As part of Edge Hill’s exciting new partnership with Liverpool International Music Festival 2014, English Literature student Adam Walker was given the exciting opportunity to attend and review the Steve Levine’s Assesmbly Point Sessions featuring Boy George, Tim Burgess and many more.
The Liverpool International Music Festival highlights the constant evolution of a musically rich city. Hundreds of artists, from dozens of countries and different genres, descend on Merseyside for a month of collaboration, expression and performance. Over 150,000 people attended last year, and organisers are hoping that will only improve second-time out. Yaw Owusu, the festival’s curator, said that “Last year was our chance to launch the first ever Liverpool Music Festival. This year, it’s all about making a statement and establishing the event as the leading UK festival for global music.
As part of the celebrations, Grammy award-winning record producer Steve Levine directed a unique event at St George’s Hall. Mark King, bassist with Level 42, described the evening as a huge “melting pot of styles”, combining elements of new wave, reggae and progressive rock, as a number of famous artists came together to perform and record new versions of their collective works.
As we were ushered through the clinically sterile white corridors of St George’s Hall into the darkened concert hall, the crowd, packed tightly against the stage, watched and waited. As Chris Hawkins’ voice echoed around the hall, introducing a “galaxy of stars”, nine white specs of light fluttered softly across the stage. The dark, fuzzy, echoing growl of Mark King’s bass shook the room, his customised fret-board flickering with nine intense white lights. Sliding into a roaring cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”, the lights exploded, revealing our fantastical setting for the evening. Underneath a sharp pink and blue circus tent, bordered by white picket fences, the Level 42 bassist also handled the vocal chores.
Between songs, on a separate stage, Steve Levine showed off the other side of the music world. Hidden behind a mixing desk and a stack of amps, he explained his objective for the evening: to “re-record a Liverpudlian classic” using the evening’s artists. As the night progressed, Natalie McCool, Holly Cook and Mary Epworth recorded vocal sections, providing an intense mix of styles and themes.
One of the UK’s finest guitarists, Bernard Butler of Suede, joined King, Epworth and McCool on stage for a powerful performance of McCool’s “Thin Air”. Signed to Levine’s Hubris Records, Epworth and McCool demonstrated fantastic control, power and emotion in their performances. Both are hugely promising young talents. Throwing down a thick, fuzzy solo, Butler made everybody’s jaws drop.
Swapping the heavy, distorted electric guitar for a sweeping, clean acoustic, Butler and McCool played around with Duffy’s “Syrup and Honey”, a track Butler had produced. It was melancholy, peaceful and beautiful. McCool’s voice echoed around a beautifully still room, as we watched in awe.
Then, as if by magic, Boy George appeared. Fully clad in camouflage, military gear, the legendary eighties icon joined Epworth and McCool, providing backing vocals on Cook’s “Looking For Real Love”. Whilst his dancing was wildly out of sync with everybody else in the room, his jagged voice provided a brilliant, rusty layer to Cook’s exotic, bass-driven track. Cook, meanwhile, demanded most of the attention. Her performance, both vocally and visually, was confident, assured, simple and sexy. As quickly as Boy George appeared, he had disappeared again into the darkness.
Introducing himself with a quick joke, the Culture Club frontman opened his headlining set with a rousing, buzzing rendition of “Feel The Vibration”. Following his every move, the crowd bobbed and swayed along intently. His rough, raspy voice was, by his own admission “starting to go” at the end of a string of dates, but that didn’t stop anybody from enjoying it.
Inviting Eve Gallagher, a legend in house music, to the stage, the pair had great camaraderie. He hated her jacket, she hated his. All laughs aside, their rendition of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” was beautiful. Slowing the set down, and creating a tense, intimate atmosphere within St George’s Hall, before Gallagher unleashed the unholiest of notes at the songs climax, stunning everyone, including herself judging by her fit of laughter afterwards.
“Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” received thunderous applause. Combining the very best elements of disco, reggae and salsa, the Culture Club classic sounded brilliant. A true highlight of the evening. In a surprising twist, Tim Burgess made his way to the stage, armed with his notepad. Clearly there’s a section in there entitled “Adam’s Favourite Songs”. As slow, melancholy chords rang out, and Tim sang “Satellite’s gone/Up to the skies/Things like that drive me/ Out of my mind”, a huge grin appeared on my face. The pair created a sad, tender, sensitive version of the late Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love”, much to my delight.
When it was released in 1983, “Karma Chameleon” rocketed to number one in sixteen countries. As the band launched into the classic hit, everybody was reminded why. The whole crowd screamed the infamous harmonica part (which was sadly, nowhere to be seen), forcing a smile on Boy George’s face. It wasn’t the most convincing performance of the night, faltering in places, but the sheer volume of the crowd almost drowned out the pop star. Without warning, “Karma Chameleon” quickly became a pounding, rockabilly track, as it began to blend with T.Rex’s “Bang A Gong”.
As his headline set drew to a close, Boy George invited the other artists on stage for one last jam. A triumphant night of live music, collaboration and colour. All was not finished however, as Steve Levine turned to the crowd to provide one last vocal part for his “Liverpudlian classic”. Directed by Mark King, the crowd belted out the chorus to Gerry Marsden’s “Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey”. A bizarre and brilliant end to a fantastic evening.
Whilst the night is over, and just a memory now, Edge Hill University’s involvement does not end there. The LIMF Academy, which takes place this weekend, will see 15 young artists perform at the world renowned festival. Five of those artists will become part of an elite programme, offering invaluable support and guidance from industry experts including Edge Hill’s own record label, The Label Recordings. As part of the recently announced partnership, students will be directly involved in one of the region’s biggest festivals, and will have the opportunity to work on campus with the artists, as Edge Hill hosts a showcase event later in the year.
To find out more about Edge Hill University’s partnership with LIMF, click here.