By Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers
Oscar-winning Hollywood film director John Huston once said of Edinburgh International Film Festival it was the “only film festival worth a damn” and I’ve often thought the same about the AMPs – and it’s only been going five years.
The buzz, the screams, the moshing, the AMP Awards proves itself a genuinely exciting battle of the bands in the Harrogate district every single time - and there’s no cover versions allowed.
This year’s grand final at the Royal Hall is the best one to date - and not only in terms of the quality of the young bands taking part from secondary schools in Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Pateley Bridge.
It’s the best organised one to date with the competing schools also presenting business teams who are scurrying round the building selling merhandise, offering front of house hospitality and generally being very helpful.
Winners About Town from St John Fisher’s are an incredibly accomplished set of indie musicians for their age, taking an adventurous approach to reshaping their jerky,melodic indie pop in unusual and unexpected directions.
Even the drummer is very good (sometimes the Achilles heel of young bands) and a saxophone makes an appearance at one point!
But About Town are only following in the footsteps of previous winners Book of Job, one of whom, Mike Liburd is on the judging panel tonight, Purple Mafia who’ve recently scored success in the USA and countless other finalists who now play gigs at well-known venues in Leeds and beyond.
Not that it’s an easy choice for the judges, who also include the bearded Blues Bar owner Simon Colgan, paisley-shirted BBC Introducing presenter Jericho Keys and yours truly of the Harrogate Advertiser.
In fact, About Town nearly didn’t win at all; they narrowly lost to For Cuba until the audience vote was added to the equation.
The sombrero-wearing, multi-instrumental outfit from St Aidan’s are veterans of these sort of occasions, having won The Big T competition nearly a year before at Harrogate Theatre.
Personally-speaking, I think there’s a troubling disjuncture between their sound (straight-ahead, serious sub-Mumford & Sons crossover folk music)and their stage performance (lively, fun, Mexican mariachi-style).
The band which came third, Oblivion from Harrogate Grammar School sound completely different from For Cuba yet share something in common.
Lead singer John Moss and the rest of the band really rock on stage (and their business team’s video was superb).
Every trick in the book is pulled with cheek and wit but, entertaining as this is, if you close your eyes you realize their actual songs are merely ‘okay’.
Speaking purely for myself, I think another band deserved better in this year’s AMPs.
Like Oblivion, These Young Sons from Ripon Grammar School totally smash it as a rock band.
The difference is that their tunes are as crowd-pleasing as their performance, big melodic riff monsters delivered with aplomb - and some great lead guitar lines by Zander Paterson whose ‘axe’ has an American stars and stripes flag tied round one end.
But it’s never easy picking the winners from such a quality field which tonight features more female musicians on stage than all the previous four finals put together, an encouraging sign.
Earlier One Way Paradise from Outwood Academy in Ripon took the stage with three young girls plus one young man on a tea chest for a suprisingly sophisticated set.
Part goth, part acoustic pop, twin front people Beth Wolfe and Abbie Langley had enough talent to suggest the band has a great future once they’ve played together more.
It’s a similar story with the highly promising GLJJ from Nidderdale High School.
Lead singer Gina McCann looks the part in a tea cosy for a hat and an attitude of natural self-confidence singers far older would kill for.
Despite some nice lead guitar lines from this four-piece, all-acoustic band, it’s let down by the sound mix on the vocals - or is the singer having probems with the mic? It’s hard to tell.
Tweak from King James’s High School in Knaresboroough bound on stage after a superb video by their business team and proceeed to be the funniest, zaniest outfit of the night. Lead singer James Wade is responsible for most of this but everyone joins in the entertaining shenanigans which I spot one audience member laughing at; the lead guitar player of classic 80s-s rock band The Quire Boys!
Sounding like The Vines a bit, if their slacker rock music had been as good as their use of hard hats and pogo sticks, Tweak might have won.
But the spirit of the the perpetually brilliant AMPS was perhaps best expressed by a band who weren’t in serious contention. Weekend Offender from Boroughbridge High School had a good lead guitar player who seemed considerably older too.
But the rest of the band, led by twin lead singers Flossy R-G and Harry Hutchinson certainly didn’t lack for either good tunes (some of the best of the night, in fact) or for effort.
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