Making A Scene - Suffolk

By: Anna Dobbie

Making A Scene - Suffolk
The Latitude Festival's coloured sheep

September 11, 2009 – Suffolk, United Kingdom

Let's take a trip deep into farmer country, to the tractor-boy home turf of Suffolk in the East of England. Not really the most obvious spot for budding new musical talent, I'm sure you'll agree, especially compared to the bubbling metropolis of London just an hour's short train journey away.

This article could have been written about London but that seemed a bit too easy—every British band or artist of a certain level is destined to at some point take the step to the big smoke and you can't walk five metres without passing a grotty pub with live music pumping through the cracks in the window frames. The market there is saturated, making it even harder to get noticed amongst the thousands of other would-be Peter Doherties.

Suffolk has had to up its game in comparison to neighbouring county Norwich which is currently creating a buzz through its blossoming scene and plethora of home-grown music labels. Suffering from a lack of touring-capacity venue, smaller pubs are developing their own mini-festivals, such as Swanfest which this year featured Hot Club De Paris amongst a selection of local favourites, and club nights like Furry and Uprock are attracting bands which would normally expect far larger stages and crowds.

The breakthrough success story of the year so far has been that of Woodbridge-based five piece indie rock outfit The Cheek, who, after several years of moderate acclaim on the local circuit under the silly pseudonym Cheeky Cheeky and The Nosebleeds and with a handful of noteworthy support slots including introducing Joe Lean and The Jing Jang Jong and The Wombats have been signed by A&M, an offshoot of Universal Music Group. Following their debut headline tour in late 2008 and a series of successful festival appearances including a raucous headline slot at Latitude's Lake Stage, the band are currently recording their debut album at ICP Studios in Belgium with production by White Lies and Pulp collaborator, Ed Buller.

Another band worth watching are female-fronted young'uns Underline the Sky, who competed in and won a national televised talent competition, Road to V on Channel 4, to decide which unsigned act should open Chelmsford's V Festival. The Ipswich-based band, who take inspiration from the likes of Paramore and Blink 182, have a large following in Ipswich ensuring sold-out local gigs and helping them to secure their slot at V Festival through their voting.

The recently-deceased Rosalita know better than anyone how the Road to V experience feels, having won back in 2007. Unfortunately, the Ipswich electro-poppers who had a massively dedicated (predominantly prepubescent female) fan following called it a day in early 2009—the split came as a shock to many, but the clues were there in their live show which clearly portrayed five very different ‘Spice Boys' all pulling together to try to create a hybrid sound, which none of them truly believed in. The good news is they have gone on to pursue their true individual passions, in the case of lead singer Kris Andrews and guitarist Rich Tyler, a folk-rock acoustic arrangement that lends itself better to their performance styles. While two others have joined a '60s throwback outfit called John Brett and The B Goodes, synther Ben Groom has gone underground to work on a solo set with strong influences from classic piano-poppers like Elton John and Billy Joel. We await in anticipation for the unveiling and keep our fingers crossed that the curse of Road to V, winning a competition and then failing to follow it up with something better, doesn't taint the future of Underline the Sky.

Angry Vs the Bear headlined Ipswich's Music in the Park festival in 2009, following a raucous performance at SXSW earlier in the year. The No Doubt-inspired band, who only formed in late 2008, have gone from strength to strength, featuring on the ‘Best of MySpace' Podcast in January, and are currently in the studio recording with Grammy award winning Simon Gogerly who has worked with the likes of U2 and Gwen Stefani.

Essay Like Nephew and Thee Vicars are local up-and-comers set to feature in 2009's BBC Introducing showcase for the region. Bury St. Edmunds four-piece Thee Vicars wowed crowds with their garage punk at BBC Radio One's Big Weekend off the back of a recommendation from the Suffolk BBC new music DJ. Ten City Nation are another local band in the spotlight—risen from the ashes of John Peel favourite Miss Black America, the three-piece recently released their debut full-length album to critical acclaim in the national press.

One thing that Suffolk has in abundance is countryside, hence more and more festivals are popping up each summer in East Anglian fields. Latitude festival, held at Henham Park near Southwold, is a magical summer wonderland where you are likely to see not only high profile musical acts but also poetry, drama, theatre, dance, art, comedy and pink sheep. Captioned ‘more than just a music festival', the site is unusually laid out next to a lake surrounded by forest which allows landscape designers to really go wild creating a hippy paradise. Highlights from 2009's festival included an early afternoon stonker of a set from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, a typically diva-tastic performance from Grace Jones (with a hat change for every song) and a fantastic cuboid dance-fest from Pet Shop Boys. With the festival managing to up its game year on year, who knows what 2010 will bring.

TV personality Jimmy Doherty (a farmer who rose to fame through BBC documentary Jimmy's Farm) has allowed his farm to be taken over for two days in September to support a music and food festival. Acts on the bill include KT Tunstall, Athlete and Jose Gonzales, with the prospective introduction of a BBC Introducing stage for local unsigned acts to perform in if the festival returns in 2010.

Suffolk might come across as lacking a music scene on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper there's a plethora of great artists just waiting to be found.

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