Festival Review: Neighbourhood 2017 – Manchester

Neighbourhood 2017

Various venues, Manchester, 7th October 2017

Words: Gary Lambert
Photos: Trust A Fox

“In rain we graft” might be a t-shirt slogan, but it sums up the Manchester music scene’s collective ability for hard work, togetherness and fighting through the strife that often comes from the life of being working class in the north west of England. In the constant drizzle, it was an apt description of the life of a music fan at Neighbourhood 2017. Marching from venue to venue, squeezing through packed rooms, and going wild in front of some great performances could be hard work if we got paid for it. Instead it’s just wonderfully draining.


These sort of adventures in music are not just done on the spur of the moment, but they are planned well in advance deciding who we need to cover and how it will fit with Popped Music’s New Music ethos. With the opening party starring 40% of Blossoms, and an orchestra, it was the perfect intro to the review too. Well it would have been if I had read the timetable, as Blossoms didn’t come on until half past one – and there was no way we were going to wait that long to watch some music despite rushing across Manchester City Centre to get to the Union for midday when I thought it was starting. So it was back up Oxford Road to catch one of our previewed bands, Judas.


Now Judas are not going to provide you with a Radiohead style epiphany of how strange sounds can be gathered together to make a tune that blows your mind. Instead, their plan is a lot less subtle. They make tunes that make you want to move your hips, arms, and other body parts into an approximate reference to rhythm and coordination, with occasional air punches. And it is so liberating. And popular given the fact that The Refuge had easily over 100 people inside for the very first act of the day. Frontman, John Clancy, commented that Manchester was a city they had yet to conquer, well they must be doing something right in their attempts. In what was to be a recurring theme for the day, the audience was definitely younger than I was expecting too. As they piled down the stairs to get in position to watch Judas, hardly anybody went towards the bar because I don’t think the world’s greatest fake IDs would have got them served. It was just after midday and there were fifteen year olds filling a venue to watch a guitar band that most people won’t have heard of. If that does not give you hope then you deserve a world of Buble and Britpop Reunions.


After stomping, it was time to take a moment to chill out and go to one of my favourite places in Manchester, The Thirsty Scholar. To be honest, this pub usually gets a visit when I’m in town because they do a decent pint, but for Neighbourhood there is a day of music inside the pub as well as the most obvious meeting point in their concrete beer garden out front (but under the railway bridge so as to not be rain affected). The acts on The Thirsty Scholar tend to range from acoustic singers from Bolton to acoustic singers from Bredbury, but that results in an audience who have heard the singer before, or have grown up with them. In a small pub with an even smaller stage at a Metropolitan festival, that is a bonus to be fair. It creates an atmosphere of support and for the pressure of performance to be eased. The act I managed to catch was Ryan Jarvis who managed to surprise me as I walked in to the room by not holding an acoustic guitar as he sang, ably supported by his backing band. He looked very comfortable on stage, and sang well, taking on the band leader role with aplomb. He had his acoustic guitar back in his hand for the next track, so I was able to leave relieved that things at The Thirsty Scholar had not got too wild.


Then it was time for the opening party, advertised as Blossoms featuring Joe Duddell and RNCM Ensemble. Actually it was only Tom Ogden and Charlie Salt from Blossoms. I am of the opinion that Tom Ogden is amongst the best frontmen around, not just because of his voice and stage presence, but how he manages to guide the band and audience through their gigs. Yet it is the presence of Myles Kellock on keys which propels Blossoms through the canals of the indie circuit into the seas of the general public. It is hard to imagine without hearing it the likes of Charlemagne without that energy and bounce. But that was what we were facing. From the opening though of Getaway though Myles had been replaced by a subtle, rousing, orchestral beauty which allowed people to sing with Tom if they wished, or get their head around how good a songwriter he is, and how great the band’s collective ability with a tune is. I love Blossoms, but I was shocked at how their festival-friendly tracks were infused with such subtlety. I was fortunate to bump into Charlie  later at Sound Control, and enthused over the performance to him. He admitted that performing The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride as a cover to finish was quite an emotional moment for Tom and he as they had grown up listening to The Beatles and it was a real signifier of how far Blossoms have come.


One of the biggest disappointments last year was the crowds at The Zoo. Two of my favourite bands played there in front of a rather meagre crowd for one reason and another. I won’t name the acts, but they’re sick, if you ignore what marketing people tell you. For 2017 this was not the case. Under the new guise of The Bread Shed it was absolutely jam packed to the point of making people queue outside for one in, one out. The reason for the crowds was No Hot Ashes were due to take to the stage. If someone was to look at the band in their jeans and great Adidas tracksuits, you would instantly expect a northern four piece with elongated vowels and forgettable choruses. You would be wrong. No Hot Ashes are a lot smarter than the image would suggest. Whilst ostensibly they are an indie band, you would not think that if you closed your eyes and took out the vocals. Instead we have tunes sculpted from the marble left by acts like Hall and Oates with the way they take the funk and joy from rhythm and blues, and use it as the foundation for enough indie music to fill a 400+ capacity club with teenagers.

Oh and The Bread Shed also had a glitter desk where crowd members could get cool glitter designs on their face. I didn’t tell my editor this on the day as I would have had to give my press pass up as soon as she drove to Manchester!


Things then turned a bit hectic, to say the least, as instead of sitting around in The Bread Shed, getting a beer, and getting glittered, it was back up Oxford Road to check out October Drift on the advice of Mr Foxy Fox, my photographer and all round man of Manchester. Seriously, he’s a boss guy, but do not expect to get through the venue zones of Manchester quickly with him as he pretty much knows everybody and they all want to talk to him. I lost track of the artists, band managers, venue managers, and general Manchester music heads we bumped into on our travels. It sure was fun.


October Drift proved him right as they put on a broody set that was full of intensity, angst and energy. How would I describe them? Editors on amphetamines would be the best indicator of what their time on stage was like. It was tiring watching them hurtling around, bumping into each other, and generally having a good time. But they did not replace quality music with energy as some bands choose to in order to grab attention. Instead they find the point between Joy Division and dancing that removes the irony without adding unrequired cheer. If you don’t believe me, go to Spotify and listen to Cherry Red or Losing My Touch and you might see why. Or you might think I’m crazy. At least you’ll have listened to two great new songs.


Another high energy band on our list was The Blinders back at The Bread Shed. The audience had fallen from No Hot Ashes’ crowd which you would expect with the Stopfordians who had previously taken to the stage being a local act. Instead it was at about 95% capacity instead of 100% (about 20 people less for non-maths geeks). If you like the stomp of glam rock and you like the heavy blues of Led Zeppelin, then The Blinders might just be for you – at the time I tweeted that watching The Blinders is like seeing The Doors cover QOTSA or the other way round, and I stand by that positively unnerving description. The Blinders put on a show that makes you stand in silence for the slow bits, but coiling yourself waiting for the fast bits.


Usually I would have taken this point to be the time to eat, chill out, and prepare for the next assault of music, but instead we got to sit down with the frankly awesome Queen Zee and The Sasstones to hold an interview which you will see soon enough. I mean haven’t you got enough to read already? We’re only halfway through! But you will get to read about a Queen Zee live set by the time you get to the end of this review. Teaser trailer: “incendiary” is used – and yet they have no pyrotechnics or fire hazards.


The second half of reviewing started with a Popped Music favourite, The Amazons. These boys seem to be getting better by the second, and are quickly following behind Reading’s other proud sons Sundara Karma. The Ritz, over the road from Gorilla and round the corner from Sound Control and Underdog, is a real jewel in Manchester’s live music venues. It is the kind of venue that if you are not from Manchester you will walk in there and say “I wish we had somewhere like this at home”. Even if you do have somewhere like that back home, you’ll still wish that you had The Ritz.

Anyway, I digress. Back to talking about bands not venues. The Amazons are a force of nature. Usually a band with such a live following has either very simple choruses that encourage people to sing along with, a frantic sound or live act which demands that you join in, or some kind of Daily Mail baiting edge. Yet The Amazons have none of this. Their songs are not going to make you whistle whilst stuck in traffic; they are massive not frantic on stage; and they’re a band you would let your daughter date. Instead, to pilfer a quote I overheard outside afterwards, “THAT is a proper band”. And I understood completely. They have a synergy together which makes their style of rock, the quality of their songs, and their stage presence push you in the audience so that actually you sing, mosh, and cheer their every word between songs. It’s brilliant. And it is exemplified by In My Mind and Stay With Me which encapsulate why The Amazons are one of the most thrilling rock bands around.


In Manchester there is plenty of places to pay musical homage to heroes of the past. From Salford Lads’ Club (yes I know it’s technically not in Manchester), to The Free Trade Hall, to the countless pieces of art and graffiti which celebrate heroes of the past and give ambitions for the heroes of tomorrow. It was time for me to fit in a bit of tourism / hero worship as well as watching one of my favourite young bands. RedFaces at FAC251, now known as the slightly more obvious Factory. FAC251 was the offices of Factory Records, and the legacy is not forgotten from the venue’s name to the framed portrait of Tony Wilson (or Anthony H Wilson during the grown up years) as you walk through the doors. There was even a smell of stale beer and cider near the stage which all venues should have. I’m sure that would have appealed to, and equally appalled, the man known as Mr. Manchester.


RedFaces still annoy Gary The Writer by the grammatical punk rock of an unrequited space and unnecessary upper case in their name, but Gary The Music Fan gets enthralled by the way these young lads are able to whip out a tune as simply as asking them the time. For me, not since the days of Supergrass, have I found a band who are able to take pop styles of the sixties and make them feel modern rather than pastiche. There is no sense of threat or darkness with RedFaces. Their set was one of pure enjoyment which I will acknowledge does not work for everybody. If you like a bit of dirt, sleaze, or fury in your music they are not the band for you. But if you prefer The Beatles’ Red Album and The Beach Boys, to The Beatles’ Blue or White Album and The Rolling Stones, then get on board! It is blissful to listen to them play, and it all seems so natural and effortless. And if you say otherwise you’re going to be left with red faces.


Another young act playing at Neighbourhood was the equally talented Ten Tonnes. Similarly the attention is placed on the songs which are fantastically written and were showcased in the set with both the band, and with a solo interlude where Ten Tonnes played a few acoustic numbers. Unfortunately, Ten Tonnes felt a bit like the band, and during the acoustic section it was just Ethan Barnett on stage. Given he has not yet had his 21st birthday, I do not want this to sound as a harsh criticism, but he is not yet dominant enough on stage in my opinion to hold the momentum of the show through the “interlude”. Personally I would like to see it cut a bit shorter, or maybe not in the middle of the set. The songs of Ten Tonnes deserve to grab the audience’s attention from start to finish. Talking of attention grabbing, the heavy guitar chord that repeats through new release Cracks Between was so deep and disgusting (oh yes!!) in the basement of Sound Control that it made me think of the first time we see the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. You can understand completely why Warner Bros have snapped him up.


Another young gun who has been a big favourite of mine over the last twelve months is Rory Wynne. The first time I saw him he was witty and inspired by early Arctic Monkeys. Disappointingly though, Rory has gone more towards Liam Gallagher nowadays. His session in Underdog was a real let down for me. Don’t get me wrong this is a matter of personal taste and there were a fair few in the room who lapped up the performance, but I don’t want to see a tribute act based around Liam Gallagher post-Millenium. I could accept an act inspired by Liam Gallagher when he was filled with anger and vitriol, but it would have to be inspired by rather than a clear aping.


Anger and vitriol was definitely on the menu back in The Refuge were Derry band, Touts, were shaking the windows with punk music. As I’ve said before this is a band who are no strangers to The Clash’s debut album, but they have a personality and energy that makes you smile with it. In contrast to the earlier gig in The Refuge, the audience was disappointingly a bit older, but that did not set back Touts who asked to see some movement from their fans, “it’s not a fucking funeral”. I would not say they are a subtle band for sure, but they made people smile and probably made the day for Rachel in the crowd who was celebrating her birthday. If Touts fulfil their potential that could be a story Rachel brings up every birthday for the rest of her life.


There is something so liberating about punk music. It might make you jump around, but that is only as a result of the energy it zaps straight into your heart and soul. A prime example of that energy came from Queen Zee and The Sasstones. There is a lot that is to be said about this act beyond their music, but you can read the interview soon enough to find that out. This review of Neighbourhood Festival is all about the music, and it was not the social politics of the band that made me leap up and down at the barriers. Queen Zee is a Tasmanian Devil of a performer, and songs like Sissy Fists fizz and then explode in righteous anger. There is such enjoyment and showmanship coming from the stage that even the photographers in the pit did not want to move whilst they searched for the perfect snap of Queen Zee jumping, spinning, punching, screaming, or just being eye catching.


Slightly less punk, but just as energetic was the set from Strange Bones. This was the set which made me wish I was not on the press list making notes on my iPad, but was stood in the middle of the mosh pit slamming into strangers. Can we be honest with each other? I think we can because we’ve been together for almost three thousand words now…. I made zero notes during this set. Instead I stood at the back, transfixed to the goings on ahead of me. It was magnificent.


One of my favourite aspects of Neighbourhood Festival was the atmosphere at the event. It felt like an outdoor festival should with the comfort the audience felt with each other. Like at Glastonbury, Leeds, Kendal Calling etc. it was perfectly normal to start conversations with random strangers over bands you had seen and they missed out on, so that they knew whether or not to try to catch them at a later date.


Anyway, from these conversations I believe I missed cracking sets from BABYTEETH, High Tyde, YONAKA, Flyte, HMLTD, Bloxx, and Inheaven; and the festival is so packed with options we missed out seeing favourites like Estrons, Declan McKenna, JAWS, Get Inuit, The Vryll Society, The Big Moon, Black Honey, and Rat Boy. All for about thirty quid, the price of a tee and a haircut.


Neighbourhood Festival, to use the local dialect, was mint; and it’ll be mint next year so make sure you are there.


Check out the Popped Music Photo Gallery from Neighbourhood 2017 here:

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