The best young bands come to Wychwood
Friday 03 June 2011
This year, for the second time, I've judged the bands who will be performing on the BBC Introducing stage at this weekend's Wychwood Festival. To sum up, this requires listening to 70 new bands originating from the seven regions surrounding the festival and narrowing them down to 10. This is much the same process as when I extract all CDs by new acts from my daily pile of post and take them home for a weekly session that I call "spin it or bin it". The session typically involves a bottle of wine, and a music-loving friend for that important second opinion. Any act that makes it to the second song goes on one pile, any that doesn't meets its less happy fate on the second. You must understand that the pile of new music is always large.
But in curating a stage for a festival, there is a difference: also lingering in the back of my mind is the need to provide a decent mix of music. On the back of the phenomenal success of Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale, I find there's a glut of folk-rock acts. This also applies to singer-songwriters. But who wants to see three hours of one man or woman and their guitar, strumming their pain? With this in mind, I hoped that as close as possible to 10 of my choices would tally up with those of the other three judges – BBC 6 Music's Tom Robinson, Radio 1's Bethan Elfyn and festival director Graeme Merrifield – and be included in the final line-up of 27 bands.
It's quite an opportunity for a new or unsigned band to win a slot at Wychwood, where 6,000 music lovers attend each of the festival's three days. There's the potential to be exposed to an audience of 1,000 (the capacity of the BBC Introducing stage), and share the bill with indie and folk acts such as The Charlatans, The Bluetones, Eliza Carthy and Cornershop.
Of the acts I heard this year, there were a few that stood out instantly, and will be taking to the stage this weekend. The first and top of my list, Alice Jemima, recalls the lilting acoustic pop of Norah Jones with her sweet, melodious "Won't Take You for Granted". So taken by her song, I had a quick Google and discovered that the south Devon singer-songwriter is just 17. She supported Nerina Pallot on tour in 2009 and has been recording with Andy Chatterley, who's also produced Kylie. The other stand-out act is Alphabet Backwards, whose boy/girl harmonising in "Blink of an Eye" recalls the joyous barn-dance fun of Sheffield's Slow Club. I was gripped by the moody psych-rock of Cardiff's The Keys' Bitten by Wolves and the heartfelt folk of Lonely Tourist's "Watch for the Sharks". The laid-back beatboxing of AJ also caught my attention, alongside the invigorating, angular rock of Cardiff's Cuba Cuba, whose debut album, Where Else Is Safe But the Road, is out on Walnut Tree Records this month.
It's worth noting that a few of the acts that we selected to perform on last year's Introducing stage have made it this year. Fixers, an Oxford band I described as "a refreshingly different-sounding five-piece psychedelic-pop band", have signed to Vertigo, joining the likes of Razorlight. Their new EP, "Here Comes 2001, So Let's All Head for the Sun", has just been released and they will support Noah and the Whale at London's Roundhouse at the iTunes Festival next month. The other big success is The Travelling Band, now signed to Cooking Vinyl and rebooked to play the festival, this time on the main stage.
Download the album of BBC Introducing Bands performing at this year's Wychwood Festival for free from www.wychwoodfestival.com/bbc-introducing-bands-downloads/
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