The only real surprise of Neighbourhood Festival’s inaugural launch is why an event of this kind has never been attempted before in Manchester’s city centre. No other city in the country is blessed with such an amazing spread of live music venues, all within easy walking distance of each other and it was about time an event exploited these riches. To be fair, the more DIY A Carefully Planned Festival has taken over the city’s smaller venues in the northern quarter this weekend and is now in its sixth year, proving that metropolitan festivals of this nature can be successful, but Neighbourhood Festival has definitely seen an opportunity to showcase more established bands in amazing venues to the city and I’m pretty certain that we’ll be marking down this event on our annual musical calendars for many years to come.
The city is rammed. I mean, seriously rammed. The sun is out for one thing! There’s also an important rugby match going on somewhere and the two sets of fans mingle boisterously with thousands of students visiting university open days along Oxford Road. Patrons of the annual food and drink festival boost the throngs further. Throw into this lively mix thousands of music fans marching with purpose to one of the eleven venues hosting Neighbourhood Festival and you have a vivacious city centre whose heart is pounding to the beat of over one hundred artists.
The afternoon kicks off in thrilling fashion with the North West’s very own Lake Komo. The Lancaster band have worked tirelessly over the last couple of years and it certainly appears to be paying dividends because Gorilla is heaving! Rich, sincere vocals are complimented by imaginative melodies on new track Inside Out and lead singer Jay Rudd enhances this tapestry of sonic pleasures with an interesting vocoder experiment on Resurrect that is not completely successful but certainly keeps things interesting.
Blossoms fans have been queuing outside The Ritz for several hours and as I spill out of Gorilla and squeeze into the 1500 capacity venue over the road, I am faced with a veritable sardine can full of indie-loving sardines, welcoming one of their own to the stage of this famous venue. The Stockport band’s support slot for The Stone Roses in the summer enhanced their fan-base and it seems that the band are teetering ever so dangerously on the cusp of something very big indeed. Tom Ogden certainly has the moves and he dominates the stage, adding a bit of glam to proceedings as he whips the faithful crowd into a frenzy that seems to make the wait definitely worth while for the band’s ardent fans.
Just down the road is Manchester’s Albert Hall. It is a spectacular venue but when the late afternoon sunshine floods through the coloured glass roof windows this afternoon, the splendour of the horseshoe gallery becomes all the more impressive. Opening proceedings in this spiritual space are White Lies and a partisan crowd add to an already dramatic atmosphere which is created by the London band’s post-punk styled indie pop. Performing as a trio, the Londoners successfully draw together facets of American indie with a darker, more sincere interpretation of a whole raft of 80s pop and rock acts and the whole becomes a rather grand and sonorous experience.
The crush experienced in Sound Control during Hooton Tennis Club‘s spirited set is the only negative of an enjoyable Saturday so far. With music fans free to come and go as they please, it must be impossible to determine if a venue has reached its capacity; Sound Control is certainly uncomfortably close and this distracts from the performance by the lads from the Wirrall. Lively choruses and catchy melodies conjure up the spirit of the 90s but there is something slightly post-modern about the ‘indie’ on show this evening, something slightly off-kilter with the possibility of the unexpected bubbling casually in the background.
Looking for a more chilled-out, if not quieter venue, the remainder of the festival is spent in the cavernous Zoo Bar, which is just a hop, skip and a jump up Oxford Road, bang in the middle of the university district. The unpredictable prospect of three unknown bands is an exciting one and first act Black Foxxes deliver with a blistering set reminiscent of early Kings of Leon during their bluesy, sleazy heyday. Mark Holley’s bloodthirsty vocals smolder and combust and the band’s brutal riffs keep the rhythms tight and the audience completely consumed.
Tall Ships provide a dose of the unexpected with a riveting set full of melodic experimentation that demonstrates their post-rock pretensions and their songs have a delicious and very deliberate habit of whimsically straying off point before lead singer and guitarist Ric Phethean rhythmically drags the song back in line, kicking and screaming.
And so, my 2016 edition of Neighbourhood Festival is drawing to a close at the Zoo Bar. It is The Hyena Kill’s job to ensure the evening goes out with a bang and boy, do they deliver. A VERY loud bang! The Manchester band are a savage duo built around the bruising, destructive percussion provided by Lorna Blundell and Steven Dobb’s merciless riffs and barbaric vocals. In such compact surroundings, the intensity of the performance is almost overpowering but the power of the songs and the manner of their incendiary execution proves irresistible and the last song sparks a wild moshpit providing one final enduring memory of a great day of music. Long my this great new metropolitan festival in Manchester continue!
Black Foxxes, Blossoms, Hooton Tennis Club, The Hyena Kill, Lake Komo, Tall Ships, White Lies
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto