The dates, 15th and 16th October, earmark the weekend of A Carefully Planned Festival – a gathering for like-minded music lovers to indulge in fresh and inspiring live music that descends on Manchester’s beloved Northern Quarter. This year promised a few big names amongst an array of fresh-faced newcomers and well-loved local favourites.
Throughout the day each venue we enter, is heaving, packed-full of eager patrons craving a new experience, something to savour and brag about to their friends in the day’s following. One of the successes of the event is that for the most part, each stage is running to time (this is unheard of, in general terms) so if you want to grab a good spot, advance planning is essential, if clashes arise, and let’s face it they always do. The two-day event proved versatile and varied, so in adherence to that rule, we’ve split the weekend’s events accordingly.
Thought’s by Jay Plent (JP) and Charlotte Holroyd (CH).
Narcs were perfectly at home in the grimy surroundings of Soup Kitchen, and brought their usual ferocity to proceedings. They continue to be a band that reflect the political insanity of our times, and were, as ever, thoroughly entertaining for it. JP
The great thing about A Carefully Planned Festival is that it gives wings to new talent as much as it does more established local bands. Real Terms, a band in their infancy compared to some of the other acts playing, impressed hugely, despite being only on their second gig. Their disjointed, off-kilter sound felt like an avant-grade Bloc Party, and was a breath of fresh air for the audience. JP
Yorkshire rabble Bruja make a good first impression. The Barnsley grunge-pop threesome provide a stronghold for the early mob that surround them in the basement of the Soup Kitchen. Combing through their back catalogue, the set encompasses early works and also some fresher cuts, including the recently released vinyl-only Schoolway, and long-standing winner Drone. The latter sounding equally as enticing as it does recorded – intense, furious, darkly woven and dire.
The between song banter falls on vocalist and bass player Delyth Wadsworth, her quietly reserved nature strikes an unusual but endearing contrast to the rest of the band’s dynamics. Wadsworth introduces shiny sleazy powerhouse Best Friend, as the moment to ‘hug your best friend.’ Guitarist Giannis Kipreos is relentless in his movements, with speed he picks at the guitar strings, faultlessly causing all to gaze in his general direction. Whilst drummer Zach Duvall throws himself, for the most part, head first into his kit. You’d be sure he comes out of every set with whiplash the way he slings himself forward, sat taut and upright, he always finds a way to get deeper into the rhythm pounding out at a ferocious speed in his messy, concise rage.
Contrast is present in the song structures, at times resemblances to bands like The Cranberries wouldn’t be amiss but there’s also a relaxed dreaminess within their sound, taken from the likes of Slowdive. Watching Bruja, felt like we were all guests at their house party. CH
By far one of the most invigorating bands of the day was Lake Komo. Not only were they incredibly musically talented, but also fantastically diverse. From gentle, piano led ballads to thumping folk-rock anthems, Lake Komo brought an impressive arsenal of sounds and dynamics in a thoroughly brilliant show. JP
At The Castle Hotel, we find London multi-instrumentalist Tusks (aka Emily Underhill). It’s a short but well appreciated set from the singer/songwriter/producer, featuring songs from her last EP ‘False’. Tusks is a welcome change of pace from the heavier rock bands on offer at the festival, her electronic pop is minimalist and breathlessly pure. Bringing to mind artists like Jack Garrett, Beach House and Luxley, her performance revolves around her keyboard, drum pad and guitar with the benefit of added backing tracks, she is able to explore a fuller sounding canvas. The brimming room offers up plenty of moral support for the singer, as she delves into the evocative haze of For You. Disjointed by cuts of crackling samples, grounded minor keys and serene swells of voice, this is the standout in the set, capturing her mellow and intricate production with her sky-scraping grace and wistful songwriting. CH
Gullivers housed the wonderfully whimsical Laura J Martin and her band, it’s a fairly easy assumption to liken her quirky pastoral folk to a similarly eccentric Kate Bush and Bjork but she’s much more than simply a mere imitation. Each song in itself is a free-form frolic into her imaginative creativity, Landing Place although, tones down the mood and reveals a poised vulnerability to Martin, as she recalls it’s “about a place I used to call home.”
Side glances and smiles are passed between band members, and audience members alike. She’s endearing and animated, as she throws herself into a joyous rendition of the enigmatic sway of Do It. Martin’s set allowed all in attendance to exercise their full right to devour the pick’n’mix that was on offer at the festival. Lying on the outer regions of DIY spontaneity, her performance allowed many to take an adventure beyond the norm.
The slight breaks in obscure outbursts – such as clattering’s on keyboards, jesting swings of arms and outrageous tempo changes – are all part of the fun, and don’t actually detract or downgrade the seriousness of her performance and art. Her lighthearted, free-spirited nature is the draw here – she’s an entertainer and by far the most compelling and refreshing act on the bill. Her music isn’t about excess, it’s about making a lasting impression – and for Laura J Martin, I believe the success was hers for taking. CH
If ever you felt you needed to hear a song about Elton John in a three-way, then Simon Love & The Old Romantics had you covered. A fun, chatty live band, with some extremely cheeky songs that take the framework of sixties rock and roll and pump it with swear words and innuendo. They’re worth going to see, and fantastic fun. JP
As for The Tuts, the very fact they made it to the gig was a miracle in itself. Despite witnessing a hit and run literal minutes before their show, they played nonetheless, and absolutely killed it. Resplendent in matching uniforms, totally in sync with one another, and clearly having an absolute blast, they grabbed the audience from the off, and had their hearts in an unbreakable grip for the rest of the night. They were a fabulous, energetic and highly inspiring act to see. JP
The upstairs room at Gullivers was the hub for Scottish folk musician Alasdair Roberts and his humble but pleasing set of old folk tales, and storytelling on acoustic guitar. His performance was raw and untempered – his voice always remained resolute – natural and true to his Scottish heritage, Roberts’ accent peaked through at every opportunity. Opening with a song about the “fraught relationship between Scotland and England”, it was clear the maturity in tone was about to shift. His set, whilst different and thoughtful, wasn’t thrilling enough to hold everyone’s attention, and saw many festival goers ushering into the room to sample what was on offer and then petering out soon after, unfulfilled. But that’s the beauty of this festival, variety and differing tastes are proudly celebrated, so you’d be hard pushed to not discover a great new find at some point over the weekend. Roberts’ set felt like a peaceful sunset closing the busy day of music consumption. CH
We were very much looking forward to the return of Hannah Nicholson (of Bird to Beast fame) to the stage with her new solo project, simply titled Hana. Launching into her set, in the modestly attended downstairs room at Gullivers, she opens with a beautiful paean to youth called Carrie Anne. Her voice shines, whirling and soaring around the room. Continuing solo, she unveils Final Bow, a melancholy waltz through memory – serene, unwavering and lionhearted, the wistful ode paints pictures in the mind. The song liberates the performer, and listener from any and all vices, it’s a beautiful message about finding inner-strength and courage to break free from heartache and pain, Nicholson gracefully paints a vignette with the words: “I’ve loved one and many, a man, a boy , a penny, but you are my one last regret.” This unbinding of emotion is lifting, if not severely affecting, an unburdening of feeling like this feels very personal and will no doubt stick with you for long after the event, it’s moving to witness.
Later she is joined by two band members, George MacSween on synth/drums and Daniel Thomas on guitar, both provide light instrumental lift to her mostly minor chord piano playing. Her songwriting lies amongst the greats like Joni Mitchell and Vashti Bunyan, which is best shown with the weighty despair of Breath, a solemn resounding goodbye to love, it’s the gloomiest of all on offer from the artist but indeed it’s the strongest and most memorable moment. She ends on a another new offering from her soon-to-be-released EP, that’s currently in the vocal stages of production, named Oliver. A song about learning to move on, a slight glimmer of hope peaks through, just enough to lead us out on a high. CH
Kent’s Fish Tank made their second appearance in Manchester, this time gracing us with their presence at Night and Day, it’s safe to say the show was thoroughly lapped up and enjoyed by all. We always love a band with personality, and Fish Tank certainly have the charm and clever bouts of humour to tick that check box. Ultimately, it was their bolting energy and impossibly hard-to-forget arsenal of tunes that were the draw. A mix of math rock and power pop, they covered all the bases to compete in the finger olympics but when having to battle through broken guitars, untuned bass and a set list played backwards, you would think this all spells trouble, but surprisingly not – a testament to the band’s tenacity and survivalist nature.
The three-piece took the opportunity to unveil a bunch of new material, which is more ‘dancier’ than was previously advertised, one that stood out in particular was Herbibore. A song about vegetarianism, and self-professed remarks like “a thoroughbred, I only take my shirt off at night” make for an amusing first listen. Fish Tank gave a memorable performance, and now we await their return. CH
Back in the acoustic corner of Gullivers ground floor room, we find the wonderful songwriter Laura James. Admitting to the bustling crowd (which included festival organiser Matthew Boycott-Garnett in attendance) that her performance at CP brought along with it, some nerves. The night before she played, she had a nightmare about it but with the ease of playing in the room, James felt confident relief within herself.
Her song’s, told from a distinctly youthful perspective but shrouded in maturity, find significance and hold pertinently in the mind. The delicate pull of her captivating vocal is richly backed her gentle guitar playing and her band mates’ subtle infusion of cello and keys. Of course, her songwriting is the main attraction, her emotional and reverent storytelling is both relatable and deeply personal, only further warmed by her honeyed vocals, drawing comparisons to the subtle folk of Marika Hackman.
A softly intense rendition of Elliott Smith‘s Twilight was lovingly received, a song that sits easily alongside her own material. Ending her set with showstopper Rooftops, “a lament to Liverpool” and the residence that she called home, the lyrics “we were lost to the night” linger forever and find a place in our hearts, as if we are remembering our own long lost childhood love. CH
Liverpool based Her’s were the last point of call for the weekend’s festivities, and they certainly brought the festival to a whole new level. Indeed, what followed from the duo was a late-night love fest, celebrations commenced, and all in attendance found that the dance party was still in full swing beneath the Northern Quarter’s city streets. The quirks of the band make for entertaining stories – stopping between song’s to pull out a cut-out of Bond-era Pierce Brosnan to decorate the stage was a particular highlight – and proved that there’s never a dull moment to be experienced at a Her’s show.
Her’s special brand of 80’s dream pop is most tempting, and totally moreish. Finding reference points is a pointless task because live, these guys are on a whole different level and assuredly make each performance a gem in its own right. But if we were to pit them in the same ballpark as other bands, we’d head straight to the likes of Methyl Ethel add in a bit of Modern English and The Drums and we’d be happy, but none will come quite as close to the romantic, sombre baritone of singer Stephen Fitzpatrick. Previous singles and b-sides all make an appearance early on: Dorothy, What Once Was, Marcel.
Each sounding more sprightly than the last, jumping with jangle, loaded with hooks and mechanical flair, courtesy of drum machine. The DIY element of the band’s live performance seem to be a crucial part of the their allure, so it will be interesting to see how their live set’s progress in the future. Her’s set was the only one of the weekend that felt too short. CH