Live at Leeds – the jewel of inner-city festivals, taking advantage of the city’s plethora of venues, swathes of talent, and ‘famous’ Yorkshire weather to propel festival season into full swing. Except, this time, after a COVID-delayed 2021 event, Live at Leeds has a brand-new summer home – the picturesque grounds of Temple Newsam, for the inaugural Live at Leeds: In The Park. On Saturday, instead of flooding Briggate and Hyde Park with wavy garms and quickly-crushed cans, fans take to the fields for an indie party that delivers both its usual charm and a step up in magnitude.
Despite the draw of the “platty joobs” (those two words are mentioned around the fest by artists and fans alike way more times than we care to mention) or the disruption of a Northern Rail strike (another Live at Leeds weekend staple), from the opening of the gates onwards, Temple Newsam is busy and glittering. Lauran Hibberd couldn’t be a more fitting opener for Live at Leeds’ first-ever outdoor main stage, decked out in an orange feathered suit to match her technicolour tunes. She easily charms her sizeable crowd, not hesitating to treat us like her best friends. In the preamble to her latest single, ‘I’m Insecure’, Lauran laughs as she tells us, “it’s about my irritable bowel syndrome… girls poo too! Sorry boys!” The cheeky smile and wink in her voice is tangible, and characterises her whole set, culminating in the ultra-buoyant ‘5K (Still Running)’.
From there, it’s over to our very own stage: Dork Presents! Sprawling across the back of the tent are not one, but two stages, hosting acts back to back, so there’s always good stuff going on. Right now, it’s Molly Payton, who is enchanting audiences with her soulful songwriting. Her richness still feels vulnerable, striking a balance that crackles with intensity and star power. And elsewhere, Liverpool’s STONE convey much the same intensity, albeit in a very different style with their driving indie-punk. Under the overcast skies at the Hill Top stage, frontman Finlay Power captivates as he careens about, delivering their charged lyrics impressively cheerfully.
Holly Humberstone spent last year’s festival season marking herself out as an alt-pop hero in the making, and she spends today claiming her crown. Nestled behind her piano for much of the set, she makes the open air of the towering main stage feel friendly and intimate, helped along by the long chats between songs in which she gives us the stories that inspired her. Her monologues manage to feel like conversations, but as soon as she starts singing, she’s in another world. Though there’s an understated element to her music on record, that slips away here as Holly’s swirling, gorgeous textures go stratospheric, humming through the breeze. The magic picks up even more as she gets to fan-favourites, but they finish all too soon. After highlight ‘London Is Lonely’’s ethereal tones come to an end, it’s a hypnotic sweep of non-stop sparkle till Holly leaves the stage to the final reverberations of ‘The Walls Are Way Too Thin’.
For those not done swaying and singing, Confidence Man are here to draw the crowds over to the Big Top like groovy, Aussie Pied Pipers of dance bops. Fresh off the back of their Mighty Hoopla set the day before, there’s not a still body in the tent, the infectious sunshine of their hooks tempting the lot of us into a collective boogie to ‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’.
The calling card of a festival with a properly stacked lineup is a really painful clash. At Live at Leeds, they provide us with one of the stickiest conundrums of all time – Courting and Sports Team hit the stage at the same time. For those at the former, the Liverpool rascals make it worth it. “We don’t have a setlist for this one… what do you wanna hear?” asks Sean Murphy-O’Neill wryly before launching into a tight rendition of ‘Tennis’. The sports theme is a solid win, with opener ‘Grand National’ and clear favourite ‘Football’ also going down a storm. For every sardonic “thanks for not watching Sports Team” comments the band can throw out, they deliver another electric tune, belting to the crowd from the barrier – though, sadly, their cowbell doesn’t do the rounds during ‘Crass’ today. Next time – because for everyone present, there’ll definitely be a next time.
Sea Girls are in their element on the main stage – they’ve always been a band that shines at festivals, and they prove today that they’ve still got it, two and a half albums in. Tunes old and new are received with the same mates-on-shoulders glee, but the classics definitely get the noisiest reaction – ‘Damage Done’, ‘All I Wanna Hear You Say’, and ‘Call Me Out’ ring out to a hero’s reception. Henry Camamile’s knack for a sunny anthem hasn’t declined a bit, though, and the explosive call-and-response of ‘Hometown’’s “WE DIDN’T TALK COS IT WASN’T COOL TO TALK ABOUT!” highlights it as a future favourite.
We’ve well and truly entered the euphoric singalong section of the day, and there’s no one better to prepare us for the ultimate nostalgic-meets-the-future experience that will be The Vaccines than Zuzu, who mesmerises the Dork Presents stage. With the range of a superstar and a huge voice to match, she packs the tearjerkers (‘Skin and Bone’), the grooves (‘The Van Is Evil’) and some of the biggest choruses Live at Leeds sees all day (‘Lie To Myself’, ‘What You Want’). Even though her songs speak for themselves, Zuzu herself is gloriously humble, laughing as she shouts out two girls mid-song who she’s spotted running in from the field singing every word.
Humble is also a word that can be applied to The Vaccines – incredible, this far through their career, that they’ve still maintained the bright-eyed, coy bluster that defined their debut. Armed with a setlist that blends every stage their sound has gone down through over their decade-odd as a band, Justin Young and co use tonight as an opportunity to show how much fun they’re having. From the sparkly pure pop of ‘Headphones Baby’ to the iconic emotion of ‘All In White’ and the punchy rock-n-roll of ‘I Can’t Quit’, The Vaccines deliver quality tunes and captivating presence across the board.
It feels like everyone who plays after about 8pm today could easily be headlining – Easy Life close off the Big Top, but can’t resist doing so in their trademark chilled-out style. No strangers to turning their woozy jams into movement-inciting bangers, Murray Matravers teases and coaxes us into action: “Leeds… we’re having some technical difficulties… The mosh pit is non-existent…” When people finally get into it, he’s still jabbing at us: “last night I was having some incredible lucid dreams… it appeared the mosh pit was 5% bigger than what I see before me!” Everyone is bopping along and having a chuckle too.
The Mysterines also prove themselves worthy headliners over at the Dork Presents stage. Lia Metcalfe is more assured than ever, effortlessly balancing sonic darkness and delightful energy – a winning combination and a Mysterines trademark. Then, finally, it’s time to head over to the main stage. Bombay Bicycle Club have a monopoly over the last hour of the festival and pitch their setlist accordingly. Old favourites sit cosily next to new ones, the audience swaying along appreciatively as they take in another slice of nostalgia. Live at Leeds’s first trip to the park has been a resounding success. And it’s only six months till its inner-city sister! Win-win.
And here’s some more acts we caught at this year’s Live at Leeds: in the Park – Sports Team, Porij and Coach Party!