Thanks to my lovely friend Rachel, for this great review!
Last Saturday brought Ladyfest Essex, the newest incarnation of the DIY festival celebrating women's creativity, art and music. This Ladyfest was being held in aid of Refuge, the domestic abuse charity, and had a very exciting line-up of local bands. My boyfriend and I took the train down from Cambridge and got to the Railway Hotel for about 4pm, a couple of hours into the all-day schedule.
In the upstairs room of the Railway, decorated with pink balloons and posters, stalls lined the walls. There were ceramics, knitting and zines on sale, as well as a craft table and hand-made upcycled clothing. I picked up a copy of Noisy with a free CD and issue 1 of Ste McCabe's Queers Make Music. The atmosphere was quiet but very friendly. We had arrived just in time to hear a quick talk by a Refuge representative, who told us about the work the charity does and mentioned that the women's sector is very underfunded. Next up were the three female poets of Sundown Arts. Jo Overfield's snappy delivery matched her funny, offbeat poems. Ray Morgan gave us wryly observed tales of commuter life and office temping, and Cherryl Scott recited from memory several moving pieces about surviving domestic abuse.
Things quietened down a little until the music began at 8pm. My boyfriend and I had delicious beanburgers downstairs, enjoying the fact that the Railway Hotel is the only completely vegetarian/vegan pub in Essex, so that we were completely refuelled when Ten Tigers came onstage. Ramshackle, charming and terribly catchy, Ten Tigers are one of my favourite live bands and they didn't disappoint, despite technical issues. They kickstarted the festival with 82, played a metal-sounding version of "our big feminist anthem" Superlucky and debuted a new song with the chorus, "She'll never love you as much as she loves Jesus!"
The next band were Candy Panic Attack, a three-piece who seem to make much more noise than three people should be able to. They rattled through their set of super-short punk-influenced tunes that ordered, not invited, dancing. After them were Calico, were a very different proposition. Playing without their drummer, they delivered a set of tight songs made striking by the almost spooky vocal harmonies of singers Shel and Lauren. They were hypnotic and marvellous.
The Scarlet Echo, next up, were sharp, stylish and electric. They were incredibly energetic onstage, playing ska-tinged rock enhanced by Hannah's unusual voice. Following them were Death of the Elephant, one of the bands I had been most keen to see. Unfortunately, because of the previous technical problems, they had to shorten their set, but what they fit in was fantastic, noisy but melodic riot grrl/garage band songs, including Trypticon, with its memorable intro: "She's got a new toy and she's scared she'll break it..."
The final group of the evening, Le Monnier, had been at the festival for the entire day (I know, because I had been admiring singer/bassist Alexandra's amazing dress for the entire day) and for a short, tense while it looked like the scheduling problems would deprive them of their slot! Luckily this didn't happen and the band rocked the stage with the heaviest sound of the day. The new single, Con Amor Siempre, sounded great: it's from the album Russian Doll Life, out in October, and I can't wait for it. Alexandra dedicated their last song, Kingyo, to the Ladyfest organiser Hayley Foster da Silva.
Ladyfest Essex was a great chance to celebrate both women in art and music, and the diversity of the Essex music scene. It was great fun and I'm really happy I could attend. Hopefully there will be many more in future years!