Thursday, 2 May 2019

Gig Reivew: Manchester Punk Festival 2019 Day Three 21/4/19

It was now time for the third and final day of 2019's Manchester Punk Festival and to be honest it was turning into Manchester Endurance Festival (probably best not to start abbreviating it to MEF though). I was knackered but I was also determined to get as much fun in as possible before things finished. For me, this was already the best MPF yet and this final day was going to be the cherry on top.

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

It’s somewhat of a tradition at Manchester Punk Festival to ease yourself into the third and final day with some nice acoustic music at the Brickhouse Social – if you’re not still in bed nursing a hangover that is. Thankfully, plenty of people weren’t still in bed as Brickhouse Social filled up nicely for the first band of the day. We Bless This Mess were set the task this year but they chose to do things a little differently, playing full band and very much electric. If you don’t know We Bless This Mess, they play positive punk rock and are such a joy to watch live because their good spirit is so infectious – motivational even. It was also a suitably loud yet uplifting start to the day. I certainly left with a smile on my face. 

I hung around in the Brickhouse Social to see James Hull. As a member of Apologies, I Have None and former (maybe current) member of Leagues Apart, I was keen to check out James’ own material. I was surprised to see that James wouldn't be playing completely solo as he had his pal Simon on electric guitar and effects pedal and Sarah on keyboard and trumpet. This really added a great amount of ambience to the set. Playing a collection of his own music, which I assume is from an upcoming release, it was a set full of introspective Americana infused acoustic punk. He also threw in an acoustic version of my favourite Leagues Apart song, To Know The Night Is To Live Forever.

After We Bless This Mess, I made the short walk over to Zombie Shack where Guerilla Poubelle had just started their set. Guerilla Poubelle are a punk rock trio from Paris who I was keen to check out as I know they’ve played Fest and toured with a lot of bands that I love. I wasn’t sure if people would be put off going to see them since their songs are all in French but Zombie Shack was heaving as I squeezed in towards the back of the room. I soon found out that it doesn’t matter one bit if you don’t understand French – I don’t – because they’re still a brilliant band to watch live. That and their vocalist explained the meaning of a number of the songs, which was helpful. For the last song, a couple of the guys from Arms Aloft joined Guerilla Poubelle for a huge singalong which was excellent. I’d certainly be up for seeing Guerilla Poubelle again, hopefully soon. 

Heading down to Gorilla, I met up with Robyn to watch London-based indie punk supergroup of sorts, Cheerbleederz. It had been announced a few hours earlier that Fresh sadly wouldn’t be able to play their set later that day at The Union but Kathryn was was still able to play with Cheerbleederz, alongside bandmates Phoebe (Happy Accidents) and Sophie (Finish Flag). Apparently this was only their fourth ever set but you couldn’t tell as the trio stormed through a short but sweet set full of amazing three-part harmonies and indie pop melodies. Happily singing along to Cabin Fever and the line ‘I think that we’re all doomed.’ was particularly memorable.

I don't know if I turned up late for the Werecats set at Zombie Shack or they started a little early but the London four piece were already in full swing when I arrived. A big crowd had turned out to see them. I don't think there is a venue in the UK more suited to host Werecats than Zombie Shack. This zombie themed tiki shack complements the band’s horror themed powerpop. I hadn't seen Werecats live in a couple of years and I loved hearing my favourite tracks from last year’s Destined For The Outside LP live for the first time. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of bands playing this style of pop punk in the UK anymore so I'm forever thankful for Werecats for being one of the bands keeping the sound alive.

After eating the biggest ever vegan peanut butter brownie courtesy of Teatime Collective (who were set up outside the Thirsty Scholar/Zombie Shack all weekend), I headed back to Brickhouse Social – I spent a lot of time there on Sunday – for an acoustic punk double bill. First up was Jake Martin. Jake would also be appearing with his recently reformed skacore band The Junk a little later in the day but here it was just him, his acoustic guitar and his excellent storytelling. The venue had understandably emptied out a bit by this point of the afternoon as there were so many different bands on at the same time but a small crowd didn’t phase Jake. In no time at all, he had us singing along and declaring him an asshole – listen to the song For Fuck’s Sake Jake and you’ll see what I mean. Apparently we, despite being at a ‘punk’ festival, were the most polite audience he’d ever played for!

As Arms Aloft took to the Bread Shed stage, frontman Seth Gile stated that "we're Arms Aloft and it doesn't matter where we're from." This set the tone for a socially and politically charged set from the four piece who were borrowing Guerilla Poubelle/Quitters member Antho for bass duties. Playing that gruff and melodic sing-along pop punk we all love so much, it was fantastic to see one of the best bands in the genre do their thing and do it so well. Between songs, Seth gave some political speeches that not only made you think about things but were so powerful in their delivery. With the current climate of the world, it's important that bands like Arms Aloft continue to spread their message. It was during their set that the ball dropped with me and I realised what their name meant. It's about holding your arm in the air in solidarity, fighting back against the man. To finish the set we were given a special treat as Arms Aloft welcomed their pals in Guerilla Poubelle to the stage to perform a duet of a track they recorded together for an EP a few years ago.

Somehow it’s 2019 and my first time seeing Derrick ‘Deeker’ Johnston, aka Tragical History Tour, live was at MPF this year – despite him having played in previous years. This particular occasion was also a year on from the release of Aphorisms, the THT debut album that was ten years in the making – and also one of my favourite albums of 2018. It was great to hear songs such as Three Two, Come On Home Hero and Old Words live – they somehow managed to feel even more packed with emotion than on recording. The combination of gravelly vocals, intricate finger-picked acoustic guitar melodies and percussion created by tapping on the guitar’s body made for an engaging performance. I’m sorry it took me so long, Derrick, but your set was well worth the wait!

Sticking around in The Bread Shed, I was looking forward to seeing the kind of reunion of Calvinball. I say kind of reunion because it was only two of the band’s original members with them being helped out by three members of their long time friends in Arms Aloft. I only really checked Calvinball out after they were announced as playing MPF so wasn't completely aware of all their songs but I was expecting a set full of big sing-alongs. Unsurprisingly I was in the minority with my ignorance of Calvinball's songs as a very enthusiastic crowd gathered at the front of the stage to sing every word back at the band. As you might expect from the fact that Calvinball haven't played together for ages, and this wasn't their usual line up, the performance was a bit rough around the edges but for me this really added a lot of charm. It was just great to see a bunch of pals playing some old songs together in front of another bunch of pals. I'm happy I got to see Calvinball, hopefully it won't be the only time I do.

In my Top Ten Bands To See At MPF 2019 post I talked about Warrington’s Mighty Bossmags as being a unique and somewhat peculiar sounding sort of ska band. I went to see their set at Zombie Shack and those words I used before just don’t do them justice. Let’s just say the Mighty Bossmags are quite possibly the most bizarre live act I’ve ever seen. I don’t really know how to put it into words but I do know that it was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t have a clue what was going on most of time. If I recall correctly, their ensemble consisted of seven members including a chap sporting Gok Wan’s face on his t-shirt, who I later learned is known as Big Ron Wanweirdly. He didn’t appear to add much to their performance musically but the crowd enjoyed having a dance with him all the same. There were also some pretty creepy but awesome Dracula and devil masks. Like I said, bizarre but fun.

After Calvinball I remained in The Bread Shed to see returning skacore favourites The Junk. Knowing I only had time for half of their set before running (figuratively) round to Zombie Shack to see Fastfade, I was pleased to see The Junk aren't a band that spend too much time having a chat and instead blasted through their songs. The crowd started a little small but soon grew for The Junk as they played their first Manchester gig in four years. Something that really stood out for me was The Junk's brass section, adding so much bounce and energy to the songs and getting a good amount of folk skanking in the pit. Lead singer Jake Martin was also very impressive. Emma has been playing his recent solo EP a lot at home, which I've enjoyed but I was really taken aback by how good he was fronting The Junk. A fantastic voice and loads of energy and enthusiasm. It was hard to pull myself away from this set but I'm hoping they'll play a London show at some point soon.

London/Brighton based super fast skate punks Fastfade were another late addition to Manchester Punk Festival after Mainline 10 had to drop out. I made it from Bread Shed to Zombie Shack in perhaps record time to find a room that was pretty much full of everyone I know from the New Cross Inn. It was great to see so many people turn out to support these guys for their first time in Manchester. If you don't know who Fastfade are yet they are a three piece who despite their young age are hugely inspired by 90s skate punk. They play incredibly fast and have some wonderful harmonies. Between songs they've also built a bit of a reputation for their stage banter, joking around between themselves and the crowd and generally having the best possible time. There was a sweet moment where they took time to thank Mark Bell of Umlaut Records and Paul Smith of Be Sharp Promotions for all the help and support they've given Fastfade over the past few years. I looked across the room at them and they were both looking like proud dads as their boys continued to rip through their set. They mostly played tracks from their debut album Happy If You Aren't as well as a couple of old school Fastfade tracks and a cover of Green Day's In The End. They also played a brand new track which was written just a couple of days before MPF. Fastfade just get better and better every time I see them and it's always such a fun time whenever they play live.

As a side note, there was a wonderful moment for me when Mark Bell had to help Fastfade's Ryan with his microphone. This made me smile as it reminded me of how Mark would end up on stage fixing something at pretty much every New Cross gig he was at before he moved up North. It was like the old days.

I mentioned yesterday in my review of Smoke Or Fire’s set that I’m actually a bigger fan of Joe McMahon’s solo material and that’s why you’d have found me at Brickhouse Social yet again on Sunday to see the last band of the day there. Joe McMahon was joined by his band The Dockineers, featuring members of Dee Cracks and The Gamits, for this special performance. I saw Joe live at Fest 15 – he did have a backing band then but I can’t specifically recall if it was the same one (sorry!). Since then, I’ve not listened to Joe McMahon a great deal but as soon as he and his band started playing songs from the 2016 album Another Life it all came flooding back to me. It’s such a good album and, in fact, their whole set consisted of songs from it (almost). Looking around the room, it was nice to see that I wasn’t the only one singing along as others clearly loved the album as much as I did. In between songs, Joe told stories and made the whole performance feel more relaxed and laid-back than Smoke Or Fire’s set had done the day before. Both sets were good in their own way but I was always going to prefer this one. I ducked out a bit early just as Joe was announcing the last song – ‘we played this last night but it’s in a different key’ – to make my way over to The Union because none other than The Burnt Tapes were about to play!

When MPF announced that Fresh had sadly cancelled, we knew which band would be the perfect replacement. The Burnt Tapes were in town for their Menzingers cover set at the final after party that night but it wasn’t actually planned that they would be playing their own set. They were able to step up to the challenge at short notice however and drew quite a decent sized crowd all things considered. I had been planning on seeing Fresh anyway so the change didn’t mess with my schedule although I know a few pals did opt for the Tapes over The Human Project or Popes Of Chillitown who were playing at the same time. The things we do for our favourite regret punks (this review may be a bit bias)! Back in February the Tapes released their debut album, Never Better, and so understandably their set consisted of mostly songs from that. Songs such as Drift Champ ’16, Robert Cop and hit singles Don’t Make Me Play Bocelli and Yuzi sound brilliant live alongside slightly older favourites Wayne Regretzky and Things Get Weird. There was an enthusiastic bunch of us singing along to every word down the front and loving every second of this excellent albeit unplanned performance. The Burnt Tapes are the best. Hopefully next time they play MPF, it will be pre-planned and their crowd will be even bigger.

After the superb Burnt Tapes set it was time for The Bar Stool Preachers. What a year The Bar Stool Preachers have had since the release of last year’s album Grazie Goveno, playing shows all over the UK and a big United States tour as well. And judging from this performance, all of the acclaim that they've received is richly deserved. It wasn't long before the punk/ska posse from Brighton had everyone in The Union bouncing enthusiastically to every song. Struggling to keep my drink from spilling out of my glass, I skanked away with absolute delight to a band that I had stupidly slept on for a while. There was this wonderfully positive vibe spreading around The Union as the Preachers, who were one of the tightest acts I saw all weekend, played away. It's clear that they are tour ready. The Bar Stool Preachers back catalogue is likely to be played at CPRW HQ a lot over the next month so I can get caught up on the brilliance I've been missing out on for so long.

Not On Tour were without a doubt the biggest surprise of Manchester Punk Festival for me. They absolutely blew me away. Not On Tour were incredible. I have to admit when I noticed that they were playing one of the headline sets on the final day of the festival I was a little surprised. I knew they were popular but boy howdy I was not aware they were that popular. The four piece from Israel were just beginning a UK tour and Manchester was their first stop. MPF was also their first time in this wonderful Northern city. From the outset they stormed through their set. Not On Tour are known for their short, fast punk rock songs and played what must have been a thirty song set. They got the crowd, who by this point of the weekend must have been on their last legs, moving. This was the most amount of stage dives and crowd surfs I'd seen all festival. There was a great moment during one of the songs when Not On Tour's singer Sima stopped the band, confused by the human pyramid forming in front of her and thinking that someone had fallen down. Not On Tour seemed to have this incredible connection with the crowd. It felt like a small intimate show despite being in the packed 550 capacity Gorilla. Playing songs from their entire back catalogue, including some from the brand brand new album Growing Pains, it's not very often these days that I see a band and just leave the set completely speechless but that was the case with Not On Tour’s set at MPF 2019. Seriously, it was incredible!

On the Saturday night of MPF we had Colin’s favourite UK ska punk band covering Colin’s favourite American ska punk band. Come Sunday night and we had my favourite UK punk band playing songs by my favourite American punk band! Pretty neat that. What do you get if you combine The Burnt Tapes with The Menzingers – The Burntzingers, of course! Speaking to guitarist and vocalist Pan before the cover set, he said they’d practice these songs more than their own songs. I can confirm that they certainly gave the Philly boys a run for their money. My feet felt about to give up prior to this set but singing along to The Burntzingers seemed to give me a new lease of life. The setlist consisted of around six of the most singalongable tracks – including Good Things, Casey, After The Party and also a nice rendition of Time Tables, a song that The Menzingers themselves don’t seem to play all that often anymore. The Tapes put their own spin on the songs and bassist Tone had some of the best stage banter – I hope it wasn’t just those that knew him that found it funny. Either way, what a performance this was and a fine end to our 2019 Manchester Punk Festival experience.

You may have gathered from that last sentence that we didn’t make it through to the very end of this year’s MPF. We deemed ourselves too exhausted to stay and watch Incisions as Minor Threat and Sounds Of Swami as Foo Fighters although I’ve heard from others, who did make it to the end, that they were pretty good too.

What an incredible weekend Manchester Punk Festival 2019 was. It was a weekend of permanent smiles, great bands and amazing people. As good as every single band we saw was (and if you've read all three parts of this gig review you know that we loved them all), it was the time spent with the people that was the big highlight and the overall memory that we'll take away. Manchester Punk Festival is that one time of year where it seems like everyone we've ever met from punk rock is in the same place. You can't walk between a venue without bumping into a friendly face along the way and there's something really lovely about that. Being a part of this punk community is a really special feeling and being able to spend a weekend with so many dedicated, passionate, intelligent, brilliant people is a humbling and inspiring thing. It pleases me that so many people are jumping aboard the Manchester Punk Festival train and having the time of their lives. Speaking to some first timers of MPF, they were amazed by the relaxed and friendly atmosphere surrounding the festival. This is the atmosphere that makes people keep coming back to the festival. This community is the best.

Another thing that people always commend MPF for is the high level of detail, organisation and communication during the build up to the festival as well as the weekend itself. It does seem as if there isn't a stone left unturned. I loved that they took on feedback from previous years to make adjustments to improve the festival, I feel like there are a lot of other fests that wouldn't do that. The more prominent pop up record shop and moving the ridiculously popular cover sets after parties to a bigger venue were two improvements that I really liked. When you think about the amount of time that Bev, Andy, Tree, Kieran, Tom and Danny put into putting on MPF alongside their own jobs, projects and family life it's incredible. These gentlemen along with all the volunteers deserve so many thanks for their efforts for this weekend and the four before.

We bloody love Manchester Punk Festival and continuing to see it grow at the rate that it has really fills our hearts with a warm fuzzy feeling. We already can't wait to see what happens next year. It can't come soon enough!

This review was written by Colin Clark and Emma Prew.

Professional looking photographs by Marc Gärtner and Gresle Photography.
(Those that look like they were taken on a phone by Emma Prew.)

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