York 800 MOR Music Festival – Parliament Street, 07/07/12

While bad weather had put paid to the river-based activities this weekend, arguably the most ambitious gig that I can remember being staged in York was proclaimed to be going ahead. As part of the celebrations of the 800th anniversary or York’s Royal Charter, MOR Music had organised a festival – 800 minutes of live music, spread across nineteen acts, with most getting a half hour slot and just five minutes in between each one – in the middle of one of the city’s busiest and, thankfully, widest shopping streets. With rain forecast, I packed waterproofs and umbrellas and dragged the family off to spend as much time there as possible.

We missed the first act, Plumhall, but I had seen them a couple of weeks earlier and, spotting them in the crowd, managed to pass on another couple of hybrid tribute acts (Seasick Stevie Wonder and GeneSisters of Mercy) for their collection. Holly Taymar, aided as usual (at least in my experience) by Chris Bilton, was next up, her sweet vocals occasionally counterpointed by Chris’ brash guitar. Stand-out songs from this set were a chilled out cover of Hot Stuff, in tribute to Donna Summer, and Holly’s own Toes which, despite only having heard it twice, is one of my favourite songs that I don’t have in my collection.

I hadn’t come across According To Eve before today. Apparently they are usually a trio but are today playing as the original duo format. Songs such as Forget-Me-Nots, Everybody Says It’s You and the slightly funkier No Shadow showed off the talents of both Eve Maule-Cole’s soulful vocals and Tim Downie’s guitar harmonies, while Arms Wide Open, along with another song whose name I can’t read from my notes, showed off a brasher, more unusual guitar style. Worth looking out for.

By his own admission, Graham Hodge isn’t clever enough to write his one material yet, so he treated us with a set of covers from the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Brady and Bruce Cockburn. Perhaps a little nervous between songs, his broad Yorkshire speaking voice morphed into something with a hint of Paul Simon when he started singing.

It took a few songs for Hungry Ghosts to catch on with me but, once they did, I realised that I had thoroughly enjoyed their set. They perform an edgy kind of electro-rock with band members rotating around instruments and sharing vocals to perform songs including Jumping Through Hoops and By The Bridge.

Having enjoyed their debut album I was looking forward to seeing theFALLEN, although wondered whether their brand of hard rock (which seems to be, in my opinion, aimed more at a younger audience than me) would appeal to the lunchtime “crowd” or passers-by. However, despite coming on stage dressed as though they were heading for a promotional photo-shoot, their set featured stripped down versions of some of the songs from the album, changed so much that I barely recognised even my favourites. Despite one slightly self-indulgent cover and Johnny’s voice being too low in the mix at the start of the set, the choice of performance worked well.

Personally, I would question why an event that was, at least in part, designed to showcase local music talent needed a band like Huge. It’s not like they need the exposure, although I suppose they could have been there to drag in the punters. They are very good at what they do, which is perform covers and get audiences up and moving but I’m sure that their seventy minute set could have been split between two smaller acts just as easily. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy their set, it just seemed a little out of place to me, compared to what else was on show.

After three livelier acts, it was back to quieter acoustic styles with the next few acts. I’m afraid that a “comfort break” followed by a trip to the bar meant that I missed a good portion of  Jonny Dobbs’ set, although I have seen him a couple of times before. I did manage to catch the enjoyable Devil In Me and Brand New. Similarly, a trip for an ice-cream with my daughter meant that I missed some of the next set. Jonny Gill has a great voice which we could, just about, hear while we were scoffing our frozen delicacies, despite the kiosk being behind the stage. We did get back in time to listen properly to Friday Night Lights and A Friend Indeed. This acoustic section was rounded of by Nathan Luke, who I haven’t come across before and who started off his set with the downbeat (and, perhaps, slightly macabre) Body In A Box and Buried before moving onto his forthcoming single Honest Love. Again, a nice voice but, if I’m honest, Nathan suffered a bit from being at the end of a section of the day that contained some too similar acts.

It was back to more energetic things with Curious Yak, another band who I haven’t come across before. A (ahem) curious mix of atmosphere and distortion, I’m afraid that I just didn’t “get” this set, although their cover of Helter Skelter was enjoyable.

For most of the day, things had been going more or less to schedule. Captain Zippy’s drummer did his best to scupper that by leaving some of his equipment in the singer’s car, leading to one of the band publically berating him, making sure everybody knew who was at fault for the aimless milling about on stage. It seemed a good time (in more ways than one…) to take Elizabeth off for her own comfort break. Unfortunately, by the time we got back, what must have been a fore-shortened set was drawing to a close, which was a shame because I get the impression that this could have been one of the more fun bands of the day.

I can’t seem to find anything on-line for Turnpike Trust, apart from a mention in a Gazette and Herald events listing. If anybody knows different, let me know as they deserve linking. I’m fairly certain that they only performed covers of a rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues type, nothing I recognised but plenty that I enjoyed.

By this time, the hunger pangs were setting in, so we decided to forego seeing Funktion and head off to Pizza Hut for some much needed sustenance. In hindsight, given that they seem to be a covers band who play, among other things, soul and funk, this was probably a good decision from my point of view. Nothing against the band, but they don’t sound like my cup of tea.

We returned to find rumpled and somewhat humble Scotsman David Ward Maclean on stage and getting the audience going with his covers of Let It Be, I Heard It On The Grapevine and Stand By Me. I believe that he is a well-respected songwriter in his own right, so it seems strange that he chose to perform covers (unless his own songs were at the beginning of his set).

Darkness was just beginning to fall now and the evening part of the show saw compere extraordinaire Alexander King (“I’d like to point out that even though I’m a compere called Alexander, I’m not a meerkat” – well, it made me laugh) take to the stage to introduce the rest of the acts. First up in this section was Jamie Humphries. I don’t know whether he is from York but I believe he had been giving guitar demonstrations at MOR Music throughout the day. Having played with some of the world’s top musicians, Jamie treated us to some guitar gymnastics, playing with just the aid of a backing track and, if I recall correctly, performing just three or four what were, effectively, quite simply stunning solos in his thirty minute set.

The rocking continued after that with Aynt Skynyrd who are, obviously a tribute band to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Now, I like the originals, although I don’t have much of their output in my collection, but so varied is the performance by Aynt Skynyrd that they were three songs in before I recognised a song. The classics made up the back end of the set, with Three Steps and Sweet Home Alabama being played to a crowd who were increasingly finding the urge to get up and dance. Finally, vocalist Mick Sawyer asked, “As the great Ronnie Van Zandt used to ask, what do you want to hear?” Unsurprisingly, the expected answer came back and the band launched into as good a live rendition of Freebird as you are likely to hear outside the original band. “I wish you’d make it longer,” quipped Mr King as the band left the stage.

With a flagging nine-year-old (who had experienced her first bout of head-banging dancing along to Freebird with, I think, Sawyer’s daughter) we had to leave at this point so we missed The Buccaneers and The Littlemores, both of whom I had seen and enjoyed before.

Ambitious the day might have been, but it all seemed to go well (band issues notwithstanding) and, despite continuing well into the night and, therefore, having the potential for those who had, maybe, a little too much to drink to become slightly rambunctious, it seems to have gone off without any trouble being reported. Even the rain stayed away, making the aforementioned waterproofs and umbrellas somewhat extraneous. From a personal point of view, I think there was too much emphasis on acoustic acts, especially male ones, throughout the day – too many, one after another and they begin to blur into one to me. Apparently, MOR Music originally had over two hundred bands wanting to play. I find it strange that there wasn’t a bit more variety. Having said that, overall it was a brilliant day with a bit of something for everyone. Hopefully it will happen again, perhaps annually. Well done to all involved.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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