2018 Off The Record Manchester Festival Review

It may not attract the huge names or the air craft hanger venues but Manchester’s Off The Record festival in mid November is a must do event for anyone into the indie scene. The marketing strap line of “discover your new favourite band” is no boast.  This year over 40 top tipped acts played in 8 of the cosiest venues in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Those interested in working in and around the music industry will also find the earlier in the day (and separately priced) panel and master class sessions invaluable.  The session for November 2019 is already on sale, and an early bird ticket for both classes and gigs are on sale for £46.75 (and gig only tickets come in at just under £20). 

This year I hit the ground running by breaking my musical virginity on both venue and band; Doncaster’s Bang Bang Romeo HHHHH at Jimmy’s. I can’t believe I’ve never seen either previously (don’t judge me!).

If you happen to catch a sound check it often says a lot about a band. In this case Bang Bang Romeo quickly got into their stride, but not before lead dynamo Anastasia Walker came out onto the floor with her mike to check the sound and the look for the show from the audience perspective. Class.

I must confess that until the release of the Shame on You EP that Bang Bang Romeo didn’t quite hit my personal sweet spot, and live the band is even better than on record. I kind of got a feel fora slightly more rocky female version of Tom Grennan with the huge huge voice and strong wicked personality of Anastasia, while not discounting the strong flawless contribution of the other two band members Ross Cameron on guitar and Richard Gartland on drums. It was impossible not to fall for that friendly Donnie affability. Was that very bluesy version of Seven Nation Army a dream?

This performance felt like the stage and setting was too small for the sheer authority of Bang Bang Romeo and I felt this was one special moment with the band destined for bigger things. Pink is one brave and confident performer to have the power of Bang Bang Romeo before her for her Europe-wide tour next year.

Next, I legged it over to Aatma and was able to lead a group of sceptical people through the magical mystery fire escape door and up the stairs to this unlikely venue to catch the lively and slightly kooky mysterious Liverpool band Seatbelts  HHH for a few of their funky Talking Heads with a twist of Robyn Hitchcock style songs. This is definitely a quality band to watch out for.

I couldn’t hang around as I promised myself the full dose of our Leeds boys Fizzy Blood HHHHH  in the cellars of the Soup Kitchen. Unfortunately the set up arrangements in the Soup Kitchen seemed a little more complex than the other venues and the bands tended to struggle to hit their slot times. I arrived to the slightly amusing sight of one of the band (I’ll spare his blushes by not naming him) wondering why his unplugged in mike wasn’t working very well.

I have loads of time for this class punk/funk band Fizzy Blood and I can’t help but feel this band have something different about them. The band (Paul, Benji, Jake, Ciaran & Tim) feel like they don’t completely fit together somehow and the space between the lads on this long stage helped promote that feeling; however this gives the band something of an edginess although musically they were as tight as a drum and provided another class performance. That new banger Pink Magic tipped the balance to a top show and seeing it live made me a very happy man.

It’s been a while, so I was determined to catch those North Yorkshire live gods Avalanche Party HHHHH. I caught lead man Jordan Bell before his performance wearing a shirt. I decided this attire must be his Superman/Clark Kent disguise as he was wandering around the bar without attracting too many second glances, whereas his shirtless live wire stage persona insists upon everyone’s attention.

The word “blistering” has been overused, but the Avalanche Party performance was spellbinding. Last year I felt the band were magnificently anarchic while the music consciously uncomplicated. During 2018 it’s clear Avalanche Party have been developing in a dark and complex way; the music is much more individual and sophisticated. I got a vibe for all things heavy with a Prodigy style back beat. 2019 is going to be one exciting year for this band and they must be about ready to pop that all important album.

There was time to trog back to Soup Kitchen to catch those Liverpool purveyors of clean class indie pop Paris Youth Foundation HHHH. Again the festival curators were totally right to place total faith in this young band and they had the audience eating out of their hand with their slow burning bangers. New single Jessica was a particular highlight. 

I am soo predictable, and it was on learning that London based Stereo Honey HHHHH were coming north again which had me clamouring for my cash card for tickets for the event for my 5th SH experience. I had worked out that I could catch the “party train” home across the Pennines after their performance at Night and Day.

I did think the first EP Monuments with songs with through provoking subjects and class music would be hard to beat, but Stereo Honey have kept up the smooth sophisticated electro indie pop momentum going with this year’s What Makes a Man EP. It’s Stereo Honey’s time.    

I have already spoken of how Stereo Honey seem to have come out of themselves more in their live performance since this summer, engaging more with the audience and clearly enjoying themselves. So it proved again this time around with Pete Raistrick and the lads bouncing across the stage to their latest EP What Makes A Man. Now armed with at least a dozen class songs that their audience can completely groove to, Stereo Honey have become a live force to be reckoned with.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, I spotted Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper (Julie Hesmondhalgh) tapping to the SH sound at a table. Next time you ponder whether to see Stereo Honey it’s time to ask yourself “What would Hayley do?”

Chris R

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