Coventry Motofest 2024

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Coventry Motofest 2024

Review

Reviewing multi stage festivals when I have limited time generates its own dynamics and when the event itself, like Motofest 2024 in Coventry has its main agenda other than music, other factors come into play.

My method is to scrutinise the schedule (and it's depressing how often "lifestyle" events featuring great artists don't provide these: thankfully Motofest did) and plot routes & timings to flit between stages (not always a quick thing to do at Motofest) to catch my "must see" artists.

Sadly, very considerable timing-slippage on the Jubilee Arena stage (which is anyway the least music & audience friendly location) robbed me of my intention to see both Danny Ansell & The Session so my apologies for their omission from this article.

Fortunately, what I did see I enjoyed very much indeed and I'm delighted to share with you. The other stages, principally the BBC Introducing one in New Union Street and the CVFolk one in the Upper Precinct were well organised, kept to time & had excellent sound despite the competing racket of auto-engines being mindlessly revved, air horns blown & in the case of the CVFolk Stage, the issues deriving from the wind tunnel effect of the Precinct.

The fourth "stage" was the balcony of the HMV Empire and I enjoyed my first Levi Washington gig of 2024 there on the Saturday (for some reason there wasn't anything on the Sunday). That was a greyer day but Levi's potent reggae infused set summoned up Sunday's sun in a sort of reverse rain dance invocation.

Luna Kiss go from strength to strength and their crowd at the BBC Stage on the Saturday demonstrated both by their numbers & enthusiasm how this excellent band is continually building its reputation and fanbase.

On the Sunday, we had the artistic climax of the Festival with the juxtaposition of Dolly Mavies & Duke Keats: two local bands who are so clearly moving onwards & upwards that they will need to be classified as national level rather than area before too many more suns have set.

Dolly Mavies joined us straight from their Wychwood Festival appearance & before their Glastonbury one (look out for a future article focusing on this) so weren't we fortunate? Obviously, that in itself tells you how tight & flawless their performance was, though as a band of this class, they'd gone beyond mere tightness into the next zone of a looseness and playfulness in which their sheer joy in performing such original material was evident. Incorporating very recent new material alongside singles and ‘The Calm and the Storm' tracks, this was top echelon music with the hot sun shining through the trees and off both medieval stonework & modern architecture: a stunning setting for their talent.

If Dolly Mavies is heading for Glastonbury, then where Duke Keats is heading is more difficult to predict. Possibly Hollywood, possibly another galaxy. He is on such a wonderful trajectory: there are few artists who emerge locally who can necessarily command a consensus, but in his case, everyone is united in appreciation of his uniqueness of talent & how he's rewritten the book on how music can be. He laughs in the face of genres.

We've reviewed his astonishing releases in the magazine but predicting how some of them might actually be reproduced live has been tricky: but the good news is that he's put together a band of just four people (guitars/bass/drums) who understand & can realise his idiosyncratic visions: no mean feat.

As you know, film provides a lot of inspiration for Duke and so visuals are a central point of the performance: and his band are completely up for that too: like Dolly Mavies they so clearly enjoy playing with & off each other and there is a huge amount of fervent movement to see. His charismatic onstage presence is a big part of the attraction & quite at odds with his modest demeanour offstage. Catch this band (they are at the Godiva Festival) before they disappear onto a wider circuit.

While disappointed to miss two acts on my list, the result was one of those "happy accidents" wherein it brought me to the CVFolk Stage to see Liam Vincent and the Odd Foxes earlier than I'd intended and so I saw The Hoarse Whisperers set. They'd not been on my schedule & normally I prioritise original music over covers, but their clean and simple version of generally songs from the American South was something I enjoyed & refreshed my sensitivities after the disappointment of earlier & the subsequent fraught struggle through the crowds & pandemonium: so credit to them & also Pete Willow & his CVFolk team for the excellence of sound & atmosphere on their stage.

Liam Vincent only had three of his Odd Foxes with him as Diz, the drummer could not make it, so guitarist James filled in on cajon. This in no way diminished the quality of material nor performance and I have to say that although I urge you to catch this great band live anywhere, their music possibly works at its best outdoors where people can dance more freely.

The two bands I saw on this stage on the Sunday were in fact both ones I'd not previously seen live before.

Admittedly, I'd heard Wes Finch play Silver Wye songs in gigs under his own name, but this was the first time I'd seen a gig under the band's name: John Parker joining him on double bass, Ben Haines on various things including but not limited to percussion & Matt Lakey on guitar.

I'd originally doubted that songs derived from Wes' experimental project could ever been played live in forms similar to the studio versions, and so was never sure that there could be a Silver Wye gig. However the electronic aspects were covered by Ben using his custom electronic percussion device and injecting samples and through Matt's keening guitar, working with Wes' own melodic singing and guitar & John's anchoring of the whole into the songs of beauty that comprise the body of work.

Many/most of the songs concern light directly or obliquely and so were fitted to the bright sunshine, as was their general air of optimism. The dark exception, "The Getting Place" is something of a personal favourite & one I'd never heard live nor really expected to. So I was pleased and if its Mephistophelean theme & tones was mellowed on this occasion, that seems fair enough at a family festival.

The last act I caught was the K  C Jones duo of Karen & Colin and I was pleased that they dipped into two albums we've reviewed: their own ‘Roots' and Karen's very recent solo ‘A Woman's Work'. As with the Hoarse Whisperers, sometimes what your soul requires is simplicity and melody to achieve tranquillity and this is certainly what they offer.

As I say, Motofest is not a music festival & I for one am grateful that it included the chances to hear all the great music I've just described. Putting artists below combustion engines in priority is understandable if not something I'd do and the best stages were those relatively autonomous from the main festival. However many people I spoke to (and there were some amusing sardonic onstage comments too) are a bit bemused with how this format can continue given contemporary notions of acceptable carbon footprints, clean air & the council's environmental aspirations, so it may not have much longer as it currently is. However the artists I have reviewed will be going on, you can see them at many venues & some have really wonderful careers ahead of them. I am so pleased I caught them this weekend.

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