Thursday, 5 May 2022

Gig Review: Manchester Punk Festival 2022: Day Three (by Colin and Emma)

(Emma’s parts are in italics.)

The third and final day of Manchester Punk Festival was here and promised to be just as busy as the previous couple of days. To start our day, we met up with our lovely pals Dan and Jess, the Vegan Punks for some delicious vegan fast food before heading to The Union for our first band of the day – the mighty Crazy Arm!

Crazy Arm hold a special place in my punk heart, since they were probably the first truly DIY punk band I ever saw live (around 12 years ago) and I have loved them ever since. Over the years their line-up has changed, as has their sound to a certain extent but the fact remains that they always put on a brilliant live show. We arrived in the room just as the band were kicking off their set and I quickly found my way to the front of the stage as the band churned out tracks from last year’s album, Dark Hands Thunderbolts, alongside classics such as Tribes, Still To Keep and Broken By The Wheel. Another top notch performance and the perfect start to the day.

Photo by Charlotte Corry

After Crazy Arm I rushed to Zombie Shack (via dropping some records off at the Air BNB) for Clayface. This was another of those times where I didn’t look at the schedule properly and thought I had a lot less time than I realised. Because of this I had to quickly say hi and bye to some friends because in my head I was running late. I felt bad about that. After dropping off the records, I bumped into some fine folk I know from New Cross Inn. They had said they didn’t really have a plan so I suggested they come and check out Clayface with me, which they did. Clayface were another late addition to the festival and brought their own style of gruff melodic punk to the stage. Clayface are a band I discovered on Bandcamp a few years ago and had yet to get the chance to see them live, much like every other band of the weekend they did not disappoint. Being a local band they seemed to have a good amount of pals in the crowd to support them and it created a wonderful atmosphere. This was one of those times I wish I’d have known more songs and I would’ve loved to have a proper sing-along but thoroughly enjoyed myself anyway. I spoke to the NXI folk afterwards and they said they had also enjoyed the set which pleased me. Then I had to dash off for my next set which was starting at The Union

After Crazy Arm, I met up with Robyn elsewhere in the crowd and we made a quick exit to head to Gorilla for the first band of the day there and one Robyn was especially excited to see – Signals Midwest. Signals Midwest are a four-piece from Ohio, USA, who play punk rock in a similar vein to Spanish Love Songs or The Menzingers. From the instant the band stepped foot on stage it was clear they were enthused to be there and it really showed throughout their energetic performance as they happily jumped around the stage. The set was mostly comprised of tracks from the album Dent, which had only been released a week or so prior so I was mostly unfamiliar, but it was all great. Emotionally charged pop punk music is definitely a big hit with me.

Photo by Emma Prew

The Infested were one of my biggest surprises of the day. I had heard of them previously but hadn’t ever bothered to check them out. What a big mistake that was. Before the festival the band announced they would be calling it a day this year so, after checking some songs before the festival, I decided I had to take this opportunity to see them as I might not get another chance. When I arrived back at The Union the band had already started their set. In that opening they had had some trouble with guitars and amps so the singer had decided to ditch his guitar and that they would just have to power through with one guitar. This didn’t stop them putting on a very energetic show with the band’s frontman taking the opportunity to dance around the stage and jump down to the barrier to join the crowd. Sadly they had to cut the set short as they ran out of songs they could play with one guitar but you have to commend The Infested for powering on and still delivering a fantastic set. After the set I had a chat with Ell from Baldhead And The Dreads where I asked why had I not been to see them before as they were so good.

Speaking of emotionally charged pop punk, up next at Gorilla it was time for the return of the sorely missed (by me personally but also, I’m sure, by many others) Shit Present. I’m not even going to tone it down, this was the set of the weekend that I was most looking forward to and as soon as I was singing and bopping along to familiar favourites such as Anxious Type and Melbourne it was like nothing else in the world mattered. Isn’t it great when music makes you feel like that? The band were obviously a bit nervous to be making their ‘come back’ after several years without playing live but the smiles on their faces showed just how stoked they were to be there. It wasn’t all old songs that Shit Present treated us to, they also shared that they’d just finished recording their debut album and played a couple of songs from it – oh my gosh, they sound absolutely amazing. I simply cannot wait for this album and for the next time I get to see this band live. PS. Iona, Robyn and I are both a bit in love with you. 
Photo by Emma Prew

Next I made my way to Zombie Shack for the final ever set for Don Blake. I arrived there quite early so I could sit and watch the beginning of the Crystal Palace vs Chelsea FA Cup Semi Final. As the beginning of the Don Blake set drew nearer, Zombie Shack began to fill very quickly. It soon got to capacity which was great for the band but a shame for any folk who wanted to see them one last time. We’ve been following the Bolton foursome since the beginning of CPRW but had only seen them one time before, at MPF 2016, so this was well overdue. Don Blake are one of the finest pop punk bands in the UK, always impressing me with their relentless hooks and some of the best vocal harmonies around. As this was their last ever set, they clearly tried to squeeze as many songs in as possible. It was nice to hear tracks from across their discography, this was a real best of and a great send off for the band. They’re a talented bunch and I’m keen to see what the guys do next.

Photo by Emma Prew

It’s been a good few years (maybe five?) since Colin and I first, and last, saw Northern Irish punk rockers Good Friend live. I know I enjoyed them that time but it was nothing compared to seeing them make their MPF – and Manchester – debut in Zombie Shack. This was DIY punk rock at its finest and the pure raw energy that the trio seemed to exude as they tore through their set was brilliant to watch. There was a bit of an endearing scrappiness to their performance and they kept us entertained between songs with jokes and banter. We were also treated to a guest appearance from everyone’s favourite UK-based acoustic punk troubadour, Sam Russo, who added guest vocals to one track. I expected to enjoy Good Friend but I didn’t expect to enjoy them quite as much as I did. One of the highlights of the weekend for sure and I hope to catch them live again soon.  

Photo by Emma Prew

Jaya The Cat were well into their set when we arrived after watching Good Friend. We only managed to catch three songs – Fake Carreras, Amsterdam and closer Here Come The Drums. Much like when we arrived late for The JB Conspiracy the day before, The Union was packed and the room was bouncing. During the part in Fake Carreras when they get everyone to sit down the whole room obliged, apart from the guy in front of us who had a patch claiming he didn’t like dogs, and then jumped back up in unison. I hope someone caught that moment on camera as that many people doing that must have made an awesome visual. I felt moved by this and made my way closer to the pit for final track Here Come The Drums. It was at this point I noticed the floor had gotten extremely sticky and was glad I hadn’t had to crouch down there for Fake Carreras. As I mentioned, I only got to see three songs for Jaya The Cat but what a fantastic three songs it was.

In quite a distinct shift in musical styles, next to take to the stage at The Union were London-based indie punks, Fresh. I’ve been lucky enough to see the band live more than a few times over the last couple of years and they always put on a fine show that is a lot of fun to be part of. This was Robyn’s first time seeing the band live after missing out the last few times they played (or were supposed to play) MPF and, so for that reason alone, this was going to be pretty special. The energy that this band generates on stage, especially that from Kathryn, is just wonderful to behold and it soon spreads into the crowd. Songs such as Girl Clout, Get Bent and Revenge were so cathartic to sing along to and I loved every second of Fresh’s set. Plus, it’s safe to say that Robyn thoroughly enjoyed finally getting to see Fresh live as well. What a band.

Photo by Emma Prew

After Fresh we made our way to Bread Shed for our choice of headliner, Roughneck Riot. As we arrived we discovered popular grime punks Riskee And The Ridicule still had some time left in their set. Like they have done every single time I’ve seen them, Riskee had the crowd in a wild frenzy, baying on every word that frontman Scott spat. Riskee are one of the hardest working DIY bands in the scene and it’s pleasing to see them get such rewards from all of their grafting. It was great to catch a bonus bit of their set.

Before the night’s headline band at The Bread Shed, Roughneck Riot, were ready to kick off their set, a familiar face appeared on stage to introduce the band. You may know Chris Lowry as being the face of the Warrington Ska Punk blog and podcast, but for this weekend he was serving as a sort of announcer before bands at the Bread Shed. I just must quote what he said before fellow Warrington punks Roughneck Riot, as his words were so poignant – "Today I realised the thing that makes MPF different from any other festival. At other festivals, the bands are these amazing distant heroes. At MPF, your friends are your heroes, and your heroes are your friends." And with that, the six-piece raucous folk punk troupe burst into a raw and passionate performance. It was my first time seeing the band since they went on hiatus before the pandemic as well as my first time hearing songs from their new album, Burn It To The Ground, played live. Of course, the set featured a selection of those newer tracks alongside older Roughneck classics. Everything was met with much enthusiasm from the crowd with people dancing, moshing, singing, crowdsurfing and just generally having a jolly old time. It was a tough choice between Sunday night’s headliners with Jeff Rosenstock and A Wilhelm Scream both playing at the same time but I don’t think that anyone in The Bread Shed at that moment regretted their decision for a second. Knowing how apprehensively excited Colin was to get in to see Plot 32 at Zombie Shack after the headline sets, we ducked out of Roughneck’s set a little early but had a lovely time while we were there nonetheless. 

Photo by Mark Farthing

The one set I was most anxious about getting in to for the whole weekend was Plot 32’s. The Leeds based ska punks were opening the after party at the tiny Zombie Shack and I expected it to quickly reach capacity. I, along with the New Cross Inn ska punk scene, all seemed to leave whatever headliners we were watching and arrived at the Zombie Shack about half an hour early just to make sure we got in. This proved to be a good idea as Zombie Shack quickly reached capacity. As the band squeezed onto the tiny stage there was a feeling of anticipation in the air and as soon as they opened their set (with Favourite Things, I think) the room began to move in an excited fashion. I quickly finished my pint of coke, partly as I was concerned about getting knocked and spilling it everywhere and partly because I wanted to join in with the party. Plot 32 were the perfect choice to open this party as there was so much joy and enthusiasm in the room. It had been a long weekend and we were feeling tired but having such a joyous dance with so many friends to a band that have become one of my favourites in the ska scene over the past couple of years was the best. Songs such as Issues, Remission, Save The World, their cover of the Vengaboys’ Boom Boom Boom and set closer Go Hard Or Go Home were all just perfect and made the choice to leave Roughneck Riot early even more worth it. Plot 32 are another band playing Level Up Festival in July and I can’t wait to see them again.

Photo by Mike Smith

As it had started raining for the first time ever at MPF, Emma and I arrived early at the Bread Shed for what was our planned final band, our friends from Denmark, Forever Unclean. As we arrived though, California act Corrupt Vision were just starting their set. As we arrived and I initially listened to the band, I was pretty sure this wouldn’t be for me. The thrashy grindcore nature of songs aren’t usually for me but then they started to add some ska up-stokes here and there and this was when they really won me over. I’m actually really easy to please – just play ska. Corrupt Vision turned out to be one of my biggest surprises and major highlights of the whole weekend. This is why it’s important to check out bands you’re not aware of at festivals and gigs in general, you will come across some absolutely cracking stuff.

And just like that it was time for the final band of our Manchester Punk Festival 2022 – Copenhagen’s Forever Unclean. You probably know, if you’ve read this blog before, that this Danish trio are one of our favourite bands and we are also lucky enough to call them our friends and so seeing them do their thing at the MPF 2022 after party was an absolutely pleasure. If you are unfamiliar with the band (where have you been?!) then let me tell you that they play short, fast-paced indie punk songs with a wonderfully cathartic and raw energy that can best be experienced in a live setting… and so, at the very front of the crowd, that is what we did. Spirits were high down the front and we all had a joyful time singing along to our favourite songs, new and old. This was the first time for many people, us included, to hear songs from the band’s debut album, Best, which was released earlier this year and they blended in perfectly alongside songs from EPs Float and Woof. Every last bit of energy remaining in the band – who I know had been enjoying the weekend as punters up until this point – and crowd was exuded here. The mass singalongs for Waves and Worthless were one of those truly special moments that make us realise just how much we love this scene and everyone in it. The perfect ending to the perfect weekend. 

Photo by Emma Prew

Manchester Punk Festival was the absolute best time. I can’t even fathom how much hard work and stress the organisers went through putting the event on and for everything to run as smoothly as it did is a real testament to the legends that put the festival on. Every set I saw was absolutely superb. Over the four days, I personally saw thirty eight different bands and if CPRW was the sort of site that dished out ratings based on a criteria that seems pretty random I’d be handing out a lot of tens. Something I always really appreciate about the work that MPF do is how they actually listen to their crowd and take on comments about things that haven’t been as good as they could be in previous years. For instance, when they first used the Union venue in 2019 it did feel a bit lifeless; however in 2022 The Union became one of my favourite venues of the whole festival. I don’t know what they did but there was always such a special atmosphere whenever I saw a band there, no matter what size the crowd was.

I feel like the whole overriding emotion that the majority of people had at the end of MPF 2022 was love. I loved being able to see so many great bands again. I loved seeing so many friends I haven’t been able to see for years. I loved being in the environment where the punk community could come together once again and celebrate this movement that has been built over the years. The wonderful Matt Speer of Ear Nutrition described the weekend as Nutritional. I couldn’t agree more. It’s been a tough few years for many reasons and to be back at MPF really felt like a bit of healing process had started. I can’t thank everyone from the organisers, volunteers, bar staff, sound people, (most of) the security, the friends and the strangers and the food places we visited enough for what was the most wonderful weekend.

Something I’ve just remembered and I’m going to add on here is about the amount of MPF first timers I spoke to who had the best time. It feels like once you go to the festival once you’re definitely going to make it an annual event if possible. This has got to be down to the incredible community spirit that surrounds the festival, along with the incredible amount of talent that gets booked to play. I’m already so excited for MPF 2023. Tickets are already so sale, get one now and don’t miss out.

This review was written by Colin Clark and Emma Prew.

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