Gig Review: Pie Race Festival – Friday + Saturday

Pies, pals and pints at Leeds’ premier annual punk party. Featuring Matilda’s Scoundrels, Ducking Punches, Millie Manders, Nosebleed, Batwölf and many more.

Review by Sarah Williams. Photos by Hold My Pint and Paul Hannah.

Pie Race is Leeds’ annual punk-stravaganza; a regular date in the Northern punk calendar since 2010. This year’s event saw three days of punk, pie and pals at Wharf Chambers: one of the most welcoming DIY venues I’ve ever visited. Friday’s show was like a regular gig, but Saturday and Sunday combined to make 22 hours of noisy fun and an absolutely pukka weekend. It’s more than just the music, though: Saturday also featured the festival’s famous pie-eating competition. In short(crust), it was more fun than swimming in a barrel of gravy, and I can’t wait do it all over again.

In the course of this write-up, I have attempted to celebrate not merely the punk, but also the pies. As such, I aim to punish you with pie references although (I wouldn’t pie to you) I slightly underestimated the sheer amount of effort it takes to write atrocious pie-jokes. I gave up halfway through Saturday’s write up, but there’s still plenty of pie. Enjoy.

Friday (PieDay?)

I arrived at Wharf  Chambers exceptionally early on Friday, but there were still plenty of pals to run into. Pie Butcher, sorry, Pat Butcher, are first up, featuring a very tall man playing a very small guitar. Jokes aside, they play some hearty hardcore, featuring a couple of seriously meaty beat-downs. The highlight of their set is their carrot race, presented as a precursor to Saturday’s pie race. As it turns out, watching five punks try to wolf down a whole carrot in a minute is an unforgettable experience, and surprisingly tricky for the contestants.

Due to The Zipheads running late, HollywoodFreyBentos Downstairs (better known as Hollywoodfun Downstairs) set up next. Watching this heavy duo from New Zealand is like a blast in the face from a hand grenade. They are the most memorable act I have seen all year; they’re a band who don’t abide pie the rules. They turn out the main lights and set up the drum kit, amps and mic stand in front of the stage. Illuminated only by bright white strip lights beside their amps, the venue takes on a surreal post-apocalyptic vibe. Musically it is a beautifully harsh cacophony of distortion and I can’t tear my eyes away from the show as the drummer hammers away with stunning, grind-level skill.

The Zipheads are a change of pace, opening with a super-bouncy version of rocksteady classic 54-46 Was My Number. They follow with upbeat covers of Sublime, the Flintstones soundtrack and Got to Pick a Pocket or Two from Oliver, plus their own original material. In their own words they offer, “Sloppily played rock ‘n’ roll,” with the double-bass dressed up as a pint of Guinness (ideal as both a filling or an accompaniment to pie) giving it more of a rockabilly feel. 

Ducking Punches Pie Race cred Paul Hannah
Photo by Paul Hannah

Headlining Friday are Ducking Punches. Hailing from Norwich, otherwise known as the great mustard capital of England, they are the perfect finishing touch to an evening of exc-pie-tement. Older songs like Bad Few Weeks and Goddamn Coward really stand out in the set, but tunes from their as yet unreleased record Alamort also go over extremely well. Ducking Punches excel in relatable heart-on-your-sleeve songwriting and folk-influenced hooks, getting increasingly better with every new release. If these songs are anything to go by, Alamort will be no exception. Easily the highlight of the band’s set is the closing anthem, Big Brown Pies Pills from Lynn. We manage to get a good human pie-ramid going right in front of the stage, and frontman Dan Allen crashes into the audience with his guitar, thrusting the microphone out to get everyone singing along. It’s a pie-fect end to the first day.

Saturday

I stayed sober on Friday, so Saturday’s morning’s a breeze for me, however there were plenty of people living the pie life on Friday who are looking a worse for wear today. In an embarrassing demonstration of keenness, we’re some of the first people through the doors of Wharf Chambers for the second day running.

Clayface are the first band on, with some upbeat, scruffy skate-punk peppered with heavier moments and a few bars of ska on tracks like Just A Word. Their double-gruff vocals on songs like Nothing Left go down an absolute treat. It’s an interesting and fast mash-up of different genres, with some entertaining banter between songs. A great start to the day.

Mick O'Toole Pie Race cred Paul Hannah
Mick O’Toole. Photo by Paul Hannah.

Wiltshire folk-punks Mick O’Toole bring a lot of energy regardless of the somewhat sparse crowd. They get livelier and faster throughout the set as more people trickle in, but the audience-participation feels a little forced, as the singer asks us if we’re not too scared to sing along. Although some of their song titles, like Still In Cider, are sort of punnily funny, a few of their jokes feel misplaced with the room’s demographic. It’s scrappy Celtic folk-punk delivered perhaps a little too early in the day – people aren’t drunk enough to get into it yet.

The Fuckin Glorious Pie Race cred Paul Hannah
Photo by Paul Hannah.

I was excited to see The Fuckin’ Glorious again, after catching them at Wotsit Called Fest back in September. They play balls-out punk rock that’s heavy, rough(puff) and ready, like the best kind of pie. As Leeds locals so they get a great response. The frontman doesn’t stop moving for the whole set, his throaty vocal tying their sound together. There’s great interplay between all four members of the band; their relaxed on-stage banter is insPIEred and thoroughly entertaining. They promise us that in a year’s time we’ll all be chanting ‘wolf’ in tribute to their tongue-in-cheek blanket backdrop, and I really hope they’re right. They shake things up with a 2 Sick Monkeys’ cover, but it’s tracks like Slice of Life that really stand out.

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Burnt Tapes are the only thing charred at Pie Race – all the pies themselves are perfectly cooked. I’m still amazed that this band aren’t playing to bigger audiences, however they receive a warm but subdued reaction from the Wharf Chambers patrons. They play their own brand of gruff, melodic ‘regret’ punk that’s a lot more angsty than rest of today’s line-up and, conveniently, right up my street. Their misgivings are best expressed in their song Wayne Regretsky, which they tell us is about regretting not playing in the NHL. Hopefully none of us will regretsky eating all the pies later today (spoiler alert: I do). Songs like Oh Marie and Ghosts are sad and punchy, with hooks and melodies that would make Red City Radio and Iron Chic jealous.

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PieDestory, sorry, iDestroy open their set with a self-titled track by way of introduction. They’re a dirty rock ‘n’ roll punk three piece, with double female vocals that work really well. They play a new song called Joy of Life that has an angular indie-rock feel, while other tracks are quite a bit heavier. They’re not short of poppy oooh-oh or whooas, making them fun to sing along to.

Al-pie-da, better known as Almeida have travelled all the way up from the South Coast for the weekend, bringing us their usual tour-de-force of fast, technical wizardry. They shred through demented, technical riffs and tricky little time signature changes on songs like Kinslayer, making it all look easy as pie. At points in their set, it feels like they’ve managed to fit ten different genres into one song. One of my favourite parts of their show is their little divergence into black metal on Bailfire, in contrast with the warmer tones of tracks like Creed. Tureqt Fureg feels much as I imagine insanity might, it’s downright madness that I never get sick of hearing.

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At this stage, there’s a delectable waft of freshly-cooked pie coming from the Wharf Chambers kitchen. It’s becoming hard to resist the lure of gravy and pastry, especially since I’m feeling a little dead on my feet. Unfortunately, this mean I had to sit down, take a breather and restore my strengths via shortcrust and mushy peas during Skinny Milk’s set. I was absolutely gutted to miss them but, unfortunately, I had literally eaten all the pies. I do hope they played their fantastic song Slip Down The (Pie) Hole though.

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Mr Shiraz pairs beautifully with the day’s gravy-based delicacies, as any fine red wine would. Once a regular on a the scene, it’s been a couple of years since I last saw this group from Huddersfield.  That being said, I’m more up to date than my pal, who’s confused that they’re no longer a ska band (we’re going back a decade there, I think). They play grooving punk rock, with hint of nu-metal attitude in the Faith No More-style vocal, entertaining us hyperactive onstage energy. Although they’re accomplished musicians, a lot of what they do is firmly tongue-in-cheek, with songs themed around John Cusack and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s a real treat to see them back on stage.

Pie Race Pie

At this stage of the day I made a grave(y) pie-based error. A word of advice, kids: no matter how delicious your first pie of the day is, make sure you take a break before you run straight back and order a second one. I foolishly ate two pies in very quick succession, reaching an uncomfortable zenith wherein my bloodstream became 37% gravy. It’s hard not to overload on pie when they’re that good, though: all vegan, with mushy peas, gravy and any toppings you may require, served up by some of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. I feel like I pied and went to heaven.

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It’s my first time seeing Traits, although as a massive fan of both Random Hand and The Human Project (Traits features members of both – they’re a band with their fingers in many pies) I have very high expectations. They don’t disappoint: their set is as tight and exciting as you’d expect from musicians of this calibre, with oodles of hooks and catchy refrains. They’ve put a lot of work into their melodies and outstanding vocal harmonies, with singer Jonny Smith’s uniquely high register giving them a edge that’ll play well to Human Project fans. We’re All A Dick Sometimes stands out for me, as does Don’t Censor Me and a new track that I think is called Paradigm.

The room clears and the organisers set up two trestle tables in the middle of the dancefloor, lining up five sweet pies and covering them in mountains of whipped cream. Evidently it’s time for the eponymous Pie Race! Competitors have entered into a draw, and a large crowd assembles as Ben Hannah begins to select names from a bowl of tickets. The incumbent Pie Race Champion (reigning for 4 years) is unable to participate this year, so there’s added excitement that competitors who’ve had a near miss previously finally have a chance of winning the coveted golden pie trophy.

Having just gotten off stage, Traits’ Joe Tilston is eager to compete and jumps into action when his name’s announced. Three other names are called but there’s a spare seat at the table. TNS Records’ Tim Bevington isn’t in the draw, but having come second in 2016 everyone demands that he compete. He approaches the table reluctantly, saying, “I’m at a disadvantage here, I’ve just eaten a pie for tea.” The second the whistle blows the competitors start shovelling pie into their faces, going straight for their hands rather than the spoons provided, and the audience explode into yelled encouragement, crowding around the table. Joe takes an early lead, but the others aren’t far behind him. Bev plods through his pie, looking calm and methodical, and it’s at the last two bites that he overtakes Joe – smashing into first place at the final second. The audience erupts into cheers, crowning him the champion of the weekend.

Pie Race
The winning and losing faces of Pie Race. Photo nicked from Stiv.

Batwölf are another band that hit the stage with high (pie?) expectations, as the reincarnation of Black Volvo. They’ve travelled all the way from Hollands to deliver their lively, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. It’s punchy, danceable punk at its best and the crowd goes completely wild. Not for the first time today, there’s a slew of punks clambering up onto the iron girder in front of the stage, hanging upside down and gripping the girder with their knees. There’s a rowdy pit of dancers down the front, plus the spinning starts in earnest (when someone puts their finger on your head you spin round in a circle). It spreads like a virus through the crowd as Miff Peasant runs round the room catching everyone. It’s chaos and nonsense and it’s absolutely wonderful. Dancing On The Ruins of Your Rules is one of the best tracks of the set, and I really hope that Batwölf come back soon.

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This is apparently Rotten Foxes’ first appearance in the North; they’re normally based down in Brighton. They throw down some riotous, fast hardcore, unexpectedly inspiring a ho-down in front of the stage, with punks spinning arm in arm with one another throughout the set. Their singer seems oblivious to spilling his pint while he chats, and he causes a round of giggling from the girls behind me when he bends over (in unbelievably short cut-off jeans) to put his glass down. Bassist Jimi Diamond steals the show somewhat, wearing a ‘fuck you, kitten’ ripped shirt and changing into a Stone Cold Steve Austin vest especially for their wrestling-themed song.

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Next up are Nosebleed, a band who get a cracking reception at any gig, let alone in their hometown at a festival their bassist, Ben Hannah, has organised. Everyone at the festival crams into the main room of Wharf Chambers – no one’s going to miss this. As usual, they turn out non-stop catchy punk hits, including three tunes from their new album, which they describe as ‘UK punk’s worst kept secret’. Everyone’s partying as hard as they can for this set. Batwolf’s Roy Zonneveld is one of many people to hang pie-rilously upside down from the iron girder, however he loses his glasses in the process. The band keep playing but 20 of us down the front team up to locate the lost specs, scanning the ground and dancing while being careful not to stand on anything – inventing a new dance move in the process. The band finish on Watch Out; closing one of the most raucous sets I’ve seen them do this year.

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Millie Manders & The Shut Up are up next, adding some perky diversity to the line-up. Their set spans a range of genres, but their strongest moments are the jumpy ska numbers. I swear everytime I see Millie she gets better; many of The Shut Up’s songs have an instant appeal, but for me it’s clever slow-burners like Teddy that bring their performances to the next level. Millie’s vocal range is second to none, switching from soulful to hardcore to spoken-word with admirable professionalism. She’s got a compelling, theatrical stage presence and she’s adept at drawing the audience into the party, not least when she encourages us all to drink along to Bacchus, taking a swig whenever she mentions the word ‘drink’. Soon Wharf Chambers in filled with people piggybacking, whirling around balanced on each other’s shoulders. They encounter some unfortunate technical problems, but the set is still lively and captivating.

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By now, everyone is in the perfect, pie-eyed party mood for raucous folk-punk headliners Matilda’s Scoundrels. The air is tense with anticipation as they prepare to play and from the first note the room transforms into complete chaos. Wharf Chambers looks doesn’t look big enough to hold the jostling crowd, not least when the band throw an inflatable row-boat out for us to crowdsurf. Standing at the side of the stage, I’m entertained by watching the organisers valiantly trying to tape the lighting rig back to the ceiling to prevent disaster – it keeps getting knocked down by girder-climbers and crowd-surfers.

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As is traditional, Matilda’s play their row-boat song. The crowd know what to do – sitting in lines between one another’s legs on the sticky dance floor and mimicking the motions of a rowboat while shouting the words. The boat makes an another appearance; half-deflated and surfing over the seated rowers. It’s the closest to swashbuckling pie’rates we get all weekend. Driving the chaos through sheer force of fun, Matilda’s Scoundrels don’t let up for 40 minutes, rolling through new and old songs like Beasts in Disguise, Shackles and Bones and Take It To The Streets. They finish the set on Godforsaken Sea, clearly having completely knackered the audience, who are almost too out of breath to yell for an encore. Luckily, everyone suddenly remembers they haven’t played their classic Pisshead’s Anthem and begin to shout them back on the stage for it. It’s an incredibly ex-pie-ting end to a day that didn’t hold a weak moment.

Part Two can be found here, featuring Queen Zee & The Sasstones and many others.

Review by Sarah Williams. Photos by Hold My Pint and Paul Hannah.

4 thoughts on “Gig Review: Pie Race Festival – Friday + Saturday”

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