Manchester’s Neighbourhood Festival a Triumph for New Bands
What better way to spend a Saturday than to run around Manchester’s music venues looking for your next favourite artist. My festival year always starts at Live at Leeds in May and then finishes here in Manchester at Neighbourhood Festival in October. Both of this year’s metropolitan day festivals have been superb, packed to the brim with fresh new talent and if you are prepared to stray away from the larger venues then there are some real goodies to be found amongst the also rans. Be prepared though for quite a trek to some of the places – walking from Albert Hall or Jimmys to the Academy is well over a mile, so I decided early on not to go to those extremes and stay in the nucleus of talent and go to the smaller venues that I hadn’t visited before.
First up was ‘Jordan MacKampa’ and he has lost the trademark hat for a beanie today, it’s turning cold outside but the warmth of his performance at Deaf Institute kept the chills at bay. Great to see him with a full band for a change too, and plenty of people turned up at the Deaf Institute to watch his soulful rousing performance.
Nipping just down the road to The Refuge which was a pub with a small stage in the corner I saw only a couple of songs from ‘The Hubbards’, who seemed more intent kicking out the few photographers at the front than entertaining, a bit too early for trad lad attitude rock so we left to catch ‘Lowes’ instead. That’s the beauty of these ‘Day in the City’ festivals, if you don’t like it, move on somewhere else. Every few mins there will be another artist about to start their 30 min performance in one of the 14 venues open for business. I’d never heard of ‘Lowes’ but 2 minutes in to their set, I realised that they were a class above most other acts. Coming across like a new Florence and the Machine, I believe they are from the Lake District, they certainly filled the room with some amazing soundscapes.
1st EP called Elements should now be on your Spotify playlist. Singer Evie Plumb has some strong dramatic on-stage presence, it cannot be long before we hear a lot more about Lowes.
Noisy rock n roll next and my first visit to YES, a bar/pizzeria with two venues, the Basement and the larger Pink room. What a great place, and the timings of the 2 stages meant you could actually just stay here moving from one to another and see 18 stunning new bands in around 9 hours. Stopping only to refuel for beer & pizza at £1.50 a slice – this was heaven! ‘Asylums’ were in the basement and as they had set off for Manchester this morning at 4am, they were ready to let off some steam. It’s a small stage so there wasn’t much room for their usual high kick antics, however we were treated to some prized stonking cuts from latest album ‘Alien Human Emotions’.
Just the thing for lunchtime, a brief pizza stop and then I witnessed the band that would be my favourite discovery of the day. The Pink room at YES is exactly that – it’s a large room and even the speakers on the walls are pink. ‘The Blinders’ will play a secret(ish) set here later in the evening, but the unknown band taking to the stage in front of about 15 people were ‘The Murder Capital’. To say it was an intense performance would be such an understatement, they are from Dublin and this was their first visit to the UK. Band assembled and stared down at the lucky souls who were in the room at the start, it was a deep stare from the bass player as he started the 1st tune, unrelenting piercing wide eyed stares like there was something really wrong about to happen. Vocalist steps out from the side, dressed in a smart suit and with one foot on the monitor sways to the sound of the bass, his eyes almost rolling back in ecstasy, whilst around him the band suddenly exploded into a high energy punk noise, crashing into each other with force. It was like he was the conductor of a musical storm, a calm presence at the front, occasionally breaking into some fierce vocal work himself but then sitting down and looking into the eyes of the crowd that was starting to fill every corner of this pink room. By the 3rd song it was filled up nicely and our bass player decided to climb up on the side speakers and then do a rabid punk irish dance, stamping his feet feverishly and moving side to side whilst the rest of the band just stopped and watched. It was such a powerful showcase that I stopped for the whole set, being late for the start of ‘Calva Louise’ in the basement because this was just unmissable. I think everyone in that room left with a new band on their lips ‘The Murder Capital’, they felt fresh, very unique and sure to explode wherever they play next, sadly checking their tour schedule, they don’t have any more UK dates planned right now, but I will definitely be there when it happens.
‘Calva Louise’ were also superb, I had an hour of absolute bliss at YES with ‘The Murder Capital’ and then this young band who seem to have been around for ages, and yet this was the first time for me to catch them live. Infectious indie punk pop with a summer feel to it, Jess on guitar and vocals is a strong force straddling the roles of cutie voice with throaty chorus screamo very well and as a 3-piece their live show is quite raw and sounds fresh. 1st album is coming soon called ‘Rhinoceros’ and they are also special guests on the current Blinders tour, which makes that a must see in a few weeks’ time. The two shows at YES made me late for ‘The Seamonsters’ at Jimmys.
After a trek to Jimmys I vowed I wouldn’t go that far out again as all the other venues were much closer, however, it was worth the run as ‘The Seamonsters’ are great fun, all 6 girls were packed into a corner of the room where dry ice was constantly pumped and fierce lights shone down over the glittery gathering. This is sugar coated indie pop, the likes of which haven’t been seen since ‘Clare Grogan’ sang ‘Pinky Blue’ in the eighties. These girls generate smiles which are contagious to anyone within earshot, their melodies are sound, and it feels like a group of student mates that have just decided to start a band during a party, they are still trying to work out who plays keyboards and who plays bass. It’s a little unkempt at times but that just adds to the charm – “Here’s a song called ‘L’amour Est Un Jeu Fou’” is just casually thrown in after a track about ‘What it’s like to be a girl’. It’s all a pleasant break from the lad rock dirge and a million miles away from ‘The Sherlocks’ which can only be a good thing.
I ventured back to the YES venue for another couple of bands, the first was ‘Sports Team’ who had a good amount of support, lead singer Alex Rice is like Mick Jagger on Speed which is particularly hilarious when he is pitched up next to his synth player, who doesn’t move and appears to have had a charisma bypass fitted. There is a lot of guitars on stage and a band members coat hanging on the mic stand, and yet they sound much more of a pop/indie band like Pulp than rock’n’roll. Good time fun again though at YES Pink Room and it was about to get even better when ‘ZUZU’ turned up. First though I go down to see a band called ‘Fling’ in the basement, wish I hadn’t, it was bizarre fancy dress night – Skeleton, orange boiler suit and a fella singing who looked like he’d just come back from a carp fishing weekend and had forgotten his hat. Sadly, they sounded like they looked, and I made a hasty retreat back for another slice of pizza. Since my long walk to Jimmys I needed to replan the latter stages of the evening. I could have chosen to see ‘The Blinders’, ‘Cabbage’, or ‘Louis Berry’ and ‘Everything Everything’ – such was the extensive offer available at the Albert Hall or other venues. Instead I went with ‘ZUZU’, The Howl and the Hum and Ladybird. I think I made the right choice.
ZUZU is a scouser with a spotify playlist called “Things I sing to my Cats”, dressed like a geek girl having a night on the town and with a guitarist who is dressed in a pink hoodie, pink trousers…in the pink room! – she plays some of the finest singalong indie tunes going right now ‘Get Off’ and ‘Beauty Queen’ should be lodged in the Top 10 and played on every radio station, but they’re not….yet! World domination awaits once she can leave her cats for longer than a week – although she is currently on tour with the Courteeners.
‘The Howl and the Hum’ are from York (my hometown) and I’m more than aware of their musical history as individuals as they have played solo or with other bands in the York area for some years. Together though it is quite magical the sound and feeling at their gigs. ‘Manea’ is a hypnotic driving beat with Radiohead like qualities. ‘I wish I was a shark’ reminds me even more about Thom Yorke’s band. Sam Griffiths lead singer/guitar gets more animated as the gig progresses, occasionally falling to his knees. A cover of a Talking Heads song prompts some side to side David Byrne dance routines, and then a blissful ‘Godmanchester Chinese Bridge’ brings the set to a close. Brilliant, and I would have crowned them champions of the festival if I hadn’t seen ‘The Murder Capital’ earlier.
On my way back to YES, I called in to Gorilla for a couple of songs from ‘Our Fold’, this is some of the best straight forward head shaking rock’n’roll music, and lead singer/guitarist Damien Riley is visually turning more into Dave Grohl as the songs progress. Hard to believe they have already chalked up a decade together, but an incredibly tight performance from this Bolton collective.
A complete change of style and genre and a little UK RnB, first up ‘Lava La Rue’ which was pleasant enough, but I always prefer a band to a DJ backing track and in the Pink room we have ‘Ellie Ingram’, dressed like a country and western singer wearing a tasselled sleeve dress, make no mistake though this is much better quality and her band has some great saxophone to compliment Ellie’s hard lyrics. She is touring with Tom Grennan and I can imagine that is a fantastic match for the evening – ‘Table for Two’ was a standout track.
A couple of disappointing performances which just didn’t set the world on fire like ‘Our Fold’ or ‘The Howl & The Hum’ had done earlier were ‘Vistas’ and ‘Pretty Vicious’. Both bands were competent enough but lacked a spark or two. Unlike my final band of the night ‘Ladybird’ who were a whole box of fireworks exploding in your face.
A 3-piece shouty punk band who are a bit like ‘Slaves’ with an extra member. Funny enough they were the inaugural signing to Slaves record label ‘Girl Fight’ with their single ‘Spoons’ and for a headlining set tonight in the basement of YES they gave every ounce of sweat and energy left in their weekend. Proper shouty storytelling that Mike Skinner can only dream about, and any band that has a track called ‘Shag Tally’ has to be experienced live.
Neighbourhood Festival delivered once again and whilst they may not have huge headlining acts packing out the largest stages in Manchester, the heartbeat of this metropolitan festival can be felt in the small venues like YES or Gorilla. Amazing that this festival is only 3 years old, considering the musical pedigree Manchester has, but with each year new venues spring up and another new 30-40 incredible bands and artists take to the stages to find their audience. Put it in your diary for next year!
✮ ✮ ✮ ✮ ✩ 4/5
Review by John Hayhurst
Twitter: @snapagig1 @johnhayhurst