Bushstock Festival @ various venues across Shepherd's Bush, London (14 June '15) // Words: Saam Das
More than thirty bands and plenty of eager punters descended on West London for Bushstock 2015. The Communion Records-run festival felt bigger than ever before, even (very successfully) debuting an outdoor stage, while also moving further away from its folk image. As has become an annual rite of passage, I picked up my wristband at St Stephen's Church before entering for my first act of the day.
In years gone by, acts such as George Ezra and Daughter have played early slots at this hallowed venue, and it's not hyperbole to suggest that youthful solo artist Frances could achieve a similar level of success. Armed with a piano, her remarkably assured performance commanded the audience's attention.
Having sneakily discovered the special guests (Alex Vargas, Nick Mulvey and The Staves) ahead of time, I considered heading over to the Albertine Wine Bar but not before consulting with some locals, who suggested that it would be a considerable squeeze. I opted to remain at St Stephens Church for Matt Woods. A wise choice. Performing as a trio, Woods' future soul offerings proved as hypnotic live as they are recorded.
Over at Defectors Weld came the palate-cleansing offerings of The Amazons. One of an increasing number of acts at Bushstock to not fit into the usual folk mould, their heavier sound was a welcome change. They seemed genuinely grateful to see a decent crowd out early to see them, and duly obliged with a terrific set. Shame about their drummer choosing not to wash his hands after using the loo though.
Next up was a mini-adventure to new venues The Courtyard and Common Room (although I never quite made it into the latter, one of the few capacity-based issues this year) located within a London College Of Fashion campus. It was up to soulful blues of Samm Henshaw to hold my attention on the outdoor stage, and he did just that. Amping up the crowd from the outset, aided by a seven-piece backing band, Henshaw et al delivered an energetic performance.
I stuck around to try some beers at the well-placed Guinness Van (their Golden Ale being a surprising highlight) and caught The Academic. The Irish guitar-based quartet performed competently, although I never quite felt truly excited during their set. A similar story followed back at the Defector's Weld where Chess Club signings Beach Baby tread water with their hazy tunes.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were on hand to reinvigorate proceedings at St Stephen's Church, contrasting Rateliff's typically introspective folk with a rollicking experience - reminiscent of the jubilant scenes that Raghu Dixit brought to the Church in 2012. Unfortunately, I had to disappear early to catch Charlotte OC, who initially seemed rather distant. She grew into the set however, driven by her powerful vocals.
I returned to the sanctity of The Courtyard for Vaults, who operated some sort of glorious metal coned percussive machine that was certainly the most intriguing instrument that I caught all day. Their electronic pop impressed, and part of me thinks that this kind of dancier sound would be worthy of a headline slot in future.
Speaking of which, the charming Michael Kiwanuka headlined of The Courtyard, mixing his older folk material with blues-rock. At well over an hour long, Kiwanuka's performance was perhaps a bit overextended but it was nonetheless a suitable high for another successful year at Bushstock.
Find more info at bushstock.co.uk.