Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Gig Review: Manchester Punk Festival 2018 Day Three 21/4/18

(Note: Colin's parts are in regular text and Emma's parts are in italic.)

It was time for the third and final day of Manchester Punk Festival 2018 (you can read about day one here and day two here) and it was going to be a long one as the opening act began just before 1pm and the final band was scheduled to finish just before 2am. This was going to be a long slog but also one of excitement, joy and a whole lot of singing, dancing and mates! What's becoming tradition for our MPF Saturdays is for us to head to the local Wetherspoons and eat the biggest possible breakfast to fuel us up for the day. Clearly we're not the only people to have this idea as there were plenty of people with MPF wristbands in 'spoons tucking into their reasonably priced breakfasts, including Bev, Kieran and some more of the MPF collective. After filling up we headed off for the first act of the day!

As seems to be the tradition for the Saturday of Manchester Punk Festival, the first acts start before 1pm but are acoustic-based artists at Underdog. This, in theory, eases you into what is the longest but most likely to be the best day of MPF yet. That is if your hangover lets you. None of our gang are massive drinkers so we didn’t have any hangovers to deal with, although that doesn’t mean we weren’t tired and achey, so after refuelling with a big breakfast we were ready for the start of day three.

The first act of the day was Carl Moorcroft, a solo acoustic chap from down the road in Liverpool. I reviewed his album On The Road way back in 2016 but I must admit that I haven’t listened to it all that much since then so I was pleasantly surprised when I instantly recognised many of the songs in his set. With some fast songs, some sad songs and even some songs with hints of ska, Carl Moorcroft’s performance was passionate and just what we needed not long after midday on the last day of MPF. There was also a great cover of Disconnected by Face To Face that got those at the Underdog who were perhaps less familiar with Carl’s own songs engaged.

Gutter Romance were next up in Underdog and they were one of the biggest surprises of the entire festival. Originally from the UK but now based in Germany, Gutter Romance are an acoustic pop punk duo formed of Spider, from the Zatopeks and Tungsten Tips, and Debby, also from Tungsten Tips. This was such a fun set full of humour and fantastic pop punk songs. Despite it being early, Gutter Romance were pumped up to have a great time and this attitude spilled into the steadily growing crowd. Debby would run around in the crowd whilst singing, helping to get everyone into the set. At one point she climbed onto one of the speakers and then onto a member of the crowd's shoulders. This was a pretty raucous lunch time acoustic pop punk show. When they announced that they were going to play a cover I secretly hoped it would be a Zatopeks song but instead they played Avail's Fifth Wheel which I also enjoyed. Gutter Romance really made the permanent MPF smile on my face even bigger.

One of my most anticipated bands of the weekend were Danish punks Forever Unclean who were the first band of the day at The Bread Shed. We got there nice and early – finding our pal Tone from The Burnt Tapes who told of his eventful journey up to Manchester the night before (involving a bus and road closures) – and claimed a spot in front of the stage. We ended up staying near the front so it was difficult to tell how full the room got until after Forever Unclean played but let’s just say it turned out they were rather popular. And rightly so, they were as awesome as I expected them to be. I’ve seen the band live once before but that was when I was less familiar with their songs so this time it was even better to be able to sing along with a few – something that many people around me were also up for. It’s hard to describe what sort of sound Forever Unclean have as they play a sort of indie, pop, skate punk combination – the songs are catchy and the riffs are fast and, at least to me, technical sounding. What impressed me the most was how the band seemed to be able to seamlessly flow from song to song yet they said they didn’t actually have a setlist planned and all the while they retained a raw energy so nothing was over polished. Such great musicians, such great songs, such a great band.

Happy Accidents were next on mine, Robyn and Brett’s list to see so we left Colin at The Bread Shed and headed to Rebellion. The distance between those two venues was the furthest of any being used at MPF this year. Between Forever Unclean and Happy Accidents we had enough time to get to Rebellion but that wouldn’t be the case for the next band I wanted to see. Ready to catch as much of Happy Accidents’ set as possible before dashing back to Bread Shed, I soon found myself charmed by the infectiously cheery experience that is a Happy Accidents live show. This was my first time seeing them as a four piece since I wasn’t able to make their London album release show (damn you, snow!) and first time hearing songs from that new album, Everything But The Here And Now, live. The songs all sounded excellent and I very much enjoyed having my first little dance of the day. As I said, I hadn’t planned to watch all of the band’s set and I left with 5 or 10 minutes of their allotted time left (it turns out I only missed two songs) to hurry back to Bread Shed and see Goodbye Blue Monday.

Next on at The Bread Shed were one of the bands I was most excited for seeing at MPF, Glasgow's Goodbye Blue Monday. Since hearing their latest EP, The Sickness, The Shame, earlier this year it's been on constantly at CPRW headquarters and Emma and I were both really looking forward to seeing them live. The band did not disappoint as they played plenty of sing-a-long punk music that a decent sized crowd absolutely adored. I think Goodbye Blue Monday are bred to be a live band, on record they sound fantastic but on stage is where the songs really came alive. Midway through the set the band invited some friends of theirs on stage for what was the first marriage proposal in MPF history. Somewhat awkwardly but also hilariously the band followed up this proposal with the song Love Is A Noose For Two, an anti-marriage song. The big highlights for me were the tracks Take Your Pills and The Sickness, The Shame at the end but the whole set was superb. I can't wait for their next release.

I was reluctant to leave Goodbye Blue Monday as a) I was enjoying it so much and b) they hadn’t played my favourite song, Take Your Pills, yet. Before the festival I had meticulously worked out what time I needed to leave their set to go and catch at least half of All Aboard!’s set at the Zombie Shack. So, that didn’t quite work out… but after hearing Take Your Pills (it was awesome) I did dash on over to Zombie Shack. It was my first time in the venue since the previous year of MPF and I’d forgotten how small it was – and warm when packed out. And it was pretty packed out as All Aboard!’s set was well underway! I wasn’t overly familiar with the songs that the band played which was a bit of a shame as they were begging for a singalong in that gruff punk fists-in-the-air style. Despite this I soon had my head nodding along and my eyes glued to the stage. Next time I’ll be sure to catch more than half of the band’s set.

After catching a little bit of All Aboard! it was time for another great Scottish act in the form of legendary melodic skate punks PMX at Zombie Shack. Zombie Shack only has a capacity of 140 and the room felt pretty full to see this long running band (it turns out the venue ended up being at capacity). Because of this I couldn't get the greatest of views but they sounded incredible. They play fast and intricate punk rock and they do it so well. To be honest I'm always astounded how anyone can be as good at something as PMX are at what they do. It's not just the guitars where they excel either, vocally they were superb, to my admittedly uneducated ears they didn't seem to miss a note. Finishing with Code Red, PMX showed why they are such a highly regarded band.

Colin and I have both seen solo acoustic troubadour Sam Russo play live plenty of times but what we hadn’t seen until the Saturday of Manchester Punk Festival was Sam Russo with a band. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, we headed over to Gorilla after PMX to find out once and for all what ‘Russo’ would be like. Russo are fronted by Sam Russo (duh!) on [electric] guitar and vocals and he is joined by a talented bunch of musicians – Katie on bass, Chris on guitar and Marty on drums. Having seen Sam Russo (solo) a few months ago where he played a new song, that was written as a Russo song, I knew that this full band version wouldn’t just be complete rehashes of existing Sam Russo songs but I was also kind of hoping he would throw a classic solo track in for familiarity. I think they got the balance right, playing maybe three Sam Russo songs reimagined (or perhaps actually just played how they were originally written to be played) with the full band and then the majority of brand new tracks. Those new tracks sounded pretty darn good so I hope there are plans to record them real soon. 

One of the most emotionally charged sets of the weekend was for Manchester's departing speed punk heroes Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man. ROTPM are sadly splitting up in December making this their last ever Manchester Punk Festival appearance. This was a big reason for me choosing to see ROTPM over the likes of The Copyrights and Counterpunch. This was the hardest clash of the day by far for me but I feel like I made the right choice. The members of ROTPM make up part of the MPF collective and therefore are among a select group of bands who have played every MPF so far (the others being Throwing Stuff and Fair Do's). One of my big highlights over the last few years of MPF was the after party of MPF 2016 when the band played to the craziest pit I had ever seen. It was only right that the huge crowd that gathered at The Bread Shed gave it everything that they had to send them off properly and that they did. If you've never seen a ROTPM gig in Manchester then you've really missed out. The band play and sing faster than any band I've ever seen before and create this ferocious combustible energy that spills into the crowd and forms into a whirlwind of bodies that fly around the pit. It's some sight let me tell you. Despite the ferocity which they play with there's also an element of silliness in the set, particularly with guitarist Matt Woods constantly pulling faces at the crowd and at one point wearing a wrestling mask for a few songs. The band put everything they had into this set as did the crowd. This felt like a big celebration for one of the most important DIY punk bands in the UK and they will be sorely missed. Their set finished with boss bassist Andy Davies and drummer Chris "Big Hands" Hinsley diving into the crowd. Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man went out like only Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man can – with a bang!

In my MPF 2018 Top Ten, that I wrote before the festival, I mentioned that I’d ‘heard a lot about The Tuts’ – good and bad – but I was looking forward to making my own mind up about them by seeing them live for the first time. And so that’s what I did. I’d been enjoying listening to their album, Update Your Brain, prior to the festival and I can quite safely say that the songs were even better live, with tracks Let Go Of The Past, Give Us Something Worth Voting For and Tut Tut Tut sticking particularly in my mind. Upon first listen you’d probably think The Tuts play catchy, sugary pop music. Well, they do, but they also deliver it alongside punchy lyrics and rocking riffs – I was seriously impressed with these ladies’ musicianship. They also always looked like they were having so much fun which is great to see in a band when watching them live. Oh and apparently they were dressed like a combination of TLC and Destiny's Child – I'll take their word for it because I have no idea about that. So anyway like I said, I really enjoyed this set. That is right up until the second to last song when all of a sudden I didn’t feel quite right.

I turned around to Colin and said “I feel faint.” and the next thing I knew I was coming round after blacking out. So Colin took me outside for some fresh air and we, understandably, missed whatever was the last song of The Tuts set. I was reluctant to mention this in my review but I’m talking about it because of what happened afterwards. The security guy outside was really cool and encouraged me to go back inside because the venue was nearly at capacity – like I was going to miss Iron Chic anyway! I mean, he probably thought I’d passed out because I was drunk but I’d only had one alcoholic drink all day, I’d been drinking a fair amount of water and had just eaten before The Tuts (although it was a rushed meal) so I guess it was just the heat in Rebellion – even though I’ve been in hotter venues. Not wanting to hang around outside for more than a few minutes, we went back inside and I had a sit down. Colin wanted to go get me some water but also didn’t want to leave me alone – luckily he didn’t have to as a lovely lady came over with a pint of water for me as she’d seen what had happened. So basically the moral of the story is punks are super nice people. Thank you, fellow punk lady!

When the schedule for Manchester Punk Festival 2018 was first announced there were a lot of frustrated punk fans. There was one clash in particular that people weren’t pleased about – Propagandhi and Iron Chic. Personally I’m not sure what the MPF organisers could have done to avoid this and I’m sure they tried – you try booking a punk festival! Thankfully for myself and Colin it wasn’t a difficult decision, as we’re not really big on Propagandhi yet we love Iron Chic. I was still feeling a little off after what had happened before but I was also determined not to miss this headline set from one of our favourite fists-in-the-air singalong punk bands – and what a great venue Rebellion was going to be for it as well! Ploughing straight into their set with Cutesy Monster Man and the classic lyrics ‘I want to smash my face into that god damn radio’, it was, just like I said, fists in the air and one big singalong from the first note. If, like me, you’ve seen Iron Chic before then you’ll know what a euphoric experience it is and that was very much the case at MPF, perhaps even more so than at your typical gig. All this despite the fact that lead vocalist Jason Lubrano doesn’t particularly interact with the crowd – he spends much of the set walking around in circles and, err, hitting himself on the head – but what he lacks in charisma he makes up for with incredible lyrics. Plus, fellow vocalist and lead guitarist Phil is always much better at interacting with an audience anyway. It felt like he and Jesse, the second guitarist in Iron Chic, added more backing vocals to their live performance than when I’ve seen the band previously and this is something I thought worked really well. (I also adore Tender Defender and Broadcaster, two of their other bands, so that might be why I particularly liked this!) I was looking forward to hearing some songs from Iron Chic’s third album, You Can’t Stay Here, live for the first time and I wasn’t disappointed. Songs such as My Best Friend (Is A Nihilist) and A Headache With Pictures were excellent and received just as enthusiastic singalongs as the older classic tunes. We were stood at the back, so I could escape outside if I needed to, but it ended up being a great vantage point to observe the crowd. Here were a bunch of punk rock fans that weren’t in the least bit disappointed to not be watching Propagandhi. Rightly so, Iron Chic are awesome!

We left Iron Chic before their encore to make sure we didn't have to queue up for the after party. On our way to Rebellion we had bumped into some pals who said they were skipping Iron Chic and Propagandhi to make sure they were in The Bread Shed for opening the after party bands, Beat The Red Light and Chewing On Tinfoil. I must admit I did feel slightly smug at just walking in with no queuing. There was still a little time before Beat The Red Light took to the stage so I spent the time talking to folk. It was so nice hearing how everyone had had the best few days at the festival. It was a weekend full of such positivity and it was bloody lovely.

Returning ska bands was a bit of a theme for the weekend with Random Hand on Thursday, Stand Out Riot and Lightyear on Friday and now it was time for Beat The Red Light. The programme described them as "Slayer meets the Slackers" which did seem to confuse Brett. I quietly thought to myself "you'll see" as the band were taking to the stage. Beat The Red Light are one of the best live bands you'll ever see. They feature some of the best horns in ska alongside some crunching guitars and some hard hitting drums as well as frontman Pook's incredible growling, screamy vocal. This sound with a crazy mosh pit in front of them makes for an impressive spectacle. This was BTRL's first show in a while but you wouldn't have known. The show seemed to ignite a fire in the band and this was for sure the best I've seen them. Anyone who was starting to lag after the long day was definitely woken up now.

Following BTRL's wonderful set was Chewing On Tinfoil. "Chewy", as they are affectionately known, were the band that most people I spoke to at the festival were most excited to see – Emma included. The Dublin-based band are absolute loved within the UK punk scene and don't come over anywhere near as much as we'd like them too! The fine people crammed down the front of the stage were clearly determined to make the most of them because as soon as Chewy opened with Fuck Team Sports the place went crazy. Not many bands sound like Chewing On Tinfoil, combining ska, sing-a-long punk rock and the occasional touch of folk alongside some distinctive Irish vocals. They are also a highly energetic live band who are captivating to watch on the stage. Booking Beat The Red Light and following them up with Chewing On Tinfoil is more masterful organising by the MPF crew. Chewing On Tinfoil were obviously superb and certainly one of the highlights of the festival for a lot of people.

After Chewing On Tinfoil finished it seemed as if The Bread Shed half emptied, not that surprising as I'm sure everyone was knackered by this point of the day. To be honest if it wasn't for the fact that I really wanted to see Uniforms then I probably would have gone and found my bed as well. If I had have done that though I wouldn't have got to see The Minor Discomfort Band and would have missed out on the biggest surprise of the weekend. The Minor Discomfort Band were fantastic. Their style was described as a punk rock barn dance for fans of early Against Me! This sounded right up mine and Emma's alley and, as soon as the Suffolk-based band began, they had me and the majority of people remaining in The Bread Shed having a good ol' dance. This is one of the best things about festivals, discovering and falling in love with bands you've never taken the chance to listen to before. All those folk who left early – you missed out on a fantastic time!

So as I mentioned earlier, the band chosen to close the entire festival was Dundee's Uniforms. Uniforms are a band I've been wanting to see for a long time now after missing seeing them a few years ago at Book Yer Ane Fest because of that stupid Megabus. I was pumped and ready to see the band, lead by Make-That-A-Take Records' Derrick Johnston, close MPF in style. The four piece play a straight forward punk rock sound influenced by bands such as Leatherface and Hot Water Music. Despite it being the early hours of Sunday morning, Uniforms still had a lot of energy and this quickly spilled into the crowd. Derrick is a fantastic frontperson and gets the crowd super rowdy with plenty of pile ons, crowd surfing and a human pyramid where one of Uniforms' guitarists jumped on stage and joined in with. This was definitely the best way to finish the festival. Uniforms finished their set with a cover of Nirvana's Territorial Pissings where Derrick put down his guitar and jumped into the crowd to finish the set with quite a flourish. Gosh Uniforms were fantastic.

Manchester Punk Festival 2018 was a huge success. It was always going to be, with the incredible amount of talent on the line-up and all the different styles of punk rock music. One slight worry I had before the festival was how it would work without its former home Sound Control. In all honesty I kind of forgot all about it. The festival flowed seamlessly and opening up The Bread Shed for the whole weekend, and not just the after party, along with the addition of Rebellion, which has the best sound of any venue I've ever been to, were excellent replacements. I say this every year and I mean it this year more than ever that Bev, Andy, Tree, Kieran and the entire MPF collective deserve all of the respect, love, high fives, hugs and thanks in the world for the incredible job they've done with this festival. Emma and I both agreed afterwards that this was the best festival experience we've ever had and we include a trip to Gainesville for The Fest in that statement. There were so many highlights throughout the weekend. I'm not going to list them all because hopefully you've now read about all three days of the festival and you know that we thought every band killed it. We weren't even sad about missing out on the cover sets as the bands we saw instead were great! The biggest highlight for me across the whole weekend was the whole atmosphere of the festival. I've been very lucky to meet so many cool people doing CPRW – including our South African buddies – and it was so great to hang out with so many of them over the weekend and enjoy our favourite bands together. For me Manchester Punk Festival has evolved from more than just a live music event into a celebration of the UK DIY punk rock scene. It's like a family reunion where everyone gets along, doesn't stop smiling and nobody can wait for the next one.

Thank you once again Manchester Punk festival for the best weekend of the year. See you in April 2019!

This review was written by Colin Clark and Emma Prew. Photos by Emma Prew.

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