Live Review: Off The Record, Manchester 15-16 November 2018

Off The Record

Various Venues, Manchester, 15th-16th November 2018

Words: Gary Lambert & Daniel Burton
Photography: Gary Lambert

Stereo Honey

The third edition of Off The Record saw the same format as previous years, with the focus of the event being equally across the two distinct elements of the festival.

The conference is primarily for those who wish to work within the music industry to get to hear from people they would not necessarily meet usually; whilst the evening’s musical entertainment is for anybody who likes new music regardless of whether you’re a promoter, plugger, performer, or gig goer.

The Thursday night before the main event saw a networking evening put on at Band on the Wall. For those who expect this to mean everybody sitting around a giant table chatting to the people on either side of them, you couldn’t be more mistaken. We had DJs playing, beer flowing, and completely random conversations starting. Clint Boon had advised people that a good conversation starter was to compliment someone on their footwear. I was slightly (very) disappointed that I’d left my royal blue Dr Martens in the car for that reason!

The conference on the other hand saw a number of talks taking place from 10am until 5pm, covering a wide variety of topics from plugging records to putting on festivals and taking in speakers from all manner of fields not limited to those at the back whom you would not have heard of.

The most well known of those guests would probably (depending on the individual) have been Jez and Andy Williams from Doves, Bernard Butler, Abbie McCarthy, and Chris Hawkins. Although the most enjoyable session for me was listening to Simon Parkes talk about his history with Brixton Academy. It was forty minutes filled with anecdotes, advice, and charm. I could have happily stayed listening to him talk about it for hours. In fact, if you missed out, I’d suggest you stick his book ‘Live At The Brixton Academy: A Riotous Life In The Music Business’ on your Christmas list.

Wooze

As good as the conference was, I was looking forward to watching the bands most, and after a free beer provided by one of the sponsors it was time for shit to get real as they say. Now there were two members of Team Popped working at Off The Record and we saw a hell of a lot of music. I alone saw twelve acts. Sometimes I caught maybe a song or two, other times it was the entire set depending on who was on at the same time. There was nobody who I walked away from not wishing that I could stay longer watching.

As the free drink was given out there, it seemed foolish not to start at Band on the Wall. A lot of the time when a venue is described as legendary and has been around for many years, you expect to have to leave your standards at the door. Not here, this is a truly brilliant place to come to watch people perform. In fact, it is so modern that it would be understandable if you thought it had been opened in the last six months.

Opening up the festival was See Thru Hands on a bill at Band on The Wall curated by Everything Everything. For a band who only announced on 7th September this year that they exist, it seemed a remarkably smooth showing with a quite complex mix of pop and funk being played by the six-piece, but when the members of the band have a history of being in outfits like The Pipettes, Sirconical and Silverclub, then you get a bit of an understanding as to how they might get up to speed quickly. This is a band that is going to make you dance.

The next plan was to go to see The Ninth Wave, but as fortune would have it the schedule allowed a fleeting trip to Night and Day Café for a glimpse of Wooze. I’ll hold my hands up right now and say that I had never heard of this band before, but they made me feel so disappointed to have to leave with their weird, psychedelic approach to pop music. It is always good to see a band with an aesthetic to match their music, and the eclectic, electric way these guys looked on stage was fantastic. It made you feel like the band were making an effort to entertain you and make sure that you remembered them the next day.

The Ninth Wave

Down in the basement of Soup Kitchen, The Ninth Wave were awaiting us. Recently reviewed on Popped Music, this was not musically a new experience for us and the rock music built on a strong foundation is a style that we are often faced. It is not often that we are given a performance of this quality though as the Glaswegians tore into their set with power and panache. Singer Haydn Park-Patterson was stunning throughout and worked to create a buzz throughout the room. After taking in this set from the oft-spoken about Distiller Records signing, it was very easy to see why there is so much hype about them. For once, ignore Public Enemy and do believe the hype.

In keeping with the synth rock vibe, The Old Pink House were exceptional and whereas The Ninth Wave had a tight punk atmosphere in Soup Kitchen, Night and Day Café felt like it was massive and every cubic inch of the room was filled with the sound created from the stage. The accessibility of their sound too encouraged the audience to get closer and closer to the stage without being ordered to. The highlight of the set, for us at least, was their release from earlier in the year ‘Expectations’. Indeed I was caught like a fish on their juicy hook of “give me your expectations” which I kept repeating to myself on the car journey home.

As with all festivals, Off The Record offers the chance to catch acts that you would never normally go to see, and it can be a very special moment if they turn you head. Without a hesitation, I would include Debra Ohalete as an artist who managed to turn my head – not just because she played her Pussy Monologue twice (the second time so that the audience understood the topic of women feeling free to admit to feelings after a glass or two of wine). Even beyond the empowering subject matter of her lyrics, Debra’s tracks made the hips move and her presence on stage made sure that your eyes were kept on her throughout. The burning joss stick also helped remove that “shoebox venue smell” which was more than appreciated.

LibraLibra

Some of the greatest moments at a festival happen by accident, and thank the fates for my complete brain freeze on where Aatma is in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. I ended up asking a photographer for directions and as I was far too early for Peaness, I decided to check in on LibraLibra with her on the basis that some music was better than none. Well LibraLibra music is better than most I soon found out – and the band hadn’t even started yet! I truly consider myself lucky to have been in the room for singer Beth’s operatic vocal warm ups. It was awesome and so powerful even without microphone and PA system as she strode around the room readying herself for the show to come. And what a show that was too as a crazed mix of genres and styles like a hurricane in a record shop blew me away. It was stylish, energetic, and left me besotted with them. So a big, big thank you to the anonymous Off The Record photographer who mentioned them to me, I will be forever grateful to her.

A slight delay to LibraLibra and a magnetic performance meant that I was not the only member of the music media who turned up halfway through Peaness performing a song. The strangeness of several photographers sneaking through to the front simultaneously midway was even commented on by Jess as she finished the track. I’ll admit I was glad that the light was on the band rather than the audience as I was blushing. Peaness are a band we love at Popped Music, and this was an example of them being a band on form as they pushed through future hit after future hit. Maybe it was the excitement of the new Pokemon release that Jess was celebrating through socks that was firing them up; or maybe they are just ace. There was such fun coming from the three piece.

Peaness

One of the most enjoyable sets of the day was the fabulous Djuno. With singer Courtney’s amazing voice and confident swagger on stage coupled with simple yet perfect guitar and drums, they commanded the Gulliver’s stage and got everyone in the audience intrigued and captivated in their sound. Playing songs like ‘No Glass Falls’ and ‘Hive’, it is clear that they have a great basis upon to build the rest of their career. Having travelled from Southampton for their first gig away from their hometown, they showed no signs of nervousness and gave an effortlessly flawless performance. With similarities and musical influences from big room bands such as Kings Of Leon and Paramore, if they keep on producing the same standard of music they have so far, even at this early stage of their career I can see no reason why they couldn’t go on a similar journey to such artists.

Red Rum Club

Now Red Rum Club are a band that I have seen over and over, and I’ve watched them grow and grow, but never have they performed in front of me in such an electrifying manner as they did downstairs in The Peer Hat. The six band members seemed to be too tightly packed on the stage to perform well, but I think that squeezing them together brought them together. It was dirty, hot, sexy, and sweaty as they unleashed their mariachi rock n roll on the crowd that was even more packed into the small room than the guys on stage. With an album to come in January and the gig marking the release of ‘Would You Rather Be Lonely’, the future is incredibly bright for The Biggest Band in Crosby.

It was commented earlier in the day at the conference that thanks to the likes of Sound City and Off The Record putting back into the music community as well as putting on their festivals, the Liverpool and Mancunian music scenes are pulsating at the moment. Paris Youth Foundation are one of those great north western hopes and they did their hopes no damage by opening the tin marked “boss tunes” in Soup Kitchen. With tour support slots with the likes of The Sherlocks, it’s more than Granadaland who are becoming aware of their potential.

Soup Kitchen was a bit of a home-from-home for Popped Music during Off The Record with rocky sets from both Himalayas and Fizzy Blood. Both bands are known for the power of their live performances and this was no exception as the reviewer hat was taken off in order to enjoy the cobweb-clearing bliss that comes from cranking it up to eleven. They didn’t quite reach face-melting levels of volume and raw power, but things were definitely feeling hot. Cardiff and Leeds should be very proud of these bands.

Fizzy Blood

A trip to Manchester to watch live music would not be right without a visit to Jimmy’s, and when our Daniel arrived at the venue on the stage were the delightful Delights who were an absolute delight to watch. Combining jangly guitar sounds and thick groovy basslines, they had the whole crowd enraptured and mesmerised by the performance. Their finest tunes, Cascade and Jungle, were lapped up by the audience who were quickly becoming new fans of Delights. The set gave a real feel for the talent that this young band holds and what more that they have to offer. It is definitely going to include even more new fans.

When there are two of you working in tandem reviewing at a festival, it can be very helpful to gauge the reaction of the other – especially when a band gets you excited. It is very easy to allow the praise for a band to overflow in all of the excitement of live music.

However when you and your counterpart turn to each other and mouth “fucking hell”, you know you are on to something. Stereo Honey were that fucking hell band. Imagine Erasure recording ‘OK Computer’, or Radiohead releasing an album of classic pop songs, and you get somewhere in the vicinity of what Pete, Nicky, Ben and Jake are aiming to achieve in their music. I imagine band conversations in the studio to go along the lines of “shall we create some perfect ethereal dream pop” followed by a victory dance as songs such as Icarus are born.

It was truly breathtaking – and stopped yours truly from going all fanboy over the fact that Hayley from Coronation Street was in Night and Day watching them. Even with hindsight I’m not regretting not asking for a selfie so that I could just sit there and take in the magical music carousing through the room whipped up by the wizards of Stereo Honey.

It was, sadly, last act of the night territory for Team Popped, and we were finishing on one of our previewed acts, Olivia Nelson. Walking into the venue, there was nothing happening on stage so I thought that there had been a change of plan, in reality though Olivia Nelson and her keyboardist where such a minimalist setup on stage that it was unnecessary to have a big soundcheck. It turned out that Olivia Nelson was the ideal was to finish a festival. As the legs ached, her sweet, soulful tones over a series of groovy, pop beats acted as a tonic to ease the muscles and chill the mind. There will obviously need to be more added to her live performance over the next few years, but when you have a voice like this there will be many people who want to listen to and watch her.

For an event which some people might think of as being an industry-only party, I can truly say that Off The Record 2018 was one of the most enjoyable musical experiences that I’ve had. Added to that the conference talks and generally meeting people as passionate as you are about music, it makes Off The Record a must-not-miss day. See you there next year!

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