Festival Review: Dot To Dot Manchester 2017

Dot to Dot Manchester

Various Venues Manchester, 26th May 2017

Words: Gary Lambert

Photos: Elena Katrina

I wish the Manchester leg of Dot To Dot 2017 was just another festival for me to go to, another event of live music, good times, and good people. However with the sickening events of the previous Monday as innocent music fans were needlessly slaughtered at Manchester Arena, this became the most important music festival of my life. Ever since the Tushino Bombing in 2003, it has been possible in my mind that somebody could target such an event in Britain, but music concerts and festivals are so often a celebration of life, peace, freedom, hope, and most of all, love which I believed would overcome the desire to destroy the lives of strangers. Getting the news that Dot To Dot Festival was not going to be cancelled was the most uplifting message I could have received in a week of numbing darkness. We might have needed additional security arrangements, but the overall message was one of resolve. As the song goes, “we shall not be moved”.


First up at Dot To Dot had to be the Sweet Sweet Records showcase at the brilliant 1 Watson Street Bar. It’s always a happy coincidence when an act you like happens to be on in a pub that you’ve visited on the odd occasion, so Liam McClair’s set of pleasant acoustic numbers went down as easily as a pint of Worker Bee. Excellently, a festival wristband also meant 20% off at the bar, so if I had been here as a fan I think I would have watched the entire showcase. Liam even hit us with a bluesy number, despite his own admission that he had nothing in his life and upbringing to be bluesy about. He really makes you think that he is a nice lad as well as a cracking, layered singer.


Hometown heroes, PINS, were the first act to play in the former Granada Studios. As I’ve grown up in what was known as Granada Land, I was wondering if the likes of Coronation Street and Jeremy Brett’s untouchable Sherlock Holmes had been filmed in the big warehouse I was now getting to watch one of my favourites in. I really enjoyed this as a venue because whilst it was in essence a big warehouse the sound did not drown or drift, and the low-yet-large stage really suited PINS as a performing unit allowing them to move around without losing the intimacy that they seem to thrive on. PINS seem to have taken a few steps along the path towards a more Blondie / Joan Jett style of sound rather than the rough and ready punk of the earlier years. If it means more songs like All Hail, which has few contemporaries in the same bracket to it, then this could be one of the most exciting career progressions Manchester has seen since the remaining members of Joy Division discovered MDMA.


Old favourites of our editor Elena, Amber Run, took to the stage at Albert Hall, weirdly in daylight. As the converted Methodist Church has stained glass windows throughout, the stage lights mattered not as the summer sunshine poured in everywhere. Whilst it could make some bands and audiences apprehensive as everybody is able to see each other for once, there was none of that from either side. Amber Run for their part were pitch perfect with their not-yet-in-stadia-rock, and some of their fans showed legendary dancing skills. Top marks to the girl in the turquoise sequinned trousers who span and twirled with such carefree abandon that everybody nearby from merchandise sellers to security were looking over and smiling infectiously. Amber Run might remind me of Simple Minds, but they also have an ability to uplift. In fact, there almost seems in these surroundings to be a touch of the choir to the vocal of Joe Keogh. If I could offer one hint for the future though, at the end of the soundcheck he performed half a track without the backing of his band, it was disappointing when he stopped; I’d possibly use that as the actual opener in the future.


After the polish of Amber Run, the enthusiastic garage rock of Sheffield’s In Sulks provided a musical palette cleanser. Loud, fast, and young playing above a pub that would probably have knocked them back if they had gone in for a pint, it was very much the epitome of metropolitan festivals and the luck of the draw element to them. I quite enjoyed their performance, and I think in time they will grow to get control of the audience and not let us stand around hugging the walls. It gave the band nothing to react with. Top marks too to the old fella with a briefcase who walked up, took one horrified look around and then scarpered down the stairs so quickly it was like he was escaping from someone’s husband.


The man with the briefcase may have preferred the set played by Banfi in what was allegedly a room above a pub, but was more like a Mancunian sauna, just without the naked people. Standing at the back of the room, it was massively impressive to see the amount of people desperately trying to use their programmes to cool down but refusing to leave the oppressive heat. The credit for that needs to go squarely at the feet of the three-piece at the front, who managed to, in my weird opinion, take the sounds of grunge and remove from it the angst and anger to create an exciting blend of non-traditional rock n roll. They are due back to play the same venue in September, so if you find yourself near Gulliver’s that night then grab a drink from the bar below and then get yourself upstairs, you’ll not be disappointed.


When faced with so many choices as to who to watch next, it becomes a very easy decision when your editor/photographer says “RedFaces? Where are they on? I had four different emails telling me about how good they were at The Great Escape”. Wonderfully, the venue was over the road at Castle Hotel in another room in a pub (thankfully no stairs). Well I’ve got to say that this young band really did hit the post-Brighton hype make no mistake. For me RedFaces sounded inspired by the less-celebrated days of Britpop i.e. without trumpets and jammed in rhyming couplets. This is a band who make guitar music that you can dance to instantly. I didn’t know any of the words, and I still don’t, but I could not resist attempting to dance in the very limited space on offer. And if the sound guy comes to the front to “fix something” but in reality it is to check how much room there is to see if anybody else can get into the venue then the band are definitely on to something. About halfway through the set I had seen enough and decided to let someone else have a chance to watch them. It was the musical version of great pizza, you could have it all to yourself, but it’s better to let someone else tuck in too. I cannot wait to watch these guys perform again. And I promise next time I will definitely know the words to tracks like Kerosene.


Sometimes you cannot help but feel sorry for an act no matter how much you enjoy them. Jakl, I’m looking at you right now. At twenty past nine in the evening, after, to quote Jakl, “the most disco band I’ve ever seen” you do not need one guy with his electro-acoustic guitar. As it turned out Jakl’s invite to the “saddest party ever” was one I was glad to take. His Margate tones were reminiscent of early Sam Duckworth although with a sound far more stripped down than Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.. I am glad that I was able to see Jakl in this context as I think the European Tour support slot with Ezra Furman will be a lot louder and less intimate, although he definitely deserves more people watching him.


At 9.59pm, music venues across Europe were coordinating a silence in respect of those who died in at the Ariana Grande concert, followed by a minute of noise at 10pm to show that music fans wherever will not be silenced by terror. Popped Music aptly was in the epicentre of Manchester indie music, Night and Day, for this watching the set from Ten Tonnes. The set was special, not just for the silence/noise, but for the thirty minutes of blissful pop-rock which bookended it. Now this was not an artist I am familiar with, but this is exactly why I love going to festivals like Dot To Dot. You see a name that gives no clue whatsoever so walk into a bar and suddenly you’re energised by a band playing with passion and a singer with a voice that acts as an additional beat to get your hips swinging. Contrary to his song, I do not think that Ten Tonnes is born to lose.


The last act of the night was a band that we at Popped Music have written about before, but I know I had definitely never seen before, Glass Caves. In a dark basement bar called Dive their almost dream-pop approach to playing was perfectly suited. Even the curious positioning of their sound at neither the dreamy or poppy end of the scale worked perfectly. There was the layering and musical smoke for those who wanted to sit and chill out at the end of a day, but the vocal to fore that encouraged other people to get more involved with the set.


As I expected Dot To Dot (Manchester) was an obvious success, and reminded the world that Manchester is not just a passionate, vibrant, famous city, but it is also a city that unites in music. Nice one.


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