Lymelight Festival 2024 was a testament to the strength and spirit of Staffordshire and Cheshire’s music scene

From glorious sunshine to thunder and lightning, orchestral rock bands to hyperpop soloists, pints and cocktails to kimchi fries and hotdogs, acoustic songwriters to indie quartets – Lymelight Festival 2024 had it all. This late May Bank Holiday weekend, the weather proved almost as diverse as Staffordshire and Cheshire’s burgeoning music scene as the annual music weekender got underway in Newcastle’s town centre for yet another year of free live music and entertainment.

More than 40 local bands and musicians performed across three outdoor stages, with further fringe sets inside various venues across the full weekend. Arriving in town on Saturday morning as the first acts finalised their setlists and completed soundchecks, there was a real buzz and sense of excitement. This festival, synonymous with Newcastle’s Spring Bank Holiday since its inception in 2013, was ready to kick off its eleventh year with a bang.

Easing everyone into the long weekend was Natasha Birks, who serenaded early risers with her acoustic set on the Market Stage, with familiar covers of Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift woven between heart wrenching and emotional original tracks like ‘Margaret’. 

A wander down the Ironmarket saw Johnny Nice Painter, a cathartic musical duo comprising Rick Hewitt and Joe Fowler, bring their brand of relaxed and rugged indie-folk to the festival with singles like Demons. By 12.30pm, it was already standing room only with plenty of music lovers out early doors to enjoy the full Lymelight experience, which was really heartening to see.

Meanwhile, Barracuda set the tone for the Guildhall stage with an energetic performance, drawing in an enthusiastic crowd. Young and fiery, they’ve got a really cool and collected charisma about them, and seem to be really at home on the stage. Having earned quite the reputation since their 2022 inception, it would be great to see them get into the studio for some recorded releases soon.

Just as their set wrapped up, Mara Liddle took to the Ironmarket Stage with her lo-fi bedroom electropop beats wearing an all-pink ensemble – which has, along with her digital-era inspired tracks, become something of a trademark of her brand. Mara’s confidence in her stage sets has grown so much since the first time I caught her perform live, which has led to her supporting the likes of The Lottery Winners in recent months, too. Girl Of Your Dreams went down a treat with the crowds as anticipation builds for its release later this week.

Back at the Market Stage, soloist Crowspeak delivered a brooding set of alternative dark folk, including her most recent single S W A N (S), boasting haunting vocals and intricate guitar melodies, before we were graced with Dead Bird Lady’s ethereal presence. Using her guitar, loop pedal and enchanting voice, she built tracks from her Granny House EP before the audience’s eyes with finely tuned expertise, bidding us all goodbye with a farewell track.

Throughout the day, the staggered stage times allowed festival fans to experience a variety of acts without too much rushing around, which provides a really laid back atmosphere throughout the day. Hosts Luke Edwards and Emily Galvin were fantastic, letting everyone know who we were listening to while providing insight on their sound and upcoming plans.

The outdoor spaces had been kitted out with benches, deck chairs and tables, which really got people into the holiday spirit as they supped pale ales from the Bottlecraft/Crossways bar, or a cocktail from Clubhouse, with foodie offerings from the likes of Feasted and Hamilton Bay.

And to keep that festival feeling flowing throughout the town, there were also fun fair rides, as well as the fantastic Castle Artisan Market, bringing the best makers, bakers and creators from across the county together for a very busy market weekend, indeed.

Following a hiatus, The Kings Pistol delivered a high octane rock and roll set on the Ironmarket Stage, really coming back fighting – no surrender, no retreat, as the Pistol would put it. It was so great to see them back in the saddle and I think it’s a really exciting time for them to return to the scene, with whispers of a forthcoming double LP, too.

Alternative post-punk five-piece Genius Of The Crowd poured out politically-fueled lyrics in Not The Problem and now-released What Shall Be, before pop-punk favourites Secret City Souls injected some humour into their noughties-inspired set with an actual ‘joke break’ – more sets need this, please.

All of this seamlessly transitioned into And What’s set on the Guildhall Stage, with their fusion of math rock and jazz, which was followed by perhaps polar opposites Pale Red and their steady rap beats, contrasting still to Julia Mosley’s fantasy-inspired, keys-driven set on the Market stage, where she invited guest vocalist Chloe Simpson stage to harmonise to Zachariah, from her Ballad of a Murderess album, with her.

If you missed Kez Liddle’s set, then you missed out on the absolute treat that was her cover of the Fireman Sam song, which breathed new life into the nostalgic 90s TV theme in a way I never thought possible and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. With delicate vocals and finger-picked guitar, she provided a perfect counterbalance to some of the louder acts. 

Bittersweet was the moment noise mongering rock duo Bathtub took to the stage for their final live show – but boy did they give the ‘Tub the send off it deserved. Truly face-melting bass riffs, bleeding knuckles and animalistic percussion as Brandon and Olly belted out the tracks from their five-year stint including Fallin Thru and their final single, Marry Me? Thoroughly looking forward to seeing what these lads get up to next.

Someone at the Guildhall Stage made the mistake of unironically asking Rocky Ostrich to ‘play something we know’, which if Lymelight 2024 was your first rodeo, is not quite what the festival is all about, though the four-piece did update some of their lyrics as a result, much the the crowd’s amusement. It was my first time catching this raunchy grunge outfit, which was certainly long overdue – if you’ve not seen them yet, catch them at The Sugarmill on Saturday, June 1 – you won’t regret it. 

Their set was followed by Dread Lagoon, blending alt-rock, psychedelic, and electronic elements in their enticing set. Again, not a band I’d seen live prior to Lymelight, which just goes to show the breadth and depth of our scene that is growing at an exponential rate. 

Rounding off the acts on Market Stage was Maddy Storm with her acoustic set, which is a stark contrast to her electronic show, which we’d be treated to the following day. But the live entertainment didn’t stop there, with plenty of acts still to come on the two larger stages into the evening. 

Mercury continued to go from strength to strength, with their post-grunge set satiating a hunger for a heavier sound as the sun began to shift. Their sets are extremely tight and polished, and they’re not only well supported by a wealth of bands in the area, but that support is also reciprocated. The four-piece have become something of a pillar of the community, with drummer Dean typically donning a t-shirt from another band on the bill – this time it was Death of Me. 

A highlight of the weekend for me personally was Death of Me, who’s EP Hell’s Where You Make It, Love’s How You Fake It, has been on my Apple music repeat listens playlist since its release last year. If you’ve heard their records or seen their music videos, you’ll have noted the high level of professionalism and quality, which effortlessly bleeds into their on stage performance, too. Their cover of Alone, by Heart, was a fantastic addition to their setlist, while tracks like Your Heart The Casket really highlighted their signature sound and certainly earned them some new fans.

Without doubt one of the best acts in Stoke right now who are seriously on the cusp of something serious special, is Sarcoline.  The band made an explosive return to the scene last Autumn, and their recorded releases have been absolutely phenomenal – namely, Mountain Blue, which is, so far, my record of the year. And their live set is where this electrifying four-piece really come into their own. Thoroughly entertaining, dangerously cool tracks, comedic timing nailed – another really stand out set from the weekend.

Closing out Saturday on the Ironmarket Stage were Clay Lake with their midwest alt-emo sound, chanting harmonies and anthemic choruses to a packed crowd, many of whom had been out all day. But seeing us out of Lymelight Day One in style was Stingray – who some of you may remember as Captain Stingray’s Groove Machine – who brought the same funky party vibe, just with a shorter, catchier moniker. This eight-piece collective are a real melting pot of sounds, genres, culture and instrumentation, that you simply can’t help but dance or sing along to. I’m still humming ‘ukelele, a tiny guitar’ two days on. Boasting djembe, synth, bass, guitar, drums, sax and more, this is a band that really embodies everything that Lymelight festival is all about.

Sunday’s weather was equally unpredictable, but that didn’t stop the crowds from gathering. Opening the Market Stage was Morning’s Thief and his gentle tracks on unconventional subjects against a backdrop of electric guitars, once again easing fans into a jam-packed day of live performances, some more intimate than others.

Over on the Ironmarket Stage, Cocoh offered a vibrant set of dainty vocals and rich sonic textures, including new single iWishFor, while Oli Ng opened the Guildhall Stage with some acoustic tracks from his debut album, Everything Is Impossible Until It Happens. After seeing him perform with the full band last year, it’s so great to have him mix it up and keep it feeling really fresh.

The Market Stage offered more stripped back performances, with Attack of the Vapours and Jay Johnson drawing in listeners seeking a more relaxed vibe. Both of these artists are serious Stoke music scene veterans at this point, and take to the stage with absolute ease. 

Those seeking a ‘big band sound’ could find it at the Guildhall Stage in the form of The Dregs, delivering an abrasive and anarchic indie-punk sound, with Taking Back Tomorrow showcasing exactly what ‘orchestral rock’ means with their upbeat set, including their debut single, In This Moment.

Poppy Blond’s set was so electric, it had to be momentarily paused to assess for lightning risks when the heavens opened, bringing with it thunder and hail. The show-stopping songstress had captivated crowds with her theatrical introduction ensuring no-one would be forgetting her name in a hurry before heading into singles like 2 Hour Thoughts and Misty Blue Eyes, making for a memorable R’n’B-infused set. 

Over on Guildhall Stage, crowd favourites Koala unleashed their fuzz-fuelled anthems as the drizzle ensued, while Borogoves, for a second year running, captivated with their haunting listening experience.

Covers, while not a requirement of Lymelight, definitely allow those who perhaps aren’t necessarily ‘gig-goers’ a lighthearted initiation into the scene, and some of my favourites from the weekend came from Rosie Edwards with her rendition of Ain’t It Fun, by Paramore, as well as Brandon Grindey’s take on Call Me – originally by Blondie, of course – while Sam Poole’s Tom O’Dell cover of Another Love was simply gorgeous. It goes without saying that their original tracks are equally as impressive, but I do enjoy how a cover can inject a sense of personality into a set.

As the day progressed, highlights included the moody and eclectic sounds of Lucid Waters and Maddy Storm’s fiery electronic set, while Blitz generated some excitement for their forthcoming debut EP and Nixon Tate laid bare his soul with his acoustic tracks from his Sleeping Fox record as headlined the Market Stage. 

Four singles deep into 2024 are Hotel Cola, who seemed to have emerged out of nowhere but have completely won over the scene with their emotional indie hits like Different Now You’re Gone and Only You, which are hopeful and uplifting in equal measure. Their tracks translate so well in a live setting and really give them a fresh perspective as they channel their energy into the delivery – I’m definitely getting Jaws vibes from these guys.

Finney never fail to put on a fantastic show, and Lymelight was no different, opening their indie electro-pop set with their most recent hit Can You (Be The One), reminiscent of an 80s Savage Garden track, throwing in a selection of hits from their debut EP, Technicolour Daydream, and new releases, like fan-favourite Lady.

Purveyors of indie rock and roll, Shader, treated a huge crowd to their yet-to-be-released record, Drop Your Weapons, which is going to be absolutely massive – mark my words. With  choruses made for outdoor stages, these lads certainly know how to put on a show and the Lymelight crowd certainly lapped it up. 

Closing the Ironmarket stage in style was Greg Murray and the Seven Wonders, perhaps the most prolific of artists on the scene right now, having released a record a month in preparation for their forthcoming album. A master of light and dark, the set stuck a balance of jig-inducing alt-folk and more emotional ballads, complete with enthusiastic audience participation.

But if there is one solo artist who could close this festival on his own, with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a stomp box, it’s John Dhali. Life-affirming and optimistic, his hopeful, heart-healing songs are joyous, while his charming personality and quick wit kept people stamping their feet and clapping their hands until the very end. 

Lymelight Festival has been a beacon for local talent since 2013, organised by Newcastle-under-Lyme BID with support from PH Productions and The Underground. Over the last 10 or so years, the event has provided a platform for over 600 acts to showcase their music, providing a much-needed platform for up and coming artists to be discovered by new fans, presenters, industry professionals and music moguls, while bringing additional footfall into the town centre.

But I think what was most apparent this year was the camaraderie and sense of community. From new and emerging acts to seasoned music veterans, genre-bending bands to stripped back solo sets – Lymelight Festival is so much more than an annual live event, it’s a testament to the strength and spirit of Staffordshire and Cheshire’s music scene, who proved just what we can do when we work together. 

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