by Hywel Roberts Contributor | Photos by Joseph Singh

Tags: The Libertines, Everything Everything, British Sea Power 

The eight best things we saw at Margate's By The Sea festival

With incredible sets from the likes of The Libertines, HMLTD and snooker champion turned DJ Steve Davis, this late summer fixture proved well worth the trip

 

The eight best things we saw at Margate's By The Sea festival Photo: Joseph Singh

By The Sea returned this year with an extended three-day programme, including a Sunday of music in the ersatz imperialist-era surroundings of the Winter Gardens. This late summer fixture has become a big favourite of Londoners and locals alike, and it's not hard to see why.

Everything is within walking distance of the beach, with venues from picturesque Old Town to the charming harbour arm (if you can brave the smell at low tide) make it this a great way to dine on the musical feast on offer. Here's what was on the menu this year.

 

1. British Sea Power

Friday night's offering does feel very much like a warm-up for the rest of the weekend, with only a handful of bands taking to the main hall in Dreamland. But that's not to say there isn't plenty of quality on offer.

British Sea Power might be something of a novelty to the younger members of the audience, as well as a comforting presence to those in their thirties and above. The foliage still adorns the stage, although the tommy helmets have long-since been jettisoned. What's left is still one of the best set of guitar pop songs on offer today. It's hard to escape the fact 'Remember Me' and 'Carrion' remain the band's best songs, but there's plenty there across the rest of the set to prevent them turning into a tribute act to their former selves.

 

2. Everything Everything

One effect of the truncated Friday evening bill is it does sometimes feel like an Everything Everything gig with a slightly longer musical tail than normal. But that's really more to do with the Manchester cult heroes' huge presence than a lack of effort from the other acts.

The band's more introspective moments were largely shunned in favour of a full-on assault of the senses, and the headline set was all the better for it. 'Can't Do' and 'Distant Past' sound particularly huge, and no one is left in any doubt that tonight, and a large share of the country's musical spoils, belong to Everything Everything.

 

3. Steve Davis

No we're not going snooker loopy over here at Gigwise, Steve Davis's late night DJ set at Olby's Soul Cafe really was superb. There is a novelty factor of course, with plenty of people demanding selfies with the six times world champion, but the music is the real star.

That people eventually start paying more attention to the tunes than the DJ, and losing themselves in the mix of hip hop, electronica and pop on offer, shows that there is more to this act than a bit of nostalgic fun. In the words of Mel Brooks in Curb Your Enthusiasm, 'There's something about this middle-aged bald man that's just THRILLING'.

 

4. Rozi Plain

On Saturday the fringe programme lights up the early afternoon. And in the slightly incongruous surroundings of Margate Museum, Rozi Plain treats us to one the understated highlights of the day. Songs like 'Marshes' are mesmerizingly beautiful, and the audience, mainly sat on the floor to watch the scene unfold, are struck dumb by the wonderful guitar work, tight harmonies and austere beauty of the music.

A set full of charm, with the chat between songs almost as entertaining as the music itself (ask her about the segway story if you ever meet her). Stunning all round.

 

5. Jen Cloher

If Rozi Plain entertains you with the lightest of musical touches, Australian rock goddess Jen Cloher bludgeons you over the head with a sledgehammer of wonder. The inclusion of her partner Courtney Barnett on guitar is of course a wondrous surprise (although it's not the best kept secret in Margate), but it's Cloher herself who is the real star.

Songs like 'Forgot Myself' are just magical rock offerings that land somewhere in-between The Pretenders and Patti Smith, and sound just as good as you'd imagine that sounding. Wonderfully powerful rock and roll, a hidden gem that threatens to overshadow much more prominent artists.

 

6. Deep Throat Choir

Choral and pop music have not always had the most harmonious of relationships. Pop songs sung by choirs these days can bring to mind nightmarish visions of reality TV and choirmasters with bad glasses and sinister smiles. But Deep Throat Choir are a different kettle of fish altogether.

An all-female choir who sing a mix of their own compositions and covers, they simply sound superb. Cuts from their album Be Okay are majestic, and the highlight of the set is undoubtedly a cover of PJ Harvey's 'The Words That Maketh Murder', which they sang on at Green Man. Chillingly beautiful.

 

7. HMLTD

HMLTD have been wrongly earmarked by some as a vaudeville horror act, whose only intention is to shock and appal. In fact this couldn't be further from the truth. The carefully-honed aesthetic is there to "challenge the audience", as frontman Henry Spychalski has previously said in interviews, but the overall effect is far from one-dimensional.

Sometimes sounding like The Birthday Party fronted by Marc Almond, others like Nine Inch Nails and Sparks rolled into one, they are a euphoric mix of contradictions and pure pleasure it's impossible to resist. Listening to 'Satan, Luella & I', with its repeated refrain of 'not every generation is doomed to despair', you realise that these are not devils in front of us but angels, sent to save us from the drudgery and terror of the world in 2017. They really will make you feel that good. Unmissable.

 

8. The Libertines

The Sunday night switch to Margate's Winter Gardens seems custom made for The Libertines. The grand but faded Victorian hall is straight out of The Albion to which Doherty and Barat so often opine.

Musically, the band sound superb in 2017. The danger of 2003 has gone, but it's been replaced by a competence that is certainly welcome. The performances now are not just better than those at the early gigs, but even infinitely better than the recordings themselves. So classics like 'Time For Heroes' and 'Boys In The Band' almost sound like new songs.

In terms of star quality, not even the young pretenders of today get anywhere close to The Libertines this weekend. They have been adored, fawned over, chewed up and spat out of over the past 17 years. Now they are simply regarded as returning heroes, back to cheer up the beleaguered home-front.

No one else can call on songs as good as 'Can't Stand Me Now' and 'Up The Bracket' this weekend. Even a slightly shambolic encore, with a horrendous attempt to cover Mapas and the Papas, can't mar what is a fantastic evening. Iconic.


Hywel Roberts

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