The International Pop Overthrow Festivals are usually held in North America and later in the year there are festivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The only city to host the IPO in Europe has been Liverpool and this year’s festival, its fourth, has been the biggest and the best yet. It is an excellent testimony to the collaboration and trust between the organiser, the fittingly-named David Bash, and the Cavern management of Bill Heckle and Dave Jones. Still, enough of the compliments, you want to hear about the music.
I love going to the IPO as the promise of new songs is a pleasant change from the relentless diet of tribute and cover bands. However, I was disappointed last year as too many acts were cranking the amps up to 10 and shouting rather than singing to create an effect. That’s okay from time to time, but not for a whole evening’s entertainment. This time I found that, much to my relief, melodic pop was back in a big way.
During the course of six days, 140 acts played on the front and back Cavern stages, the Cavern pub and Lennon’s bar and I caught 40 of them. Here are my Top 10 highlights and we invite you to submit your own favourites. If you weren’t there or want to know more about the acts, most of them have webpages with downloads on myspace.com.
(1) JOHNNY LLOYD ROLLINS (Dallas)
The new Cavern is deeper than the old one and so you usually cannot hear the music from the top of the stairs, but you can at the Cavern pub, which is about as deep as the old Cavern. A wonderfully exciting and vibrant sound hit me as I walked into Mathew Street and I descended to see who was making it. The pub was full and the singer was Johnny Lloyd Rollins from Dallas with his musicians. His rocking ‘Miss Sugar Pie’ was a Mystery Train for the Noughties.
Johnny Lloyd Rollins was playing with the excitement of a young Bruce Springsteen and all his songs combined a strong melody with an intriguing lyric. He wrote about an old whorehouse in ‘Sulphur Springs Midnight Scatt’ and talked about aging with his partner in ‘One Day At A Time’. His torrent of words in ‘Bipolar Bear Blues’ resembled Springsteen’s love of language: I wanted to hear the song again to discover more about it.
Nobody had heard of Johnny Lloyd Rollins, but the audience loved everything he was doing. There were music fans who wanted to hear new acts, other IPO performers, goodtime Bank Holiday drinkers and a bunch of people dressed as cartoon characters! Johnny’s rapport called for split-second timing. This was a performer who oozed confidence and could excel in any situation.
That evening I invited him onto my BBC Radio Merseyside show, ‘On The Beat’, and he was equally impressive in an acoustic setting. Indeed, it brought out the flexibility and expressiveness in his voice. Although Johnny had a homemade CD, ‘Let’s Be Poor Together’, for sale, he is making his first album proper in the next few weeks and providing nothing goes wrong, it should establish him as an important new name.
Johnny Lloyd Rollins was my festival highlight by a very, very long way. I felt like Brian Epstein must have felt when he entered the Cavern that lunchtime on 9 November 1961. Admittedly, Eppy must have been even more excited than me because he offered to manage the Beatles. Remember the name, Johnny Lloyd Rollins: it’s a mouthful but once you remember it, you won’t forget it.
(2) THE LEN PRICE 3 (Medway)
The key influences for this year’s IPO bands have been the Who, the Small Faces and the Jam, and the band that embraced them most successfully was the Len Price 3. Wearing striped, mod T-shirts, the powerhouse trio performed a very energetic set with most of the songs coming from their album, ‘Chinese Burn’. Glenn Page danced amongst the audience with his guitar and included a Chuck Berry duckwalk. I loved their impassioned tribute to ‘Amsterdam’ with its opening line, “I’m a short bloke in a mac on the streets of Amsterdam.”
(3) THE INNOCENTS (Tasmania)
In the late 70s, the Tasmanian group, the Innocents, created their bright Power Pop sounds in Australia and now they have reformed and released a new album, ‘Pop Factory’, in the same tradition. They presented a sparkling set, full of jangling guitars and razor-sharp harmonies: it was rather like hearing the Searchers performing unfamiliar material. Their 1977 single, ‘I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way’ was magical; ‘The B-side’ was clever and funny, and the lead track on their new CD, ‘Your Precious Touch’, benefitted from their precious touch. They sang ‘Nothing Succeeds Like Success’ and they should know.
(4) RICHARD SNOW AND THE INLAWS (Nottingham)
The Nottingham band had a very infectious sound which covered many bases such as the combination of country and reggae on ‘Lonesome Cowboy’. Richard Snow was a good-humored front man and the set got better and better. ‘Expectation’ had a strong lyric and the band had more willingess to experiment than most.
(5) THE DIRTY ROYALS (Oxford)
The Dirty Royals struck me as being post-modernist punk as they were mocking the tradition whilst revelling in it. This was particularly noticeable in the lead singer’s announcements. Last year they had played the IPO as the Samurai Seven so they don’t take themselves too seriously.
(6) SMASH PALACE (New Jersey)
This four piece New Jersey band was a late addition and they were a big hit in Lennon’s bar. The 60s influences abounded but songs like ‘Steal Her Thunder’ and ‘Try’ were very good in their own right, and it was a pleasant change to see a female in a group. The band asked the audience to raise their hands if they were musicians, which revealed that the groups had each other for their core audiences.
(7) FRIZBEE (Ffestiniog)
|IPO organiser Dave Bash|
It didn’t matter that Frizbee were singing in Welsh as you often can’t hear the words anyway. Frizbee were a very good rock band and the lead singer was a good-natured, cheeky-looking guy. They sang about a highwayman, ‘Reach For The Skies’, in English and broke the rules by including a Beatles’ song, ‘One After 909’, but heck, they were in Mathew Street, so who could blame them? Frizbee gets the award for the largest entourage of the festival – manager, girlfriends, fans and camera crew.
(8) LOCKSLEY (Brooklyn)
The sartorial vote goes to Locksley with their green shirts bearing their names – Jesse, Kai, Aaron and Sam. Their entourage included a guitar tech so they were taking things seriously. Locksley were a mod, Small Faces-styled band, and ‘Up The Stairs’ and ‘My Kind Of Woman’ were particularly good. They developed a good rapport with the audience, but that’s what happens when you give away free CDs.
(9) ENDBUTT LANE (Liverpool)
I had hoped to fill my Top 10 with local bands, but it was not to be. The best of the local bunch was Endbutt Lane, indie Scousers from Crosby (hence the name) with overtones of the Coral and the Zutons. Their quirky songs (‘Peas And Carrots’, ‘Sausage Man’) revealed their love for food and another song, ‘Pirates’, was about Crosby beach.
(10) BEN’S DIAPERS (Finland)
In the hope of finding another Lordi, I searched out the Finnish bands, the Electric Crayon Set and Ben’s Diapers. The Electric Crayon Set were incongruous - a bunch of older guys trying to get as impossibly high as the Zombies, while Ben’s Diapers performed good, contemporary songs with strong Buddy Holly, Byrds and Lou Reed influences. Among my favourites were ‘Some Other Day’ and ‘Bleeding Heart’.
Acoustic Love Experience (Glasgow) - Female performers are in short supply at the IPO so it was good to come across this group of three girls and one guy. They had pleasant harmonies and old-fashioned songs, but they needed more accompaniment that one guitar and bells.
Captain Wilberforce (Leeds) – Some good Beatle-styled songs (and why not?) from an engaging singer/songwriter and I’d like to see him with his band.
The Gutterfighters (Liverpool) – Glenn Skelhorn is an exuberant front man but he held the microphone too close and his words were lost. The Gutterfighters had a relentless sound and included the insidious ‘Diggin’ The Doll’. Glenn left the stage to sing directly in the faces of those who were leaving – a brave, if rather foolhardy, thing to do.
Susan Hedges & The Other Kind (Liverpool) – Any other day Susan Hedges would be in my Top 10, but the sound in Lennon’s bar was way too loud and her skilfully-crafted songs came out as one-dimensional noise. If I didn’t know ‘Imaginary Lovers’ was good, I’d never have guessed.
John Hoskinson (Los Angeles) – Some thoughtful songs here including ‘I Hope I Die Before You Do’ and’ ‘She Makes Me Young’, and what I would describe as a typical opening act.
Leave (Chicago) – Strongly Beatles influenced and they included a Lennon/McCartney cover, ‘Rain’. The lead track of their new CD, ‘I’d Rather Not Say’, was well performed.
The Sonnets (Chicago) – By far, the sweatiest group I saw. They put high energy into their songs which included ‘Idlewise’, although its insidious chorus owes something to ‘Hot patootie, bless my soul, I really love that rock’n’roll’ from ‘The Rocky Horror Show’.
Suzy And Los Quattro (Barcelona) – Think Blondie with different songs, or were they that different?
Sebsatian Clark (Los Angeles)If someone sang about wanting a home of their own, you might wonder where they were living now, but in Sebastian Clark’s case, this would be true. He lives in a 20-year-old van in LA and through the support of fans on myspace.com, he has funded both a CD, ‘Songs From A Van’, and a trip to the UK. I found him an engaging character with neat self-depreciating comments between the songs. The highlight was ‘All Of My Love’, based around the folk song, ‘Freight Train’.