Last weekend saw 3 days of live music in the urban setting of Myrtle Park, Bingley. Is a festival run by the council with an early curfew and no camping REALLY a festival? And if not, should it even try to be?
It’s a peculiar feeling to step off a train into Bingley town centre alongside brightly coloured, welly-booted festival-goers thronging onto the cobbled streets. This market town in the wilds of Bradford Borough seems an alien landscape for what has grown by year into one of the highlights of the West Yorkshire live music calendar.
Bingley Music Live traces its roots back to an event called Music In Myrtle which first appeared back in 1991 with headline acts apparently conceived in the mind of a Dave Lee Travis parody including tributes to Showaddywaddy, Hot Chocolate, Edwin Starr and Boney M. In 1998 this grew into a 2 day festival as local radio station Pulse FM jumped on board and true to the programming nature of that station the acts on offer became far more contemporary pop-orientated, the line-up including such rare and critically-acclaimed talent as Busted and Gareth Gates.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the event began to decline, and in 2007 it was announced that the original organisers could no longer afford to go on. Then, in September of that year, something almost as miraculous as it is mind-boggling happened – Bradford Council stepped in and offered to foot the bill so that the party could continue. It was renamed to reflect this change and so Bingley Music Live was born.
At first the event consisted of a free day, open to all the taxpayers who were ultimately footing the bill, followed by a ticketed day or two which brought in cash to cover a line-up of a higher quality than had previously been on offer. This worked well for several years but as its popularity surged, so did the logistical problems in running the show in this way. With the difficulties of controlling a crowd that had swelled to an almost unmanageable size on the free day alongside the problems incurred calming the tempers of those who were refused entry as the venue filled to capacity, it was unfortunately inevitable that those days were numbered and the whole weekend was to become a ticket-only affair. The compromise given was for the friday to be a shorter yet cheaper day, and judging by the friday audience this year this does not seem to have deterred many.
The real beauty of the way in which Bingley Music Live is programmed is the opportunity it gives for local acts to shine. The main stage lineup is engineered for the widest possible acceptance. There is nothing too risky, plenty of classics for the crowd to sing along to, and nobody likely to get in front of a microphone and cause any kind of controversy. This really is the most family-friendly gig that I have been to, and by family I don’t just mean the kids – you could safely bring your gran here too. It is an unfortunate yet correct truth that even the more well recognised local acts rarely get noticed outside a core group of 20/30-something gig-goers and uber-muso-geeks. By having local musicians in prominent slots mere feet from household names that are guaranteed to bring out the unbelievers, there is a knock-on benefit for the wider West Yorkshire music scene which has for some years been in its ascendency.
Friday night, being mainly patronised by a noticabley older crowd, was headlined by 90’s britpop fringesitters The Charlatans, who were warmly received. Tim Burgess, beginning to look a bit like a cross between Kurt Cobain and Boris Johnson, played a steady set which kept bringing up reminders of the minor contributions this band has made to popular culture. Preceding them was the excellent Motown legend Martha Reeves who managed to stun the crowd with the range of her voice despite the obvious ravages of such a long career. Stand-out moment was her announcing “I’ve been trying to get an answer to this question for 50 years, maybe you could all help me” before launching into Jimmy Mack. The acoustic two-piece Spirit of John, hailing from the Wild West Yorkshire hills of Halifax and playing on the Musicians Centre stage, continue to gather pace and admirers alike.
Saturdays highlights included Bradford-based Gods Of Hellfire playing a blistering metal set, fake blood and all, next to the childrens bouncy castle at the Musicians Centre Stage – proof if it were needed of the multi-facted nature of this event. Space played a set which increased in confidence despite problems with the sound for the first half, which seemed to rattle them noticably. DJ Fresh was well received by the younger elements of the audience. From a vantage point next to the Soreen malt loaf van (the events sponsor, inexplicably) arms were aloft and punters were dancing hard well up to and beyond the sound desk. The absolute standout performance of the day, helpfully enabling me to miss much of Razorlight and the self absorbed Ian Curtis-alike performance of Jonny Borrell, were The Lancashire Hotpots on the Raise The Roof Stage. “Good Evening Bingloid” they announced from the stage before launching into a typically absorbing performance which spanned several costume changes and a song about cinema smugglers hiding Revels in their waistcoats.
Sunday benefitted from the best of the weekend weather and some of the most inspiring smaller acts on offer. There is a tendency for one of the days at BML to be more dance orientated in regards to the headliners, and the choice of Nero for the main stage lived up to this. Some have commented that this isn’t the best choice for such an event, but the broad appeal aims of the organisers is evident. With Nero preceded by White Lies and Maverick Sabre, the feel of this stage was quite different to the previous two days which was something I found refreshing. The Musicians Centre stage presented some real treats with local band Foxes Faux, stage-invading heckler and all, playing a riotous and well received set (one of three they played that day) and ‘happy folk’ aficiendos the Coopers being the highlights. Massive dissapointment of the day was the Idiot Bastard Band, fronted by Phill Jupitus, Rowland Rivron, Neil Innes and Bradford’s own Ade Edmondson, who appeared convinced that their mere presence alone would be entertaining in itself (without anything of substance to justify that perception).
Overall the event was well run and was a credit to those involved. My fears of anything remotely cultural being handled by a local council were allayed and clearly the length of time BML has been running means it has evolved into an exceptionally well-oiled machine. My only criticism of the organisation is in their media policy which was pointed out to me by professional music photographer Nick Pickles. Anyone taking pictures of any of the acts were contractually obliged to give their work over to the organisers for free for them to use as they saw fit. Professional photography is not as fun a job as it may seem and those who make their living this way need to be paid in order to ensure we have high quality memories of events recorded for the future. In solidarity with them I have declined to use any photographs in this piece other than the image above which I will be duly forwarding to the organisers for them to use for promotional purposes.
Bingley Music Live is clearly evolving and expanding year after year. The natural capacity of the venue and urban location means it’s ability to grow is limited, and this is exactly why it shoud not try to see itself as a festival in the traditional sense. This is a series of all-day gigs on concurrent evenings and in being so it does very well. It has no need to jump onto any kind of ‘summer festival season’ bandwagon since the niche it has made for itself in the Northern music calendar sees it sitting as a shining example of a great community event (as the bastard child of the village fete and Radio 1 roadshow). The genuinely local crowd, packed into a small space for 3 days of dancing, drinking and being merry was duly entertained and it was hard to see any evidence of dissatisfaction – a feat it is hoped will be repeated next year.