My favourite time of the year is fast approaching. Over Easter weekend, Manchester Punk Festival returns for the fifth year running and is looking like it's going to be the best weekend yet. I've been fortunate enough to have attended the previous four MPFs and have had some of the most wonderful times of my life. For this week's top ten I figured it might be fun to share them with you. However, I failed miserably at sticking to ten so here's my top twelve MPF memories.
(This is written in chronological order, not in order or favourites.)
MPF1: Going By Myself
In 2015 I didn't really go to gigs with anyone but myself. I was also just getting through a very rough time mentally where my depression and anxiety was at an all time high. When I came across this awesome festival that was happening in Manchester with so many of my favourite UK punk bands playing, I knew I had to go no matter how difficult it might be for me. This would be my first time at a festival by myself – it was a pretty nerve racking and there were a few times that I almost bailed. I didn't though and went on to have the most amazing time watching so many great bands and singing my heart out all weekend. After one visit, I knew this festival was something very special and I made a promise to myself to attend every single year.
MPF1: Cover Sets After Party
The Manchester Punk Festival After Parties have become a thing of legend. One of the after parties at the first MPF was a covers set at Retro Bar, a tiny basement venue five minutes' walk from the festival's first home Sound Control. Cover sets have become a big part of MPF and are always extremely popular amongst the festival goers, in the first year we had Bear Trade as The Replacements, Just Panic as Against Me! and Leagues Apart as Rancid. It was incredible. As the room packed out the sing-alongs just got bigger and bigger. It was the perfect way to finish an incredible couple of days.
MPF2: First Time With Emma
Manchester Punk Festival Two, in 2016, was Emma's first time attending. I was excited not only to be going with my girlfriend but to show her this incredible festival I'd attended the year before and I wanted her to love it as much as I did. She did. Experiencing MPF with a loved one added so much to the weekend. The festival itself really expanded in its second year as well, with it expanding to three nights instead of two and now attracting some of the biggest names in the world of punk rock – such as The Flatliners – as well as continuing to showcase the best in homegrown talent.
MPF2: Sam Russo's Set
Back in the first two years, the Thirsty Scholar pub next to Sound Control would host acoustic sets. These were always great fun to see in a really intimate setting. For me the undoubted highlight of the acoustic sets at the Thirsty Scholar was Sam Russo's. The pub was packed out to see one of the most loved songwriters in the UK scene. As with every one of Russo's performances, the biggest sing-along comes when he plays Sometimes. This show was no different and, despite having one more song left to play, he decided to finish the set as he knew he wouldn't get a bigger reaction for the final song he had planned. He also delivered the line that's become a bit of an in-joke for Emma and I when he said "There's real punks here!"
MPF2: Revenge At The After Party
Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man are a band that have become synonymous with Manchester Punk Festival. Not just because bassist Andy Davies is a part of TNSrecords and the MPF organising collective but because they've always put on weekend stealing sets. We first saw the local legends at MPF2's after party. The band have been well known for their sense of humour as well as the blisteringly fast punk songs and raucous crowds. This was displayed when they had Mr Blobby open their set for them before launching into one of the rowdiest performances I've ever witnessed live. And it wasn't just the band either, it was the entire crowd. The phrase "it went off" has never been more applicable. I can remember watching this joyous madness unfold in front of me, turning to see Emma who was perched on one of those tables they used to have around the pillars at Zoo (now The Bread Shed) and seeing her face whilst looking at the carnage with a look of content that said "yup, this is where I feel at home."
MPF2: A Visitor From The East
One sign that MPF was a festival that was growing with some speed is the attendance of visitors from overseas. There was a lot of excitement from the festival's organisers that they'd sold a ticket in Japan! We saw this gentleman numerous times around the festival throughout the weekend and he always looked to be having the best time. The highlight of my entire festival at MPF2 was at the after party on the final day. I think Fair Do's were playing and a group of friendly punks approached him and asked if he wanted to crowd surf. The look of sheer joy on this face was heart warming. It was a real moment of the community being together as one.
MPF3: The Burnt Tapes at Zombie Shack
Zombie Shack is perhaps my favourite of the MPF venues. This small bar above the Thirsty Scholar is a tiki-themed space that offers a more intimate feel for your punk rock needs. At MPF3 London via Greece punks The Burnt Tapes played at Zombie Shack and blew me away. I'd actually seen The Burnt Tapes a couple of times before in London but this performance really started my well known love for the band. They absolutely smashed their set, despite probably only playing to about thirty people. There was something about this band and this was the set that would have me beginning to believe that The Tapes are the best band in the UK. This was also my first time meeting the band in real life after conversing with them on the Internet. Great guys. And it was also our first time meeting former Ships Down guitarist and current CPRW contributor Jack who was attending the festival. Also a great guy!
MPF3: Clowns At The After Party
You might have noticed a theme on this list, here's another after party entry! Like I said, they are legendary. At MPF3, Aussie punk rockers Clowns stole the entire weekend with a high octane absolutely bananas set. I, like I suspect a decent portion of the crowd in Zoo, wasn't that familiar with the band before this set but that didn't stop those who made it through to the after party completely lose their minds during Clowns. With the band constantly spilling into the crowd and the crowd often finding their way on to the stage, you just didn't know where to look. It was great to see the organisers partaking in all of this beautiful chaos as well. The memory of Bev going wild in the crowd will be engrained in my mind for years to come.
MPF4: Manchester Pals Fest
Last year's Manchester Punk Festival was probably my favourite so far and probably my all time favourite festival experience. A massive part of this was because the festival has become a place where the UK community meets up for what seems like a big family reunion. Through doing CPRW, I've been lucky to make a lot of friends from all around the UK and some from further afield. It seemed like whatever set I went to there was a friend to high five and hug and it's a beautiful feeling. This year was particularly special for Emma and myself as our best pals and CPRW contributors Robyn and Brett from South Africa were at the festival and sharing accommodation with us which was just wonderful.
MPF4: Forever Unclean & Eat Defeat Open Days To Big Crowds
I always have a slight worry at festivals that the opening bands will be playing to very small crowds. There's the worry that the late night and much drinking will keep people in bed for longer and perhaps folk will turn up for the later part of the day. Thankfully this wasn't the case at MPF4! The opening bands we chose on the Friday and Saturday were Eat Defeat and Forever Unclean respectively. Both played to massive crowds who enthusiastically sang along to the bands. This was so great to see and really helped set the tone for the entire day, each day.
MPF4: Ska Punk Reunions
It's no secret how much I love ska punk music. It's the genre that lead me into listening to punk rock as a whole. At MPF4 we were spoilt with not one, not two but three reunion sets from three legendary UK ska punk bands. First up were Random Hand who blew us away on the Friday with a set which felt like they hadn't been away for almost three years. On the Saturday, Lightyear packed out Gorilla and put one of the biggest smiles of the weekend on my face. Then, on the Sunday, Beat The Red Light took to the stage in the Bread Shed and opened the final after party in the ferocious manner that only BTRL can. Ska can be a little bit of a niche genre but it's great to see that MPF are taking a leaf out of Level Up Festival's book and showcasing a genre that is really having a big revival at the moment.
MPF4: After Party
The whole after party on the Saturday night of MPF4 was incredible. The four band bill, featuring four quite different bands all the tore the house down and ensured we all left the festival on a huge high. First up were the previously mentioned Beat The Red Light who really got the crowd pumped up, with singer/growler and trombonist Pook continuing to be one of my favourite people to watch on stage. Next up were Ireland's Chewing On Tinfoil, who I suspect were one of the most anticipated bands of the entire weekend, playing passionate punk rock that garners huge sing-alongs. Always outstanding live. Then we had The Minor Discomfort Band who I had previously never heard of but was amused by the ‘punk rock barn dance’ description from the festival’s program. The room had emptied out a bit by this stage but the rest of the people left in The Bread Shed had a great dance. Finally, to finish the night and the festival, we had one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing all weekend. Dundee's Uniforms brought their brand of gruff pop punk to MPF and put on what was, for me, the best set of the entire weekend. What an after party!
Tickets for the fifth Manchester Punk Festival are on sale here. To see the incredible line-up of bands playing this year have a look here. See you there!