Norwich had been calling for a music festival for a long time Wild Paths certainly stepped up and answered the call. An inner-city festival that was to celebrate the city as much as its music output, Wild Paths managed to do both, giving Norwich a little bit of sign postage on the current bustling music map of Britain. The festival is the brainchild of former Coasts drummer Ben Street, whose vision certainly became a reality. In a recent interview I did with him, he said “collaboration will be at the heart of the festival” this definitely became true, as the weekend featured over 200 live acts across 18 different venues, from Voodoo Daddy’s to the Last Pub Standing, the Birdcage to the Bowling House, it seemed that nearly every indoor public space was doing its bit for the festival and indeed the city.
Travelling from venue to venue can sometimes be easily said than done, the fear of clashing between various acts is a festival reveller’s biggest peeve. The first venture took us winding through Tombland and to Epic Studios. As a first-timer to the venue, I hadn’t a clue of what to expect. The auditorium is very spacious, made ever clearer by the fact there is a handful of audience members, it is a Saturday afternoon after all. The act rehearsing is Caswell, a singer-songwriter based in Suffolk. Her set is dominated by heavy lighting and electronics. But in my opinion, it was hard to see anything else cut through. Her performance tried to emulate soul legends. It was nothing of the sort, sadly, a bland performance despite good stage presence. It became apparent that the lack of presence in the audience was the main feature to what was on it. Sadly, despite her best efforts, it wasn’t my taste of music, so it didn’t have my approval.
The next dose of live music we check is local band, Arlen. They are a four-piece band drawing from such influences as Glam and Punk with their deeper influences coming from the likes of The Libertines and more recent bands like Fat White Family. Frontman Jasper (Jas) Eade is swain by a particular type of banter, as he introduces the rest of the band as “Julian Casablancas, David Bowie, himself as Rod Stewart, and lastly on drums, Hugh Grant” in fairness, they are not bad alter egos. Due to the intimacy of pub venues, from stage to the floor, the amplifiers were unforgiving, earplugs are certainly needed. This however, didn’t ruin any aspect of the performance, the band possesses a raw energy matched with an endearing charisma that many punk outfits lack or are still trying to find. Their stage presence is a bold essence of what being young in a band is all about, the thrills, spills and the instantaneous rapport with fans. You can tell there is no “us and them” more “We”.
After their barnstorming show, I grab a quick conversation with Jas and the band’s bassist, Dylan (referred in the band’s intro as Julian Casablancas by the uncanny resemblance to the Stroke’s frontman) to discuss all things Wild Paths and what this does for Norwich and culture sector. One thing we agree on is the close-knit community across the Norwich scene, particularly with UEA bands. Dylan tells me “We know Gladboy, George who goes to UEA, We’re good mates with WRECK who are on at Karma (Kafe)” he later adds “if you go through the (sort of) lineage a lot of bands are connected by one or two members, who we’re all mates with now” Jas is involved in a side project, Afra, a singer-songwriter, who even though are on a current hiatus, Dylan says that (Jas) he was in the backing band for that also involves members of WRECK. The band is currently split between projects in both London and Norwich with Jas currently living there but being based with Arlen in Norwich. After my quick interview with them, it becomes clear that bands like Arlen are committed to giving Norwich an edge to the music it produces, in essence, giving it a new attitude.
As evening dawns, thoughts turn to the headline acts, and to a brand-new venue, once a hub of Norwich’s industrial past, the Shoe Factory Social Club. This baron factory turned venue space had been given a whole new lease of life with a very minimalist approach, it’s better to keep things they had once been then make them something other-worldly.
The highlight of the night came from the penultimate act on the floor of the Shoe Factory, Gengahr a London quartet who were keen on the whirlwind sound of twangy guitar riffs and anthemic lyrics to go along with it. The band is good at gaining a live audience and keeping it on every word. The band plays to a quota of an audience, the lovesick music fan who relates well with the alternative love song. The band have had a few decent years with two studio albums and a third expected next year and have been to the attention of Radio 1, their catchy number, “Atlas Please” is a particular a favourite of DJ Jack Saunders on the Radio 1 Indie Show. Their energetic set is just the starter before the main course, indie favourites The Magic Gang.
Meanwhile, for those who preferred a more intense scene, then it is Sunday’s line-up at Voodoo Daddy’s that provided a selection of all things hard and heavy. Voodoo’s (as it is now known) was formerly named, Bermuda Bob’s, and as well as being a tiki inspired bar, it provided the launching pad of bands and musicians across Norwich through Pizza Club Promotions. Festival founder, Ben Street played a key role in the success of Pizza Club and after my conversation with the lads from Arlen, it is clear that they owe a lot to him.
The first band that graced the stage, were History and Lore, a band from neighbouring Cambridge, whose style slightly varies from emo-based rock to melodic pop with the synergy of guitar and synth over gentle harmonies. They created a warm and friendly atmosphere, which is a lovely reassurance at a small venue; the harmonies created from both male and female voices worked an absolute treat. An unexpected one at that.
They are followed by Chicago indie shoegaze outfit, Deeper. The band is an electrifying soundscape that is best listened as an angry release of the negative strain that is everyday life. A key part of their image is keeping it minimal but punchy, and to add a lot of distortion. This is no more relevant than the drummer’s penetrative beat, the row of pedals, they keep an everlasting energy to say their songs average about two minutes. They certainly are a catch with the crowd, who perform the “pogo stick” on Persian rugs, I am included, and you can’t help but not do it.
As evening draws into night, the attention turns to the grand finale. For this, the OPEN banking hall takes centre stage. After a weekend dominated largely by guitar driven bands (as much as I love them) it was a welcome change for a different genre to close the weekend. Before the appearance of José Gonzalez, it was the turn of RnB singer-songwriter, Jerome Thomas. A man who attempts a reinventive style that manages to keep an authenticity in his delivery and tenderness in his voice, very much influenced in the style of Marvin Gaye as well as more popular contemporary artists like John Legend. Playing material from his E.P. Mood Swings(Volume One), an E.P. that brings the urban spirit to life. It can be said that it does the same live, just echoed ten times over. With Jerome Thomas, he certainly can provide one thing, that is: a sweet soul Sunday.
It had turned past ten o’clock when José González took to the stage, the grand auditorium was beginning to fill up and many, like me, lay in wait for the man of the hour. Just several minutes before, there had been another man of the hour: Ben Street. After the fire alarm sounded and which led to an evacuation of the building. Many weird and wonderful things happen at gigs, but fire alarms are a rarity. After a lot of patience, and echoes of Street’s megaphone, we were finally ordered back in. José González Take 2.
González is a musician with a lot of critical acclaim. The acoustic singer-songwriter has over three million followers on Spotify, and originally came to prominence in the Swedish trio, Junip in the late 90s and early 00s. Since then, it has been going up for González, an artist whose influence will surely echo in the annals of acoustic popular music. His set is nothing short of rewarding, a nice mellow end to a wonderful weekend of music. A set-list with surprise covers of The Beatles’ classic, “Blackbird” and Al Green’s 1972 smash hit “Lets Stay Together” it was certainly a performance will lovely perks and some surprises, in more ways than one.
Gonzáléz brought the curtain down on what has shown Norwich to be a fantastic hive of all musical activity. Of course it would seem wrong to just thank one person, after all lots of people had made the festival happen. But Wild Paths has shown what the performing arts can do to a city if it learns to collaborate with one another, community had been at the heart of the festival, and Ben Street, along with the countless others to long to mention, have given something that as residents of this great region can all champion. To Ben and the many others, Bravo! Same time next year?