Play at LMF final

James Lewis lead singer of Violet Cities.

Friday 13th June 2014

Play@LMF – the final.

The final of the Play@LMF competition was held at Street Life club. ∏

Taking part tonight: Tapestry, The Furies, Casino Empire, Strangler Figs and Violet Cities.

Violet Cities on stage at the Play@LMF final
Violet Cities on stage at the Play@LMF final

The final show of Play@LMF took place tonight at Street Life. “Where?” Not many people know where Street Life is – it’s tucked away in Dryden Street, in the back streets of the city centre and it’s only recently that it has become a venue for live music. The good news is that it is an impressively good place for bands to play; the bad news is that nobody knows where it is. Well, back in 2010 nobody knew where Sub91 was when it opened but that didn’t stop thousands of rock fans finding it and going there. Put on enough good bands and fans will find it, where ever it is.

Tonight, Street Life attracted a large audience of fans, eager to support their bands and to enjoy a night of top-class live music. The ten first round heats of Play@LMF started on 4th March at The Shed, followed by two semi-finals and ran through, at a variety of venues, to tonight’s final. The outcome of tonight: one band gets to play a support slot with UB40, Sam Bailey, Professor Green, Tinnie Tempah, Labrinth and many more. Many hundreds of bands decided that was something worth competing for and the heats have seen large numbers of our city’s best bands and artists going on stage, hopeful that they would make it through.

Opening the show, Tapestry – winners of the Original Bands Showcase this year – gave their fans another chance to listen to some of the most exciting new music Leicester has to offer. Tapestry played at the Riverside Festival last Saturday. The music of Tapestry can take time to digest and get your head round. Their songs are immediately likeable, full of engaging rhythms and attractive musical ideas, led by the strong vocals of ace singer Elliot Buchanan.

Tapestry, however, is not run-of-the-mill stuff – it’s original and creative and complex in the way it is put together with the clever orchestration of saxophone, keyboards and electronica, all played with considerable skill and commitment but not the kind of mainstream stuff that we are used to.

Over the years, Leicester music fans have got used to seeing something different pop-up – These Furrows, Cream Tangerines, Humble He, The Great Imitation – the list goes on and on. So, hearing the music of Tapestry for the first time was deja vu. That is because it is original. Originality can be surprising; it can also be challenging. Some of their songs have a strong electro layer – but not all of them. It’s easy to see why some people rave about Tapestry. If you get it you really get it. It’s like seeing the emergence of a new wave. Having seen them a few times, I get it. I really like what they do. It’s fresh, it’s exciting and above all, it’s new.

Whether that is what the LMF wants remained to be seen. What stood out about tonight’s line-up was that it offered a wide cross-section of musical idioms. It was a something-for-everybody show. So what we enjoyed next was music that was instantly recognisable. Rock from the mainstream but played with artistic excellence and performance impact that was far from mainstream. The Furies is a Leicester band that has been around since 2009. They have played major venues and festivals, received the plaudits of many rock aficionados and tonight they rocked the socks off the audience.

Alex Beattie of The Furies On stage at Street Life
Alex Beattie of The Furies
On stage at Street Life

Newly recruited guitarist Joe Connor was on stage with the established band members: Alex Beattie the lead singer, Neal Hill the Drummer and Matt Wright the bassist. Their performance tonight was exceptionally good, even by the Furies’ standards. What makes them stand out is their ability to write incredibly good songs, tunes you can easily remember on the way home, songs that they wrote themselves but which sound like covers –  because they are just so well written and well constructed. Listening to a half hour set by The Furies is a moment of magic.

The Furies on stage at the final of Play@LMF
The Furies on stage at the final of Play@LMF

Hard on the heels of one of Leicester’s long-established bands came Casino Empire, a group that has only just started, by comparison. They have shot to fame in a short time. Why? As one musician said to me while we watched them “they want it. And they want it bad.” You can tell this is a let’s ‘av it band by the way they perform. Where they are now is probably where the Rolling Stones were when they were the same age. Casino Empire is a young band that plays with shit-loads of passion, a passion that is infectious, spilling off the stage into the audience and filing the large room with mega-watts of energy. It’s like giving the audience a set of jump-leads connected to the stage. A band that music in its genes. I can see them being really big in years to come. The next Kasabian? It’s possible. Those who saw Saracuse at The Shed can correct me if I am wrong.

Strangler Figs were completely different. On the stage was ace lead singer Joe Pickering and standing by him one of Leicester’s best ever bass players Joel Hanson. Both of them sang. The ‘Figs’s music was softer and funkier than the previous bands, more melodious, but every bit as engaging. There is a noticeable chemistry between the members of this band, the kind of chemistry you see in bands like Smokestacks and The Bobcats. They know how to work together, they feed off each other, they are all on the same wave length and they produce music of the highest quality, music that has its roots in jazz, blues and funk. Within their genre they are one of Leicester’s finest musical assets. Every time this band plays people get converted. They do something that few others bands are doing these days. Superb, dazzling, nerve-tingling, inspiring, convivial … finding the adjectives is not difficult. Let’s just sum it up by saying this is an incredibly good band that plays music of considerable excellence.

All this probably sounds to good to be true. Well, a lot of people who were there that night will agree with me that so far it has all been good and the musical experience has been true as it can be for all of us. Being at Street Life was, for me, a strangely unsettling experience in some ways. I had been inside the place many, many times since it opened in around 1989. Having gone through at least two major transformations, the nationally famous night club has seen several music celebrities on its decks over the years and I remember well the night it hosted a group of Leicester’s most popular young bands when it hosted ‘The Secret Skins’ party, back in 2008, a night that rode on the back of the teenage TV soap opera. What a night that was!

Last but by no means least, Violet Cities took to the stage for the final act of the evening. Like  most of the bands that performed tonight, it was the front man who made the band what it was. No less true with lead singer James Lewis.

James Lewis of Violet Cities Playing at the final of Play@LMF
James Lewis of Violet Cities
Playing at the final of Play@LMF

Like Alex Beattie of The Furies, Tommy Cobley of Casino Empire, Elliott Buchanan of Tapestry, Lewis has that ‘x-factor’ that powers the act. The other members of Violet Cities were all top-class musicians but what drove the set was the presence and star quality of this young singer. Lewis makes Violet Cities what it is. Being a really good band requires teamwork and that was not lacking in the band’s performance tonight. Lewis had the audience in his hands from the word go. The crowd was packed into the front of stage area, screaming and cheering throughout the set, their enthusiasm bringing the set alive with passion. Me, I stood at the back so I could see the whole thing from a distance. Where were the LMF judges while this was happening? – I think they were probably up in the ‘gods’, in the balcony area that overlooks the main floor, looking down on the scene from on high.

So which was the best band tonight? Five of the best musical acts in the city, selected by months of performance and judging, but, (as is the case with competitions) there can only be one winner. I was glad I was not in one of the hot seats tonight. All I had to do was to watch, listen and take notes. I have been through this kind of thing many times before – at local ‘derbys’ like the OBS finals and at national events like Surface Unsigned. Judges have to be clear about what it is they are looking for – what the organisers want. What does one mean by ‘best’? Best in what respect? All five bands played and performed music of high calibre. They all delivered something that was about as good as it gets in Leicester. They all excelled in their own right. If I were from a record label I would be waving contracts at all of them. When judging great bands such as these, you have to be able to put aside your personal tastes and deal in technical realities, as well as being able to recognise what works with the audience. With all bands, there is a level of musical appraisal and a sense of what makes the best entertainment, which looks at what they do and how they do it. If you have to choose one out of a group of the best, then you have to be clear about what is wanted.


It was director of the Leicester Music Festival Manoj Keshavji who announced the result. The band that will play at the Tiger’s stadium to an audience of around twenty thousand, supporting nationally significant acts will be: Violet Cities.

Strangler Figs, Casino Empire, The Furies and Tapestry were the runners-up and will be performing at various points within the festival site.

Check out all the bands on Facebook:

Tapestry, The Furies, Casino Empire, Strangler Figs and Violet Cities.

Find out where Street Life is.

Play@LMF was a series of shows that resulted in one band being chosen to play at The Leicester Music Festival, held at the Tigers Rugby Ground in 2014.

A series of heats were held, in various venues, at which bands and acts competed for a place in the finals.

Tuesday 4th March  – heat 1 was held at The Shed

Tuesday 11th March – heat 2 was held at Sumo

Wednesday 19th March – heat 3 was held at The Echange

Wednesday 26th March – heat 4 was held at The Soundhouse

Tuesday 1st April – Heat 5 was held at Streetlife

Wednesday 9th April – heat 6 was hedl at The Echange

Tuesday 15th April – heat 7 was held at The Shed

Wednesday 23rd April – heat 8 was held at The Soundhouse

Tuesday 29th April – heat 9 was held at Sumo

Tuesday 6th May – Heat 10 was held at Streetlife

30th May – semi-final 1 was held at The shed

31st May – Semi-final 2 was held at Streetlife

13th June – the final was held at Streetlife

Scoring for each live heat will be out of 100, the initial press release stated. Each category was worth 20 points. Each judge would individually score the bands based on the following criteria:

1. Stage presence, 2. Act musicianship, 3. Originality, 4. Social media response and 5. Crowd response.

In the original statement, under terms and conditions, it said that ‘acts must not be currently signed to a record label’ acts must either be from the Midlands or currently residing in the Midlands, together with other terms and conditions.

The Leicester Music festival took place on 25th July to 26th July 2014

See also:

Play@LMF semi-finals one.
Play@LMF semi-finals two.


About The Editor 535 Articles
The Editor of Music in Leicester magazine is Kevin Gaughan assisted by Trevor Locke