Thursday, 5 May 2016

Gig Review: Manchester Punk Festival Night Three 23/4/16

It was now time for the third and final day of The Manchester Punk Festival, the main day of the event. First band was on at 12.30pm and the final act was scheduled to finish at 2am the next morning. Knowing what a long day we had in store, we made sure we had a big breakfast at a local Wetherspoons to fuel us for the day - so we could see as many of the days great acts as possible.

(Emma and I chose bands to write for this night – Emma's bands are in italics).

Opening up the Thirsty Scholar acoustic stage – and indeed the whole of the final day at MPF – were Hello Mabel, a female duo featuring Cait Costello from Roughneck Riot and Jen Burgess. Neither Colin nor I had heard of Hello Mabel before but I’m glad that we made it in time to see their set as they were great. Accompanied by a violinist and with Cait playing acoustic guitar, Hello Mabel played a selection of enchanting folk songs. The harmonies between the two singers in particular were wonderful. They also did a brilliant cover of Against Me!’s White Crosses. I’ll definitely be listening to them again.

We made our way up a spiral staircase to catch Jake & The Jellyfish who were opening up the Zombie Shack stage at 1pm. When we reached the top of the stairs we discovered that the door was locked and this created a little bit of confusion amongst the punks who were gathering to see the band. Thankfully the doors were opened just before 1 as a great sized crowd gathered in the tiki bar themed room. Jake & the Jellyfish are kind of a band with two halves, half their set is spent playing reggae punk and the other playing folk punk. Both halves are absolutely fantastic and I spent twenty five fun filled minutes singing along with one of the best sets I heard and saw all day. Highlights of the set included Coffee Tally, Follow The Leader and Hypocrites - the latter Jake and violinist Richard played amongst the crowd.

After Jake & The Jellyfish, we ran over to Sound Control to catch Hasting’s band Matilda’s Scoundrels getting the party started on the downstairs stage. We arrived to the sound of tin whistle and found a spot at the front of the crowd – unfortunately missing the start of their set. Like Roughneck Riot the day before, Matilda’s Scoundrels are a lively folk punk band and there was plenty of dancing. At one point a rubber dingy was thrown around the crowd (starting with a person in it), which was certainly appropriate given that their song Sinking In Their Sins features the line ‘row, row, row you bastards’. I loved their performance and was more than a little reluctant to leave Sound Control early to head back to Zombie Shack in time to see Harker (but Harker were great so…). Thankfully we will be seeing Matilda’s Scoundrels supporting Mischief Brew in August – I can’t wait.

Harker were the second band of the day at Zombie Shack. I've seen the Brighton based four piece fronted by Mark Boniface a number of times now. When they took to the stage I noticed a few differences from the last time that I saw them - firstly Harker have a new bass player and secondly that Mark had swapped his acoustic guitar for an electric. I've always thought that Harker rocked much harder live than they do on record but with the extra electric the bar was raised even more. Playing some older songs as well as a couple of newer one from last year's A Lifetime Apart EP it was a hugely enjoyable set from a band that should be much bigger, not just in the punk scene but in the music world in general.

Staying in Zombie Shack (it's such a cool place!) the next band on were Bolton's Don Blake. Another of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing for the first time at the festival. Their 2015 album was one of my favourite albums of the last year and I was interested to hear how it comes across live. Blooming fantastically - that's how! Something that I really enjoy about Don Blake is that vocals come from all four members of the band, whether it's singing solo, all of them together or various combinations of members singing together it makes for a fun show. Singer and guitarist Joe noted that the band had had a practice in the week and thought that they had their set as tight as possible. Then they saw The Kimberly Steaks at Retro Bar the night before and were blown away and that they were "machines". Don Blake were awesome too, I really loved hearing Can't Turn It Off and The Plan live.

I made the long journey North to Dundee to attend Book Yer Ane Fest last year. Amongst one of the many great bands I saw that weekend were Edgarville. I really enjoyed the originality of the two piece so insisted that Emma and I check them out at MPF. Leaving Zombie Shack we headed to the tiny Thirsty Scholar to find the room was completely packed from front to back for Edgarville. Unfortunately this made it difficult for me and nearly impossible for the 5'2" Emma to get a decent view of the stage. From what I could see, I noticed that Edgarville had added a bassist to their ranks giving them a fuller sound. The lack of a decent view didn't stop us enjoying the music however with singer Ed Hall's deep growly vocal being in excellent form. Such a good band.

We decided to hang out in the Thirsty Scholar for the next two acts, firstly Tim Loud and then Sam Russo to make sure we had a good spot for both. Tim Loud is an acoustic punk/folk/blues/country musician from Leeds who used to play in the band Bootscraper. There was a little bit of a shock when he took to the stage as he was in face paint, which was never explained though we later discovered there was a face painting table in Sound Control. Tim Loud is a born entertainer whether he's playing his fantastic songs, talking to the crowd, the sound engineer (who happened to be Roughneck Riot's Matty Humphries) or the photographer (who he apologised to for constantly looking down the lens when she was trying to take a photo of him). He played a variety of different songs including a cover of the Bessie Smith song Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out, as well as a couple of songs from forthcoming album What Am I? including the song (which is my current song of the year) I Don't Care About What Everybody Else Says About You I Think You're A ****. A gifted songwriter and performer and somebody that you have to check out!

After Tim Loud, the excellent acoustic music continued with the mighty Sam Russo. By this point the Thirsty Scholar was very busy with lots of people keen to see Russo – RUSSO! The man himself was also clearly very happy to be there and it really showed in his performance. The ‘stage’ area in the Thirsty Scholar wasn’t massive but Russo made great use of all of it, stomping his feet as he strummed his guitar. I’ve seen Sam Russo quite a few times before and he’s always been great – truly an excellent live performer – but at MPF I think he excelled all previous performances. A particular highlight for me was when he stated that ‘There are real punks here.’ – a statement that summed up the festival well. The huge singalong for Sometimes, at the end of Russo’s set, was also brilliant.

When we initially looked at the scheduling for the Saturday we picked out a half an hour gap between Sam Russo and Woahnows as being a potential dinner time. Of course, it was to be expected that on the day things might be running a little late so rather than half an hour we only had about 20 minutes to grab some grub. After quickly devouring burritos at a Mexican fast food place just down the road, we dashed to Zombie Shack for Plymouth’s best indie punks Woahnows. Outside Zombie Shack we bumped into Hamish from Bangers and stopped to say hello. He said he was going to play woodblock for Woahnows (as he’d recently been doing on tour with them) but didn’t have time – we later found out from our friend Lisa that he drummed for Pale Angels, a man with percussion skills in high demand! When we eventually made it inside Zombie Shack, we found it packed and rightly so as Woahnows were in full swing. It was a shame that we weren’t able to get closer but Woahnows are brilliant from any vicinity. Singer and guitarist Tim’s enthusiasm and energy is infectious and everyone in the room was having a great time. I noticed they played both Person Up and Mess from their recent double 7” single release – both sounding great live. As we missed the beginning of their set, I’m even more keen to see the band again this summer on tour with The Smith Street Band and Apologies, I Have None – what a line up!

After Woahnows we headed to Sound Control to catch another Devon-based band, The Cut Ups from Exeter. The Cut Ups are a band I’ve listened to for several years – since getting into a lot of South West punk bands whilst at uni in Cornwall – but hadn’t ever managed to see them live. Needless to say I was very keen to see them at MPF. Unfortunately, they also had the most problematic clash of the festival for me – Bangers being due on stage upstairs in Sound Control only 15 minutes after The Cut Ups took to the downstairs stage. And as Bangers are my absolute favourite UK band, I knew we were only going to be able to see three or four songs of The Cut Ups. What we did see certainly left me wanting more! It's always a bonus to see musicians enjoying themselves on stage and that certainly seemed the case for The Cut Up's singer and guitarist, Jon. As the band’s last album, Building Bridges, Starting Here, was released in 2012, I hope there’s a new one in the works and that I’ll catch them live again soon.

Leaving The Cut Ups midway through their set, we headed upstairs to the top floor of Sound Control. This was my first time in the upstairs space and I was pleasantly surprised at how large it was – and certainly more practical than the middle stage, used on Friday night. All of the venues at MPF were great for their own reasons but it was good that there was to be a large space for the headlining act. We made our way to the front of the stage where a decent sized crowd of people was already forming. I hadn't seen Bangers since Manchfester last October, having unfortunately missed their more recent London show, so I was looking forward to seeing them again in Manchester. It wasn't long before the Cornish trio appeared on stage, with singer and guitarist Roo trying out a ‘Hello Manchester!’. Like The Cut Ups, I've been listening to Bangers for 5 or 6 years now and it's great to see how far they've come in that time. People were keen to sing and shout along as the band played various songs in their musical repertoire. Highlights for me were the classic Church Street In Ruins and, from their latest album Bird, I Don't Feel Like I'll Ever Be Clean Again – the latter receiving the biggest sing/shout-along of all.

After Bangers set we hung around for everyone's favourite Austrian punk band, the mighty Astpai. Astpai are a band that always deliver the goods. Every time that I've seen them they have impressed me and had me singing along with a massive grin on my face. Sadly this night I had to cut their set short as I wanted to get a good spot for Faintest Idea. Loved what I saw though and I later found out that Chris Cresswell from The Flatliners joined the band on stage for a song. Wish I had seen that!

I enjoyed watching Astpai but I was really excited to see another of my favourite bands of the Manchester Punk Festival line-up, Faintest Idea, who were on on the downstairs stage next. I’ve seen the King’s Lynn ska punk band 4 times in the last 8 months – that’s having never heard of them before the first time – and MPF was my 5th time. I think that says something for how good they are! I’m not even that much of a ska fan but Faintest Idea are brilliant and particularly brilliant live. Being another TNS band, we knew it was going to be both packed and rowdy but that didn’t stop me from claiming a spot at the front of the stage – to one side, of course. I’m not a mosh pit fan but I do like a dance and Faintest Idea are the perfect dancing music. As is standard of a Faintest Idea show, the horns section started in the crowd for Back To The Asylum and really got the party started. With all band members back on the stage, they seamlessly flowed through the rest of their set merging songs from the new album, Increasing The Minimum Rage, including Circling the Drain and Cocktails with older songs. The album only came out at the beginning of April but it’s great to hear that the songs are already a staple part of a Faintest Idea show. There was much dancing both in the crowd and on stage as the horns section have some excellent moves themselves. I could quite easily say that this was the best performance of MPF but I’m probably a bit bias. My only complaint is that it was over too soon!

After Faintest Idea's incredible set we went back upstairs to see what for me was one of the biggest surprises of the festival. German melodic skate punk/hardcore/thrash/metal band Straightline were a late addition to MPF (replacing Atlas Losing Grip) but my word they made the most of this opportunity. To be completely honest I was unaware of Straightline before the festival but after this performance I'm a big fan. There are many fantastic technical punk bands in the UK scene right now including Darko (who I wish I had time to see), The Fair Do's, The Human Project and Almeida and Straightline are as good as any of those bands. It always amazes me how anyone can play guitar as quickly as the guys Straightline. My favourite song of their set was How Can You Sleep At Night and I also enjoyed their cover of Pink Floyd's Welcome To The Machine which excited Emma because she's a fan of the band.

Gnarwolves are without a doubt the biggest name in the UK's punk scene currently. It amazes me that it wasn't that long ago that I saw them opening up for playing first at a small gig with Bangers, Apologies, I Have None and Joyce Manor at the Old Blue Last in London and now they have played all over the world and a legion of hardcore fans everywhere. When I saw them announced for this year's MPF I thought this would be one of the bands that take the festival to another level and I suspect the announcement was a big part in it selling out. It had been a little while since I had seen Gnarwolves play live so I was quite excited to see them again. With the opening seconds of the first song Smoking Kills I remembered why I and so many people love this band so much - they completely kill it live every single time. Despite some technical difficulties they played with so much intensity which really got the crowd fired up. Without any hesitation bodies started to climb onto the stage and launch themselves into the crowd. Every song was sung back at the stage with as much venom as Thom and Charlie screamed into their microphones. Gnarwolves are a band that have always encouraged as much chaos from the crowd and were more than happy for a small stage invasion to happen at the end of their performance. The sky is the limit for Gnarwolves, I suspect it won't be long before they headline this festival and many more all over the world.

The fact that the organisers of the Manchester Punk Festival managed to book a band with the stature of The Flatliners is a big testament to what an amazing scene that they have created in Manchester. The Canadian band have been pumping out hit album after hit album for a number of years now and are one of the most respected bands in the world. When they took to the stage there was a big feeling of anticipation that something big was about to happen. That was certainly the case as the band opened with the excellent Birds Of England and continued to play banger after banger. After what had already been a very long day we decided to watch the set from the side of the room rather than being at the front by the pit and despite having a little bit of an obstructed view you could see what a great time they were having and how pleased they were to be playing the festival. Lead singer Chris Cresswell is one of those rare punk singers that sounds just as great live as he does on record. The gruffness in his voice manages to convey so much raw emotion and power it is impossible not to get carried away with the band. The songs Eulogy and Monumental in particular got massive reactions. A couple of chaps near us downed their drinks so they could go and jump in to the pit for Eulogy. Perhaps getting a bit carried away with the excitement of the whole day Moving North's Kieran Kelly ran on to the stage and leapt into the crowd. The Flatliners were amazing and really reaffirmed why there is so much love for the band.

You would think that nearly ten hours of punk rock that would be enough? Not at MPF, after The Flatliners had finished their epic headline set we wearily made our way to a club named Zoo for the Manchester Punk Festival after party. First band scheduled were Manchester favourites Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man. While we hung out, waiting for the band to come on the Mr Blobby theme tune came on over the sound system. Then Mr Blobby made his way on to the stage, followed by ROTPM. There was a real sense of what on earth is going on? Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man are cult heroes in the Manchester scene, always playing really mad and anarchic shows and this was like no other. The crowd went absolutely insane, bodies were everywhere! The band played loud and they played really really fast. And furiously. Really furiously. It's really hard to give ROTPM a review to really do their live show justice. I kind of feel like I didn't see The Ramones play in New York and I didn't see The Clash play in London but in thirty years I can say I did see Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man play in Manchester… with Mr Blobby.

Fair Do's are one of a growing number of fantastic fast and technical punk bands emerging at the moment. The four piece are another band who are local to the Manchester area so had a decent sized crowd anticipating their set. In all honesty this is the point of the day where I really began to lag so I can't remember too much of their set other than something I want to mention at the end of this review. Since MPF I have listened to Fair Do's a decent amount and I am really digging them.

I was still lagging a fair amount for the penultimate act of MPF – The Autonomads. Another Manchester based band and a band that my new pal Richard told me very positive things about. They turned out to be just what I needed to help me finish the day. Playing a unique brand of punk/ska/reaggae/folk music they somehow managed to get me, Emma and the majority of the room dancing, bouncing, skanking or just bopping along despite some extremely tired bodies. I can't say that I picked up on any of the songs but The Automonads were the perfect band for this slot to really wake the crowd up for the final band of the night - the mighty Crazy Arm!

When the stage times for MPF were announced and I found out that Crazy Arm would be the very last band on on the Saturday night, at 1.30am, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I was very concerned that I might not be able to stay awake for it! But on the other hand, it would be great to finish the weekend with a band whom I’ve loved for years and years – probably longer than any other band on the line-up. The after party came around and I was indeed feeling progressively more tired, but when Crazy Arm took to the stage I somehow found a new lease of life. If you’ve ever seen Crazy Arm live yourself then you’ll know they are a loud live band. By ‘loud’ I don’t mean in a hardcore sense, more in a knock-your-socks-off awesome kind of loud. They haven’t released anything new for a while, but that didn’t matter as the classic tracks, such as Still To Keep and Tribes, went down a treat. It was also really great to hear the powerful and political Song of Choice live for the first time. The song is originally by Peggy Seeger but was updated by the band for their 2011 album Union City Breath – I think it might even have been further updated for 2016, but I can’t be sure… it was late. Crazy Arm’s set was an excellent end to and unbelievable weekend of music, but it wouldn’t be a punk festival without one final human pyramid. Darren, singer and guitarist of Crazy Arm, thought so too and gestured as much. The pyramid ended up including the drummer of the band, which of course proved problematic when the others expected the drums to kick in. It certainly made for a memorable moment. Everyone loved their performance so much (and probably just generally didn’t want MPF to be over) that the band, somewhat reluctantly, ended up coming back for an encore – unheard of in punk rock!

Manchester Punk Festival was everything I was expecting and a whole lot more. Last year I had the time of my life but this year just blew last year out of the water. The whole weekend was packed with some of the best bands in the world and was so brilliantly organised. A lot of credit needs to go to TNS, Moving North, Anarchistic Undertones and everyone else who was involved in running such an incredible weekend. Despite all of the awesomeness throughout the entire weekend the biggest highlight for me was the smile of one particular person at the after party. This was the smile of a young Japanese gentlemen who had travelled all the way from Japan for the festival. During Fair Do's set a couple of people approached him and asked if he wanted to crowd surf. Within an instant he was in the air with a massive grin on his face which put a warm fuzzy feeling inside my heart. The kindness of punks going out of their way to help make someone else's night. Roll on MPF 2017!