Festival Review: Neighbourhood 2016

neighbourhood bannerNeighbourhood 2016

Various Venues, Manchester, October 8th 2016

Words: Gary Lambert and Elena Katrina

Photos: Gaz Jones and Elena Katrina

It would have been harder to make Manchester city centre more abuzz than the Saturday afternoon of the inaugural Neighbourhood Festival. With the general Saturday crowd, thousands of rugby league fans milling about, Manchester Metropolitan University having an open day and a hell of a lot of music fans it felt like a great day. Added to the fact we were treated by the earth to have a day of gorgeous autumnal sunshine, it made it feel pretty damn special. Without watching a band I was already thinking of purchasing next year’s wristband and what I would do differently (clue: not pay over twenty quid for NCP usage).


neighbourhood 2016 gaz jones for poppedmusicSomething else pretty damn special is the musical talent of eighteen year old future-star, Mahalia. Whilst the world and his mate seemed to be queued over the road outside The O2 Ritz hoping to be let in to wait to see Blossoms, it was splendid to see a full house in Gorilla to watch Mahalia – although there was a noisy handful near the bar, who seemed to be more concerned with banter and being offended by music fans asking them to tone their noise down, than the girl on stage with a wonderful ability to mix her beautiful vocal with a wonderful stage presence. Even with her admittance that she talks too much. In time the life tales might seem a bit much as they reduce the opportunity for her to fit in more songs – but that is a bit down the line of this fledgling career. Instead she seems perfectly at home in front of the audience. It seemed apt that in Manchester, the home of John Cooper Clarke, she performed a piece of spoken word poetry / a cappella singing, which, the punk poet himself would have been proud of (Backup Plan which was originally called after a well known retailer which rhymes with the title).


Following on at Gorilla was Lancaster’s, Columbia Records signing, Lake Komo. One thing that was noticeable immediately was the natural size of the music created by the band. Obviously reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac with the ambition and clarity of the sound, they are clearly on to something making it easy to forget the noisemakers at the bar who had not left to find somewhere else to drink for a bit. Hopefully though the palatable sound of Lake Komo will work for them as I would hate to think they left with hazy memories and hangovers rather than a new musical love.

neighbourhood elena katrina popped music While I was watching Lake Komo Elena headed over to watch Blossoms: Blossoms are a band I’ve seen many many times, including an early support slot several years ago in the same venue. Where they played a short set to a mainly non-interested crowd. I would say many of that crowd returned this time and they were every which way the opposite of the last time. Before the band took to the stage the crowd proved that the 90s were well and truly alive in Manchester, as the venue erupted into song for the chorus of Oasis’ She’s Electric. It was a sign of things to come, and it was only 3pm in the afternoon. The mid afternoon time slot meant nothing to this eager crowd, in fact, I would say that it was almost a bit of a shock when I stepped back outside into daylight. Blossoms and crowd fed off of each other, older tracks gaining just as much love thrown at it as newer tracks. I even managed to spot one Blossom smiling, a rare site (though they are a very friendly bunch!). I always knew this band would make it to this kind of status, and I’m still positive that they’re not anywhere done yet.

New musical love can only take me to one place…. Freak. This time I was certain about how the music was meant to sound and be listened to. Freak are England’s answer to Green Day. Not the Green Day of today, but the Green Day that is fun to listen to even twenty years later. And I found it impossible to listen to Freak as a music blogger. As soon as my social media necessities were done, I was bouncing up and down like a chunky hipster with no dignity. If there had been enough people to form a mosh pit in Zoo I would have happily ran the risk of glasses loss as the band crunched along shouting “no money, no honey, shitty job, not funny”. Forget grandiose avant-garde poetry trying to compare life with an irrelevant part of nature, this is how lyrics like life can be wonderful when you keep it simple and honest. Keep it going Freak!


Like a proper outdoor, multi-stage festival Neighbourhood also had somewhere you could chill out and catch a singer-songwriter. The Thirsty Scholar, the pub under the arches that every student in Manchester has been to at some stage, was home to that and when I had finished unsuccessfully pestering the Dr Martens staff outside for laces as mine had snapped, I took some time to relax and catch whoever was on stage. Fortunately, I got Liam McClair, who, surprised me by not being just another run-of-the-mill singer with a northern accent and an acoustic guitar. Liam’s voice was warm, textured and nuanced rather than begging for people to join in to hide it, I wanted to sit back and listen to him, just him. Alas the pub was standing room only and I was stood right next to the stage so it was not quite as relaxing as it should be. But I picked up one of his business cards on my way out and I will be listening to him again.

Of course not every band is going to be to your taste through the day, I can’t say that I will be listening to The Rhythm Method in a hurry. With the headliners of the festival at various points in the day, you couldn’t quite predict where in a career a previously unknown act would be, but from the performance I saw The Rhythm Method have got quite a bit of work to do. I’m not sure if their act was meant to be a bit rough around the edges and the musical equivalent of shabby chic as an in-joke, but their chavvy chic take on early nineties American soul left me and others a bit baffled. I mean if you can harmonise like they did, why try to deliberately sabotage yourselves by a ramshackle live set up.


neighbourhood elena katrina popped music The Rhythm Method were one of the bands fortunate enough to play Sound Control which was probably my favourite venue of Neighbourhood. With a bar for people to chill out and gab in on the ground floor, with two excellent music rooms upstairs and in the basement I would have been happy in there all day. Despite bumping into them outside the venue, I was unable to get in to watch The Amazons such was the crowd for their set in the basement. I was stuck on the stairs trying to peer around the corner whilst not knocking into a girl who was either drunk and angry or drunk and upset-texting sat on the bottom step. She was a health and safety (and reviewer’s) nightmare, but for the first time in a good while I felt a band rather than listened to them. The Amazons have got so powerful now that the bass hits hard and the floor upstairs shook as they hit every note. It was that feeling through my DM’s that had me bouncing down the stairs to check it out not realising who was on in the first place was one of my favourite bands of 2016.

While Elena got to watch The Amazons and took her camera lens to the four piece, we then went our separate ways as she headed off to spend some time in Xolo: I’ve never been to Xolo so had no idea what I was in for when I arrived. I stumbled in mid set for local duo Girl Friend – who, are brother and sister, which they make sure everyone knows about. Their live set up has changed since last I had seen them, just the two, to now having a full band set up giving them a fuller live sound and more of a presence. Their newest track had a bout of electric guitar in it, which was somewhat confusing, as there’s no guitarist.

neighbourhood elena katrina popped music A band who most definitely does have electric guitar present is Pale Waves, another of the festival line up who found themselves checking out the usually shaped stage at Xolo. The band clearly have already began to make enough, ahem, waves, up north and pulled a really decent crowd, considering who they were up against on the schedule else where. I was always going to want to see them though. Young, angsty and shoegazy, three words which instantly sprung to my mind. But they are so much more than that, talented, driven and impressive, another 3 words. Though admittedly my favourite part of their set was the stage invasions, stage, being more of a step, but none the less the crowd came on boards dancing, arm waving it was great to see. They were a very polite stage invaders though, as soon as the song finished they all clambered off – not for long, they were back two songs later and the beams on the, otherwise earnest, faces of the band was a joy to see. The band are back to headline their own show in Manchester in December, which I’m all up for!

Meanwhile, I (Gary), am back in the basement of Sound Control where I caught some of The Telerman. There was no over the top late eighties retro, Manc swagger, or apeing (sic) of Ian Brown, but the way they created a maelstrom of indie pop beauty reminded me of those magic sounds made by The Stone Roses in their early halcyon days. It was gorgeous, memorable and deserving of a far greater audience, but basement bashes are what make bands.

neighbourhood 2016 gaz jones for poppedmusicAnd bashing was definitely on the agenda at Zoo when The Hyena Kill were playing. It was loud, threatening and the girl on drums was wearing animal print that could have easily been captured by the sound of their music. I loved it. In a festival of primarily indie music, a bit of gutsy, raw, visceral anger rock acts as a sorbet to cleanse the palette and get the heart thumping ready for whatever comes next. That doesn’t mean what comes next has to be something sweet and dainty. You could follow up The Hyena Kill with a bit of Vant who are on the cusp of something really big. Their set upstairs in Sound Control was a real highlight for me and those in attendance. It was great to see fans moshing and turning a room into a cavern of movement and excitement. Even playing a new song, Love and Peace, made people want to throw themselves around even more. After the gig the band were outside making friends and every one of them was thick with sweat. It was the kind of set where nothing is left in the locker after it.


Next door to Sound Control was Revolution, home of many hangover start ups, and I had a 100% record with the bands I saw on there. Every single one of the gigs was ace in their own special way. Saint Phnx had a chilled out mid-afternoon slot brought earlier by one of them compadres being unable to make Neighbourhood. With an unfortunately sparse crowd, there was no pressure to perform and we could all sit around and take in their colourful tunes. Later in the day the crowd had found their way to Revolution for the set by Will Joseph Cook. It was one of those special moments as he performed almost nose to nose with the front row – and you could see everybody thrived on it. Even Will himself seemed taken aback by the intensity when Gaz and I were fortunate enough to catch up with him outside the venue later on.


neighbourhood 2016 gaz jones for poppedmusicBy that time it was getting late, Neighbourhood terms 9.30pm is late, so we decided to finish off the day with some well constructed pop music provided by Ekkah. It was our last traipse up the stairs and the reward for the team was fun, fun, fun. Sometimes music can be too serious and you want to put the work away and spin around dancing. Those moments don’t happen very often with me, so Team Popped was shocked to see the effect that Ekkah had on me. Following on from their support slot with Jodie Abacus, I was able to understand the entire performance this time and it was filled with fun, electronic power pop by two young musical talents. By the way, I would like to give an organisational compliment to Neighbourhood and Revolution who fixed a broken banister as soon as it was pointed out. Too many bars would go for a quick fix and a “watch out” message.


Neighbourhood Festival – welcome to our calendar. Please don’t grow up too fast, you were ace!

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