Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Gig Review: Manchester Punk Festival 2019 Day Two 20/4/19

After nowhere near enough sleep it was time for the second day of Manchester Punk Festival 2019. Today our plan was to get a big hearty breakfast at The Font before heading to The Union to have a good look round the pop up record shop and then starting on the bands for the day. The breakfast at Font was delicious and I seriously recommend you visit there if you're ever in Manchester. It was also lovely to have a bit of a punk rock writers meet up as myself and Emma, along with CPRW's Robyn and Brett who were back over from South Africa, met up with Ear Nutrition's Matt Speer and his girlfriend Charlotte. A wonderful time was had before we all headed to The Union to buy some records and some shirts. This was my first time properly looking around the pop up record shop this year and putting it in a more prominent location was a great improvement on previous years. I had a great time buying a couple of records and a shirt as well as just talking to the various people running their distros. I'll make sure next year to have more money in the bank because I assume it will be even bigger next year – that seems to be the way MPF works.

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

Sadly because we spent so much time at The Union we ended up missing Joe Tilston’s set at the Brickhouse Social (sorry, Joe) but we did get into Zombie Shack in time to see Follow Your Dreams open that stage for the day. Follow Your Dreams are a new band formed of three fifths of Rising Strike and TNSrecords crew member Kaz. A lot of people squeezed into the Zombie Shack to see Follow Your Dreams play what I believe was only their sixth ever gig. We were treated to a set of fantastic hardcore punk rock with a political edge. Follow Your Dreams are a great band and I was really impressed with Kaz's vocals.

After Follow Your Dreams it was time to see the first band of the day at Gorilla. Adelaide, Australia’s The Hard Aches were one of my favourite discoveries when checking out bands playing MPF that I hadn’t heard of before prior to the festival. Their somewhat sad-sounding songs are right up my street and so I was rather looking forward to seeing them live. It turned out so were a lot of other people as, despite being the first band on that particular stage, the room was packed. From the first song through to the last, I was completely entranced by this band. The Hard Aches are a two-piece (guitar and drums) but manage to create a far bigger sound than you’d imagine possible. It’s not just the music that got me though, it was the lyrics – they made me ‘feel’ even more when played live than on recording. The songs Mess and I Get Like This stood out and, as if it couldn’t get any better, the set was completed with Lande from Muncie Girls joining on acoustic guitar and vocals for an incredible rendition of Happy.

I left The Hard Aches a little early to catch one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing today, long running German skate punks Skin Of Tears. I had never heard of Skin Of Tears before they were announced for MPF but was quickly drawn to their sound. There was a real feeling of nostalgia listening to Skin Of Tears tear through their songs. There was a nice moment where they went a bit ska and it sounded brilliant but my favourite moment of the set was their cover of Men At Work's I Come From A Land Down Under. Watching an Australian song played fast by a chap with dreadlocks had me thinking of Frenzal Rhomb – this made me smile. Hopefully I'll get a chance to see Skin Of Tears again soon.

From Australian to Austrian, Astpai were next on our lists. Both Colin and I have seen Astpai live a few times but this was going to be the first time for Robyn and Brett who were understandably very excited. Astpai are a very popular band in the European punk scene and are no strangers to playing in the UK, or indeed Manchester Punk Festival, so it was no surprise to find that The Union was pretty busy when we arrived. Their set consisted of some songs from last year’s album True Capacity as well as plenty of older favourites. There were singalongs, fists in the air and the enthusiasm that Robyn displayed when the band had finished just said it all really. There’s a reason why Astpai keep being inviting back – we love them!

After Astpai I hurried back to Zombie Shack to see another Austrian band, 7 Years Bad Luck. I first became aware of 7 Years Bad Luck when Disconnect Disconnect Records released their album Bridges back in 2014 but this was my first time ever getting to see them. Playing melodic pop punk, this set was worth all the years wait. The three piece managed to get through a lot of songs during their set including a great cover of Dillinger Four's Folk Song. I've made a mental note to listen to them a lot more before Booze Cruise Festival in Hamburg so I can have a proper sing-along next time. This also wouldn't be the last time I saw 7 Years Bad Luck this weekend…

I had to duck out towards the end of 7 Years Bad Luck as the next two bands on my schedule were over at The Bread Shed – this was actually my only time at that particular venue over the weekend. It was immediately apparent that The Zipheads, a psychobilly trio from St Albans, would be a little different to any band I’d seen so far at the festival. Psychobilly is very much a new genre for me but I can safely say that I love it. I was really impressed by how slick The Zipheads’ performance was. I’m not sure how long they’ve been a band but they’ve certainly perfected their live set and stage presence. It’s one thing when a band’s songs sound good live but it also helps when the band members themselves are watchable on stage.

From a little further afield, Aachen, Germany, The Bloodstrings are another band that could fall under the category of ‘psychobilly’. They do have a double bass in their ensemble but their sound is much more than that. I liked their stuff on recording but live The Bloodstrings were a whole different level of awesome. Their sound was more of a straight-up punk rock with hook-laden melodies than I was expecting but what really struck me was the vocals. Celina’s voice is incredible, packed with emotion and intensity, and added harmonies from the other band members complimented it well. The topics of their songs were also pretty poignant with several that focussed on sexual assault, while their set was completed with a new song, the band’s first political song. An impressive performance.

Kent's SKIV were a late replacement for Myteri. It's always a shame when a band has to drop out of a festival but I have to admit I was very pleased to see SKIV get added to the line up. It was great to see a band that have become synonymous with the New Cross Inn playing at the best punk festival in the world. It was also very nice to see a load of people who aren't regular visitors to the South London venue come into Zombie Shack to check SKIV out. SKIV of course played a great set, when you have a group of musicians as talented and a vocal as good as Jordan's together in one band it's always going to be great. Top songs, brilliant performance and the on the edge of decency banter was amusing as ever.

Something I thought was absolutely great about the MPF line up this year was that in included a trio of UK punk legends that had albums released by Fat Wreck Chords in the 9's – Consumed, Goober Patrol and Snuff. I ended up skipping Consumed for Authority Zero on the Friday but did make sure that I was at The Union for Goober Patrol and Snuff (with Smoke Or Fire sandwiched in between). Other than some songs I heard on old Fat Wreck compilations I wasn't super familiar with their tracks, I did enjoy their concoction of humour filled pop punk and hardcore however. Normally a four piece, at MPF the band played as a three piece without it seeming to affect the set. I guess when you have been a band for as long as Goober Patrol have, missing a member isn't a big deal. I seriously need to properly invest some time into listening to Goober Patrol's back catalogue as this was a great set – it was clear why they were and still are so highly thought of. I also enjoyed the Spiderman cover.

After a humorous performance from Goober Patrol, it was time for something quite different but no less legendary – Smoke Or Fire! Having not played shows or been an active band at all really for over five years, there were a lot of excited punk fans when melodic punks Smoke Or Fire were announced as playing Manchester Punk Festival 2019. I must admit that I am more familiar with Joe McMahon’s solo material and only really know a handful of Smoke Or Fire songs, rather than their whole back catalogue. I’m sure I was probably in the minority however as there were a lot of folk in The Union eagerly anticipating this band’s return – including CPRW’s Robyn and Brett. As it turned out, Smoke Or Fire were well worth all of the anticipation as they played back to back bangers from their three albums, Above The City, The Sinking Ship and The Speakeasy. It was great to see a crowd full of fists in the air as people screamed along with Smoke Or Fire, many probably seeing the band for the first time after years of listening to them. Joe McMahon actually played the first ever MPF (the only one I didn’t personally go to – but Colin did) so that made this performance extra special. The fact that I didn’t know as many of the words as those around me didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the set as Joe McMahon and co well and truly killed it.

Snuff are probably the most legendary UK punk band from the 1990s and a lot of people had now gathered at The Union to see them. Over the past thirty years, the band have gone through a few line up changes and today Duncan (vocals and drums) and Loz (guitar and vocals) were joined on bass by Wes of Consumed. Starting out with Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, it wasn't long before they had most of the hundreds of people who had arrived at The Union to see them singing and dancing. What was great was how it was people of all generations who were really getting into the band as they played a career spanning set including Keep The Beat (probably my favourite Snuff song) – a song they haven't played in years. Sadly we decided to leave Snuff's set a little bit early to make sure we could get into the after party at Rebellion for the cover set. This was a smart move as the queue was already growing quickly when we arrived.

The first band to take to the stage for Manchester Punk Festival’s legendary cover sets were Grafteoke, which is basically Pure Graft playing songs and inviting members of the audience on stage to sing along. To start things off, Danny Lester (also of Mean Caesar fame) took to the stage dressed as a butcher and gave a rundown of how the set would work before introducing the rest of the band who came out dressed as vegan sausages and a drumming dog. For the uninitiated, there must have been many thoughts of ‘what on earth is going on?!’ After a kind of butchered version of Ash's Girl From Mars opened the set up things quickly improved with fantastic versions of No Doubt's Just A Girl, Operation Ivy's Knowledge, Lagwagon's May 16, New Found Glory's My Friends Over You and Lit's My Own Worst Enemy. The real highlights, for me, were when ONSIND and Martha's Daniel took to the stage to perform AFI's Days Of The Phoenix and Holly of Hell Hath No Fury Records performed the Gorilla Biscuits' New Direction. This set was a lot of fun and I hope Grafteoke becomes a regular thing at MPF.

How was anything going to top the joyful chaos of Grafteoke? The answer is with London’s (let’s face it, the UK’s) best ska punk band, Call Me Malcolm, covering the USA’s best ska punk act, the much revered Less Than Jake. Given that we, and our New Cross pals, were already huge fans of both of these bands, it was hardly going to be a bad idea from our point of view. From the opening notes of Gainesville Rock City through to a finale of All My Best Friends Are Metalheads and such hits as Look What Happened, Nervous In The Alley and The Science Of Selling Yourself Short in between, this was a top notch cover set. You can tell that the band loved these songs as much as their audience did as they had each and every song down to a tee. I think my favourite bit was actually that vocalist and saxophone player Mark actually recited the voiceover at the beginning of Metalheads. Brilliant! Obviously, Call Me Malcolm had smashed their own set the previous day at MPF but I imagine some of the folk at Rebellion for the cover sets wouldn’t have necessarily have seen them – or indeed heard of them before. I hope that Less Than Malcolm won over some new fans – [Call Me] Malcolm sure deserve it.

A trio of Austrian punk rock bands had made the trip over to play Manchester Punk Festival this year. Those bands were Astpai, 7 Years Bad Luck and James Choice And The Bad Decisions and members of those bands came together to close the after party as Alkaline Trio. This set wasn't quite as slick as Less Than Malcolm before them but it was still just as much fun! Alkaline Trio have been putting out some of the best sing-along pop punk for a long time now so the band had plenty of tracks to choose from. Each song they picked got great receptions but my highlights were Mercy Me, This Could Be Love and of course Radio which had plenty of people on stage singing along.

As an added extra after the set, Joe McMahon took to the stage to perform Bleeder before we all went home for some much needed rest ahead of the third and final day of the festival.

This review was written by Colin Clark and Emma Prew.

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

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