Visions Festival 2023, London, UK, July 22, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, April 15th, 2024  

Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)

Visions Festival, Spiritualized, Picture Parlour, Just Mustard, Katy J Pearson, Minihi, Modern Woman, Pale Blue Eyes

Visions Festival 2023, London, UK, July 22, 2023, July 22nd, 2023

Sep 10, 2023 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern and Mark Redfern Web Exclusive
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Visions is akin to a mini SXSW or Great Escape, in which five different venues in the Hackney area of East London host an array of bands over the course of one day. A wristband allows you the freedom to wander in and out of the venues, which are all within easy walking distance of each other. The big draw on this year’s lineup was a headlining set from Spiritualized, but before that there were hours of other artists to see. Most were up-and-coming bands, but with a ticket price of only £35 it was good value for money. With 34 artists on the bill, that works out to just over £1.00 a band (although it would’ve been pretty much impossible to see all of them). A drizzly day didn’t damper our enjoyment of the well-run low-key festival.

Pale Blue Eyes (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Pale Blue Eyes (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Pale Blue Eyes (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Pale Blue Eyes (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Pale Blue Eyes (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Pale Blue Eyes (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Pale Blue Eyes (Photo by Mark Redfern)
Pale Blue Eyes (Photo by Mark Redfern)

Things kicked off with a dog show, which we missed. Our first band of the day was Pale Blue Eyes. The trio formed in South Devon, in southwest England, and describe themselves as an “electro-modernist guitar group.” Pale Blue Eyes are married couple Matt Board (guitar, vocals) and Lucy Board (drums), along with Aubrey Simpson (bass). Live, John Gooding also joins them on synths. The band confidentially ran through songs from their 2022-released debut album, Souvenirs, as well as previewing songs from their sophomore album, This House (which has since been released), an album partially inspired by the death of Matt’s parents five years apart. The band shined best when they really embraced their shoegaze side. Penultimate song “Chelsea” had an epic build that brought to mind Mew’s “Comforting Sounds.” And the band went out on a high, with set closer “Dr Pong” perhaps best showcasing their talents.

Pale Blue Eyes performed in Hackney Church, the biggest of the Visions venues. I expected it to be a more traditional church, a seated venue with pews, based on shows I’d seen at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin during SXSW. Instead Hackney Church felt like a more modern place of worship (even though it was built in the 1790s) and was a square space with no seating. The church hosts regular concerts, with Sampha, Westerman, Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead, and others performing there this fall.

Minihi (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Minihi (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Minihi (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Minihi (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Minihi (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Minihi (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)

The next venue we hit was Hackney Social, a tiny hole in the wall brick space underneath the railway tracks. When you enter, there’s a bar on the right, unisex toilets on the left, and a stage dead ahead and that’s about it. But what more do you need? Minihi were mid-performance when we arrived. They are the London-based duo of Zands Duggan and Louise Anna Duggan, although live they were a trio, and prior to Visions I’d never heard of them before. But the description in the festival program had me intrigued. The live line-up featured two keyboardists and a drummer and the members would switch off on instruments between songs. A lot of their songs were mainly instrumental and when there was singing from Louise (who appeared to be six or seven months pregnant) it was hard to hear her vocals, although that could’ve been an issue connected to the mixing desk. Minihi made interesting and challenging post-rock music that rested in a grey area, meaning that it never really got going enough to inspire you to really dance. One song featured a weird spoken word sample that Louise sang overtop of. Minihi were a work-in-progress, but one worth keeping an ear on.

Next we were back to Hackney Church for the Irish post-punk band Just Mustard. The band had a dark, unrelenting vibe, but the vocal and demeanor of lead vocalist Katie Ball were both quite calm. The band boasted two guitarists on top of a bassist and drummer, with Ball only singing, often at the mic stand with her hands behind her back as the sounds swirled around her. And what sounds they were—quite loud in a wall of sound approach. The main thought was, “My ears are definitely ringing tonight.” There was no stage banter from Ball, but humorous asides wouldn’t have really gone well with Just Mustard’s air of menace. When guitarist David Noonan sang, his vocals were more impassioned, with him screaming into the microphone. Just Mustard were one of the best sounding bands we saw at Visions, although sometimes their cool and consistent vibe came off as a bit one-note.

Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Mark Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Mark Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Mark Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Mark Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Mark Redfern)
Picture Parlour (Photo by Mark Redfern)

Picture Parlour were one of the most buzzed about new acts at Visions. The London four-piece had only recently released their debut single, “Norwegian Wood,” but that was good enough to land them an interview with Under the Radar and a digital cover story with NME. The band’s set brought us to MOTH Club, a fairly small wood-paneled venue with several large booths sporting red cushions. In the back was a big case filled with silver trophies. MOTH is an ex-servicemen’s members club that’s had a bit of a hipster makeover, but its décor still betrays its more muggle roots. Given the media hype surrounding Picture Parlour, I was expecting a long line to get into the venue and a bigger crowd inside than there was. But there was still a decent sized and passionate audience ready to see if the band passed muster. While most of the attendees had likely only heard the one song by the band, myself included, Picture Parlour easily impressed, once they got through their public soundcheck that is.

Lead singer Katherine Parlour had a very expressive classic rock type voice. In a different era, you could easily see her sharing a bill with Janis Joplin. In complete contrast to Just Mustard’s Katie Ball, Parlour was much more animated and made full use of the small MOTH stage. She was clad in a vintage suit and sported her already signature mixed color hairstyle (kind of like a less dramatic take on Cruella de Vil’s hair). The rest of the band—Ella Risi (guitar), Sian Lynch (bass), and Michael Nash (drums)—were incredibly tight and there was a strong energy coming from Picture Parlour. The band were clearly enjoying themselves, still caught up in the excitement of being a new band with a considerable buzz around them. “We’ve wanted to play this venue for so long, so this is big stuff,” Parlour said before the band launched into “Neptune 66.” But it seemed like the band was destined for even bigger stuff. Watching them at the MOTH, you could easily imagine Picture Parlour performing the same set on a larger outdoor festival stage and it going over very well.

“This is our debut single. It came out last month. It’s not a Beatles song. It’s called ‘Norwegian Wood,’” Parlour said before performing their one and only officially released song at the time. The crowd was already singing along, something Picture Parlour should probably get used to.

Katy J Pearson (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Katy J Pearson (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Katy J Pearson (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Katy J Pearson (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)

Next we were back to Hackney Church for British singer/songwriter/guitarist Katy J Pearson. It was a nice chill set, with Pearson backed by a polished band that included a trumpet player. “I hope everyone’s as boiling as I am,” Pearson said, commenting on how hot the room was, before playing “Sound of the Morning,” the title track to her 2022-released acclaimed sophomore album (put out by Heavenly). Pearson performed several Sound of the Morning highlights, including “Alligator,” as well as “Fix Me Up,” from her 2020-released debut album, Return. She also did two new songs, one called “Separate,” and again remarked on how hot it was inside Hackney Church.

Modern Woman (Photo by Mark Redfern)
Modern Woman (Photo by Mark Redfern)

One of the quirkier Visions venues was Paper Dress Vintage. As its name suggests, by day the downstairs area is a vintage clothing store. In fact, in between sets at other venues we stopped in and my wife Wendy bought a delightful dress from the 1960s. But at night, the clothing racks are put away and it turns into a little bar/club. Upstairs, meanwhile, is a proper, albeit tiny, music venue. It was there that we tried to catch some of London post-punk band Modern Woman. Unfortunately, it was so packed that I had to watch wedged in between people just at the top of the stairs and Wendy opted to go back downstairs to sit in the shop-turned-bar and read a book. Hence I only witnessed a couple of songs, but the band seemed to have good stage presence and a passionate audience. “I won’t be offended if you guys leave to go see Spiritualized,” frontperson and guitarist Sophie Harris said…as we were leaving to go see Spiritualized.

Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Spiritualized (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)

Spiritualized featured a six-person choir and frontman Jason Pierce performed sitting, clad in dark sunglasses, all of which is par for the course with the band these days. I first saw Spiritualized on April Fools’ Day in 1998, when they opened for Radiohead at the since-demolished Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles during that band’s OK Computer tour and Spiritualized were touring 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Since both rank among my favorite albums of all-time, it was quite a double bill. But it was a Spiritualized show at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles in November 2001 that I have long cited as one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. Pierce’s band were in top form that night and featured not just a choir, but also a string section, as they performed songs from Ladies and Gentlemen and that year’s Let It Come Down. The sound was all-enveloping and goosebump-inducing. Research shows they played 17 songs that night and performed for over two hours. I’ve seen Spiritualized a few more times since then and while they never quite reached the heights of the Wiltern show, they always impressed. Their show at Visions was no less majestic, even if some of the rowdier audience members around us could’ve been more respectful and just shut-up. It’s a common complaint among die-hard music fans, but I’ll never understand why people will pay good money to see a band only to talk throughout the whole show. Luckily Spiritualized were loud enough and sufficiently engaging to overcome such distractions, with the choir often moving in unison and even snapping their fingers at the same time during one song. One of the main thoughts while watching the band was that they should be playing a much bigger venue to a much larger crowd.

But there was one complaint about Spiritualized and that was the set list. A full half of the 12 songs were culled from the band’s last two albums: 2018’s And Nothing Hurt and 2022’s Everything Was Beautiful, with most of the rest of the set populated by songs from other relatively recent albums, 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light and 2008’s Songs in A&E, with one song—“She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)”—culled from 2003’s Amazing Grace. The band performed nothing from the aforementioned Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and Let It Come Down, arguably their biggest albums. So no “Come Together,” “I Think I’m in Love,” “Broken Heart,” “Cop Shoot Cop…,” “Do It All Over Again,” “Out of Sight,” “Stop Your Crying,” or “Lord Can You Hear Me.” In fact their first four albums and ’90s output in general was completely ignored, apart from one bone thrown to old school fans in the form of the glorious “Shine a Light,” from Spiritualized’s 1992-released debut album, Lazer Guided Melodies. It’s perfectly understandable for veteran bands to not want to rely on their former glories and to desire to play newer work. Certainly Spiritualized’s albums from the last two decades have all been excellent and well-received and I was happy to hear Everything Was Beautiful highlights such as “The A Song (Laid in Your Arms)” and “I’m Coming Home Again” live for the first time. But working in even just a couple of Ladies and Gentlemen tracks would’ve gone a long way. Fellow ’90s British band Suede face a similar conundrum, being that they have also released several excellent new albums in recent years, but when I saw them perform last year they played a healthy mix of their classic hits alongside more current songs. Still, when a band sounds as amazing as Spiritualized do, this is a minor complaint. And it’s Pierce’s right as a true artist not to give into fan service and to simply perform any kind of set list he likes. Pierce said nothing to the audience the whole show besides a simple “thank-you” as he left the stage following Spiritualized’s final song, “So Long You Pretty Thing.”

Visions Festival Posters (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Visions Festival Posters (Photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)
Visions Festival Program (Photo by Mark Redfern)
Visions Festival Program (Photo by Mark Redfern)

And with that Visions 2023 was over. If we find ourselves in London again next summer at the same time, and the lineup is as strong, we’d certainly attend it again. The festival was relaxed and stress-free, with an easy movement between venues. Everything seemed to run on time and the sound was generally impressive. Sometimes it’s great fun to be in a field in the middle of nowhere, wandering between giant stages and camping at night. Other times, it’s nice to have a more urban experience and to take the Tube for a one-day event. Visions more than scratches that particular festival itch.

www.visionsfestival.com

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