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LIVE REVIEW: Neighbourhood Festival 2018

This year’s Neighbourhood gathering brought epic highs and communal revelry to Manchester’s city streets and venues. The third edition of the festival installs Neighbourhood as a burgeoning institution, the music day out raises the bar with each consecutive outing defining a savvy brand, strongly engineered and thoughtfully delivered.

Delving into the multifarious scenes of 2018’s festival we pick out a few of the highlights from our day.

Reviews by Paul Cook (PC) and Charlotte Holroyd (CH).

Yorkshire hailing band The Hubbards open up Refuge (and the festival) with a thirty minute spell of tantalizing indie pop, the room is busy from the start and remains throughout. The atmosphere is relaxed and conversational, leading the conversation is Reuben Driver (the band’s singer/guitarist) where he utilizes the short interludes between tracks to banter about the band’s van troubles and an upcoming return to Manchester. The songs are equally down to earth and ebullient, Your Love and Just Touch zest with confident guitar grind and lyrical transparency. The performance is full of enjoyable moments and the music is perfect for the occasion, although the band remain pretty static throughout (when Driver gets lost in the moment it feel likes magic) a drawback perhaps of the stage constraints rather than lack of showmanship. CH

It’s 12.25pm on a typical autumn Saturday and I’m in an underground venue watching a fairly forlorn glitter ball spin slowly round, hours before it might typically be called into action. As the early bird crowd at Night People begin to settle in it’s clear we need a blast of scuzzy rock and roll to blow away the Friday night cobwebs and declare this city centre festival well and truly open.

So Scuttlers deliver the opening salvo of what will prove to be an eye-opening, always entertaining, day at Neighbourhood trawling up and down Oxford Road in search of pop and rock thrills. Scuttlers don’t so much tread the line between rock, punk, and trash as stamp their foot on it, rub the line out and meld it all together. They’ve got a swagger and a presence and are only occasionally let down by a loss of momentum which is something that this early in their career isn’t too great a problem. They attract a decent crowd, too, no doubt helped by their hometown reputation. PC

From Night People it was a short hop to new venue Yes where Asylums blew the roof off with some angular, punchy rock. The basement was rammed by the time they arrived on stage which considering it was still very early in the day was some testament to their appeal. Singer and guitarist Luke Branch made two forays into the crowd for a bit of surfing and to say they went down the proverbial storm would be putting it mildly. PC

In the Deaf Institute the first act to play, is Lowes, a four-piece band with a flair for the expansive (so it’s not surprising the venue is heaving at the doors). It’s an engaging set, dynamic vocals transform through cadence and timbre while a watercolour of contemporary pop production and Scandi noir further enthrals. Masterfully composed by Evie Plumb’s rich technique and skill, her dazzling voice is centre stage, taking lofty flight when it needs to and remaining magnetic throughout. The sound is a mix of London Grammar, Aurora and Emeli Sandé, with certain hopes for the mainstream this is one act ready and set to soar to the top. CH

Once more the Deaf Institute certifies its standing for showcasing the best in new and invigorating music, with a debut performance from APRE (this being the first ever Manchester show for the band). The set is perfected yet wildly energetic, each member of the band has a keyboard or drum pad at their fingertips as well as their chosen instrument. Their passion is clearly conveyed, the music is as much expressed as it is delivered exuding a feeling of living in the moment. Their performance is a true illustration of what a live band can achieve, music of movement that swells with excitement and rejoices in the spontaneity of it all. A band to invest in. CH

So, by now feeling like a mole man, it was time to get above ground and BILK’s set upstairs at Revolution fit the bill nicely. Coming on like Mike Skinner deciding to leave the processed beats behind to front a particularly angry bunch of New Wavers, the Essex three-piece tore through a particularly spiky set. There have been plenty of bands looking to chronicle the boredom and hopelessness of small town living and when, like BILK, they get it right it on songs like CM2 it can be a powerful concoction. The good news for them is they also had fans dancing rather than just standing watching – a sure sign they have something going on. PC

By comparison, and heading back to the Night People basement, Wild Front overcame a few technical problems early on to hint at something much bigger and widescreen in their sound than could be contained by their venue. You could sense a genuine `bigness’ about this Southampton-based band who delivered a set that spoke of wider horizons and had a certain sophistication about it. There was a touch of the epic going on – which is a hard thing to pull off mid-afternoon – but their grasp of grandeur saw them carry it off. PC

Around the corner at Refuge were Another Sky who attracted a healthy following for their challenging and emotionally powerful set. Carried along by the soaring vocals of Catrin Vincent they were astonishingly complex and compelling with a rhythmical acuity underpinning the best of their songs. In Avalanche, they truly have a narrative for these #MeToo times and it was delivered with the all the conviction it inspires. PC

Across the road at Revolution there was another band with a message to impart, Declan Welsh and The Decadent West were a statement of intent from the word go. With a whole boatload of indie pop suss, an astonishing directness and a clearly defined message, they are a staggering proposition up close. Whether it’s tackling lad culture via spoken word or the rise of the far right through invoking the words of a Spanish Civil War republican heroine on No Pasaran, they have their targets firmly in their sights and don’t miss. PC

Local favourites Lottery Winners induct themselves back into the live arena with this performance at the Bread Shed, it’s another bustling room but the big difference here, the crowd provide swelling contributions to the show: sing alongs, moments of call and response and just a general sense of good spirit. The Salford group keeps the music flowing and the banter on tap, it’s an entertaining blend of tongue-in-cheek wit and gregarious self-aggrandizing. No doubt about it the band’s lack of pretension wins a cheeky grin or laugh from everyone in the room at some point, and the songs are equally charismatic. Elizabeth, Young Love and Little Things showcase the band’s range and musical chronology, soon to release their debut album this is a band to keep an eye on. CH

London’s Stereo Honey rouse a passionate response, they have a live show that is fascinating to watch, technically proficient and sincerely moving. The band is well received and you can tell they have a devout following with many audience members singing along, requesting songs and moving to their sway, tracks like The Bay and Icarus express deeply rhythmic movements of sound, with rolling guitar melody escalating the music’s innate sensations to heavenly domain. The impact of this music is hard to explain it’s more sensual than words can convey, Stereo Honey is more than a genre, a well written song or a thoughtful lyric, Stereo Honey is human connection, emotion, tenacity, resonance, vulnerability and strength. Whatever you take from it, it’s vital music and we’re lucky to know this band. CH

In Night People a ray of sunshine emanates despite the dreary basement backdrop, it is Kentish Town’s Kawala who reside on stage, filling the venue with calypso-infused indie pop and joyful positivity. The music is playful yet intimate, for the closely gathered crowd it guarantees an immediate connection and in turn forms a deep, lasting focus. The songwriting is easy going, the rhythmicality is charming and the voices swell with feeling and synchronicity, it all feels effortless. The highlight, a bare bones Mighty River—a song that uses intertwining vocal lines to harmonise and elevate the duo’s raw acapella talent. Humbled by the outpouring of support Jim Higson and Daniel McCarthy treat the set as a candid opportunity to bond with their partisan, they’re taken aback to find that there’s people in the room who have travelled from London just to see them play. Kawala return to Night People in November. CH

Boniface is a Canadian group led by Micah Visser, offering just a taste of their multi-layered music the band play in the upstairs room of Revolution, although this feels partially like the wrong setting for a band of this nature, a better location would’ve been Gorilla (even just for the presence of fluorescents and neons, it’s the kind of music that deserves some additional indulgences). Visser’s personal stories are both introspective and resounding, the music is both extrovert and bombast, pensive and emotive—a combination of youthful haste and profound reflection. The beauty of Boniface is that depth is a given, the way it’s presented is more flexible. It could be a wildly anthemic blaze of instrumentation, or a singular reservation of electric guitar, whatever the chosen method the result is always stunning. We eagerly await more UK shows. CH

On to the Bread Shed where Sea Girls played to a packed house and, more than that, received the kind of acclaim that suggested they are already heading for the big time. With every word being sung back to them, fans climbing on each other’s shoulders, and a mad clamour at the front of the stage, this was the sort of reception a band can expect when it has genuinely connected with its audience. More direct live than on their recorded output, they made every track seem like a single or set closer and with a line like, “If you’re in Manchester will you come to my show,” from All I Want To Hear You Say they were definitely playing to the converted. PC

There was just enough time to see Sea Girls’ set and then shoot around the corner to the nearby Deaf Institute for whenyoung. Their show was an indie-pop delight, full of shining melodies with Aoife Power’s voice cutting through to sublime effect. Half an hour genuinely wasn’t long enough by the time Given Up closed the set, and their happy marriage of winning tunes and startling hooks had us clamouring for more. PC

It was time to stop all this running around and I stayed put for Fuzzy Sun who used the show to cement a burgeoning reputation on the back of their latest EP release. They look and sound weirdly out of their time but somehow this works perfectly as they combine a modern indie sensibility with the hook-laden blue-eyed soul chops of the late Seventies and early Eighties. Sad’s late night woozy jam set the place alight and Want Love has to be one of the best songs of the summer – a fact underlined by its performance here. PC

While Spector is not a new prospect, the band’s well-timed set did introduce their music to some of the previously uninitiated (a couple of gentleman to my left initially unsure of who was on stage stuck around for the whole performance) perhaps gentle recognition of Spector’s sharply witty ensembles, or an appreciation for good tune making and showmanship. With over half a decade invested and two albums plus of music, Spector’s stagecraft is a thing of beauty each member operates in their own succinct way, taking care of what’s expected but paying forward the energy given to them and always going that one step further to make it memorable.

Charismatic frontman Fred Macpherson collaborates with the committed crowd turning mass sing alongs into hymns of self acceptance and fellowship. Never Fade Away speaks of isolation but raises the pitch to overwhelming resilience, All the Sad Young Men rejoices in self-possession and throws away uniformity, and Untitled in D vocalises the compromise of living in the social media age via sardonic humour and hard truth. The music is dressed as this fun, throwaway thing but underneath it all lies tales of sage familiarity and human spirit. CH

By the end of the night Trampolene were primed to send us into the night grinning from ear to ear and their frontman Jack Jones is a genuine star. Immediately sending the mood of the crowd soaring he exuded the kind of charisma that can neither be bought or learnt. Whether climbing the barrier at the front of the stage or roaring into the faces of fans pressing ever closer, he has presence to burn and the band has the songs to back it up with anthems like It’s Not Rock and Roll. PC

For more information on Neighbourhood Festival, head to their Website.

Featured photo (Declan Welsh & The Decadent West): Nicola Jaye
All live photos credited to: Nicola Jaye

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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