introduces me to his mate who shares my love of New Order and who has never seen Hooky play before. I am pleased when I later spot the same guy, catch Hooky’s t-shirt when hurled into the crowd and give it to his beaming, New Order loving mate. Then there is the guy who comes up to express jovial envy at my The The t-shirt on Friday night and the girls who tell me they are tired just watching me dance, at some point on Sunday evening, offering me their Fit Bit for a laugh. And there are all the smiling faces I notice when I glance around during a set, to see a crowd of like-minded individuals all singing the same line, to the same song, with the same joy.

This is the wondrous feeling of unity you get, the goose bumps emerging, when hundreds of people sing along with their musical hero as he utters those unforgettable words, the  anthem of a generation: ‘you know that I’ve been drunk a thousand times, but these should be the best days of my life’.

‘Life, it’s not what I thought it was’, but every year, for a weekend in November, it feels pretty much perfect.

Words by Sally Hamilton.  Videos by our friend and Shiiine family member, The Cobbie


Willie Nelson, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sturgill Simpson: Outlaws

Outlaw Music Festival

Sunday Sept 9th, Budweiser Stage, Toronto

With: Willie Nelson, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sturgill Simpson, and Terra Lightfoot.

By Jacqueline Howell, Photos by Dave MacIntyre

A full roster of a one-day music festival is slightly less full today as there are a couple of line up cancellations in the form of Willie Nelson’s two sons: Particle Kid (Micah Nelson) and Lukas Nelson + Promise of the Real, who elsewhere serves as Neil Young’s band (and are incredible.)

There’s some disappointment expressed by eager fans. Country music fans really know their artists, and many, who travel from far beyond the GTA for such an event, are here for all of it. Committed, loyal. These are becoming throwback values. The loss tonight becomes a different kind of benefit, perhaps, as Sturgill Simpson and Tedeschi Truck band both add layers and embellishments to their sets that make any quibbles go away. These artists are immersive and diverse and can roll with changes. A lot like the man at the head of this thing, the legendary Willie Nelson.

There’s no escaping for my generation that it’s a time for seeing legends and favourites while we can, and we are extraordinarily lucky to be able to see Willie perform at the age of 85, here at the best larger venue in town. The line up for Outlaw is well-thought out, even though different than the U.S. leg (which includes Van Morrison.)

Sturgill Simpson is here to stay. He’s a dynamic, fresh country and roots music player and delivers a stellar set which shows off his formidable range as a musician. Simpson, who has been correctly compared to Waylon Jennings, is regular fixture on the live music scene, and a highly memorable one.

A friendly couple sitting next to me gives me the rundown on Tedeschi Trucks Band which adds to the enjoyment of the exciting road show they bring. Working musicians with their own bands, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi met and decided to marry and form a band together. They weren’t going to fire anyone as part of this union, so they told all the members of both of their bands that they could stay on if they wanted to. The result is spectacular rather than cluttered: two well-oiled machines multiplies into an ever-growing system of musical life. There are fourteen people on stage wearing their talent with ease. Two drummers. A horn section. So many singers that take a moment to shine over the course of the show that it’s astounding, each different than the last, enhancing and playing off Tedeschi’s own honeyed, honest one. There is room for everyone, a real family, the ones some of us only dream of.

TTB, in demand all summer as the word has spread across North America about their three records and their live show, play for us a new song they’ve been breaking in on the road, called “Shame”. Here, shame, that heaviest of words, is taken out, faced, allowed to get air, attacked and conquered. It is revelatory. It is like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard, and as a writer who happens to be immersed in the sticky work of delivering a first book of personal coming-of-age writing, I’ve spent a lot of time with that word. The catharsis is real. Derek Trucks, a prodigious guitar player who cut his teeth with The Allman brothers (where his late uncle, Butch, a founding member, played drums) is astounding to watch, and the quiet, palpable chemistry between Derek and Susan as they play together or stand back to appreciate each other’s artistry is the most romantic thing I’ve seen in years. Obviously, my photographer and I are now fans for life.


Who but an icon could follow what we’ve just seen?

Willie Nelson takes the stage as darkness falls, and our eyes cannot believe it. It is surreal to see a figure you’ve looked at on record covers since childhood, that we associate with parents and grandparents, the old eras of sugarplum Christmases and memories of loved ones passed. He’s got Trigger, his fixture of a guitar, and we can see it’s worn through with love and untold strums and miles. The sight alone is enough to rock all of us who are first timers. Nelson had been quite ill earlier in the year, bouncing back, as reported by his family, once he had some rest in the dry heat, his wellness affirmed by the sounds of him picking up his guitar again. In short order, Willie Nelson throws his cowboy hat and a bandanna to the crowd and sheds his sweatshirt for a basic tour T-shirt, at his age, on a cold, windy waterfront, outdoor stage, because he’s an effortless bad-ass and always will be. He’s wiry, strong, and feels permanent. He is as he’s always been, seeming as if he’s among the last of something we’ll always need: braided, smiling, earthy, cool.

Nelson, who needs to thank nobody, gives a nod to Hank Williams with the classic “Jambalya (On the Bayou)” and his great friend Waylon Jennings with “Good Hearted Woman”. His own brand of outlaw-activism (and his continued cool with the youngsters) is represented by his lively songs “It’s All Going to Pot” (which is a song he originally did with the late great Merle Haggard) and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” which is good fun and a pretty great idea.

“Little Sister” Bobbie, who plays a mean piano, may be little, but she’s Nelson’s older sister at 87 years young. She’s been with Willie Nelson’s band, Family, since 1973 and has had a storied career in her own right. The audience is told that Bobbie Nelson has recently been inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame.

Willie Nelson’s band is that current day mix of family and younger guys who bring some new energy to the set up. They follow his lead as he meanders like a story teller, in and out of songs that he can blend together in his unique way. It is humbling to see the man who wrote Patsy Cline’s signature hit sing “Crazy”. It is awe-inspiring to hear the much covered, perfect, “You Were Always On My Mind”, a song most closely associated with Elvis, who we lost in 1977, be sung by the man who originated it, for us, tonight. Tears are shed, again. Tears for the lost, tears for the living, tears of gratitude. Here is a crowd not afraid of a little wild weather, behind us, a row of four elderly folks, each with canes, who are more connected to their music than most 30 year olds of today are or ever will be. There’s time for a tear for whatever will be for music, when we lose the last of the legends who are irreplaceable, who have few challengers with the stamina, talent and grit to do the leg work anymore. But we’ve seen some of them tonight. So we cheer and leave it at that.

The Cure’s 40th Anniversary Show at Hyde Park: A Night Like This

By Jacqueline Howell

The Cure’s 40th Anniversary show in Hyde Park was full of twists befitting the most original of bands. July 7th, will become extra-historic in a way no one could have predicted years ago; when Robert Smith routinely set targets to break up the band that never happened; in the new age of the band that has finally let itself cheer for itself in all its formations and eras, with room to grow with new members; or even when the Hyde Park show was announced at the end of 2017. No one who is here will ever forget the month-long heatwave in the U.K. leading up to the World Cup, or that on this, the same day of the Cure’s 40th Anniversary show, England reached the world cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990.

The days leading up to the long-awaited BST day of music featuring The Twilight Sad, Ride, Slowdive, Editors, Interpol, Goldfrapp, Lisa Hannigan, This Will Destroy You, and more, have been fraught with World Cup tension and hyper-focus. To some, nothing else has seemed to matter anymore but cheering from home or in a pub, midday Saturday. The Cure’s show goes on, of course, the energies of the many fandoms somehow becoming harmonious amid England’s win, the football-style chants that no doubt would have always lent themselves to Cure lyrics becoming only louder and more practiced. Kids in glitter cross the city in celebration of Pride, and the convergence of all these celebratory groups make the stifling hot Tube an entertainment all its own. This buoyant mood crossed with oppressive heat makes shade-loving kittens of everyone, any lion posturing soon melted away, creating a type of throwback little-kid harmony, our pre-A/C toughness replacing the modern need for Wi-Fi, personal space, and mod cons. The air is hot, but electric.

In the still-beating sun at Hyde, more than ten minutes ahead of the 8:20 start time, the shimmering notes of “Plainsong” begin to ripple across the crowd of 65,000. Many, deep in chatter, fail to notice the subtle notes. A few astute ones who were there in the years that “Plainsong” started every show (perfectly) hear it and set their geeking-out Canadian companions shrieking in defiance of the dust of lush grass gone to burnt hay. Here it comes, like a wave of joy and transcendence (take that lazy writers of years past with your too-short dictionaries. There is no gloom here. There is no cave. There rarely was. This is the greatest band of so many colours, moods, shades, who can write your wedding song and, yes, dirges when called to do so, who observe the world wryly and always from a safe distance lest they be lumped in with the enemy (groupthink, a mob, the corrupt, the cruel) who work harder than anyone and, yes, that applies to every word, every idea, every note, and every chord, to this very day, when they have nothing to prove to anyone but were and are vital and will never be anything less than full on.)

One of Robert Smith’s guitars, all of them simple, elegant, black, with personal messages affixed to them, says a message we’ve seen before: Citizens Not Subjects. Back on the amp that always is draped with the Reading Club flag is another subtle call to action: England Awake. This is the way of The Cure. They never scream or shout their activism or get embarrassingly political, (just as they never will sell out) but rather, win the day in this way. We are within earshot and sight line of Buckingham palace, with the flag up. The resistance is here; it is glowing, it is extreme-weather resistant and it is full of English vigour.

There will be 29 songs played tonight. They will cross most of the albums of the band’s extensive catalog and selections have to solve a larger puzzle: how does a band who sets records for show length & variety worldwide possibly come in under two hours on a public city park’s firm curfew, all while pleasing the fans, fulfilling their own wish list of the day and offering something different than the recent Meltdown gig? There’s also the little details: their dazzling, beautiful light show that works best at dusk or later; their visuals, which become a concert film, (an artform they innovated early on with Tim Pope, who, we hear later, is in the control booth, working on the upcoming and much longed for Cure Anniversary documentary) and other fine points we fans never need to worry about that fall together seamlessly only after endless hours of toil. No one needs to think about all this to enjoy being among the crowd at Hyde. But some of us do enjoy imagining systems, unseen teams, projects; the well of creativity that hides the grit under the glitter of great artists. There lies inspiration we hope to borrow from.

With a little over two hours to play, The Cure streamlines things, and they do this with subtle brilliance. There is a minimum of chatter until later on. There’s not (and never will be) any of the pomp and distraction of today’s popstars, with circuses of distraction and set building that hide the very slim show that can fit inside a match’s first half, at twice the price of this full day on three stages. Cure songs tonight flow into each other, the pauses minimal for the smallest thirst-quench or guitar change, the minutes budgeted. The visionary hand is evident. The care and attention to detail and love, even, is clear. And so, it goes.

A few stray notes: Burn – Has any original song in recent memory ever become so iconically linked to a film’s theme (The Crow) and yet remained so reflective of the band who made it? Rarely played, this song has become the latter-day entry point for the casual, soundtrack buying young fan to find their way into the best music community on earth where we dream crow black dreams.

It is melting hot. These are men, who, with the exception of Simon in his signature singlet (he’s wireless today and makes the most of it) dress in long sleeves and pants, smart, English. Reeves Gabrels doubles down against the heat in Rock and Rollers are too cool to feel the heat black velvet, worn casually. He has some beautiful guitar moments in “Never Enough”, and, while no longer the new guy, plays music for likely his first time live that matches the heart rhythms of many: “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and “Grinding Halt” are reportedly played for the fist time since 2011.

For those who like to cluck like mothers over the boys we’ve watched all our lives, there’s a bit of a Robert and Simon cuddle around the halfway point of the show that warms our hearts. This is a special day, after all. We fans start to think it is ours and then we realize it goes back to the hearts of boys in a gritty city south of London, long ago.

There are those in the crowd who want “the hits” and service is paid not because of the whiners but because they are great songs. They are fun songs. They are the only party songs many have ever loved. The occasion and the location, and maybe the current weight of the world these days, lead the show away from some of the depths Cure fans so enjoy swimming in. Robert Smith is a master, on album track arrangements and with set lists, of taking the crowd through mood journeys as day goes to dusk and then night, and so, for tonight, the band stays on a trail that is clearly marked. It is marked by The Cure’s own history-making epic, one that defined us all, a generation.

Photo by Rome Petricca

DISINTEGRATION, back in 1989, almost instantly went through a looking glass of its own majesty and resonance with the world, transforming an artist’s bleakness & despair into one of survival, a soundtrack for that of others, creating music for sadness and people who find the world hard, offering a side-effect free kind of anthemic permanence in the community of music appreciation.

Through bare honesty, contradiction and fearlessness (expressed as fear but made into art, and so, made fearless) the music of Disintegration transformed itself and was transformed by all who received it into a battle cry. Because we were there. Because we are still here.

Writers watch, for cues, the few great artists who can turn pain into transcendence. It’s rare, and spectacular. It’s mystical, something that aligns with the universe, resisting all negative messages that would tell someone in pain not to share this, air it, and let the light at it, to see if it helps the creator, or anyone else, get out from under it (and even, turn it around). This review will stay on the clearly marked path, too, but it behooves us all to be mindful of the darkness we’ve all felt encroaching friends, peers and loved ones today, that music grapples with so well, that we wish could have saved everyone we now miss.

It is increasingly clear to me as a student of this band that what The Cure means to this aching world is the very opposite of what Robert Smith sings about through the darker records we love to pieces and all through Disintegration. (It’s similar to a phenomenon occurring over decades with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.) The music that resonates with us deeply and widely transforms and is transformative, with no one immune to the unplanned effects. The title track is an exorcism of personal demons:

But I never said I would stay to the end
So I leave you with babies and hoping for frequency
Screaming like this in the hope of the secrecy
Screaming me over and over and over
I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery
Stains on the carpet and stains on the scenery
Songs about happiness murmured in dreams
When we both of us knew how the ending would be (Disintegration: The Cure)

A man on the verge of a turning-30 crisis, a particular type of artist crisis, wrote those words around the time he up and married the girl he’d loved since the age of fifteen (they are a very private couple and life-long loves.) He was worried, not psychic. He was feeling so low in himself, as outer quick fixes and self-medications and coping strategies clashing with inner ones in turmoil that, yet, somehow led to success and great music (but had not changed the pain of being in this world) and so, this Disintegration is apocalyptic, it threatens to burn it all to the ground. Fans in 1989 loved this artist like a friend, like a brother; they worried for him, they worried for themselves, for the world, and for the future. The artist and the fans got through it and past it and over it, we believe. We who are still here. Disintegration ultimately tells us that if we write it, worry it out and bravely release it from our hearts, we can change the result of depression, angst, anger, betrayal, anxiety, crisis. For we can. In art, music, and sharing, the pain does not eat at us, so much, lessening the pressure valve. The interior battle is not the same as the one we share with another, even in a fight, if there is love. If there is love still there at the other end of the row, we have learned something, we are closer. Love grows through tears as well as laughter. And the difference of a sad diary and venting to a friend is the difference of night and day, up and down, even life and death.

Disintegration. Robert Smith. The Cure. Leaving and dashing it all, quitting before you can fail, a cathartic explosion but – no. This was not how the ending would be.

This record, this band’s legacy since 1989, when they created an album that changed the world like no other of its time, is the opposite of disintegration. Here are just a few stories I know first hand, that Cure music has had a role in creating. No doubt others out there can echo these stories or add to them greatly:

There are now beautiful children in the world named Elise and Kiera named for this band. (There are no doubt also “Wendys”, “Roberts” and “Charlottes”.)

Youtube commenters regularly share with strangers their deepest feelings such as: “The Cure is like a vital organ for me; like my heart or lungs. Their music helps me remain alive.”

Old friends grown distant have reconnected (over not their more-sad-than-happy memories of youth but) through the shorthand of the music and this band, which helped them through rough times and also meant the best soundtrack made their young lives less painful. Their reconnection has meant supporting each other through projects and daily life again. This is the power of music that goes river deep, defying stats or figures or the reporter’s limited eye.

Friends make plans to meet locally, or even in foreign countries, like attaches to a state called music, for this band. Hyde Park was the site of many such meetings including our own. Others failed to meet due to the obstacles of life & technology but still gush to each other in passing about this once-in-a-lifetime shared experience. They danced to Boys Don’t Cry at a pop-up club in celebration of a man’s recovery, just last month, seventeen again, always, in music.

Experienced fans who’ve been lucky enough to see this band live numerous times find new layers and things to love in new settings, forming the backbone of new adventures. Their self-designed tours are Cure-coloured, but only The Cure or other true fans would ever decode this. These are cool girls with double lives as professionals. 

Multi-generational fans at Hyde Park include grown kids accompanying their Cure-loving dads, who’ve happily reached retirement age (and may that era be long and happy.)

People who were lonely and depressed kids who made it out and through quite openly and honestly credit Cure music for having had a positive, lasting effect on their lives. We are many. We are here.

A woman in her 40s who lives in the UK, incredibly, seeing her favourite band for the first time at Hyde Park, speaks to a stranger, is not asked why this is so but instead is simply told “I’m so glad you’re here now, with us.” Her eyes saucer-wide, she grabs the stranger’s arms, saying “I’m fourteen again.” She is told: “We all are. So are they (the band).”

People who’ve always been at the same gigs in big cities lately have gone analog, making friends like we used to, through the currency we always trusted as kids pre-technology: music taste. T-Shirts. A nod in the pub when the right vinyl is spun. The vinyl is sometimes ours, and dates to the early 1980s and includes reissues of played-out copies that will never be thrown away.

A resistant friend comes back from vacation asking to borrow Disintegration having come around to it scoring his own lengthy trip through Thailand, his eyes wide and evangelical, as his friends nod sagely. He finally needed it, and it was there, and now we talk about it, it forms a shorthand.

When you are happy, celebrating your own milestones and anniversaries and out of the woods, you spin Disintegration joyously, like at the end of a scary movie in the cool dark. Your heart has only ever beat one way, in melancholia. And that’s OK, as long as you are supported and able to seek support to carry on. Disintegration will always be your jam. It comforts, it lifts, it lets you breathe, snarl and growl, safely.

This show is not only historic and perfect, buoyant well-paced fun, it is a party in the park in a heatwave off a historic football result, the masses swaying, strangers with all kinds of accents familial and kitten as cats.

Hyde Park’s concert closes with a true surprise. With fans not knowing when or how, exactly, things will end, The Cure reveals what they’ve been budgeting for: they whirl through a 10 song encore, including rapid fire quick early singles, a moment I can pretend is just for me, the girl who fell headlong into Standing on a Beach: The Singles, at 14: “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”, “Grinding Halt” (nice pairing) and finally, where it all started, “Killing An Arab”. You can move to these songs, as illustrated by the never-still Simon Gallup and most of over 50 thousand bodies, and these songs are historic, which is why we’re here today, but these songs resonate more and more with time, making subtle but important arguments about life and culture, issues, preoccupations and concerns that affect all people. Boys do/must/should cry: let it out and let us hold you. Sing it out and pick up a guitar and write it to us. Avoid bandwagons, think for yourself, beware of trends and mobs, be you. And think philosophically about what you are told: politics, war, the other, presumed threats, enemies, remembering that we are all the same. People, the other, the stranger, too. You can dance to this. You can cry to it. You can heal to it. You can write a thesis on it. You can name your movie after it, or even, your child, the next generation, permanence, legacy, love itself, walking around out there, bending the world, no doubt. What The Cure is, is eternal, healing, recovery, integration, catharsis, and love.

Robert Smith closes the triumphant show with a few important words.

“It’s thanks to everyone around me that I’m still here.”


“This last bunch of songs is for everyone who’s still here and journeyed with us. I’m glad you could make it. So thank you very much.”

And this is the truth of The Cure:

And when I see you happy as a girl
That swims in a works of magic show
It makes me bite my fingers through
To think I could’ve let you go

And when I see you
Take the same sweet steps
You used to take
I say I’ll keep on holding you
My arms so tight
I’ll never let you slip away

(The Cure: High – Wish)

The Cure at 40 and the Importance of Anniversaries

The news came out of the early morning bleakness of a day last December: The Cure’s announcement that they would mark their 40th Anniversary with a one-off, mid-summer show in London, supported by a roster of boldface and emerging bands. Essentially, this would be a one-dayer, a mini-festival. Time waits for no man. The Cure was throwing themselves, in the presence of all who love them and could fit in the space they’d booked, their own damn birthday party.

It’s easy to forget anniversaries and birthdays when you’re not a kid anymore. We put the younger ones first, we don’t like to think about our age or the things we did or didn’t do, and age begins to carry attendant worry about the future: ours, those we love, the planet,  the boiler. And we’ve become a woefully anxious culture: overloaded with information good bad and ugly; bombarded with disasters, tragedies and violence we are told is essential news coming minute after minute, mistakenly deciding that our mobiles are both safe and necessary to take into bed with us. These ever-glowing rectangles look like a light in the darkness but also bring the opposite of comfort; they buzz with unease and dread, and so does humanity in 2018.

Celebration has always been important, but it’s the very first thing to go when you are tired, ill or lonely. Birthdays and anniversaries are, more than any other occasion, intricately linked with families or the people we share the day with (or ever did.) And so, these occasions are often fraught, dicey, heavy with all of that Christmas-like import, ever-ringing with the presence or absence of key people. Anniversaries are deeply emotional. They are not always for joyous things.

Which brings us to The Cure in 2018, the most interesting and misunderstood band in the world, who’ve patiently waited for the mainstream media to assess them correctly, then, like cool kids always do, shrugged and remade the world for themselves.

The Cure has always resisted and weathered all of the easy, awkward near-eulogizing that might befall a band who’s stuck it out through the ocean of time. One trusts they will always refuse the OBE, the knighthood, as has been clearly promised to us who raise our fists to such ideas. Other Cure anniversaries have come and gone, Robert Smith marking time and movements his own way; mounting massive world tours with stunning regularity; trying to get to us all here and there scattered to the four winds, many of us very far from the U.K. Some quiet recognition has been paid to record store days and The Cure’s occasional reissues, done with a care by the author himself that reflects careful planning and some private, elegant romanticism. (Over here we just call that Robert Smith Day, which fell on his birthday this year. We’re taking credit.) With honorariums like the NME God-Like Genius award, Robert Smith came around to it with his expected, quiet calm, and long after others have leaped for it like untrained dogs at table. This award was presented by Tim Burton, recognized worldwide as the world’s most famous Cure superfan, who’s worn the Cure high-hair with pride since we first heard of him, and who’s imbued his best characters and filmic words with respectful and loving flourishes that are Cure-coloured, sweeping, and heartwarming. Edward Scissorhands comes to mind, Burton’s sweetest artistic statement.

This is the world of The Cure as they’ve crossed milestone anniversaries before, as we know it in the public eye. Fans have grown up with it, or aged alongside a trajectory that is original, never predictable and has not embarrassed anyone. Rather, The Cure are ambivalent, carry made-up superstitions and talismans, probably, like all the self-made do. They don’t even always do what they say they are going to do, like quit with regularity (when our collective love would not let them down the years) when they dodged disasters and when they found, inside, their own Camus-like invincible summer in the depths of winter that is life at the end of a century and the start of a new millennium. The Cure will not, we can sigh with relief, looking around at their so-called peers, now or ever, be locked in amber, be feted by a room full of stiffs in penguin suits, or allow their concerts to be just for reptilian money men while fans wait by the bus all day. Oh, they could do all this and it would be none of my business, because being The Cure, they would still, somehow, be cool about it all, no doubt with one eye on some private greater good: an important charitable cause. Quietly funding indie radio. Mentoring younger bands who themselves have been grinding for years in near-obscurity from places just adjacent to the bigger musical maps, maps that have gotten careless in the hands of others who didn’t always do music their own way. The Cure have much to celebrate, and so do we who’ve flown their flag since we knew how.

40 may be the most neglected of all the anniversaries, a number which starkly few marriages reach, and sadly, even many lives. 40 is a perfect time to reflect, a turning point, the new 50, the new 25: at their 25th, our giants were as yet, taken for granted, the music world endless and the future brighter-seeming, the mid-90s full of optimism for my generation. 40 years of The Cure comes after a difficult few years in music, art, culture and public life, not to mention world affairs and politics, in which a lot of good people have been taken down too soon, whether friends, role models, artists we thought defied time, space and gravity, men in their prime, or innocent children. These are the difficult truths we grapple with today. If 40, for a person, is mid-life, at least, then I’m on the wrong side of it, and every choice and day has to matter more. This knowledge is hard-won. We survivors take it in and say we’ll make it so, live each day like it could be our last but it’s harder to do in practice. For this, we need to have occasions.

I am among the many coming from places far from London to celebrate the Cure’s 40th year next week. Many of us have made traveling for music our primary sort of vacation, many save and scrimp to do such things. Others have never had the chance to see a Cure show, or ever left their home cities, and even after 40 years we see these comments online regularly: “it’s my dream to see them one day”. This is astounding. How lucky we’ve been, in big cities. This truth informs the occasion for those of us able to travel or who have been visited by our legendary, still performing at top form, bands like The Cure (an increasing rarity). For most of us, there is no silly nostalgia to the proceedings, for we are making new memories, having adventures, getting out, seeing or making friends. Not lonely, there and then. Not thinking about inevitability, darkness, gloom, the things the lazy critics tried to pin this band as, once. All of us who love The Cure know that they are simpatico with us, consolation, friendship, uplift, relief from the actual gloom of the world as it feels today /at 40. Music steers us through hard times. The occasion of travel within the occasion of music performance is not selfied, will not be written about accurately, and is not explainable to those who don’t get it or want to know. It is just deeply felt inside, in the cells and marrow. It is gothic, ahistoric, permanent. It defies currencies and sleep deficits. It is always worthwhile, always successful. It is happy. I’ve long maintained, my thesis growing with the seasons, that music, especially in the real world if you can get it, is therapeutic, anti-depressant, holistic, and healing. I am one such case. So is my partner. So are my friends.

Happily, Robert Smith has marked the Cure’s 40th anniversary in several ways. He’s curated this year’s Meltdown Festival season in London, writing personal letters to a wish list of important bands who’ve happily obliged. There’s next week’s day of music at Hyde Park featuring The Cure, Slowdive, Ride, The Twilight Sad, Editors, Interpol, Goldfrapp, all still creating new music and back on the road that needs them sorely in the current landscape. There are many others on three stages. This news was an early Christmas present to fans, and it sold out in days. The astute who nabbed tickets have been quietly cheering and planning ever since. There’s a documentary in the works being created by longtime Cure video director – collaborator Tim Pope, which, whenever it is ready, will unpack a treasure trove of unseen memorabilia & memories from the world’s most low key romantic artist who gets that life is a gift and we must look back and forward to live. This project will be a literal gift to all those fans who’ve wanted more, more, more for decades, who wore out their VHS copies of The Cure in Orange, and who would simply like a document to wave at the nostalgists who missed the memo: that music and life never stood still, that all good bands are on their own trajectory free of silly memes and polls, that it happened in a blink, like our youth, but, also, that is still happening, if you pay close attention and stay present.

There was, also at the end of the year, some tantalizing merchandise sold by The Cure which fans looked at like runes, for clues: a touque with the original Cure logo on it, and The Top-era artwork! A wall calendar (the first to grace our home in decades that was not free from a realtor) that includes every significant date in the band’s release history (they are fond of early summer releases, ahead of those many summer tours that shaped our youthful days) and every birthday of every member past and present, right up to the new guy. These iconic photographs celebrate every era and line up of the band, reflecting posters and bootleg flags we used to buy in incense-ridden shops, downtown, in another life. This stuff is celebration, humble, cool and free of hexes. A throwback. The old, gorgeous, hair closer to god pictures that were, frankly, intimidatingly cool, are now, in the patina of decades, simply celebratory, factual, not wishful or wistful. Daring, perfect, remember-whens for us all. There is love, clearly, for everyone who shaped this story since 1977. 40 years later, all of fans are clearly not consumers, kids on faraway shores in nowhere towns kicking rocks. We are, instead, part of a big, beautiful fabric, a shared vision, a rare love. There is energy, vibes, and signs. We are a team.

Anniversaries are a time to say to us all love yourself, as hard as it is sometimes, then, now, tomorrow. They round up the family, the progeny, the adoptees, the witnesses. Witnessing is so important to ritual and celebration. So, know that you are important and needed. The fabric of time and space depends on you. Remember that ripple when David Bowie left? That we all felt? It was shocking. Even the kids who knew him first as The Goblin King in Labyrinth felt it. We all make a ripple, we all are on this continuum, together. Think about butterfly effects. Think about how you didn’t understand your love for elders until they were gone, but still, they got old, at least. So should you and me and Robert Smith. Think about a note in the dark, to a friend you haven’t seen in a long decade but one who knew you since you were a child, when you were both unmarked, without a single scar. Now that’s the power of social media. The rest can be set aside when it threatens to lay us low. Breathe, get outside. Blast some music that is timeless. Remember that you have to leave the house to see people, and be seen, to get a change of scene and a change of mind. I’m talking to you, the person reading this. Celebrate your anniversary, your birth, your life. And travel for things you love, even if the budget means that’s down to the pub or the coffee shop. Do it today.


Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre

Check out our BST Hyde Park playlist below:

Field Trip 2018

Back for its sixth year, Field Trip again proved that it is Toronto’s most laid back, welcoming weekend for music lovers, foodies and families, as the festival spread out across the grassy, comfortable grounds of Fort York and Garrison Common this weekend.

In contrast to bad trends which have spread to Canada from south of the border, Field Trip is known for offering quality over quantity, visitor experience over the endless queues and tensions of bloated festivals, and music artist curation is done with care.

This year’s headliners and boldest names were three-quarters female led: Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Alvvays, (rounded out with a rousing set by Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley) and a special mention must go to our great discovery of the weekend, Middle Kids, visiting from Australia and with a not-insignificant crowd turn out of people who knew the words.

In recent years, Fort York has been the centrally located go-to location for the city’s outdoor music festivals of that just-right size and mix. It feels as if this new chapter for the historical site was an innovation of Field Trip’s organizers themselves (this year including Arts & Crafts and partners Live Nation.) Later this summer The National will bring a mini-fest mood of their own to the site. Toronto Urban Roots Fest (TURF) enjoyed several seasons there. Fort York feels like a field trip, the actual site of school trips of our Toronto upbringing. Now, the muskets are mercifully silent and replaced with music, an outdoor kids’ daycamp, and more diverse food trucks than you can count. VIBE is something suggested, even promised, by music festivals everywhere, a thing that is specific and conditional and harder to create in real life than in glossy teaser trailers. At Field Trip, good vibes are achieved through some kind of throwback civility, enabled by the luxury of the open space, the lack of crowding, the possibility to picnic. It’s something we’ve forgotten, gotten away from. It means that community can really happen like it used to as a matter of course in this city, when we all went outside for the summer, made for the beach and the parks and stayed there til it got dark, cold or rained.

Field Trip’s two big stages had a pop up day camp in the middle space between these areas, with the whole outside of the site bordered by food trucks and discreet vendors. A large hula hoop field emerged delightfully on one field, with a bouncy slide on the other. Saturday’s weather was as idyllic as it ever gets, with no bugs yet, summer highs and trees for enough shade to make everyone comfortable. Sight lines were possible anywhere, and the devoted had the barriers covered all weekend giving them front row access.


For us the weekend’s overall triumph was our own Metric, a band who emerged out of the same post-2000s Indie Pop moment as Sunday’s brilliant headliner, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Metric’s career trajectory has seen them evolve from insightful social criticism and catchy hooks (and great riffs) to a more electronic direction on Synthetica (2012) and Pagans in Vegas (2015). Saturday’s Metric show, their first of this year, was well planned with an eye to reflection on the band’s personal story. Metric is at a point in their career that they can start to take a long view, and have such a strong body of work that they can curate a set list full of crowd-pleasers without coming close to exhausting their discography. Canada so rarely lets original, strong, weird bands push through at the level Metric has done building their sound since their emergence in 2001. As teased on Twitter, Fantasies, Metric’s 2009 fourth album, was played in full (as we all grapple with the reality that 2009 is now a throwback, but as tech and social media has made time untraceable and slippery, it is). Fantasies, Metric’s biggest record, was the perfect thing for this crowd of all ages fans. “Stadium Love” was built to be a stadium killer, a field transformer, a bid for just what this band had long deserved to be. And it is. It’s a wild, woolly, and weird musing on society, on music, on competition, survival and how we are all just creatures fighting for place and purpose. No one’s getting out (without Stadium Love). It’s that beautiful moment of music you wait for for half a decade: that kind of song that is written about frustration and sadness and is transformed into an anthem that chases away the very shadows it hints at. It is big, our world-stage worthy anthem that would be understood anywhere crowds assemble on the planet. “Help, I’m Alive” is as good as ever. The pressing question of “Gimme Sympathy” is still food for thought: “who would you rather be? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” (and we never can be sure how the band would answer this, a myriad question that depends very much on a listener’s deepest attachments to their own formative music (or their parents’). “Gold Guns Girls” is still prescient in a time of bombardment of U.S. violence, abuses of power and the hopelessness around mass shootings and gun control. Metric writes from the position of the border kid, the seventies child, who’s kept one eye on that border all our lives, trying to understand how American we are, or aren’t. What we share, and don’t. What is a border, anyway? And what is ours, unique, our critical (pose) detachment, our Canadianness. Our music, our culture. “Breathing Underwater” was full of poignancy, catching us off guard this time around. These catch-in-the-throat moments always occur at great shows, sometimes on cue, and sometimes at unexpected moments. And Metric’s lyrics always start from simple, clean poetics and leave room to breathe, to think and to be inspired.

In the biggest news of the festival, Metric also debuted two brand new songs in the back half of the set, which seamlessly manage to merge their latest albums with the Metric of 2009 and before. These songs sound like Metric, who are are real rock and rollers, and it also sounds like progress. (We believe the songs may be called “Dark Saturday” and “Now or Never”.) These songs were incredible. The show was rounded out with “Black Sheep”, “Youth Without Youth”, “Breathing Underwater” and “On a Slow Night”. Metric had the whole field in the palm of their hand, Emily Haines moving from side to side, two keyboards then to a side-stage mic, and doing more with a tambourine than seems possible. Her words in between songs were full of gratitude, reflection and encouragement, and the whole mood was the perfect ending to a Saturday we won’t ever forget.


The two stages were easy to bounce between, so Field Trippers could conceivably get to at least some of each of the shows. (In between, a lively set in the kids’ area kept us further entertained with renditions of The Fresh Prince and the Ghostbusters theme.) Damien Marley’s set perfectly captured the last of Saturday’s sunshine both musically and literally. The Barr Brothers were energetic and enjoyable. Japandroids took the blame for the Vancouver-like rain that came in Sunday afternoon (but was not enough to ruin their great, humidity defying set.) Sets by Deer Tick, Alvvays, and Jacob Banks were among our top picks as well.

The other big story of Field Trip was the set by Middle Kids, here from Sydney, Australia. They told us they were jet-lagged but you’d never know it. It was love at first listen. Hannah Joy’s vocal is an original talent, but one that makes us think of our beloved Tanya Donelly, and a few other great rock women who come along about once a decade. Feeling like the last to know, we moved closer to the stage and started trying to learn the songs. Each one was full, big, bright and shiny. We’re now fans.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs were high on our list as one band we’ve always liked but have just kept missing. They feature heavily in Meet Me in the Bathroom, the 2017 book by Lizzie Goodman about the New York garage punk revival scene of the early 2000s, so they’ve been on our minds. “M.A.P.S.” was one of those crazy juggernaut songs that comes like a bolt of the blue and just enters your heart and stays there, and all who love it have played it countless times, so hearing that ringing guitar live was a very rare thrill. Karen O told the Toronto crowd that it’s about and for the person who broke your heart so bad you wanted to die, and it’s about the person you love more than the whole world. (Sometimes that’s the same person.) And as Karen O is now a mother, like many members of her audience, the song is even for moms and their babies. Why the hell not? It’s YYYs show. Their rules. At one point in the show, Karen O disappears from the stage only to walk the length of the front row barrier putting the mic before her fans to sing. All obey on cue, except one guy who shouts “I love you!”. Did O throw one of her bedazzled garments into the crowd?  We can’t be sure.

“Heads Will Roll”, the YYYs’ perfect foray into dance music, was a fantastic club hit, and still is. It sounded electric. Nearby where we stood watching, kids sat atop their dad’s shoulders, others sat in trees like wild things, and the best of the bunch started dancing for their lives at what was possibly their first music festival. But maybe not. Maybe they’ve been coming here all their lives, in a fine new family tradition for old Fort York, very different from field trips of another time. “Heads Will Roll” is another anomaly, like “Stadium Love”: it talks about the best / most brutal ideas; (we all want to shout imperialistically from time to time “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” ) but takes anger and whips it into a great goddamn all ages party. And this Field Trip is one for the ages.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Jacqueline Howell and Dave MacIntyre


Yeah Yeah Yeahs



Damian “Jr Gong” Marley

Middle Kids

Deer Tick


Allan Rayman

Jacob Banks

The Barr Brothers


The Killers: Two-Star Towns, Glastonbury 2017 & The Future

The Killers / Facebook
The Killers / Facebook

Brandon Flowers may be the most nostalgic world-famous musician in the game today. He’s also the most determined, the most game and the best equipped to do something about it, as 13 years of The Killers’ impressive & diverse output has shown.

The new surprise single from the Las Vegas quartet just hit the scene mid-June. The “scene”, here, is a scattershot, byzantine world of mainstream press, surviving radio, indie blogs, faux-indie blogs, and fans who situate themselves astride all of this noise as authority figures (and often are). Oh yes, yes, the VICTIMS are rising up from their slumber. For, in the current age, with old media (and what we optimistically called “new media” for a bit) disappearing “like sinking ships”, with social media forming the new site of hype but also, real grass-roots growth, the fans who’ve stuck by their TV shows and their bands for a decade or two now have longer and deeper knowledge bases and more context than most of what exists online. Just like our most attentive, focused musicians do.

Continue reading “The Killers: Two-Star Towns, Glastonbury 2017 & The Future”

%d bloggers like this: