What happened at Live at Leeds

Final year Pop student Rachel Jones takes the student media ropes, and reviews Live at Leeds 2014 – the urban festival's biggest and best year yet.

Live at Leeds takes over the city for yet another exciting weekend of live music, with more than 20 venues hosting 200 of the country's most talented musicians. The sun is radiating gloriously across the city and there is a buzz of excitement as people scramble around for their programmes.

Although the majority of these acts will be performing inside, there’s a distinct festival vibe that has happily descended upon Leeds today. Young performers are out busking, drawing in crowds of curious passers by and it’s clear they’re desperate to be a part of this prestigious event. Their time will come I’m sure.
First stop for me is Leeds College of Music, as I gradually walk further away from the main town, the streets become quieter and it would be hard to believe that just five minutes up the road there are hundreds of people slowly filling the city centre.

It’s then that I realise the time is 12:20pm and although to the average adult this is afternoon (and also apparently an acceptable time to start buying oneself an alcoholic beverage for the joyous afternoon ahead) I remind myself that to students this is ghastly early. So it’s no wonder that there are only around 20 audience members scattered awkwardly across the seating area of the Venue. At first I am feeling disappointed and defeated for first act of the day Charlie Straw, but oh, how I needn’t be.

Charlie Straw takes the stage at Leeds College of Music

He strides out onto the stage absolutely unfazed, and instead draws on the lack of audience as one big confident positive. Ambient blue lighting complements the gravelly vocals that come effortlessly flowing out of this student’s mouth, and what was intended to be a powerhouse vocal performance instead turns into a beautiful intimate one.
Playing his electric guitar as though it is an extension of himself, Charlie sings of heartbreak and sorrow, melting even the steeliest of hearts. Embracing the close proximity of us onlookers, he makes a spur of the moment decision to unplug his guitar, come out from behind the mic, and serenade us with sensational slides and accomplished guitar playing. After setting a standard so high, I’m anxious to see if the rest of the acts will follow suit.
Students have finally started to venture out from the comfort of their beds and as I’m leaving Leeds College of Music to go and see Joe Lyons perform, a small queue is forming in anticipation of We Were Frontiers. Leeds College of Music student Joe, also know by his stage name Eaves, performs a haunting set in the beautiful Trinity Church.

Joe Lyons plays to a full house at Trinity Church

With poetic lyrics and vocals that resonate with the church's incredible architecture, it's no wonder so many people have crammed into this spectacular space to watch this talented folk musician. Undoubtedly exhilarated after his performance Eaves explains: “Trinity Church is a venue that a lot of people start the festival with, so I expected some people, but nowhere near that amount – it was really satisfying and I feel like I’ve gained some supporters”.

Lyla Foy braves the daylight for Live at Leeds

I weave my way through the eclectic mix of young teenagers, music enthusiasts and partygoers to check out Lyla Foy. Back at The Venue I catch up with student Barney Riley who tells me: “I’m having a great time, it’s a great turn out, the atmosphere is buzzing and it’s lovely weather, everyone’s just having such a good time.”

As the day goes on it’s a joy to see so many walks of life come together in the name of music.
Excited chatter escalates over the sound checks as the technicians work their magic. Lyla Foy gives a cool and collected performance of 90s grunge inspired tunes with a modern twist of electronic triggers. The drummer adopts an amusing rock star attitude as he opens a bottle of beer whilst playing and the audience watch in awe as the cap soars across the stage.

Lyla says: “It’s strange to be playing in daylight, we only ever come out at night, it’s not natural”. The gentleman next to me bounces along enthusiastically, clutching a handful of CDs he’s obviously purchased throughout the day whilst roars of applause fill The Venue as Lyla finishes her outstanding set.

Arc Iris. Because one keyboard is never enough. 

As the afternoon shifts into evening and the performances start to sink in, I am amazed by the standard of playing. However, professionalism is something left to be desired from American band Arc Iris. Standoffish comments are thrown around onstage as the band struggle with technical difficulties.

But maybe I’m just being too British and there’s a brilliance in knowing exactly what you want. I can’t fault the LCoM staff, handling everything with grace as the demands flood in, the sound engineers work flawlessly together to calm this tyrant of a band. Dressed head to toe in gold catsuits, shiny silver jackets, face paint and glitter, the band dance around the stage as the seats fill with curious faces.

Cabaret meets Bowie meets Broadway meets Pop all stirred together with a sprinkling of Queen, and often all within one song. Arc Iris are one of the most energetic and mind blowing things I’ve seen all day: a whirlwind of creative genius. I catch up with front woman Jocie Adams after the show and I am shocked to hear they have only been playing together for a year.


The bar fills with the eager fans of Frank Turner, and the atmosphere amplifies into the progressively rowdy vibe of an evening gig. A queue coils round the back of the building as it reaches full capacity. Yet fans are not defeated by the long wait and instead an upbeat optimism radiates off the ever-growing crowd. Every seat in The Venue is filled with joyous people, tipsy and elated on music and beer.

The audience on their feet for Frank Turner's set

As Frank delivers a captivating lively set I overhear one onlooker exclaim to his friend: “oh my god, it’s Frank Turner, I think I might have one of those fan girl moments”. Hundreds of voices bounce of the walls as the audience sings along word for word feeling privileged and honoured to be a part of this exclusive gig.

Frank Turner

As the evening draws to an end and people start to wonder back to their beds, there’s an overwhelming sense of community engulfing Leeds. Hundred of fans and musicians have travelled far and wide to support each other, have a good time and embrace the magnificence that is live music.

The day has undoubtedly been a success as whispered promises about returning next year float through the quietening streets. It’s been an inspiring day full of enthusiasm and talent and I can honestly say I cannot wait to return. 

Words and pictures by Rachel Jones



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See pictures of what went down and read reviews from other music mags

The Unconference

See what happened, and get the twitter handles of those networking on the day.

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