FESTIVAL REVIEW: Live at Leeds In The Park 2023

Perfectly timed on a rather sunny Bank Holiday weekend, Live at Leeds’ annual outdoor gathering in the park returned to the Temple Newsam estate for a day filled with music, food and fun. In the event’s second year running the organisers have taken onboard what worked last time and also added to it, with a couple of small additions and changes that really made a difference, showing why this festival is one to keep returning to year in, year out. It is a feat to cram so much live music into the space of a day and they manage to do this well, while clashes are still present, having an abundance of choice isn’t such a bad thing. There is enough going on so that everybody has the chance to see something good without having to struggle intensely to find a spot in-front of a stage. It felt busier than last time, too. The Live at Leeds team does an amazing job in delivering a good quality event on a big scale to large numbers, which can’t be an easy task, so credit where credit’s due. And it really is an event that has a lovely atmosphere in a picturesque setting. Simply put, a great day out.

So, what was new this year, you ask? Signing tents. One was presented by local legends, Crash Records. And the other, curated by Live at Leeds themselves. This meant that a selection of meet and greets with some of the artists playing that day went ahead, including the likes of The Big Moon, DMA’s, James Marriott, and, The Hives, which made the festival even more special, and aligns their efforts with other festivals of a certain calibre. They also fixed the sound bleed problem between the hill top stages—which we found to be an unfortunate issue last year due to the way that sound travels across the site—so now, between the Dork stages and the Rolling Stone Big Top, music flows freely without compromise, and both stages were very well attended this year.

What was in-keeping with last year’s event was the breadth of live music on offer, across five stages around 40 live acts performed, all of headlining capacity in their own right. If you were to look deeper into every billed artist’s personal stage history it is likely that one would find a headlining gig in there, festivals work differently to venue shows because they’re unrivaled in their ability to bring together large numbers of people with music makers from all around the world, in one place. The festival concept is a magnificent creation.

We took in a lot of music throughout the day, and many of the highlights happened on smaller stages. This year’s line-up was great because it seemed to cater for a lot of varying tastes and different demographics, all within the spaces of alternative, indie and pop. It starts with more traditional guitar music, then travels through singer songwriter-driven balladry to riot punk and electronic pop, and lands somewhere within the spectrum of modernist and experimental rock. Two Door Cinema Club closed out the festival, arguably a seasoned festival headliner by this point, they even sound like summer. It’s a starry production, full of neon and glitz. They make full use of the big screens and are all about showmanship, their appeal is everlasting. The 2010’s classics jump out as big sing-alongs usually do, the band’s more recent rhythmic pop efforts are full of optimism and new wave flamboyance. It’s easily enjoyable, especially as the evening is beginning to wind down and night draws in.

Black Honey gave us anthems and lean, mean compositions. With emphasis placed on distortion and memorable hooks, the set passes quickly, and Izzy Bee Phillips is as inspiring as ever. Her voice is perfection and so is her songwriting. They’re a band with presence and a great back catalogue. The set focuses mostly on songs from their latest album, A Fistful of Peaches, and it’s all fantastic. They continue to make amazing tunes packed with message and meaning. And they end on ‘Corrine’—”A love letter to women.”

Sir Chloe caught our attention even before we made it into the tent, even though we were heading right there in the first place. The project led by Dana Foote, is clever, fuzz-fuelled indie rock, and the way they do it is so dizzying and addictive that it becomes an altar one worships at. Deadpan delivery and distortion are heavy influences on their sound, songs like ‘Salivate’ and ‘Should I’ are great examples of some of the most memorable tunes in their arsenal. ‘Michelle’ and ‘Too Close’ are some of the songs that first introduced audiences to their sound, and pick up good responses in the set, the latter features some amazing one liners, another great reason why this band has so much appeal. They play well and have the music that’ll keep you coming back. Go see them.

A quick stop by the Rolling Stone Big Top to take in constant festy favourites, The Big Moon—and it’s almost impossible to squeeze a limb inside the tent. They deliver feel good anthems and it just goes to show as the crowd is in high spirits, there’s people on shoulders and lots of singing along. ‘Your Light’ is still one of the very best melodic indie songs out there, they end on it and it is beautiful. What seems like a recurring theme tying together a lot of the acts playing the day is that their songs, and the messages within them, often reflect the (hard) realities of life and living today, what that means and what it looks like. They all approach the topic differently but there is a sense that we need more optimism in the world and a place that offers sanctuary, relatability, connection, escapism, and release, is music. That’s probably why we love it so much. It is in part, a way in which we express ourselves. It always has been. Always will be.

Other notable sets came from The Lottery Winners, Cavetown, and DMA’s, who each have built up great fanbases and collections of songs—and this was seen during their individual performances. Rose Gray also delivered a brilliant show, as an energetic blast of soulful dance pop. Her songs tap into ’90s and ’00s rave culture, feeling like pure adrenaline in the glow of the late evening sun. ‘Ecstasy’ is one of her best. ‘Cupid’ somehow interpolates Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’ into a pop rave format, and Gray’s belts are just as satisfying in their own way. This wasn’t as well attended as it should have been but that’s probably down to the time of day, Gray shines as bright as the sun and her stage presence is infectious which is probably why she has a big portion of the field dancing by set’s end.

Everything Everything gave virtually an hour’s worth of pure bliss. They know what they’re doing, they’ve established themselves as so and now is the easy part, they ride the wave. Continuously releasing inventive and original work, each new album delivers on the last and their stage show is immaculate. Donning a casual cream t-shirt/jean combo, all members in matching outfits as we come to expect from the group, they offer incredible falsetto highs alongside fast-delivered, densely worded verses and towering choruses. There’s a pair of friends coordinating dance moves in the crowd during ‘Cough Cough,’ and it brings a smile to my face, there’s nothing else like being in a room filled with strangers while music is playing all around. The experience is sublime, and takes over the whole body. They have a catalogue full of interesting music, and they focus on the hits for this set, and my gosh, do they have them.

Another big moment was Prima Queen‘s set, led by songwriting duo and best friends Louise Macphail and Kristin McFadden, they write songs that are sharp in their emotional content and delivery, while still maintaining an undeniably catchy feel. Their sound incorporates indie rock with folk—there’s three-part harmonies, spoken word and violin, these unique flourishes add to the absolutely scintillating experience of watching Prima Queen live. They have great chemistry and witty stage banter, too. This was a full band set, last time I saw them live it was a duo set, so it was very refreshing to take in the differences. They’re amazing in every iteration, it must be said. Keep an eye on them.

All-day festivals are quite smart, for the music is there whatever time of day you arrive and you can pick and choose when you leave. Thankfully, Live at Leeds always packs their line-ups with amazing artists so it is very unlikely that you’ll leave before curfew. And if you still want more, then they have their in-the-city offering, this year’s one is scheduled for October, so join them then for another day filled with even more music, but this time, inside venues.

Live at Leeds returns to music venues in Leeds’ City Centre on Saturday, 14th October for their ‘In the City’ all-dayer. Tickets are on-sale now, available here.

Photo Credit [Two Door Cinema Club]: Danny Payne @dannypaynephoto

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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