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7 days, 76 artists: Hong Kong live- music venue The Wanch’s festival expands

For the first time overseas acts are joining the line-up of event at Wan Chai pub that promises a ‘tasting plate’ with something for everyone

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 7:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 7:01am

Keith Goodman likes to describe his relationship with live music in terms of the “three ages of man”.

First, there was the period from 1994 he spent out among the regular punters; then he moved up on stage (as part of the local outfit The Sleeves) from 2007; and then Goodman was so keen to see the scene in Hong Kong through its rockier times that he invested directly in the venue that had become his second home, of sorts.

That last age dawned back in 2010, when Goodman joined two other partners (led by John Prymmer) to ensure that Wan Chai live-music institution The Wanch would continue to provide fans – and bands – with a place to congregate.

That the venue has been doing so since 1987 is a remarkable achievement in itself, but Goodman can be proud of the fact that since the new ownership team took over six years ago, the venue has gone from strength to strength.

And its annual H2 Live Music Festival proves that point. Previously known as the Handover Hallelujah Live Music Festival – a nod to the changeover of pub’s ownership, Goodman stresses, rather than the city’s – it was introduced in 2010 as a means to celebrate the diversity of styles (and degrees of talent) the venue plays host to.

It started with 12 bands playing over one afternoon/evening, but this year the festival is presenting 76 artists over seven days – with no cover charge.

“When we took over the venue, we wanted to let people know there was new energy behind The Wanch,” says Goodman, who acts as festival director. “If you like music, The Wanch has always been your home and we wanted to celebrate that.

“The first thing we learned was that starting at 1.30 in the afternoon in the middle of July wasn’t a great idea – it was brutally hot. But we got people down who knew The Wanch but hadn’t been in a long time, as well as regulars and those who didn’t know what we are all about. Bands we hadn’t invited asked us why and said they wanted to be involved, so we have continued to expand.”

The expansion has been not only in numbers and days, but in the genres these bands cover. “I’ve capped the event at seven days because it almost kills me, to be honest,” says Goodman. “But the music scene here is a lot more vibrant than it was seven years ago. There are lot more bands about – but there’s a few less venues.

“The Wanch has always had an important role to play. We like to think of it as a community centre for music lovers, and the diversity of what people can hear this year reflects that. Anybody who likes to play music or listen to music, and who likes to be in a crowd at a live venue, can come to The Wanch, and the festival celebrates all of that.”

With the continued support of Carlsberg and the added support of the Live Nation entertainment group, the festival has been able this year to include a number of overseas acts in its line-up – along with what must be about every local band in Hong Kong.

Goodman says, again, that diversity is the key. And the fact you don’t have to pay to get in.

“The Wanch has always been free – or at least under our watch,” he says. “That means you can’t ask for your money back but it also means if you don’t like what’s on you can come back another time and hopefully there will be something you like.

“Same goes for the festival. It’s a tasting plate of what The Wanch has to offer all year round. There’s no way you will like everything, but there’ll be something in there for everyone. That puts pressure on us to make sure we have something for everyone but that’s a good pressure to have. Our only source of income is the bar, and if we don’t put on good entertainment then people won’t stay. Simple as that.”

Diplomacy doesn’t really allow Goodman to pick his favourites out of the 76 artists lining up for this year’s H2 Live Music Festival. “That’s a political grenade for me,” he says.

Instead, Goodman asked the bands to submit – in six words or less – a description of who they are and/or what they do. Here are seven of the best (or most intriguing) responses:

Tango & Snatch (day one): “cowboy fight songs.”

Miss Cathy & The Sideburns (day two): “Clint Eastwood on a motorbike.”

Planck (day three): “emotional melodic hardcore.”

Two Finger Salute (day four): “oi! Street punk. Born England, made HK.”

The Culprits (day five): “sentenced to life for rock & roll.”

The Sinister Left (day six): “purveyors of dark sounds.”

Atlantis Philharmonic (day seven): “celebration of the lizard rock.”

H2 Live Music Festival, June 27-July 3, The Wanch, 54 Jaffe Rd, Wan Chai, free entry. For the full line-up, visit www.facebook.com/events/834461193329203/