Festival Review: When In Manchester 2019

Festival Review: When In Manchester 2019

The Castle Hotel, Gulliver’s, and Night and Day Cafe, Manchester

Words: Julia Grantham & Gary Lambert

Photos: Gary Lambert


Now in its third year of existence, When In Manchester festival delivered its fifth event last Easter weekend, and despite coinciding with the hottest Easter weekend on record, still managed to attract large numbers of people from near and far to celebrate new and emerging talent from all corners of  the country. Despite being such a small festival, it has a loyal following. The same faces can be seen year after a year, and the enthusiasm from music lovers could be seen and felt in each one of the three venues that played host to some incredible bands. Spilling out onto the street, music fans met, hugged, smiled and laughed as they excitedly discussed who to see, who had just performed and who they had to see next. Conveniently, When In Manchester carefully selects its venues in such close proximity that movement between performances couldn’t be easier. All on Oldham street this year, the compact nature of the event made it even more intimate and yet concentrated the buzz as fans could stay close to one another throughout the day.

We at Popped Music started off our day in a very hot room at the back of The Castle Hotel. Although the air was warm and the room quite full, it didn’t stop Ballamona from giving it their all to the first audience of the day. Among those in attendance were fans from previous years at When In Manchester, and the atmosphere was friendly, eager and had a sense of community. Despite the heat, people were smiling, happy to be there and a captive crowd watched as the sweat poured from the band and the sound filled the room. With an Indie Rock sound, this four-piece had lots of momentum and coupled with an angsty sound, played a solid and energetic set to kick off the festival. From the Nirvana style intros and prolonged harmonies which linger on a single note, this band use their music to communicate and express themselves more so than their lyrics. Finishing on a bang with This Is The End, Ballamona will appeal to any fans of energetic Indie Rock and an impressive guitar sound. If Chris Cornell had been a Mancunian, he might sound a bit like Ballamona.

Moving a few yards across the road to Gullivers, we caught Weird Milk, who were fashionably 27 minutes late. But traffic issues didn’t stop them from putting on a great set, albeit shorter than scheduled. The When In Manchester team may have been smaller than previous years, but that didn’t stop the level of organisation and despite the late arrival of the band, the disruption to the set times was kept to a minimum. Weird Milk comprise of five band members, hailing from North London. Their sound is different and combines 60s style vocal harmonies with mid-noughties rock. What sets them apart is the way their tracks change rhythm, tempo and sound within the same song. Weird is the word, and yet in a good way. They captured the attention of their crowd and songs such as Better stood out as being a wonderfully fresh take on a fusion of 60s, 80s and present day. At times they sounded like The Beach Boys, and Madness at others. Definitely, a band to see live to appreciate.


Shadowlark was the first band we saw in Night and Day Café. Coming from Leeds, there was a serene and innocent quality to this band. They seemed nervous and yet they had an avid and supportive crowd. As day turned into night and the temperature cooled, the venues filled. Night and Day was no exception and as the lead singer announced each song, her words were met with enthusiastic cheers, and words of encouragement. In contrast to the previous heavier sounding bands we had seen, the Shadowlark set was almost soothing, and the slow, haunting vocals were very compelling. Similar in style to Marika Hackman and yet with a deeper sound, this was a great way to open up the stage and showcase a band from across the Pennines. The audience was certainly captivated and showed their appreciation throughout.

Across the road, Julia Bardo performed a solid set, just her and a green guitar. It was a lovely contrast to the other performances to see a solo artist, alone on stage and yet commanding attention with her slow seductive sound and beautiful folk-pop style voice. Again, the room was full and the crowd attentive as her achingly poignant songs of love, desire and longing filled the tiny space. Julia’s songs are all about heartache and longing, and her voice is clear allowing all of us to really appreciate the meaning in her songs. Her guitar playing was simple, easy to follow and absorb, and her delicate voice echoed all around us. It was a very moving performance and the highlight was undoubtedly her latest release Desire which really showcases her ability to write and perform brilliant and captivating folk-pop. Bardo is definitely one to watch.

Back in Night and Day Café, well known Manchester favourites La Mode had taken to the stage. Having played all the main venues in the Northern Quarter and gaining fans and momentum as they go, La Mode are a band that simply must be seen live to appreciate. With the instrumentation firmly rooted in 70s style rock n roll, lead singer Millie is a unique frontwoman with her cool, effortless dance moves and stand-out vocals. Her voice is sometimes low, sometimes high, both raucous and melodic, their set at When In Manchester was a great example of a band who can combine energy and charisma with melody and moreover the ability to build a song from something slow into an explosive high charged piece of music. It was no surprise to see a core group of regular fans watching La Mode, and they surely gained some new followers tonight too.

The festival’s joint headliners, Bloxx and Husky Loops provided me with a nice contrast. Bloxx I had seen only a few days earlier, whereas I have not been to see a Husky Loops gig in about 18 months. The contrast in the styles of these two acts showed off in microcosm the efforts that had been made to put on a varied festival for When In Manchester. Bloxx sound like a band building for big stages with songs born to encourage their fans to sing along. Indeed, singer Fee noted some of their fans at the front giving it their all, and thanked them for the efforts. Husky Loops, on the other hand, are destined, in my opinion, for packed tents away from the main stages bursting with intensity. I loved how they were able to make their electro-based sound so hard and heavy that it could easily fit in the playlist of the local biker bar. So much so that I was almost surprised people didn’t start moshing. The music hit like a boxer’s punch every time.

When In Manchester never fails to disappoint. With its wide range of artists and genres, there’s something for everyone and those that know about this festival come back year after year. It has developed into something really quite special and its own community of fans and friends. Bands want to play it and people flock to discover something new, all the while being reunited with familiar faces that they’ve seen the year before. Even on the hottest day of the year, the venues were full. Where else can you see a whole day worth of exceptional music for less than you’d pay for a trip to the cinema? Must be why its so popular. If you go and see one Metropolitan festival in The North next year, make sure this is the one you attend. You won’t regret it.

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