Live at Leeds in the Park @Temple Newsam (Leeds): Review

Live At Leeds – a more-than-quaint one-dayer to open up the festival season with a range of acts spanning the indie and pop spectrum.

I would be lying if I said the main reason I wanted to go wasn’t the premise of sitting on a sunny hillside with a beer at the nostalgic Temple Newsam site – a place my parents frequently took me when I was young for welly walks and messy ice creams. This year, I didn’t get the sun I wanted, but the ice creams, beer, and plenty of walking up and down hills came through.

Oh, and the music.

Temple Newsam is a pleasant splash of greenery and wilding just outside Leeds’ city limits. A huge manor house stands on a hill and overlooks part of a historic farm and a forest in the valley below. That long weekend, the hills of the valley were home to not only Live At Leeds, but Slam Dunk North (the following day) – both run by promotion company Futuresound.

A 20-minute drive away, upcoming artists played venues across Leeds City Centre for the festival’s ‘In The City’ event, but we attended Live At Leeds ‘In The Park’ to catch some of our long-time favourites, such as Sea Girls and Declan Mckenna, on the bigger stages.

After parking up and trudging down the hill, past the manor house and the farm and into the festival site, we ran up to the first of the four stages – ‘Big Top’ – which overlooked the whole event from its highest point (hence the name), towards the sounds of smashing drums.

Sprints (Big Top Stage)

“We’re from Dublin and we’re your new favourite band,” shouted Karla Chubb, vocalist of Sprints, as their guitarist cut off the tailing feedback, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a punk band at what I thought was going to be an event full of indie lad bands. “We make a lot of noise – it’s our favourite thing to do.”  Towards the end of a high-energy set of stomping and swinging guitars, both guitarists crouched down to mess with their pedalboards until the wailing of feedback morphed into pulsing and distorted growls, and Chubb spoke to the crowd: “It is a subtle suffocation…” and I realise it’s another song. The band’s energy changed into a dark feminist brooding and had me hooked. The song built and built with Chubb’s angry lyricism at its centre, before Sprints exploded into motion again and Chubb leapt into the crowd – a flash of orange dyed hair among raincoats and bucket hats.

Walking out from under the tent and back into the grey Leeds day, me and Courtney looked at each other and both said: “That was a good start!”

Baby Queen (Main Stage)

On our way to the other side of the festival grounds, skirting around a ring of food vendors at its centre, we stopped in view of the main stage from which a brooding synth bass signalled the next artist. Three members of Baby Queen’s band stepped into view, dressed in casual hoodies and sportswear, and the drummer began smashing the shit out of the drum kit. The baby queen herself appeared to cheers from a notably younger crowd, and they burst into bopping, attitude-rich alt-pop music typical of what I might somewhat ignorantly describe as being ‘big on TikTok’. In reality, I recognised the catchy tune of Baby Queen’s most popular song – Dover Beach – which was only the first “Oh, I know that one!” moment of the weekend.

A short trek down the hill to perhaps the quietest corner of the festival grounds revealed a run down to the DIY stage – the smallest stage of the event, but by no means the least notable. A number of watchers sat about on blankets and coats, enjoying the view from various heights of the steady incline – a muddy Yorkshire amphitheatre.

Waiting for the next act, we spotted Henry Camamile and Rory Young of Sea Girls who would play later that evening, and we grabbed a quick photo with them – Henry remembering us from last summer when we bumped into the band outside their Tramlines dressing room.

Flowerovlove (DIY Stage)

In a short dress and shiny black heels, Flowerovlove came dressed for the weather she wanted – her nonchalant attitude could have fooled me into believing it was the height of summer. With a set including a unilaterally welcomed cover of Abba’s Dancing Queen and tracks with titles like ‘Hannah Montana’ and ‘BOYS’, Flowerovlove presented a pleasent mix of lo-fi pop and groovy RnB. I couldn’t take my eyes off her drummer, though, whose gospel chops and fluid fills gave every song an energy lift.

Nestled somewhere behind the Big Top stage, strategically positioned so sound-bleed would be caught and corralled by the hills, sat ‘The Temple’ – competing with Big Top for the second largest spot. Strangely, the left side of the stage had to compensate for a dip in the ground where the hill began to fall away, and so anyone stood close to it ended up nearly a full storey lower than those on its right side.

The Mysterines (The Temple Stage)

Them being from Liverpool, and myself being based in Manchester, The Mysterines is a name I have heard bounced around frequently, so naturally they were a top pick for us to catch. With their grungy alternative rock vibe, they brought a scattering of grit to an event heavily targeted at pop and indie fans. With a modern sensibility, their guitar rock was layered with electronic percussion and synth waves, and one of the guitarists artistically produced a violin bow in a move many a guitarist (myself included) has failed to make work. Vocalist Lia Metcalfe waxed iconic in an ominous stare towards the horizon through black sunglasses. At one point, a tambourine was tossed playfully into the air; at another, an old radio mic appeared. The Mysterines’ music was not devoid of energy, but the band consigned themselves to standing and looking cool.

Dodging between wafts of sweet cider and the various welcoming smells of the usual food vendor suspects – chips, pizza, chips on pizza (we were certainly in Yorkshire) – I kept my feet moving by venturing back to the press area. To get there, I had to slip through the VIP section, of which I was allowed into as part of my press role. If you aren’t familiar, many festivals now offer a VIP upgrade which brings with it various benefits in exchange for a higher ticket price – in Live at Leeds’ case, fancier food vendors, a separate bar and benches to sit at. Waiting for my phone to charge, I grabbed a stacked vegan burger that could have been prepared in a Manchester City Centre bar, and for a similar price, and took a break. There were also some bean bags to sit on but they were popular and always taken so I can’t report back on them, unfortunately.

The Slow Readers Club (The Temple Stage)

Another big name in Manchester, The Slow Readers Club are iconic for their electro post-punk sound, and to that end they didn’t disappoint. Each song was like a ballad written to the track of a dark disco nightclub. Arpeggiated synths rippled and panned left and right, and the guitar mimicked them, adding an extra layer of delay and grit to bring forward an ambient and immersive production. Aaron Starkie spat poetry over an ensemble that should have been thriving in a grimy basement stage rather than under Leeds’ grey sky. I loved it, nonetheless. At Lay Your Troubles On Me, Courtney turned to me referencing an earlier conversation we’d had – “You know those songs that you have an emotional connection to and can’t explain its significance to anyone? This is one of those songs…”

Melanie C (Main Stage)

We missed White Lies, a band I have previously (positively) reviewed for other publications, because Courtney’s mum wanted a video of Melanie C … and I enjoyed the former Spice Girl’s set more than I want to admit. In a classic case of ‘big artist tries to revitalise their previous career’, I’m sad to say the majority of the audience didn’t seem super energetic for Sporty Spice’s new original music, and with titles like ‘Never Be The Same Again’ and ‘Who Am I’, I couldn’t help but feel the theme was a little on the nose. The positives: she had a small backing ensemble consisting of a keys-synth player with a military-grade rig of various keyboards, pads and laptops, and a guy who switched between acoustic drums and a guitar, and even brought out a cajon to literally nobody else’s humorous delight but mine.

Melanie’s energy was unrivalled – she threw herself into those songs. The real shift came when she launched into not one … not two, but three Spice Girls songs back-to-back, and the excitement spread like wildfire. Courtney dragged me past music fans old and young into the middle of the crowd to get her iconic crowdshot, as hands were suddenly in the air and voices were raised.

Sea Girls (Main Stage)

In stark contrast to the incognito-mode, low-key outfit he wore to blend into the DIY Stage crowd earlier, Henry Camamile walked out to a sea of cheers wearing a red velvet jumpsuit. Sea Girls, with their brand of upbeat-yet-sensitive indie pop rock are a band I always have time for. I’ve seen them play several times are venues of varying sizes, and I think the festival stage is their perfect place. As ever, Sea Girls brought their energy and catchy lead lines to a crowd still reeling from the previous performance – “From Spice Girls to Sea Girls,” Henry said. “Are you ready for another rock song?” It didn’t take long for the audience to warm back up.

Seb Lowe (The Hype Stage)

Seb Lowe was my most anticipated act of the day. If you’re anything like me, you will have seen his viral TikTok and Instagram videos in which he poetically reels off the many failings the UK’s Tory government has subject its people to since it rose to power in 2010. Seb has an ironic cadence that dips into the performative and condescending Tory posh-speech, and his lyrics are contrastingly critical. To anyone outside of the UK, Seb’s lyrics might not strike the same nerve as it does to myself and many other lefties sick of our country’s poor policies – so yes, this was exciting to me; exciting to see an artist go beyond the usual indie lad party tunes and instead bring something substantial to the metaphorical musical parliament. Crammed into perhaps the smallest stage of the event, under a white tarp tent, Seb Lowe’s band of fancily dressed instrumentalists brandished cream-gold guitars, pocket handkerchiefs and a corset to complete the aesthetic.

Seb’s political-folk performance was as engaging and riling as I expected and wanted. Beyond being a raving lyrical genius himself, his band were equally exceptional, the standouts being his rock drummer playing in a traditional grip and nailing the unique formula with every stroke, and his violinist, to who a lady in the audience shouted: “Violin lady, we love you!”

Declan McKenna (Main Stage)

Declan McKenna really surprised me. This was a theme for the festival as a whole, but I think Declan McKenna’s penultimate main stage set made the day one to remember. His set was not the middle-of-the-road indie rock band set that I expected. Having not listened to his music but seeing it rising in popularity, I had a pessimistic expectation in my head. What I got instead was a full production of groovy, funky psyche-rock/pop that kept the whole crowd moving from start to finish. Declan himself appears as a low-key, somewhat nerdy, young guy with corduroy pants and a beige shirt and tie, and yet he is backed by a rock band. I think this is awesome. His charisma is a driving force behind his playful melodies and his interactions with the rest of the band, who strike a balance between instrumental class and pop song marketability in a way that says: “We know what we’re goddamn doing.” For instance, the drummer appeared to play the entire set based on a book of sheet music, which checks out after Declan introduced him to the audience as it being his first show in the band. The set culminated with the iconic track ‘British Bombs’, which Courtney informed me was Declan McKenna’s typical big way of ending. To the backdrop of statistics about war crimes committed in Yemen, Declan screams the following:

“It’s a total fucking whitewash, for the people that we might squash. Ammo from home soil, set sail for wherever got oil this time.”

If you’re surprised to read that based on your preconceptions of indie-darling Declan McKenna, you’re not alone. These lyrics hit especially hard at a time when the UK is responsible for arms sales to a country halfway across the world committing a colonial genocide against an oppressed, non-white people.

At this, Declan pulled his shirt off and jumped into the photo pit. He disappeared into the crowd as the band ripped the stage’s roof off, and I spotted him tearing a hole in a fence to get back to the stage’s rear-entrance. He then reappeared, reprimanded a tambourine and punched the drummer’s chimes. All in all, a great and enjoyable performance, and contender for my favourite of the day.

The Kooks (Main Stage Headliner)

Frankly, I’m not that bothered for The Kooks. I get it – they’re a decently big indie band, I’ve heard them on the radio, and they’re a safe pick for a festival headliner primarily targeted at young adults who like upbeat party music. I am not the target audience of their set. I enjoyed the wholesome energy frontman Luke Pritchard brought to the show and his humble voicings to the audience – “This is really amazing, thanks so much for being here, to all of you.” I’m sold on the fact they seem like good guys playing good guy music, and to me, that is a fine choice for a festival headliner. That’s all I really have to say.

The Roundup

Live at Leeds exceeded my expectations. Growing up in the city of Leeds as the festival rose to prominence, I pictured a cast of boys with guitars smoking weed and playing really boring, overdone music in the wake of Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines. I’m proud that my home city has such a strong, vibrant and varied music scene, even with events like Leeds Festival becoming more commercialised and favoured by mainstream artists. Leeds was where my love for music first began, and I hope it continues to be a garden for many other young northern artists – with festivals like Live at Leeds, I think it has a good chance. Courtney and I had a great time, in spite of the torrential rain that finally loosed itself upon us during The Kooks’ set, and we will certainly be back next year should circumstances be permitted.

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Photos: Courtney Turner

About Tom Farley-Hills

Writer, journalist and musician - I create professional content by day and enjoy music by night. I don't restrict myself based on genre and approach every track with a fresh eye. I like to cover relevant issues and music that pushes the boat out. Artists of all shapes and sizes welcome!
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