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Fort Rox Mini-Festival


ImageAt the last minute the schedule clears and I'm down in Brighton for the first Fort Rox Mini-Festival at Newhaven Fort - actually a few miles down the coast from Brighton, but, trust me, you wouldn't want to spend too much time in Newhaven, a run-down port. Still, the venue - a fort built in the 1860s - is pleasantly odd and as the occasion is curated by the endlessly inventive British Sea Power a good time is reasonably guaranteed and with seven bands for a tenner it's excellent value, even though we're too late for the first band.


We arrive during the Radiohead inspired nurdlings of Jacob's Stories a chap on keyboards and a woman sawing at a violin. It's uninspiring and just serves to gives us time for a wander around the fort and we're inspecting Airfix models of bombers in the shop when a huge, attractive noise summons us back to the stage. It's local band, Charlottefield and they're great. Very loud, with a powerful rhythm section (the drummer looks like a younger version of environmentalist David Bellamy, with a huge bristling beard) and guitarists who have clearly been practising, they build up post-Mogwai type noise (albeit with some inaudible vocals) into structures which are occasionally thrilling to listen to. They are at least the equal of Camden Crawl faves 65 Days of Static from back in April, and this is turning into a golden year for noise bands.


The Research are a complete contrast. They line up as follows. Stage left, Georgia, an Amazonian woman bassist with black hair, kohl and long boots. Stage right, Sally, a demure blonde woman in white dress behind a primitive drum kit. And between them a man called Russell who may be the worst-dressed man in rock. This is something I'm not usually bothered about but the mix of grotesque brown and cream cardigan, green trainers and dreadful blue baseball cap with fair hair sticking out from everywhere is just too much visual stimulus. Russell plays a battered keyboard on his lap while sitting uneasily on a dodgy yellow stool which has 'The Disaster' written on the back. He is an engaging host thopughand introduces the songs in a way which almost makes you forgive what he's wearing. There's songs about doomed relationships and lost love, driven by the cheesy keyboard, with the women trilling in a 60s vocal harmony style. It treads a fine line between charming and twee but it's difficult not to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least this afternoon.


ImageNext up are My Latest Novel from Greenock. A five piece, who occasionally employ all standing members singing in a line, they immediately impress with a song which ends with the female violinist / keyboardist talking over the lyrics. 'When we Were Wolves' finds them singing the title over and over until it becomes a mantra. Each song brings something different to the table, often going off into unexpected territory and bringing to mind Belle & Sebastian, Sons and Daughters, The Arcade Fire and half the bands that I'll see at the Green Man Festival next week. Genuinely interesting.


Star of the day, on stage at least - there were some contenders in the crowd it had to be said - is Liela, the lead singer of The DukeSpirit. With long blonde hair, a crushed blue velvet jacket and medallion anda stage presence similar to, well Debbie Harry or thingy from Curve (a friend mentions Toyah, but I slap him down) it's only after two songs that I realise there's a band with her. Not that they're worth paying that much attention to mind as the music is fairly samey rock with one song merging with the next. So back to Liela. 30 minutes pass pleasantly.


This is the first time I've seen British Sea Power for a couple of years but nothing has really changed. The songs are familiar - Remember Me, Spirit of St Louis, Fear of Drowning - and there's a big bear at the end lumbering around the stage in the final wig-out. No on-stage foliage mind, although a few members of the audience have gathered some to wave at the band. It is, as usual, all fairly anti-climatic, the music seeming one-dimensional and dull against the sublimity of the concept. I want something that references the setting, the inter-set use of wartime songs but it's as if someone else has made that stuff up. Live, they're just a rock band. They remain something of an enigma to me.


Author: Keith Knight