At times Exeter Uni’s music scene leaves something to be desired. It might be easy to turn your nose up at its modest institutions and its humbly strumming virtuosos, especially if you’ve been snuffling around Bristol’s musically dank sanctums – dripping with edge and bloated with vape smoke. While they may have a cold-war cargo shipped repurposed as a slick venue and we only have the charred remains of the Cavern, it’s nights like the Poltimore Launch at the Phoenix that give me hope for the scene. They’re proof that Exeter has it’s own musical cargo that Thekla doesn’t. Poltimore Festival is only in its second year but has already proved itself a top notch musical institution for Exeter, and, to build hype for the upcoming 2017 shindig, they put on a stellar show.

The night started in the Phoenix bar, wacky artistic sculpture and paintings all about the walls, as singer-songwriter Sadie Horler crooned to a selection of enraptured punters. Her songs that were legitimately personable and very endearing, she had no problem commanding attention. She told the crowd about her days busking outside the Royal Clarence before it burnt down before playing a charming dedicated song; the regionalist pride it incited in me was palpable (RIP Clarence). Her voice was smooth and creamy and made for a bewitching start to the festivities, especially with a cover of ‘Space Oddity’.

Sadie Horler – Photograph by Emile Hussell

A spanner was then thrown in the works as Shaun Hill, Sachal Khan, and Taylor Ann McGrath took the stage. This was undoubtedly a welcome spanner though. “Get ready for a queer journey” said Shaun as the group rollicked into to a series of stylish numbers with Shaun performing a mixture of spoken word and resonant baritone. Sachal strummed as Taylor wrangled a saxophone, the grooves were ace. Shaun’s turn of phrase was consistently impressive, and the breadth of themes he managed to cover was also a feat, with the first song a homoerotic foray into the Wild West, and the next called ‘Cyborgs in the Amazon’. It was utterly refreshing and audacious – the trio oozed cool. It was not what I was expecting at all especially after the charming but comparatively tame Horler. Before the venue doors had even opened I was already proper chuffed.

Shaun Hill – Photograph by Emile Hussell

Lipstick Jumpsuit, though, would up my chuff levels even further as they took the stage. I’m lucky enough to have seen Lipstick Jumpsuit before, as should you be if you’re a loyal Exeposé Music fan – they made an appearance at our freshers’ showcase at the start of the year. But whereas our effort was a bit ragtag / DIY, their bombastic, cacophonous sound made even more sense in the space of the Phoenix. If you haven’t seen this band live I urge you to take any opportunity you can. My co-editor and esteemed Exeter music authority Sam Norris, not one for hyperbole, called them “the best live band in Exeter” after their performance. Their sound is rapturously macho and rhythmic. It fills the room and you can’t help but be consumed by it. Singer Taylor Ellard commands the stage, bellowing over the soundscape like the overseer of some funky dystopian work farm, it’s captivating stuff. And the guys were as cool as ever; bassman Reuben Lindley went full rock star by sporting some fetching sunglasses, although he was largely heckled for this by his bandmates. Some technical malfunctions inhibited the performance a tad and Ellard was quick to show his frustration. “This show’s got a really great flow to it…everything’s in tune and all the equipment works” – he said, wry and ironic. Michael Foulger, keyboard-guitarist, struggled with his amp so was forced to sit out of a couple of songs but took the opportunity to cut some shapes in the front row. Thankfully, however, the chaps seemed able to channel this technological irritation into consistently dynamite tunes.

Lipstick Jumpsuit’s axe-slinger, Alfie Funnel – Photograph by Emile Hussell

The good thing about the Phoenix is you can max-relax in the interim. After the Lipstick hubbub it felt strange to be back in the bar where Sadie Horler had chirped sweetly and Shaun Hill had made me vividly think about bonking a cowboy. But in no time we were back in the hot seat for electronic Exeter (and Bath) alumni Delmer Darion. Like Lipstick Jumpsuit, Delmer Darion have been a staple of the best local gigs for the past two years, they’re notorious for their rich soundscapes and eclectic sampling. Worlds apart from the sprawling set-up and paramount aggression of The Jumpsuits, the Delmer Darion boys stood stark in the middle of the stage with a table and two laptops like a couple of Skrillex sardines, but the crowd was just as enraptured. Their production is hypnotic and smooth, the synths lapped at crowd like a wave. They debuted their new single ‘Reflections’ (review – here) to head bobbin’ success, they seem to have gone from strength to strength. If you aren’t acquainted with their back catalogue, get on it.

Delmer Darion – Photograph by Emile Hussell

Another interim jaunt to the bar meant myself and nearly everyone else in the crowd was feeling pretty loosey and goosey for the headliners. Private Agenda, disco dreamboats, had been hyped a lot by all the promotion. I’d heard the frontman was an Exeter alumnus now based in Berlin who had been flown out on Poltimore’s dime so the stakes were high. However, I was late guzzling my final pint, so as I was lucky in that all my tentativeness was quashed absolutely and immediately as I hopped through the doors, confronted by a dazzle of sparkling riffage and a constellation of wide-eyed smiles. The crowd was buzzing.

The frontman’s snake-hips jig is a move that all performers wish they could execute

Private Agenda consisted of two guys wearing equally striking vintage garb, a teal polo on one, mustard jumper on the other. This chintzy aesthetic went well with their sound. It was an uproarious 80s celebration and the grooves were as deep as the economic fallout of that excessive decade. But Thatcher was the last thing on my mind as I joined the sea of admirers in a packed Phoenix; the whole room was brimming with colourful rhythms. The frontman was a fantastic performer, his distinctive snake-hips jig is a move that all performers wish they could execute. The performance came to a crescendo and the pair slinked off the stage much to the disapproval of the crowd. The biggest Exeter gig I’ve been to is probably Jack Garratt @ Cavern and even he didn’t garner as zealous a demand for an encore. The crowd would work themselves into a furore then would simmer down disheartened, then would resume the chanting and stamping, this happened three times. The crowd never got their encore tonight, because apparently Private Agenda were sat in the back room anxiously tapping their feet. They didn’t have any more songs to play, but I’m sure it was the most satisfied silence Private Agenda had felt.

Martin Aggrowe of Private Agenda – Photograph by Emile Hussell

To those in the crowd that still want that encore, and those reading this that didn’t get that satisfying climax, you may not have found it last week but if the night was anything to go on, Poltimore 2017 will be all you could ever want. The Poltimore team has already given me five acts that were entirely different and made me feel all kinds of jazzed. Here’s to that.

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