The sun was shining down on the beautiful city of Bristol on the day that Dot to Dot took it over for its 10th birthday. As soon as the wristband exchange point opened outside Thekla, there was already an impressive queue and it was great to see so many people coming down early.
Having said that, my first act of the day, Natalie Holmes, didn’t have much of a crowd to entertain but she still seemed grateful for those who had turned up so early at the Fleece. She treated us to slow acoustic pop, playing acoustic guitar and keyboard and hitting those high notes perfectly with her impressive range. It was a very personal set, as Natalie provided a story behind every song, and a pleasant way to start the festival with someone actually from Bristol.
Then it was on to the Trinity Centre for a triplet of acts, beginning with Menace Beach, who I was very excited to see. It seemed like most of the people in the audience didn’t know who they were but there was still a lively crowd at the front singing along to every song. Their carefree, off-the-wall indie pop sounded even better live than it does on the album – probably because of the power that you could feel coming out of the instruments and the energy coming from the band’s leading duo Ryan Needham and Liza Violet. Menace Beach’s songs tend to be quite short, which was great because they managed to fit plenty into their thirty minute, playing over half of their self-titled album, including the dancey Tastes Like Medicine and the atmospheric Fortune Teller. I’d say it was a successful performance as I managed to convert a friend of mine into a Menace Beach fan.
Upstairs in Trinity 2, Daisy Victoria had already started playing – an act that I can’t say I really understood. She sounded to me like a country western singer trying to be a rockstar. Although I’d never really seen an act like her, I can’t say that there was anything about her that stood out to me as impressive. To be fair to her, she and her band seemed to be having a good time and the room was quite full. Apparently it just my taste.
Back downstairs, Manchester girl band PINS were setting up. It was nice to see that there were people in the audience who already knew who they were and by the end of the set they had definitely won over the rest of the crowd too. They were definitely there to impress, oozing confidence with every noisey power-pop song, feeding off the audience’s energy and interacting with the mosh pit at the front, all of which made their set fly by. The highlight of the set was Girls Like Us, a sophisticated, shouty anthem which really shows off what they can do and makes me certain that they’ll go on to big things.
There was a real party vibe during Hudson Taylor’s set at the O2 Academy (see photo), which was by far the best set that I saw at the festival. It was the first time that I’d seen this folk-inspired band live or even heard their music but the sound was spot on, the instruments gelled so well together and the crowd was really responsive, with everyone dancing and clapping along. It was nice to see the pure joy on the band members’ faces when the audience was singing along and they even brought along a couple of surprise guests, including Gabrielle Aplin and Hannah Grace, who lent their vocals to the songs Don’t Know Why and For The Last Time – the harmonies sounded awesome. Hudson Taylor are a band who have really nailed live performance.
My last act of the day was Swim Deep, who I usually love, but this performance was just puzzling. The set focused on popular songs from their debut album, kicking off with King City and saving She Changes The Weather for the penultimate song, great choices by whoever put together the set list, and they even played the stripped back mini-song Intro. However, the crowd didn’t seem to appreciate it as the band weren’t really trying to connect with them. Frontman, Austin Williams, was in his own world and his mic was often not loud enough or had too much delay on it – whether this was a deliberate effect or a technical slip-up, it was a bit off-putting. There didn’t seem to be many actual Swim Deep fans in the audience but even with the fans who were there, new songs To My Brother and One Great Song Could Change The World didn’t get a great response. These songs are definitely going in a new direction and I’m not sure that the fans in Bristol enjoyed it. Hopefully they got better crowds to feed off in Manchester and Nottingham.
I really enjoyed Dot to Dot festival and would definitely recommend it as I plan to go back one year myself. It was a great day because there was a mixture of new and familiar acts, Bristol is a gorgeous city and the weather was definitely on our side. What’s more, it was great to hear music pouring out of every side street as we strolled through the city.