Festival Review: Neighbourhood Weekender 2019

Neighbourhood Weekender 2019

May 25th & 26th, Victoria Park, Warrington

Words: Gary Lambert 
Photos: Elena Katrina 

Neighbourhood Weekender is undoubtedly one of the most divisive events in the summer music calendar.  In fact, there are so many things about it which could turn the blood cold of many a music snob. But that is what makes it so great.  Nobody goes to Neighbourhood Weekender to nod their head over the latest act from Oregon who makes noises on a MacBook (with the Apple logo covered to show they’re edgy) and if they wanted to they would be sorely disappointed.  You go to Neighbourhood for one or several of the following reasons: to have fun; to sing with thousands of others; to hit on boys or girls; to tell everybody on your social media that you’ve had a great time (after the event – the signal is dreadful on site); to watch popular bands; and to get drunk with your mates.  

When you get on site (after a long walk) there is so much going on considering there are only three stages, that you do need to make a plan of action for your time in Victoria Park.  However, this was turned upside down due to problems on the M6 which lead to bands having to swap set times repeatedly on the Saturday afternoon, and Ten Tonnes had to miss his set entirely.  The information of changes to the timetable was communicated well if you had downloaded the app and accepted notifications as you could receive the push messages even if the signal made things awkward to read in detail.  I was honestly impressed with how well these issues were handled, and how hard people worked to get as much music played as possible.

Due to those issues on the road, The Blinders took the closest slot to Ten Tonnes’ time, and lead to one of the funniest things I have seen at a festival in years.  Whilst both The Blinders and Ten Tonnes are loved here at Popped Music, they occupy very different demographics in terms of fanbase. As the three-piece tore into the shackles of society from the stage, those younger audience members expecting to hear indie pop classics Lucy and Cracks Between were caught unawares.  Some stayed for the majesty of Brave New World, Hate Song and Ramona Flowers held in situ by shellshock, others were sent scurrying from the tent afraid. Very afraid. The Blinders might be my favourite band in the world right now.

There is so much quality at Neighbourhood Weekender that even on the Saturday morning, we had our first 100% clash as Sea Girls, Marsicans, and Shadowlark opening up.  Alas we only caught bits of all of them due to the delays, and Sea Girls was only singing along as we we walked onto the site past the back of the stage *insert sad face emoji*. Elena ran into the tent to be left out of breath, sweaty and disapointed to see Marsicans sing the line “sunny at the weekend” before the final note and only reached the front of the stage in time to watch the band pack up. 

Anteros are definitely getting better, and they were ace to start a full set with.  it was a stormer of stomping, dancing-fun and felt like a hometown party rather than a band based in London playing an early set on the second stage in the middle of the northwest of England.  Laura has become the consummate frontwoman that it was always obvious she would become. Certain people have star quality and it is because they stand at the front of their band and let everybody in the room know they should only be looking at them.  It’s like a magician waving their right hand so you don’t see the dexterity required from their left hand to hide a card. Laura takes all the pressure from her bandmates every second they are on stage, and the stare she fires at us all in the audience makes us afraid to face her wrath by taking our eyes off them.  And it might not be on their debut album, but they played Drunk and it is still incredible.

 

The smallest stage at the festival, The Viola Beach Stage, gave the festival goers the chance to see some of the bands that they might not have heard of yet – but will almost certainly grow to love.  And if you had been reading Popped Music beforehand, you would know all about them. The Howl and The Hum is a band we have been shouting about, but I had not yet had the chance to hear them perform. The quality they possessed as a unit made me so excited and the warm and charming vocals hit the spot perfectly.  Charming the crowd was also on the agenda for our mate Zuzu as she let her personality really take to the skies. She has all the tunes that you could want in your favourite playlist let alone a single setlist, but she combines that with wit and attitude. There was a hen party in the crowd and the reaction of Chelsea’s and her hens to the finale was wonderful.  “What’s this girl’s name? I want to shout her” she shouted to me, and then they were chanting Zuzu whilst banging on the safety barriers. 

 

Tom Grennan’s performance was a real crowd pleaser full of the energy and communal singing that you expect from watching the Bedford-born star. The way he bounces around the stage whilst not missing a note shows how natural a performer he is. However he is now at the point where as pleasurable it is singing along to Sober, Barbed Wire and Found What I’ve Been Looking For from his debut album Lighting Matches, I am now at the point where the itch for new material from him is almost becoming frustration at hearing the same set of songs – in part down to the sheer number of times I have seen him but I’d be so pleased to hear him drop a tease of something new into his set so we can guess at what more there is to come.

 

Tom Grennan was a lot more suited to the big outdoor stage though than headliner George Ezra.  I’ve seen George Ezra perform at a large indoor arena in the last year and shock me with the level of his performance.  Incredible. So I had very high hopes for him at Neighbourhood Weekender. Alas, it all felt a bit flat for him from the crowd, and it was disappointing to see so many people leaving the site while he was performing as it was still relatively early on for a Saturday night. 

Like George Ezra, Pale Waves are a band who have been gigging like their lives depended on it over the last year or so. In fact, to such an extent that the band had come straight from the airport after touring America to take to the stage in Warrington.  From my spot at the back of the tent, it seemed a great performance from a band in peak condition, but looking at photos on social media afterwards I felt sorry for the band because they all looked so shattered and Elena wondered what in the bookings couldn’t mean they couldn’t have played on Sunday instead (she wants to look after the bands all the time).  But I loved it when I was there. Their goth-disco style of music is a joy to behold and you can see how many of their fans they truly connect with. There’s a whole lotta love going on with Pale Waves, and even when they are knackered they still can show you why they deserve it.

 

Sunday started with Popped Music dashing to the front barrier of the Main Stage to catch the folks from Clean Cut Kid.  Despite Mike claiming the band were discomforted by the very early slot, you could not tell that from their performance as they blasted out numbers like Vitamin C and Emily to an increasingly active crowd.  Clean Cut Kid are the kind of band that will make a festival audience dance, so they might have to expect some other earlier slots than they would hope as they create a vibe of good times easily and got the Sunday off to a great start for everyone. Hometown heroes, The K’s, were taking The Viola Beach Stage just after, like it was the Pyramid Stage of Glastonbury on the Saturday night.  Pulling in a massive crowd is easy when there are so many people who want to check you out as the local lads doing well, keeping them there is the difficult part.  The four-piece took the chance and gave it everything they could, and their traditional set highlight of Sarajevo was incredible.

 

We all agree that festivals are fun, but festivals that have Bad Sounds playing at them are more fun than most.  I love the contrast whenever I see them play between the anarchic fun of the brothers Ewan and Callum with the steady, practised musicality of Charlie, Olivia and Sam.  And when you open with a song like Are You High? which sounds like MGMT mixed with Jamie T, it gets everybody ready for the insanity of a Bad Sounds set. Make sure you’ve cleaned your teeth before you watch Bad Sounds because when they play like this you’re going to end up grinning and getting you high without substances.

 

Neighbourhood Weekender was also the weekend that The Amazons released their second album, which is brilliant by the way, and their set really showed a band who are on the cusp of doing big things.  I was a bit disappointed at first with The Amazons because I felt they had toned down their rock n roll energy, but by the end of their set I came to realise that they have matured and found a way that makes early career favourites like Junk Food Forever and new releases like Mother sound balanced.  I sneaked out of The Amazons set before their last song because I wanted to see how busy it was from the back of the tent. When I got there I was amazed. There was at least two thousand people standing and sitting outside of the tarpaulin because they wanted to be able to cheer on Reading’s equal finest (alongside all those other amazing bands that seem to come from The Commuter Belt Seattle right now).

For many people, The Futureheads are a great example of a trusted old favourite guaranteed to put on a performance at a festival.  For this person, The Futureheads were a band I went to see because Elena really liked them. Their cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love aside, I had found The Futureheads previously a mundane, forgettable act.  Previously. I was shocked by how much I loved the set from the Sunderland lads, and I mean LOVED it. With beautiful vocals mixed with the song-crafting skills you’d expect to have been honed over the last fifteen years, it was perfect.  I understood too that the early version of The Futureheads would not have interested me, but they suit my tastes now like my royal blue Dr Martens suit my feet. New track Jekyll is a stormer too.

 

Another mature sounding band at Neighbourhood Weekender was The Slow Readers Club.  Positioned on the main stage seemed an act of loyalty to the band as they would have been so much better suited to the tent as their intense group of followers clung on to every word sung by them, but the rest of the audience sat around taking a breather awaiting the man that most of the crowd were waiting for… Gerry Cinnamon.  Most of the crowd except for me it felt like anyway. I caught the end of his set only as a matter of politeness. I’d seen Gerry play a couple of months ago and whilst he is VERY good at what he does, it’s not my cup of tea. That said I felt like this was the one big mistake the festival made. Gerry Cinnamon was the man who built up the excitement in the audience, he was the one people had come to see, he was the one who got the biggest audience of the weekend, and he should have been the headliner of the event.  A nostalgia set that started very flatly from Richard Ashcroft later in the day proved that. People wanted to hear the songs Richard Ashcroft wrote and sang with his old band twenty to twenty-five years ago whereas they wanted to hear the music of Gerry Cinnamon from right now.

 

If you had a picture dictionary of music terms, there’s a good chance that the term festival favourite would be accompanied by a photograph of The Charlatans.  They are a band that will never let you down, have plenty of songs that people love and of course played North Country Boy, perfectly apt for the occasion. Plus Tim Burgess always sounds absolutely perfect. This was also a special set for the boss as it marked the 100th occasion she had seen her favourite band.  After the mass pyro of Gerry Cinnamon, their mix of singalong anthems and lesser known, more complex numbers allowed the crowd to both settle down and keep the momentum going. Ending their set with the ever storming Sproston Green. The momentum built took the audience through to The Vaccines who took the audience further into the world of singalong, and with songs like Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra) and Your Love Is My Favourite Band from either end of their career, grabbing the crowd it was an easy victory for them. 

 

It is strange how bands get different reactions in different cities, but watching White Lies outside of Liverpool was an educational experience for me.  When they play Liverpool, the audience is kind of like a Radiohead crowd. Intense, supportive, and respectful; whereas this audience was charged with far more energy than I expected.  White Lies sent a message to me with this set, “come to watch us somewhere else” as they responded in kind and played like I’ve never been fortunate enough to see them play. Unfortunately, there were clashes with other stages so I had to leave halfway through, but as I trundled past beer queues and drunken couples I couldn’t help look wistfully back.

 

Although we got to see some great old favourites over the weekend, Popped Music is all about new music, so we are going to finish the review at The Viola Beach Stage.  The final three bands taking to that stage were Inhaler from Dublin, Wakefield’s Skinny Living, and future Greater Manchester (Stockport) heroes No Hot Ashes. Inhaler are a band to keep your eyes on for sure.  Coming up they’ve got a sickeningly good slot supporting Noel Gallagher at Heaton Park, and their early U2 sound is going to be a big favourite for that audience. Skinny Living have actually been working with Mike from Clean Cut Kid recently and set finisher and recent single Let Go, was so obviously from the songbook of the first band we saw that Sunday it was almost strange to hear someone else perform it. Strange but great!

No Hot Ashes are one of the bands who might just make it into the biggest leagues. They are so good that after three days (I’d been at another festival on the Friday) of walking around and loads watching bands, I was still able to dance around stone cold sober to songs like Easy Peeler.  They’ve got funk, smart lyrics, and in Isaac Taylor they have a frontman who knows the job he has to do, and does it so naturally.  

Neighbourhood Weekender 2019 was a storming weekend that left us exhaustedly happy and already looking forward to what will be coming our way for it in 2020.

 

 

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  • About Popped Music

    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

    All articles written by Elena Katrina unless otherwise stated.

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