Sea Change Festival

Two days, five venues and (at least) 71 acts, the inaugural Sea Change festival filled the market town of Totnes with the latest and most exciting sounds. Organised by the Drift record shop and in part curated by The Quietus and Heavenly Recordings, there was no way I was missing this music extravaganza.

Friday, 26th August

Jake Downs – St Mary’s Church

Starting the two days in church with young Jake Downs from Torquay seemed appropriate. Joined by cellist Sarah Hughes, the pair played several songs Jake had written (with one having a Kate Bush ‘Running Up That Hill’ intro) and telling us of the time he stalked a certain location in Totnes, as Kate Bush had been sighted there.

Ways With Weirds – Civic Hall

Heading over to the Civic Hall, I came in halfway through the opening speech of Sea Change. Greeted by a very Totnes feel of seeing a human skull (Papa Gede) smoking a cigar, spinning on a turntable calling on the spirit of David Bowie to grace us with a great festival. Being informed that The Cure, Blondie and The Fall have played here before felt like a really exciting two days lay ahead.

John Robb in conversation with John Doran – Civic Hall

Music journalist John Doran, talked about his alcoholism, how he setup The Quietus and talked to us about how after it was running John Robb stayed with him. Robb asked questions about it and a week or so later, had setup Louder Than War. The two talked about Bowie’s passing and Paul Morley‘s biography of the artist and how it is more about Morley than Bowie.

Magic Bus – Civic Hall

Local band Magic Bus were the first band on what could be seen as the main stage of the Civic Hall. Playing to an audience of small children, parents and hardcore fans in a room lit by daylight, is probably quite a natural environment for chilled out progressive rock/pop. With the Civic Hall’s big south facing windows, it did have a strange feel of being outside whilst indoors (which was quite good on a warm, sunny day) until the curtains were shut half way through the set, blocking the air and making it feel rather warm and stuffy.

The Membranes – Civic Hall

The Membranes were formed in 1977 by John Robb and in 1990 decided to “take a few weeks off”. They reformed in 2009, with a 50% new line up at the request of My Bloody Valentine curators of that year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties. In 2015 they released their first album post-reformation, which was inspired by a meeting Robb and Joe Incandela, a particle physicist and former spokesperson for CERN’s Compact Muon Solenoid experiment. Dark Matter/Dark Energy is a great album (part punk, part noise rock, part theoretical physics). The whole concept of music and science coming together is fascinating and it was a really great and energetic set. It was a great honour to be ‘knighted’ by Robb with his bass guitar during it. Afterwards, we briefly spoke and I had an awkward conversation about where I’m from. In hindsight, I believe Robb thought I was from a blog or press of some sort. I took it as an actual physical location question. I’m sorry John! I’m from here!

Rose Elinor Dougall – Civic Hall

Indie pop melodies floated across the room as Rose Elinor Dougall (formerly of The Pipettes) was joined by Maxim “Panda” Barron and Max Oscarnold of TOY.

The Parrots – Civic Hall

Hailing from Madrid, three-piece The Parrots are Diego García (vocals/guitar), Alex de Lucas (vocals/bass) and Larry Balboa (drums). They played, what was to them, a release party (and it felt like a party) as it was also the same day that their debut album Los Niños Sin Miedo was released. The crowd was energised, despite the heat, to the extent that during the last song García jumped into the crowd and sung his vocals from there.

Ultimate Painting – Civic Hall

Continuing the local theme, James Hoare (vocals/guitar) of Ultimate Painting was born in Torbay. Jack Cooper (also vocals/guitar) makes up the other permanent half of the band. They play beautifully soft alternative rock that feels perfect for warm summer evenings.

Yorkston / Thorne / Khan – St Mary’s Church

In between sets at the Civic Hall, I popped over to St Mary’s Church again, to hear a song or two from Yorkston / Thorne / Khan. The church was packed with only standing room left, so I only stayed for two songs before heading back across the road.

TOY – Civic Hall

Headliners at the Civic Hall, TOY are Tom Dougall (vocals/guitar and brother of Rose Elinor Dougall), Dominic O’Dair (guitar), Maxim “Panda” Barron (vocals/bass), Max Oscarnold (synthesizers/modulation) and Charlie Salvidge (vocals/drums). A mixture of psychedelic rock and shoegaze, with post-punk and krautrock thrown in. They washed away the days proceedings, like a rock music version of the tide going out on a pebble beach. Leaving us tired, reverb ringing in our ears but ready and excited for day two.

Rival Consoles – South Devon Arts Centre

Exhausted, but with the music not being finished for the day, I dashed over to the South Devon Arts Centre to catch the end of the Rival Consoles set.

Saturday, 27th August

Alice Jemima – Civic Hall

Opening day two on the Civic Hall stage at Sea Change was Newton Abbot’s 22 year old Alice Jemima. Having been played on Rob da Bank‘s Radio 1 show back in 2011, Jemima is already fairly well established into her career, despite having yet to release an album. Her catchy electro-pop sound makes me think this is what Mazzy Star might sound like if formed now.

Thirty Pounds of Bone – Civic Hall

Dr. Johny Lamb (aka Thirty Pounds of Bone) has come a long way from Shetland. Co-founder and leader of the Drift record label in 2005, Lamb is currently a lecturer at Falmouth University. But it’s almost ten years to the day since I saw him perform as part of Actress Hands at Exeter’s Cavern Club (as well as Matt Eaton and tonight’s headliners British Sea Power).

Alt-folk songs are maybe not the best of songs to play to small children and Lamb gave forewarning for swearing and apologised for it.

The Pure Conjecture – Civic Hall

It’s almost easier to say who isn’t in the super group The Pure Conjecture. Fronted by Matt Eaton (Actress Hands), tonight’s line up consists of Marc Beatty (The Tenderfoot/Brakes), Rose Elinor Dougall, Joel Gibson (The Tenderfoot), Johny Lamb (Thirty Pounds of Bone/Actress Hands), Darren Moon (The Tenderfoot) and Thomas White (Electric Soft Parade/Brakes).

Playing a mixture of indie, pop, soft rock and soul, they turned the atmosphere of the room into the perfect place for dancing and being cheerful.

Szun Waves – Civic Hall

Electronic improv jazz. I must confess that I didn’t really enjoy Szun Waves. I like bands like Battles and Bell Orchestre but this just felt like it hadn’t been refined enough.

Matthew and Me – Civic Hall

Totnes’s own Matthew Board and Lucy Fawcett (mainstays of Matthew and Me) received probably the loudest cheers of the entire weekend. Playing beautiful indie pop, it’s clear why they were well received. The music video for Old Flame Alight will interest anyone who likes my miniature videos.

BC Camplight – Civic Hall

Taking to the stage with his live band BC Camplight (Brian Christinzio), asked for the lights to be turned down lower. Despite living in Manchester since 2012, New Jersey born Christinzio appeared confused about whether he was in a place called Devon or Totnes, Devon. It reminded me of a similar experience whilst watching Thurston Moore at Exeter Phoenix. Then he asked for the lights to be lowered again and lower still. Musically, it was lo-fi surf pop rock with a little psychedelica thrown in, poured straight from the heart.

British Sea Power – Civic Hall

Eventually, all things must come to an end. With the festivities at the Civic Hall ending with British Sea Power, it is worth noting that they collaborated with New Lion Brewery to create British Sea Power IPA. Jan seemed a little worse for wear, possibly as a result of overindulging on said beverage, forgetting the words to songs. Not ones to worry about a small thing like that, the band stormed through a crowd pleasing set. They even made a call out to Big Jeff Johns who was in attendance over the two days.

The Modern Ovens – South Devon Arts Centre

Setlist:

I would hope that you wouldn’t normally expect me to be excited by a covers band. But The Modern Ovens aren’t like other cover bands. They are super group band, made up of Jonathan (Matt Eaton), Jonathan (Marc Beatty), Jonathan (Martin Noble), Jonathan (Darren Moon) and Jonathan (Neil Hamilton Wilkinson) who perform Jonathan Richman covers.

Having made their musical debut on New Year’s Eve 2007, they have been a rare, almost mythical act, performing only one gig per year.

This performance was very special too. Coming at the end of a very hot two days, towards the end of their set, at around 1:40am, Jonathan (Eaton) dressed up as an ice cream man and went out into the audience handing out free ice lollies (handed to him by Drift‘s Rupert Morrison). So began their version of the live version of Richman’s live performance of Ice Cream Man.

There was no better way to end a glorious two days of music.

For those of you who were unlucky enough to have missed the set, here’s a video for you.

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