Review: XFM Winter Wonderland 2014 (including Ben Howard, George Ezra, + more)

It’s just over a week ’til Christmas, so I figured I should release my own recipe of what you need to make this Christmas a special one. For starters, let’s have a serving of Bear’s Den with a scoop of Circa Waves on the side; for the main, we need a healthy portion of Jimi Goodwin, a sprinkle of Liam Fray, and a good old dollop of Catfish & The Bottlemen. Still not full? I guess we can finish it off with a bit of George Ezra, a slice of Wild Beasts, and to wash it all down with, a large glass of Ben Howard.

‘What the hell is this guy talking about?’ you’re probably thinking to yourselves, well this is the delicious three course meal we got served on Sunday night at the Manchester Apollo when we watched XFM’s Winter Wonderland. I doubt I could have picked a better line up myself and from start to finish it really was an incredible night full of amazing music. Bear’s Den kicked the night off with a short set of their alternative folk style in which you could really tell they were under the influence of legends such as Mumford & Sons. They were the perfect start to the night and I expect to hear more of them in 2015. Next up, and returning to the Apollo for the second time this year, were Liverpool foursome Circa Waves. They, of course, supported The 1975 here in September and thoroughly impressed me with their set. The set they played this time was a lot shorter than their last however they didn’t fail to show off their catchy riffs, flawless vocals, and a drummer who could keep the worst of musicians in time. Look out for these lads, they’re gonna be big!

We then moved on to Jimi Goodwin, frontman of The Doves and an artist who I hadn’t heard much of previously. That being said, he still impressed me with vocals which filled the, very large, room and a stage presence which would make Scrooge feel Christmassy. Another short but very sweet set to demonstrate his talent as a singer and a songwriter. Next up was Manchester’s Liam Fray, frontman of The Courteeners, who proved one of the crowds favourites of the night with his northern charm and amazingly wrote songs, ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ being a highlight where Liam turned the 3, 000 strong crowd into a wonderful choir.

Now we turn to my personal highlight of the night, the brilliant Catfish and the Bottlemen who put on the most energetic and passionate show of not only the night, but the year. They had a slightly longer set time of 25 minutes and used it to their full potential surprising a lot of people there who hadn’t heard of them. They were a lot more than just a fill in for Hozier and if you get the chance, please go to see them, you’re in for a treat.

Next was very special guest George Ezra who has had an absolutely amazing year and summed it up in 3 songs. George always appears so thankful to be where he is and is one of the most humble performers I have seen live, the crowd went crazy for ‘Budapest’ one of my songs of the year.

The penultimate band on were lake districters Wild Beasts who hypnotized the crowd with their alternative, almost electro, sound and vocals which filled the wonderful venue perfectly. They absolutely smashed their 25 minute long show and set the atmosphere for Ben Howard perfectly. Ben Howard mesmerised the Manchester Audience with his stunning vocals, extremely impressive guitar skills, and a light show which would put the illuminations to shame. Playing a set majorly filled with songs from his second album, Ben graced the stage like a true professional and was the perfect choice for a headline slot.

XFM really pulled out all the stops for this years Winter Wonderland and I can’t wait to see what they have in store next year.

For all photographs, click here. Watch our interview with C&TB below:

Review by Jack McCabe |

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