The Castle Hotel in Manchester’s Northern Quarter is such a pleasant place to watch live music. The venue, at the rear of one of the best watering holes in the city, is a warm and friendly place that champions new artists and tonight’s lineup fully demonstrates this vital philosophy.
Support comes from two singer-songwriters whose compelling performances are enhanced by the intimate surroundings. First up is Seamus McLoughlin. His songs are expressive and poignant and this experienced singer demonstrates rich vocals that augment the evocative imagery they poetically describe. Robbie Cavanagh follows and is equally magnetic. The Manchester lad delivers several stark songs full of honest proclamations but it is the acoustic guitar work that accompanies these songs that ensure that the acoustic set never feels derivative which can sometimes be the case with solo singer-songwriters.
Usually performing as a seven-piece, Flight Brigade are missing violinist Dorry Macaulay tonight. The Castle Hotel’s stage is a particularly modest one and although the reason for the absence is never confirmed, it may have been down to the fact that there was simply no room left on the cramped stage. The tones and textures added by Macaulay on record are obviously significant, but the band still deliver a gripping, beguiling set that focuses on new tracks from debut album Our Friends Our Enemies which was released on Friday.
The band open with 39 Steps and it quickly establishes the dynamic of the band. Soaring choruses are complimented by deliciously subtle harmonies, adding vital textures to the blueprint that becomes more and more difficult to classify as the evening progresses. Operatic vocals accompany Tearaway and this symphonic style prompts comparisons with Muse amongst others, but U Kill Me follows and the band shift back to a more recognizable indie framework, albeit one with a more complex anatomy.
The chameleon-like nature of the evening continues with When We Were Young, which has a sunnier disposition compared to previous tracks. No longer demonstrating Muse like tendencies, the band have effortlessly morphed into an all American college rock outfit and these sophisticated shifts in the complexion of their songs are an absolute pleasure to observe.
The highlight of the evening is the snappy Hurricane Season, which hurtles along at some pace, demonstrating the vital chemistry that exists between lead singer Oliver Baines and Miriam Baines during the energetic harmonies in the singalong chorus. The song opens with atmospheric synths swirling around the intimate surroundings, enveloping the audience and signifying the potential drama to come. The mysterious ambience is suddenly broken by Ollie when he asks if they’ve over-cooked the introduction to the song. “We’ve never tried it before” he explains, but the general consensus is a positive one from the audience. The moment has unfortunately passed but it demonstrates that despite the earnest nature of some of their songs (Our Friends Our Enemies is a cinematic tale about Czech factory workers during WWII), the band are not taking themselves too seriously.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto