Future Now Festival, Birkenhead
Since rolling back the shutters this summer, Birkenhead's premier music spot FutureYard has really hit the ground running with its live programme. This two-day festival marks a housewarming for the venue, a chance to celebrate the local scene as well as bringing in acts from further afield. But with artist cancellations trickling in through the weekend, they're still having to finetune details right down to the wire.
Luckily, they've got plenty of stellar local acts to keep things ticking over across both stages. Friday's line-up boasts favourites like DAN DISGRACE in fine fettle, his songs a wry comment on the dreariness of life yet still somehow conjuring up a party atmosphere. Indoors, two-piece STORES are rattling through a scuzzed-out, sublimely slacker set, which neither they or the audience quite want to end.
Later NUHA RUBY RA delivers one of the stand-out performances of the weekend. In white knee-high boots she stalks the stage, lights flashing up as stark and disorientating as police headlamps as she hisses death wishes to men who pull out guitars at parties. She's followed by GRUFF RHYS, who replaces the ratcheting terror with a sense of fuzzy wellbeing, complete with backing singers and sardonic cue-cards he waves at the crowd to prompt their cheers. He needn't have bothered, everyone's on board. A rousing singalong in Welsh is beyond most of us, but we brandish our glowsticks all the same. Towards the bar, a blissed-out man brushes off staff waiting to take his order: "Gruff Rhys is here in Birkenhead, what more could I fucking want?"
There's something reassuring about the festival scenery too. The guy in mustard socks crouched on a bench, snapping close-ups with an antique camera. The figure in a cowboy hat scuttling urgently by to dispense spare shirts and kit to the stage. Small children getting as much mileage out of bracing post-punk (DEEP TAN, FOLLY GROUP) as the dads chaperoning them; spaniels outside lapping up bedroom pop. It all makes for a chilled Saturday backdrop for the guttural punk-poetry of GADZOOKS, and later ASTLES, whose wistful repertoire is so spare and heartfelt you could forgive him for blinking back tears -- though he hastily assures us it's just hay fever.
Then there's BRAD STANK bringing his smoky late bar blues to the back room, seducing the crowd with a bass murmur and talk of fine wines. A salacious trumpet solo has everyone eating out the palm of his hand, while he purrs in approval. It's a level of intimacy sometimes lacking at the outdoor stage, where some of the more introspective acts get drowned out by the excited chatter of friends making up for lost time. But the atmosphere is still supportive, spontaneous; like when a beaming audience member runs up to NIL00 clasping a tartan skirt, which they gamely slip on over the one they're wearing. Meanwhile SEAGOTH don't look like they need outside approval, with frontwoman Georgia Ochoa and her bandmate screaming into each other's faces in happy abandon as seagulls chime overhead.
There's beer from local brewery Glen Affric, and burgers so good you want to go back and order four more under a pen name. This isn't one of those anonymous festivals where you wander bloated between far-flung stages, but a close-knit affair, with everyone playing their part. Chances are the guy sipping pilsner to your left is moonlighting in about three of the bands. It's testament to what a tightly-run ship FutureNow really is, with everyone willing to pull together and improvise if something doesn't go to plan.
But it's all just a taster of what's ahead. If this much is possible amid the chaos and curveballs of covid, then FutureNow is all set to become a summer staple. In years to come, everyone in the Premier Inn opposite will lash open their windows to eavesdrop, and all the Liverpool-bound 437s will be sucked back through the tunnel to join the party. Lately, the future hasn't seemed like a destination anybody would want to visit, but if it's engineered by this team, sign me up.
2021. Appeared in Bido Lito.