Robert Ford takes to the stage…….over and over again

The toilets smell of damp mops. The building is Tardis like. The beer is in plastic glasses……..

Sunday afternoon in Hull had proved entertaining, a psycho-geographical ramble around the old town with it’s beautiful pubs, and abandoned venues where Pink Floyd etc etc played. A maze of a journey takes us from one pub to another. The early days of October are blessed with no rain and warm sunlight, things feel good. But still there are reminders of the grim impact of Tory rule, even in the European city of culture there are rough sleepers. Not as many as Manchester but numbers aren’t the issue, the fact there are people on the streets damns, once again,  the current administration.

The rock and roll moment is when we leave the Travelodge and are making our way to Hull old town when we spot Clare and Georgio behind Debenhams taking in the afternoon air. A brief conversation and see you later…….

Roll back two days. Dave, Clare and Georgio have been in Europe, with Patrizia occasional playing bass. I wonder how Levenshulme will feel to them after Spain/France. My journey from Eccles is aided by the new Ron S. Peno album which Cam Butler had sent earlier in the week, it’s not Died Pretty, but it’s pretty damn good. Add to that the new one from Go Go Sapien which makes me happy and brings a broad grin to my face with its quirky pop moves.  Somehow Aussie music feels much more legitimate than what we get fed by the so-called mainstream in the old country.

Fred’s Ale House is an excellent venue for this type of thing. A few days earlier SD and I had seen three excellent sets from Vocal Harum, CP Lee, and Barry “The Fish” Melton”.   I arrive early and wait for the bands to a load-in.  SD is at a wedding in Stoke so Victoria is helping out on the door. Dave, Clare, Malcolm and Georgio arrive and we catch up with a chat about cricket, Aussie music, and the aforementioned Mr Melton.  As the drum kit is assembled Dave strums a few chords on his acoustic,  I guess it’s “Mind Full Of Leather” from “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”, but it turns out it’s one of Malcolm’s songs. They have had two days rehearsals in Edinburgh and the soundcheck sounds tight. Time for a pizza before the proceedings commence.

An almost sold out crowd is treated to the raw enthusiasm of Uke Punk, the rebirth of Poppycock with a new line-up, and Graney & Moore’s pop-up band featuring Malcolm Ross on guitar and lap steel and Georgio Valentino on bass.  Bob is up from Northampton, Brad is down from the foothills of Ben Nevis, and for once I am running a gig which is nearly sold out. As it is with these things a combination of running the door and people wanting to “chat” to me means I don’t really get to see the bands properly but it sounds good to me when I do get a chance to listen.

Dave and Clare treat us to mixture of old and new with a good selection of songs from “Let’s Get Tight” and a respectable and well chosen series of classics from the back catalogue. Stand outs are a remarkable coupling of “Twilight of the Villain” and “Heroic Blues” which is Dave at his best, unwrapping his career before our eyes. The absolute highlight is a remarkable version of “Robert Ford” which is blessed by Clare’s sublime drumming and deft lap steel from Malcolm.  Even the usually hard to please Mr Moss is impressed.  An impromptu tongue in cheek couple of verses of “Show-business” is an added bonus in a busy set. We get another bonus of two of Malcolm’s songs – “Happy Boy” from the album of the same name, and “My Avenger” which I know from the “Wrong Place, Wrong Time” compilation. Both are excellent. Things conclude with a great version of  “Rock and Roll is where I hide” and punters amble out of the room with big smiles. The other Bob treats me to pint after the gig.

Saturday is mostly spent in the Marble Arch catching up with Bob and Sheila. Arrangements are made for the trip over to Hull and some fine ales are quaffed. Sunday sees a lunch time rendezvous in the Port Street Ale House which has some excellent beer on draft and is a loosener for the two hour journey. On a crowded train we decamp to first class and pay the extra as standing all the way to Hull is not recommended. A good bulk of the journey is taken up with a conversation about Alan Moore’s “Jerusalem” which Bob forensically dissects and of which I make a mental note to purchase once I return home.

The Travelodge on Pryme Street in Hull is modern and well appointed and excellent value for money. I contact Dave Hammond and we agree to meet in The George but as luck would have it we run into him and a couple of friends en route. The aforementioned tour of the city is both entertaining and informative.

Eventually we arrive at O’Rileys, the beer is basic so we opt for Guinness.  As mentioned at the start what appears to a detached house on the Beverley Road, from the outside, turns out to be much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The venue has a more “rock and roll” feel to it that Freds, not as big a crowd as Friday  but a very enthusiastic one. Great sound and impressive stage lighting is countered by a distressed floor and a peculiar odour in the toilets. The back of the venue is a gym with a boxing ring and a series of punch bags.

Loudhailer Electric Company kick off proceedings with their enthusiastic brand of rock into folk with Lou-Duffy Howard commanding the stage with her boundless energy and every-present smile.  They play some new songs and take an interesting sideways step into Talking Heads ’77 territory with a funky number. Stand-outs are a strident “Gypsey Race” and an epic closer with “Night Heron” with some excellent violin/guitar interplay.  Lou gives me a copy of the “Cursus” album.

 

I’m still getting to grips with the Canon Ixus I acquired for gigs like this but I manage to capture a few reasonable shots and a healthy handful of videos which I will eventually load up to You Tube. It’s no SLR but it’s better than lugging a bigger camera around when out and about.

I settle stage right, and aim to absorb uninterrupted what I missed on Friday. It’s exceptional.  The two Dr Alimantado references in the Graney/Moore canon make their way into the set. Twilight of a Villain and Heroic Blues are stunning, as they were on Friday.  Wolverine is a signature tune and I never tire of hearing it.  Malcolm plays “As Good As It Gets from the “Low Miffs” album which fits perfectly in with the Graney vibe and also has that unmistakable Edinburgh/Edwyn feel in its’ DNA.  The Godfrey Brothers are feted as Dave introduces a remarkable “A Boy Called Epic”. The set runs for nearly 90 minutes (Grateful Dead length Dave jokes at one point). The crowd loves it. Star Trek is mentioned by Lou in the LEC set (Voyager) and Dave in their set (TOS).  All of this is so effortless, so enjoyable, people in the crowd say “why haven’t we heard of this music before?”.

Monday is a taken up with a tour of some of the tourist bits of Hull, a strange vegetarian breakfast in the station cafe (olives and cucumbers mixed with beans, hash browns and and mushrooms oddly) and then a more comfortable ride back to Manchester. Bob will see it all again in London on Wednesday and Thursday, I am too busy with record label business unfortunately.

Over the two days the music played

Clinging To The Coast
Everything Was Legendary With Robert
A Boy Named Epic
Twilight Of a Villain
Heroic Blues
Happy Boy (Malcolm Ross)
You Need A Kleek Klook
All Our Friends Were Stars
Robert Ford On The Stage
My Avenger (Malcolm Ross)
We Need A Champion
Night Of The Wolverine
How Long Does The Raunch?
I Been Trendy
How Do You Get Out Of London
As Good As It Gets (Malcolm Ross)
Rock `n` Roll Is Where I Hide

As with 2016 Dave and Clare have in all likely-hood nabbed gig of the year…… hopefully they will be back again.

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Low Motion Branding and the second revolution

After around a three years hiatus Monster Island are back with a line-up change and two new EPs which follow on swiftly-ish from February’s one off “S.P.G.” single.

The EPs are entitled The New Vernacular & King of the Minglers and are released on August 28th on “made up” label Ballast Records. They are digital only releases.

“in a panorama of partisan land
the king of the minglers idly stands
and pleasures himself by the endless fences…”

The band describe themselves as a “low motion branding disaster” in the “blurb drafted ” for these releases. For those of you who are not aware of them they have been around since 2007 (roughly), which they describe as “an insensible length of time”. Constant member Stephen Waddicor (guitar, vocals) is joined by Wesley Emmison drummer, who came back into the fold earlier this year  (an original member who left for a while) and the surname less Ryan and Brendan (who appear to be from Dundalk) make up the rest of the line-up.

Although none of the above is completely clear and whilst Stephen has said I can send him some questions quite frankly me doing a “Smash Hits” or “Mojo” on the band doesn’t seem quite the done thing, and, I would  much rather they retained at least some of their obtuse anonymity. Suffice to say they are based within the M60 ring  and deliver unique and compelling music which I have whittered on about endlessly on previous occasions – see below for a comprehensive discography which is all available on Bandcamp. In any event most of what has happened recently is written down here  for you to absorb at your own leisure and excuses me from making up some flowery prose to enlighten you.

King of the Minglers

The blurb says:

“king of the minglers stares inwards and sings of physical, mental and spiritual disintegration. It speaks with absolute certainty of anxiety, celebrity, sophistry, lethargy and dentistry.

the new vernacular squints straight ahead through prescription shades and asserts that there’ll never be a more effective rendering of the western alphabet than “badges for the boring”

Just to wander off topic for a moment  I was at the “launch” of the Cherry Red Compilation of Manchester Music (7 CD Box Set) at Piccadilly Records yesterday and it struck me whilst listening to the some of the speakers and chatting to some of the musicians and record company folk that had gathered for the event that it remains my role to continue to reveal/expose/describe bands like Monster Island to you.  It’s also very apparent to me through my other “job” of co-running German Shepherd Records that it is a continuous struggle to get “outsider” music some sort of air-time in a world where there are more bands than ever, and perhaps more depressingly there are more tribute bands than ever. Great music can get lost in the Tower of Babel of Social Media and digital promotion.  Chatting this through with Matt Davies (Factory Acts) and Emily Oldfield (Louder Than War) in Night & Day after the launch thing Matt suggested a plan for a second musical revolution but I had had my second pint of 5% lager by then and my attention was wandering somewhat but I think I know what he means, and anyhow, Emily is writing an article about the new musical movements that are emerging and no doubt she will be far more erudite than I am in describing what is happening. However, I digress, Matt asked me if there were any new bands that he should be aware of and I did mention the new Charlie Marshall album but it strikes me in hindsight  that I should have brought Monster Island to his attention. And in that respect I must point out Monster Island to my other DJ colleagues out there (I am calling on Messrs Cain and Hammond in particular) so that there is at least some exposure to the music in these new releases in other places than the peoples republic of Eccles.

Back on topic – there are 13 songs lasting just over 40 minutes over the two releases. The band deliver that particular “northern” sound (a matter of some discussion at the Piccadilly Records thing – the consensus was that it was a Greater Manchester Sound I think) which defies genre specificity, and in doing so becomes progressively more interesting. At the heart is Waddicor’s vocal delivery which retains its uniqueness, it is quintessentially Lancastrian, and that adds to the attraction. Regional accents are always far more interesting in music and much more preferable than the constant stream of sub Blink 182 translantic whining that pops through my virtual letter box on a daily basis (and perversely is described as ground-breaking – why “Jason from Hemel Hempstead” would want to sound like Matt Skiba or Mark Hoppus is a constant mystery to me).

the new vernacular

This is interesting music, there will be riffs and structures that you are aware of  and recognise from particular movements, but the band take those elements to create an overall sound which is unique and that I find compelling.  There are contrapuntal lines of music which have a recognisable root in the back of Don Van Vliets head, and there are drum patterns that Klaus Dinger would have delivered 40 odd years ago. There is an insistence and urgency about the music, it is brash and abstract at times, and the words are rich and evocative – the band achieve a creative career high with “Badges for the Boring” from The New Vernacular which gets its genesis in Blakewater Delta Blues. David Thomas and Peter Laughner would no doubt feel that the exceptional “Dig for Victory” was derived in Cleveland with its bubbling and hypnotic beat. At times though the band sound completely unique with tracks like “La Danza” which defy comparison – incomparable riffing and changes. Matters also move in a David Byrne direction with the almost funky “Island Psychosis” that’s until the band completely flip the structure and do their own thing.

Anyhow I’ve whittered on enough, have a listen to the title track of the New Vernacular below, which is rather marvellous,  and tune into my Aural Delights show on August 5th to hear four tracks from a unique and rather special band.

LINKS

Facebook

Blog (contains many of the lyrics)

Bandcamp

DISCOGRAPHY

  1. Swollen Words (2007 but released in 2017)
  2. Sunken Public Squares (2008)
  3. The Anchor (2009)
  4. Soap Factory/Surface Car Park (2009)
  5. #1 Albino Practice (2010)
  6. The Green Room (2010)
  7. Pilot Whales/Secret Shopper  (2011)
  8. Cathedral Steps (2011)
  9. The Retaining Wall (2012)
  10. Amazing Radio Session (2014)
  11. House of Lancaster (2014)
  12. S.P.G. (2017)
  13. The King of the Minglers (2017)
  14. The New Vernacular (2017)

Cowboys, Brollies and Krautpunk

There has been a lot of commentary about Manchester Music resting on its laurels recently. Supposedly bathing in some sort of fuzzy nostalgia as ongoing  bands from the late 70s and early 8os continue to plough a well known furrow, or their contemporaries reappear looking somewhat weathered due to inevitable catabasis but deliver more or less what they were doing 40 years ago. Or perhaps it is that new and emerging bands don’t quite cut it or tend to sound like what has gone before.  Maybe it’s a symptom of the predilection for tribute bands and promoters who know they can turn a fast buck with the latest iteration of musicians who have turned to copying rather than creating. However do not despair dear reader as beneath the veneer of that supposed nostalgia fest or perceived lack of forward momentum is a vibrant scene which demands but rarely gets a larger audience.  Two parts Salford and one part Manchester  (The) Sandells offer hope in a city that perhaps needs a kick up its musical fundament. Their album is called “Forwards!” and never was an album more aptly named.

Turn the clock back some seven years and venture into studio 2 at Salford City Radio on a Saturday afternoon and you will see a station manager pulling his hair out because I have crammed a live band into a very small room to record a radio session. The Sandells viz Johann Kloos (guitar) Tim Lyons (bass, vocals) and Brian Benson (heavily muffled drums) deliver a set of songs – with Dave Thom on guest keyboards. I was on a steep learning curve at the time and I thought I could record a four piece band with three microphones – foolish I know.  I just about managed to capture something and spent three or four days trying to craft something for broadcast that the band were happy with it. That band were and are (The) Sandells and at long last they have released an album which properly captures what I was attempting to record.

The music business is a fickle thing – Sandells recorded the album  a while back but matters conspired to delay the release until now. In that time Lyons has pursued the return of The Things with some success, Kloos has continued his remarkable solo career with a veritable deluge of albums and Benson has pursued his artistic endeavours. It was inevitable though at some point that the three of them would get back together to deliver this album, the quality of the music was obvious back in 2010 and has not lost any of its attraction in that extended period of delay. It needed to be heard.

The musical pedigree of the three protagonists is such that something new was going to emerge once they combined and began exploring what they could achieve. The result is described by the band as “Kraut-Punk” which to some degree reflects the content but also tends to underplay what is a remarkable distillation of various genres. Bensons’ polyrhythmic approach is at the heart of the successful delivery of remarkable music. Anchoring the pulse is Lyons enormous bass sound which serves as the punk end of the mix. His vocal dexterity is known of course from The Things and latterly the wonderful Harvey’s Rabbit and with The Sandells he reaches a new level of quality, especially lyrically,  taking a unique set of ideas into the rock idiom. Kloos is of course a master guitarist and great tune-smith and freed of the responsibilities of being the sole front man his delivery and execution are parless.

Two of the tunes from that aforementioned session make it onto the album – the hypnotic “No Way Out”,  and the exceptional “Cowboys Don’t Have Brollies” a title derived from an off hand remark from producer Joe Meek. Missing is the rather marvellous “Girl from Iphigenia” and perhaps the final track of the session “Glissando” finds itself somewhere in between closing tracks “Reach” and “NAC”.

At at time when so called “psychedelic” music is nothing more than watered down AOR copies of things that came out of Haight-Ashbury in the mid 60s how good it is to hear a band that deliver the essence of what that music should be about. Driven, intense and complex it sets an agenda for those who would wish to properly evoke the spirit of  what that music should be but adds that mid 70s punk drive which sets it apart and brings the unique element that hopeful audiophiles wait in anticipation for. I hesitate to bring Space-Rock into the conversation but there are elements of that beast of a genre in here as well but with a relative degree of restraint which means it does not descend into the pomposity that corner of the music world is want to engage in. Both more than all of that all of those elements and more have combined to create a fresh and exciting sound.

An album I have waited a long time for – well worth the wait and more than highly recommended.

The Sandells will be performing ‘Forwards!’ live at Gullivers, Oldham Street, Manchester on Saturday 29th July 2017 with support from Factory Acts and Shaking Chains. Doors open 7.30pm. Entry £5. I shall be there.

DIGITAL CAMERA

Content of an Explicit Kind

Let me say from the outset that The Strays are going to have DJs rushing for the bleep button so if you don’t like blunt anglo-saxon language then you would need to avoid their debut short form  release “Explicit Content” which manages to utilise the f, c and w words in the opening two tracks.

In the best traditions of northern lo-fi electro-punk bands like “A Witness” and “Bogshed” the duo deliver short, sharp, and unambiguous tirades against any number of deserving targets.  This is drum machine driven electro punk delivered in a stripped backed punchy fashion with vocals that betray their northern location, also, The Strays manage (I believe) to be only the second known unit in musical history to use the word “mither” in the title of a tune (the first being The Fall of course).

The stand out track is the rather marvellous “Wind Your Neck In” which manages to use the -ing version of the f-word more times than Sicknurse managed to use in their classic tune “……my Best Friends Wife”.  For the more nervous Ofcom spooked DJs out there you can showcase “TV Dinner”  which has a rightly has a go at the paucity of  talent on current broadcast channels as it only has one “f-ing” in it.

Refreshingly honest and reminding me somewhat of The Ramones in attitude if not style, the band throw a curve ball with the 70s disco vibe of  the closer “Death In The Viper Room” which is the safest for radio but not wholly representative of the rest of the 18 minute 7 song collection.

This release cheered me up immensely in a week of submissions from sub-Blink 182 guitar dominated outfits (the modern equivalent of Four Skinny Indie Kids) peddling vacuous riffs under anodyne vocals. The Strays are well worth less than 20 minutes of your time and the price of a pint to give them some support and to encourage them to continue their attack on the sort of targets that need calling out.

Highly recommended

Thanks to Neil Malcontent ex of The Ascension for bringing this excellent combo to my attention.

Strays

Top Ten Albums of 2017, so far

Seems like everyone else is doing half year lists so I may as well have a go…..it helps to remind me when I’m totting these things up at the end of the year as well….there’s no one in the list from our record label as it’s taken as read that they are top notch anyway and it would be a tad self indulgent to include them so I’ll deal with them at the end of the year…anyhow as for the rest here they are  in no particular order

IGUANA LOVERS – SURFING CAOS

Strictly speaking this came out in 2016 but it’s only made its way over here recently from Buenos Aires. A sublime mixture of rock in a shoegaze kitchen. Scuzzy guitars, howling and gurgling synths and bubbling drums however add a space rock vibe. It’s relentless and fun filled and I would imagine quite exciting live.

THE BLACKEYED SUSANS – CLOSE YOUR EYES AND SEE

Delicious and lush music which hovers between country, blues, and rock. Snarski’s velvet voice is delightful,  the words observational and compelling. A band at their peak, delivering quality material.

TOTAL VICTORY – ENGLISH MARTYRS

A much anticipated  third album . They have a unique sound and they remain steadfast in their delivery of their music.  We were kept happy with an EP compilation last year but its been a long while since National Service. They are big in France but no so much in their own back yard which is bleedin’ typical of the scene in general around hereabouts. Dan Brookes vocals and words are as usual unique and outstanding and the band create mesmerising post-punk vistas.

DAVE GRANEY AND CLARE MOORE – LET’S GET TIGHT

This emerged as a series of singles over twelve months so it’s a bit hard to regard it as an album from 2017, but it is. A playful collection, a mixed bag of styles, with DG and CM exploring new angles and options. Dave’s observations on the music world and the wider world at large are always apposite and often give pause for thought.  They can do no wrong.

THE SEXUAL OBJECTS – MARSHMALLOW

Seems odd that a band this talented only manages an album release once every seven years. Anything with Davey Henderson’s name associated with if is guaranteed to be good and this is no exception.  A rich sound which matches Henderson’s unique vocal delivery with superior guitar music.

KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD – FLYING MICROTONAL BANANA

Extremely difficult to keep up with these chaps who appear to be as prolific as Acid Mothers Temple with three albums so far this year, this being the first, and two more planned. The motorik repetition of Rattlesnake sets the tone and demonstrates a band that seem to be totally attuned and in sync. The important thing is that they continue to develop and explore.

SANDELLS – FORWARDS

Long delayed debut from the recently reformed trio. Self described as Kraut-Punk the sound is refreshingly unique driven by Brian Benson polyrhymic drums. Some of Tim Lyons best work lyrically and with the signature sound of Dr Johann Kloos’s hypnotic guitar this beats the so called psychedelic bands out there back into their Haight-Ashbury contrived miasma. Forwards is the correct title, it explores new territories and does not dwell in the past.

LUSTERLIT – LIST OF EQUIPMENT

OK i’m pushing my luck here as it’s really an EP but it’s so damn good I’m including it. Susan and Charlie exceed at writing and delivering exceptional tunes with a literary angle. It blew me away when Charlie sent it my way and it still provides intense listening pleasure never losing its power to please.

DANNY SHORT – FORM YOUR OPINION

He seems to be constantly busy with the Transmitters these days so It’s a wonder he has managed to find the time to record and release this album. A mix of powerful pop punkery interspersed with more languid pastoral pieces. Another Boltonian who deserves wider exposure of his considerable talent. Some fantastic tunes in this collection.

THE STEVENSON RANCH DAVIDIANS – AMERIKANA

Impressive stuff. In which I learned the difference between Psych and Psyche. Vignettes of American life merging an abstracted country sound nestling in a mesh of guitars and vocal washes – the best music defies genre conventions and this does that very well.

 

 

 

A Wing Dissolved In Light

I readily accept, and am cognizant, that “free” jazz, and improvised music in general, is not to everyone’s taste. “When does the tune start” is the clarion call from those of my colleagues and friends who are not pre-disposed to this particular form of aural delight. However. it has been a major part of my listening for many years and I often feel the need to proselytize in a, possibly, vain attempt to convert, at least, some hardy souls to the “dark side”. Put it this way there are scant few of my chums that “get” this music, and to some of them it is not even music.

Anyhow……

Anenome is the collective name for Peter Evans piccolo trumpet ; John Butcher tenor, soprano saxophones ; Frederic Blondy piano ; Clayton Thomas double bass, and Paul Lovens selected and unselected (sic) drums, and cymbal. They all got together at Tampere Jazz Happening, in Finland, on November 2nd, 2013 to create the music on the March release on NoBusiness Records called “A Wing Dissolved In Light”. The album comprises one long piece, Une Aile Dissoute Dans La Lumiere (the french translation of the title), which is split into two 25 minutes sections to cope with the limited edition vinyl format.

Writing about improvised music is often a challenge, the key problem being that it is difficult to capture the myriad occurrences five musicians, on top of their game, can create in a fifty minute session. Suffice to say it moves from manic, often guttural utterances from Evans and Butcher, via abstract but sometimes melodic melancholic piano interventions from Blondy and alien and ambient sounds from Thomas, and is all underpinned by restless percussive deconstruction from Lovens, who is the go-to percussionist for these sorts of experiences.

It has always fascinated me how musicians can achieve the mindset to be able create pieces like this. Technique is clearly an important issue but there must be a capacity to let go of all the training and descend into the maelstrom that emerges from the speakers.  It is always a positive thing for me when you can’t discern which instrument is creating which sound in this sort of environment. It is mostly impressionistic of course, there is no tangible hook or melody to latch onto and it moves organically through various phases over the 50 minute time frame. No doubt most of my friends will turn off after a few minutes but for me it grabs the attention for the full duration.

This is impossible to dissect for radio programming unless one had a long form show of around five hours to allow the breathing space to include the whole of  music like this Editing it down into a reasonable size for a shorter broadcast seems somewhat sacrilegious, so you don’t get to hear it on World of Jazz, you will just have to take my word for it, or indeed purchase it yourself , but there are only 500 copies so you’ll need to be quick.

A Wing Dissolved In Light

Sic Transit Gloria Hamsters

Sunday

Not a day for normally venturing out into the world of rock and roll but it’s Ian Keith Moss’s 60th birthday party and he has put a musical spectacular on in Ashton under Lyne  by way of celebration so we can’t really miss this one can we?

I meet SD in the Eccles Cross for a “loosener” and then we hop on the tram. Fortunately the Metrolink system takes us more or less door to door. It’s a 55 minute journey so it gives me and Mr Doyle time to catch up on things and do some forward planning for future gigs.  There’s also a chance to look out at the surrounding areas. I recommend people take the Ashton line as it’s a good psycho- political-geographical journey which emphasises the embourgeiosement of  Manchester city centre and juxtaposes it with the clear lack of investment in the doughnut around the heart of the metropolis. Once you have sailed past the chrome and glass of the core and the  glittering spires of the “emptyhad” complex you begin to see the stark reality of life in the suburban towns. It’s like stepping back 40 years to boarded up shops, tired streets and grim vistas. The only glimpse that we are in 2017 is the shiny metrolink stops/transport interchanges and the occasional Aldi (substitute cheap supermarket chain of your choice).

The tram stop is about 10 minutes away from the venue and we scout out potential eating areas on the way. The venue is The Witchwood, a concert room next to a pub, that has seen many a band over the years but at the moment, looking at the posters inside, seems to cater for any number of tribute bands, a microcosm for the state of the music scene perhaps?

There is an air of mild panic in the air when we arrive. Bands have not turned up for soundchecks and it eventually turns out that tAngerine cAt have broken down in Wales so will not be able to make the gig. I settle on small bottles of Budweiser for the afternoon as it’s going to be a long gig with many bands.

Matters commence with a rare appearance of 50% of the Prick Jaggers with Patriq accompanied on this occasion by the birthday boy in an exemplary performance of the legendary “Lou Reeds Supper Club”.

PJs
The nearly Prick Jaggers -Picture by Victoria Egan

Quick phone calls have facilitated a substitute for the absent tAngerine cAt and Dylan Cosmic Blue arrives to provide a four song set of some covers and a couple of his own tunes. He gives an assured performance and warrants further investigation at some future point.

The end of the Hamsters as a live entity is built around four songs – the band is represented by Mr Moss, Mr Williams, and Mr Rowlinson with the redoutable Mr Peak filling in on drums.  They have had one rehearsal but they still manage to perform a brand new song (well a reworking of John Joanne) and conclude with the appropriate “Stupid Songs”. I feel a slight tinge of sadness that it is all over and head to the bar for some more Dr Budweisers patent laughing medicine. And so passes the glory that was the Hamsters! We will never see their like again.

Hamsters last ever
Mr Doyle photobombs the Hamsters – Photo by Victoria Egan

The ex-Fall band members spotting game is commenced and we reach a reasonable score of three with Ms Baines, Ms Adamson and Mr Archer in the house. Perhaps more notable is that three of the four horsemen of the radio apocalypse are in the building with the fourth member due shortly.  Poppycock cannot play for reasons far to complicated to go into so their slot is taken by poetry readings from Una Baines and Louise Woodcont. Next up we have the rather marvellous Factory Acts who coincidentally played a similar gig at the Bank Top Tavern on Ian’s Birthday a few years back. They have come on in leaps and bounds since then of course. Of particular importance is Susan’s growing stage confidence with her hand gestures and delivery adding something new and exciting to the mix. The stunning “AWG” is delivered with some venom and the closing “Leave The World To Us” has chart hit written all over it, if only the music industry had any common sense. One of the best, if not the best, Salford based band at the moment.

Factory Acts
Factory Acts – Photo by Victoria Egan

Back out to the beer garden for more “Bud” and a growing sense that I need to have something to eat before the blood alcohol levels get too excessive. So it’s an executive decision to miss part of the Four Candles set while I grab a rather delicious mushroom pizza from a local takeaway. I catch the opening “Horse”, I miss “Lenny Bruce”  and more, while I’m getting the pizza, but i’m back for the exceptional “I Hate Basket Weaving”.  I’ve seen them before, and I will definitely see them again, so it’s not a great wrench having missed a portion of the show. They are Ian’s best band to date and they get better and better. One punter opines “I don’t normally like prog rock but I like this….” which makes me chuckle , they certainly transcend genres and deliver something that the scene in Greater Mancunia needs which is something new and different.

4cs
Four Candles – Photo by Victoria Egan

More beer – fortunately now being absorbed by the pizza, and I settle myself at the back of the room near the sound desk as my tired old legs are feeling their age. I haven’t seen Ill for some time and certainly not since they have brought Tamsin Middleton into their ranks. The perfect band to end the day, a few keyboard problems slightly disturb the flow, but a stellar performance was delivered with stunning rhythms from Whitney and Fiona being the stand out part of the Ill experience. Tamsin’s guitar adds a new edge to the sound as the power through an excellent set with singles “Space Dick” and “Kremlin” whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Another band that delivers a unique sound, Manchester should be rightly proud of what it has to offer at the moment in terms of musical diversity.

Tamsin and Whitney
Tamsin and Whitney of Ill – Photo by Matt Davies

And so it’s all over by 8pm. A wonderful days music and a more than perfect way to celebrate the milestone birthday of one of the key, but unsung, figures in the musical firmament of this metropolis.

Thanks to the fourth horseman for the lift home.