Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Gig Review: Level Up Festival 2018 Day One at the New Cross Inn 20/7/18

Way back in October of 2017 Emma and I were attending Lightyear's comeback show at the Garage in London. After Lightyear showing that they are still one of the greatest live bands ever we were on our way out of the venue and bumped into Paul from Be Sharp Promotions, part of the team that puts on Level Up Festival at the New Cross Inn. During our brief chat he mentioned and gave us the world exclusive that Lightyear and Random Hand (who hadn't actually announced their comeback at the time) would be playing 2018's Level Up Festival. Can you imagine how exciting that was to hear but also not be able to tell anyone?!

As the months went by the festival was announced properly, again co-promoted by Paul and Mike Smith of Be Sharp Promotions, Chris Fishlock of Fishlock Promotions and Jason Berden of El Topo Bookings and my excitement just grew and grew with every band announcement. For a genre that is supposedly dead, there sure is a huge amount of brilliant ska punk bands in the UK. Soon enough the complete line up was revealed and I was completely staggered by just how good it was. Every time I ventured to the New Cross Inn, the home of Level Up Festival, I'd look at the poster trying to work out which day was best and never be able to make up my mind. That's very impressive booking, that is. Level Up Festival consisted of twenty-eight different bands over three days. It began on Friday the 19th of July, easing us in with just four acts. I was on my own for this show as Emma was off seeing The Gaslight Anthem play The ’59 Sound in full at the Hammersmith Apollo across the other side of London. Not to worry though as this was the New Cross Inn where everyone is friends with everyone so I wouldn't really be by myself.

The band tasked with opening the entire weekend was Bedfordshire act Easydread. I've seen this seven piece a few times over the past eighteen months but this would be the first time that it wouldn't be in the Bedford/Milton Keynes area and I was interested to see how a non-local crowd would take to them. Very, very well is the answer to that. Every time I see Easydread I'm more and more impressed by them and it was clear that the rest of the quickly filling up New Cross Inn were as well. It did not take long at all for the skanking to commence, something that would happily continue for the entire weekend, and I quickly found myself joining in and soon found myself to be quite out of breath as well. As with the last couple of Easydread sets I've seen, they played half a set of new unreleased songs as well as some of the most skankable tracks such as Cross Hatched Line, The Wake Of You and Scrotes. I also have to mention that on one of the new tracks, which I've forgotten the name of, Easydread perform an incredible three part harmony that I absolutely loved. Easydread opened up Level Up 2018 in some style!

I decided to hang out towards the side of the stage for the next act – Millie Manders And The Shut Up. Partly to try and pace myself and partly because this was a band I had never seen before and wanted to be able to really take in the set. During the set Millie announced that this was a fairly new line up for The Shut Up with the band's guitarist and bass player both only just recently joining the band - not that I would have noticed as they played a fast paced and energetic set. It featured a handful of older songs such as Bacchus and Teddy that were great but I was most impressed by the newer songs that will be on the recently funded by a Kickstarter campaign EP that is due be released soon. Manders is an incredible live performer. Oozing charisma as she dances around the stage and at one point in the crowd, it's hard not to be completely captivated by her performance. I'm also really amazed that all of her dancing doesn't seem to affect her singing in the slightest. For my money she has the strongest set of pipes of anyone performing at Level Up and it was a pleasure to hear her sing live backed by her brilliant band.

The first night of Level Up felt like it was being co-headlined by some legends from the genre of ska and reggae. First up were New York godfathers of ska punk The Toasters. I think I can quite comfortably say that without The Toasters Level Up Festival probably wouldn't be a thing as the whole movement of third wave ska began with The Toasters. Obviously after all these years it's a much changed line up to the original and it's basically now Robert "Bucket" Hingly touring with session musicians. This however did not make a single difference to the magic of the set. I've seen The Toasters a few time now and every single time I've been blown away by just how good they are - whatever the line up! A big part of this is due to the quality of the songs with the band playing so many classics from throughout their history. It wasn't long before I found myself skanking away like I was five years younger and had the energy of a fit and healthy person. Not a thirty two year old with a coca-cola gut and a metal rod in his leg. By the time they'd finished playing, I found myself covered in sweat but with the biggest smile on my face after dancing and singing along to classics such as Thrill Me Up, East Side Beat, Weekend In LA, Pirate Radio, Two Tone Army and, of course, Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down. Every time I see The Toasters live I'm always reminded just what a great band they are and just how many classics they have. This was a wonderful time and well worthy of being a headline set. And we still had more to come! But first and most importantly I had to go outside and cool down!

After a bit of a rest and some lovely chatting with some of the fine folk attending Level Up, I made my way back into the New Cross Inn for the final act of the night – Dave Hillyard & The Rocksteady Seven. As a member of the popular ska band The Slackers, Dave Hillyard has been to the UK on many occasions but this was his first time with The Rocksteady Seven despite the fact that they have been a band for twenty years. This was, in a way, a history making event and was something quite special to be a part of. This is where I have to admit that I'm only familiar with the few Rocksteady Seven songs that had come up on my Level Up Festival playlist I'd made before the festival. This did not hinder my enjoyment of the set at all though as I stood at the back of the crowd just mesmerised by the band on stage. Whether they played instrumental tracks or were joined on stage by singer Sean Wheeler, they just had a magnetism about them. They played their own brand of ska and reggae from new album, The Giver, as well as plenty of songs from their back catalogue to an adoring crowd at the New Cross. This set was such a contrast from last year's Friday night headliner, The Filaments, but I think it was the perfect way to end the opening night of the festival. It eased us all in as well as getting us into full on party mode for the rest of the weekend that was going to be an insane amount of fun.

That was night one in the bag and I was now really looking forward to the rest of the weekend!

This gig review was written by Colin Clark.

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