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Leeds Festival: 10 things we learned from Soft Play to Rina Sawayama

Soft Play's appearance at the Festival Republic Stage on Sunday was a welcome late addition
Soft Play's appearance at the Festival Republic Stage on Sunday was a welcome late addition

That's it. It's all over for another year.

The 2023 UK festival season culminated on Sunday with sing-alongs and rap-alongs at Leeds from the Killers, Central Cee and the 1975.

It followed Sam Fender being crowned king of the North on Saturday, after Billie Eilish brought her Barbie track to life during a cathartic, powerful set on Friday.

Across the weekend at both Reading and Leeds, interpreters once again used sign language to perform songs for deaf fans.

All there is left to do now is pack up and head home. So while we do that, here are some other things we learned.

1. Robbie Williams loves Soft Play

Robbie Williams
Robbie Williams

Soft Play, formerly known as Slaves, returned from a five-year hiatus to perform their new track Punk's Dead at the Festival Republic Stage on Sunday.

The recorded version of the song, an ironic take on comments made by fans online who were angry about their name change, features Robbie Williams.

Laurie Vincent from the Kent two-piece told us he had been surprised to receive a message from the star out of the blue, saying he was a fan.

"He was like, 'Hi Laurie, it's Rob. Hope you don't mind I got your number. I want to make music like you guys,'" recalled the guitarist. "And I was just wiping the sleep out of my eye, I was like, 'what is going on?'"

Williams guest vocal arrives at a point on the track when they needed something to take it in a different direction, he said.

"Most people see the tongue-in-cheek nature of fit," noted Vincent. Others, he added, have told them: "We hate the new name but we forgive you because the new song is amazing."

2. Jedward are climate campaigners


Irish singing and TV presenting duo Jedward turned heads everywhere they went at Leeds this weekend.

That includes atop the Climate Live UK bus, where the former X Factors stars got involved in environmental discussions and even performed.

"I just think climate is important," said Edward Grimes from the duo. "Sometimes people feel like they don't know everything about everything but it's about just educating yourself and moving forward."

"All you've got to do is be a tryer," added identical twin brother John.

Surely we can all agree with that.

In perhaps the boldest move of the day, the brothers were heard belting out a cover of Mr Brightside just hours before the Killers graced the main stage on Sunday.

3. Meekz has a 10-year-old backing dancer

The Manchester rapper headlined the BBC 1Xtra Stage, backed by a troupe of dancers for his track Can't Stop Won't Stop.

Among them was 10-year-old talent Trey Braine, who wowed the crowd by jumping out from behind the others, in his dark shades, and performing some explosive dance moves.

Speaking after the set, it turned out this was not his first rodeo. But he told us that this was "one of the most exciting days of my life."

4. One rising star's GCSE results

TS Lagga
TS Lagga

Reading and Leeds festival coincides with GCSE results day in England each year. So plenty of festival-goers were found letting off some post-exam steam.

Rising rap star TS Lagga, 16, found himself in the same boat. But he gave himself the added pressure of opening his results live on stage at the end of his set.

Loud cheers rang out as he revealed he had got a seven in English Literature, followed by a fitting smash sound effect from his DJ.

He told us he did it as he wanted to counteract stereotypes "especially around young black male rappers, that they don't have intellect".

"Yeah I rap but I promise you I'm intelligent."

5. Frozemode had the most fun out of anyone

Alternative rap-punk collective Frozemode were one of the most hyped bands on the BBC Music Introducing Stage.

As well as playing, the young London three-piece were actually attending their first-ever proper festival and so seemed doubly set on making the most of it.

Their high energy set saw rapper I.V. Gatlin encouraging the crowd to bark like dogs. Ahead of the gig, he told us: "We've just put up the tent, we're gonna have fun man!"

We can only imagine what state they were in for one of their other scheduled interviews, which was due to take place early the next morning, on a Waltzer. Yikes.

6. Rina Sawayama is going to hell

Her words, not ours. But don't worry, she's cool with it.

The star provided the first big call-and-response sing-along of the weekend on Friday afternoon, for her track This Hell.

After declaring she was "a proud queer woman" she invited all of the "sinners" in the crowd to "revel in eternal damnation" with her.

It surely can't be any hotter than the inside of a tent.

7. Retro footy kits are everywhere

Derby County and Nottingham Forest fans showing their colours
Derby County and Nottingham Forest fans showing their colours

And we mean everywhere.

At first it seemed like everyone was wearing an old school Newcastle United shirt bearing the name of headliner Sam Fender on the back (his saxophonist Johnny "Bluehat" Davis even wore his 1990s goalkeeper shirt on stage).

But it soon became apparent the festival was teaming with retro tops representing teams from all around.

The current Leeds United team arrived to see the Killers and would have been impressed with the selection on display.

8. Imagine Dragons give great careers advice

Imagine Dragons
Imagine Dragons

The US band co-headlined on the Friday and provided a heart-warming moment ahead of their track Thunder.

After asking the crowd if anyone was here for the first time, he spotted a seven-year-old girl on her parent's shoulders.

"Look at all these people, they are clapping for you," he said, as the audience duly obliged.

Noting she was starting out on the journey of life, he told her: "You can do anything... You can be on a stage, you can be up in space."

A look of sheer bewilderment flashed across the youngster's face on the big screen. Luckily she doesn't have to decide which option to go for just yet.

9. How Songer manifested working with a grime 'icon'

Reading artist Songer arrived at, for him, the away leg of the double-header festival as one of the most hotly-tipped rap artists on the 1Xtra stage.

He told us how he came to work with one of his heroes, grime heavyweight D Double E, who he appears with in the fun-looking music video for the remix of his track 04:59.

"It came about because in the hook [of the original] I mention D Double," he said, recalling how he'd told associates "it would be unreal if we got him on a remix".

After sending him the track, he was delighted to discover that two days later he'd replied with an added verse attached, saying he wanted to "jump on the tune".

"I was jumping up and down with excitement" said Songer. "It was the best feeling because not only have I grown up listening to him, he's an icon and to feel validated in that respect was a big confidence booster and it felt like a new chapter for me."

So there you go, email your dreams into existence people.

10. To look out for moving mannequins

Yard Act
Yard Act

Local Leeds group Yard Act were busy boys, performing twice on Saturday.

During a performance of their new track Trenchcoat Museum on the main stage at around midday, the stage was adorned with lots of trenchcoat-clad mannequins.

Or so everyone thought.

Midway through an extended version of the track, the apparent objects came to life as human dancers, drawing frontman James Smith in, in a feat of surreal theatrical choreography.

A surreal way to start the day.