Since it launched four years ago, Bushstock has earned a reputation for sniffing out some of the industry’s bright young things, just before they explode into the big time. Its alumni includes George Ezra, Daughter, Bastille, Hozier and Willy Mason. The whole thing is curated by Communion, the label and promoter founded by Mumford And Sons‘ Ben Lovett, Kev Jones of Bear’s Den and producer Ian Grimble – which tells you most of what you need to know about Bushstock’s ethos and line-up; a relaxed jaunt around Shepherd’s Bush between venues hosting predominantly folk-leaning guitars, and a whole lot of plaid shirts.
There’s been some chopping and changing of venues over the years, but this year it feels like they really nailed it, with the inclusion of the University of the Arts London, which leant its large courtyard for some of the more upbeat soul and summery indie rock sounds, as well as their ‘common room’, which provided a more intimate space for acoustic acts. Smaller still is Albertine Wine Bar, which gave organisers the opportunity to jump aboard the festival quirk de jour, and list ‘special guests’ – which, rumours abound, led to huge queues trailing round the corner.
Of course, with an event like this there’s a lot to sift through – and the half hour limit on sets makes it easy to dip in and out of venues, but there were plenty of stand outs. Nathaniel Rateliff – now with backing band The Night Sweats – had St Stephen’s Church on its feet, his growling voice rolling over their raucous backing. It’s quite a contrast to the stark, melancholic folk of his solo work – these guys are out to booze, groove and regret. As is Misty Miller, an unusual billing, she’s got a huge voice that, over the years, has veered away from the folk that dominated her late teens. She now has a PJ Harvey-esque growl, which delivers more complex punk pop songs. She attracts a sizable crowd at the Defector’s Weld and happily flogs loads of vinyl from her rucksack afterwards.
The venue seems to have been allocated the ‘noisy room’ – The Amazons also crank it up to 11; excited to be playing their first gig in London, pointing to the traffic outside, singer Matt Thompson cowers: “It’s hell out there compared to Reading town centre!” Thompson wears a Joy Division t-shirt, which is a bit of a curveball, as the four-piece blast out aggressive, melodic rock. Their final song, Something In The Water, is a glorious, thrashing, squalling noise – made all the more entertaining by just how into it the band are, as they career around, hair and limbs in abandon.
Over at the art school, Samm Henshaw was joined by a seven-piece band, who further polished an incredibly slick performance. Well crafted, catchy choruses meant that all of his songs sounded like long time hits already, but it was during some of the more demanding vocal performances, such as Redemption, that his gospel roots were exposed, and it was clear that the only backing he really needed was the audience’s obedient clapping.
Honeyblood wooed a busy Bush Hall. Before the Glasgow duo start, drummer Shona McVicar legs it out of the room, looking utterly panic-struck. She returns minutes later with a couple of beers from the bar and carefully places them on stage. Ah. There might just be two of them, but they make a huge noise that recalls Haim, Best Coast and The Breeders – a sort of breezy, surf pop, with a bit of snarling lo-fi thrown in for good measure.
The end of the night posed a few tricky clashes, with Nadine Shah, Villagers, Michael Kiwanuka and Beans On Toast all playing between 8-10.30pm. Over at Bush Hall, it was the turn of All We Are, whose Scandinavian-feel pop never quite got going until the final song, when they seemed to finally get into it, Richard O’Flynn standing up to drum while Luis Santos ripped at the guitar with a violin bow and bassist Guro Gikling’s voice suddenly came out of hiding to dominate the previously shared vocal duties.
Lucy Rose was the last person to take to the stage, playing an hour-long set and winning the artist’s artist award – she certainly had the most on stage name checks throughout the day, and every band who played seems to have come along to see her. Much of her set comes from forthcoming second album Work It Out, which follows roughly the same blueprint as her first; it’s dreamy bedroom folk which has a tendency to wash over you. Her voice is lovely, but you can’t help wishing she’d hang out with Misty Miller for a while and have a wild, inadvisable time – at the moment she’s just a bit too nice and well composed to spark interest beyond her warm, nuzzling voice. And that’s the nature of Bushstock – it’s full of surprises, tucked away in a bar, hidden in a church, making it a really valuable addition to London’s live music scene.