Hosted at The Frog and Fiddle, Cheltenham, the Welcome to UOG music night is always the curtain raiser that cuts the red tape of the University band season, with a new batch of fresh faced culture kids armed with their beer tokens.There is no better event to provide right amount of student and graduate acts to give you the customary dipping toes treatment that should only wet your gig night appetite for the next 9 months, until May finally sticks its nose in.
Starting off the evening event was Demi Marriner accompanied by her band, with a set of pop/country originals that saw her debut EP reach the top spot of Apple’s UK country charts.
Having performed with her band across cheltenham frequently in the previous year, as well as on her own for a wealth of summer dates, Demi showed that she is consistant performer more than capable of handling an audience. Tracks like Pretty and C You registered as fan favorites to a crowd of familiar university faces whilst tracks like My Church and Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet gave the set a heavier slant that worked well given the environment. Issues that stood out for me was the consistent playing of piano throughout most of the tracks which i felt cluttered most songs, perhaps less playing via this instrumentation would add to the set’s dynamics. Again, switching the stage piano to a warmer electric piano would add a degree of warmth, with less attack to soften its impact in the live scenario.
Eden In Progress continued in the barn, with a style of heavy american rock with frequent strangs of emo slipping in via the bassist’s backing vocals. These screamo style backing vocals struggled to really cut through the mix which made it difficult to maintain their sound effectively, with a front man who appeared to be a bit much to be frank. All his crowd interaction seemed overplayed, acting as if he was to cool to be there. Most tracks were okay but the main vocal couldn’t quite hold its own to make chorus’ singable, as well as being very Americanised which can become an annoyance. General structuring was also amiss, with a few ill placed breakdowns that arrive out of nowhere which hindered the overall outcome.
With a switch up in musical styling OPTIKALL took to the barn with a remedy of hip hop beats, asserted by a wealth of positive strutting and songwriting. The vocal performance from this solo act was calm and collected with each line really registering well in its phrasing, but would benefit perhaps from pre recorded harmonies to bed in certain lines and structural changes – this was felt particularly during Open Door with the chorus’ final two lines being effectively catchy but could be bettered by a bit more vocal bedding. Further tracks such as Stand With Me and Colours provided a more than the ample amount of head nodding and foot tapping needed to keep the barn moving, with a bit more bass needed perhaps via some 808’s during Stand With Me. Best song of the set was Unfair which really rattled the front of house with an acute sharp vocal delivery to match, this rap styling is something I would like to hear more frequently from this artist as it felt as though it is something OPTIKALL understates. I would say this act was the best of the evening, being an easy character on stage to warm to – with lines such as ‘It’s great to be back, I’m a KP and its shit’, allowing a trustful giggle from those at the barrier. What I would say is stage wise there needs to be something else, perhaps a bit more kit to play with to keep the audience’s focus or a visual via stage lighting or some form of projection to really cross all those t’s.
Finishing up the night was All Ears Avow, who I have previously covered live via this magazine. Still doing what they do best, AEA delivered a polished display and sounded as big as their now weighty local reputation expects. Their ability to build dynamically into clearly established chorus sections allows for a rounded full sound, with tracks such as Better Now and Weight Of The World being the standouts. It is difficult to criticize this act given their relentless schedule and the determination these guys have, with what seems like a continuous gigging roster that covers the length of anywhere not restricted by sea. One thing I would say is it sometimes feels like you only need to see these guys once, which is especially harsh to what these guy do, but I’d like to see a new four track release for them to battle round with in the live environment. These folks are professionals in their own right, with huge kit and the move into a mostly digital backline to stop all those live variables – But for me, all these guys need is a bit more variation.
Words by Lewis Abbott//Photos by Lily Maggs