As you might imagine with a three day festival, my getting to see every act was always going to be difficult (I couldn't) but I'll begin by focusing on the Covtember 2022 Festival as a whole because in many ways it was even more than a sum of the parts: awesome as so many of those were.
Huge credit & respect to Paul Quinn, Joe Colombi and their team for conceiving the event & making it happen: a mammoth endeavour with no doubt many many hours spent getting it right & getting it together. Likewise to all at the Tin for the sound, the organisation on the days, the refreshments etc. The fact that it was raising money for the Air Ambulance Service is commendable enough but in terms of music, this event has grown over the years and is now a wonderful look at the diversity which is Coventry & Warwickshire music at the moment with some of the hottest live acts, some which escape the attention of the mainstream media, emerging young bands: a real mixture of talent & styles & I was delighted at the focus on female artists.
Inevitably I missed several acts I would have preferred to have seen such as Septic & the Tanks, The Astras, The Loaded, Loz Pettite, Danny Ansell (I'm stuck in a current regrettable pattern of missing some of his sets by minutes), Matt Cattell, Spiral City, Mugshot, Man Made Moon and Duke Keats.
However the artists I saw were so great that I hope both that my enthusiasm for their performances will stand as a testament to the whole event & that I probably can spare each a few more words in the review than if I'd seen everyone.
The Session need no introduction to readers of the magazine, but this is a band of more aspects & nuances than they get enough credit for sometimes. Over the years, they have played much bigger venues & outdoors settings & consequently they are extremely powerful: take that into a space like the Tin & it certainly makes an impression! (I must emphasise that this is an observation & certainly not some sort of criticism of volume. As Sheryl confirmed to me afterwards, they wouldn't ever hold back in a performance nor do they know how to do so). However what impressed me was the diversity of their set. So strong have their singles been in recent years, a set focusing on those is what many bands would do: yet instead they really mixed up, playing, as Dean told me, at least five songs long absent from their live repertoire. The result was a variety of styles which really showcased their breadth: add in the fact that Dean played acoustic guitar and they have changed their lead guitarist to the excellent Mark Boorman over the last year & you realise how evolving & flexible their sound is, however rooted it might be in the obvious strengths of the members.
Shanghai Hostage too have produced a strong run of singles in the past few years, some, but far from all of them of which appeared last night. This is another band who like to set the agenda and confound audience expectations rather than to pander to them. Not having played live quite as much as The Session, they apparently felt rustier than anyone in the audience could tell (they are perfectionists) and gave one of their usual quirky, good humoured performances based on excellent musicianship blending so many styles that they created something new. A lot of the songs had funk elements (newly married bassist Richard was having the time of his life up there), Sophie brought in her more classical & avant garde sensibilities while guitarists Beth & Ian added everything from rock to bluebeat inflections via jazz. This was also the first time I'd seen new drummer Zeke play with them & he seemed to fit into the genre defying concoction well. We were treated to the upcoming & risqué "French Song" single (out on 7th October) and thankfully at least one of the infamous Shanghai Hostage nuns was present for "Convent".
Through the ironies that abound in real life, not having seen them for a long time, I've now seen The Pristines three times in the last few months: which doesn't help finding different things to say about them each time except that the new four piece lineup (with Paul Quinn) is really gelling & allowing them to explore what they can do with their extensive body of work. The way they play together is now hypnotic: again the whole of the set is as important as the individual songs. The best psychedelic drumming you'll hear underpins insistent & melodic basslines on which sit classic Pristines guitars (though Jon told me afterwards that they'd opted to dial back a bit on the jangle factor for the night) with Paul adding textures & strange effects which you'd have thought were only possible in the studio. Magic. This band as I've said before are one of the area's criminally overlooked geniuses & with the recent increase in activity, we can only hope more people will latch onto them.
For reasons which will become apparent, I'll skip head at this point to the closing act, Luna Kiss. As with The Pristines, fate has led me to several of their gigs recently: in this case three times in the last month or so. Since the previous two were outdoors, as with The Session, you can imagine what transferring their sound into a relatively small environment was like. Overpowering. Which is good. An ideal band to close proceedings, this is another one whose stock rises by the week & are certainly the most highly rated of their style around. You've heard it all from me repeatedly over the years, but some things bear repletion: if you meld consummate skills with an obvious joy in performing & what you are performing are such well crafted & original songs, you bring a package which is hard to beat. When you have their capacity for hard work this is a band which deserve to go far. They should do for sure. In the crowded space, an audience, many who had been there a long time & reacted to plenty of inspiring music already, still had enough in the tank for that final uplifting hurrah Luna Kiss provided.
I have left describing YNES' set to last for several reasons. One might be that unlike the aforementioned, although I've praised her singles frequently in the magazine, this is the first live review we have managed. It might also be a rarity: the feeling around the room was that Paul & Joe had done exceedingly well to involve an artist whose profile is already so high that seeing her in settings like this can only diminish in frequency. When Billy Bragg invites you to play on his stage at Glastonbury, you've definitely moved up a career level or two.
However it's not just about aspects of career & status: as a veteran local music writer said to me afterwards, it was YNES who got the room buzzing & created the biggest reactions of the night: people were there just to see her & she did not disappoint them.
A mesmerising performance, which like early Billy Bragg demonstrates that you can be a solo performer and create just as much energy & impact as a full band, YNES hurling herself into her set with the total commitment & honesty that her records indicate: raw, unfettered and passionate (once she had jettisoned her guitar she was in the audience singing as much as on stage and at one point most people lost sight of her as the latter part of one number was performed lying on the floor lashing her legs out amongst the crowd). She even played a cover: I assumed she'd go for something contemporary, but no, she chose Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" from long before she was born & brought out all the proto-punk anguish of the original in a scintillating delivery.
I'm happy to go on record as saying that I think YNES is the most exciting and original artist to come out of the region in the last few years (there are a few very talented ones I'd love to see break out into wider acclaim in her footsteps). Her songs brook on opposition & her skewering of those who deserve it is stiletto sharp. There are people who opt to nominate things like "best gig" of the year: if they suggest this one by YNES, then I'd not quibble with them. I would dearly like to see another by her: I wonder where it might be?
So there you have it: some top performances & if I can only tell you of a few from among many, again I'm sorry, but it takes me back to the beginning: you don't get to see & hear music of this calibre unless someone has the wit & taste to pull it all together, so my thanks once again to the organisers & I'm looking forwards to Covtember 2023 already.