I think my beloved wasn’t listening, but over the bank holiday weekend I snuck in with her verbal approval another last-minute festival. At £20 each and a short train trip across the border to where people sound like Victoria Wood and Peter Kaye, Made in Manchester made perfect sense. Add perfect weather, good toilets, a gin bar where doubles were more like trebles and a backdrop DJ playing all the Manchester classics and making jokes about “Stalyvegas” it was a choice day out.
Sadly, we had to shrink our visit due to my ongoing blood imbalances which really gate crashes my energy levels and reminds me of my glandular fever year as a teen where I just wake up knowing I’ve crashed and burned for the day. On the late end of the day we missed the Smiths, Oasis and High Flying Birds/ Inspiral Carpets tribute acts which would have had easy drunk bank holiday fun appeal, but was no huge musical loss, but I also missed young talented The Capitals and in particular Cobain Jones at the start. I promised myself I’ll bag a gig with him another time before too long.
Halfway 2 Nowhere ratings: HHHHH – Unreal, HHHH – Excellent, HHH – Great, HH – Met expectations, H – Poor
Settled on the grass, blood imbalance given the keen genteel attention it demanded, slow treble rhubarb gin with ginger in hand, our first act was Narrow Margin HHH, a group of talented local teens (guitarist Ben Etches turned 18 a couple of weeks after). Rather than the ruckus, angry and thoughtful young punk band I’ve seen at Jimmy’s before, the band forsook electricity and a couple of band members to treat us to a relaxed and thoughtful acoustic duo set.
I think the chilled atmosphere, the sheer heat and the three cans of Bud for a tenner took its impact on the audience and the band were somewhat discombobulated by the lack of buzz in front of the stage. This was Narrow Margin’s first time live without power and they had clearly been anxious about the change in pace and intensity even with lead vocalist Ian Spiller wearing his trademark rock and roll skinny leg white jeans. I brushed aside their comments that “we are much better as a full band” and enjoyed the better chance to hear the well-crafted lyrics both in their own songs and the covers they had chosen to share. Ian correctly complained about artists that don’t sing about real life; a concern he addresses with Narrow Margin’s own songs.
Overall, Narrow Margin gave a tidy, thoughtful and well-crafted performance; if they hadn’t told us I’d never have known they were popping their acoustic set cherry in front of us.
Next up was a band I’ve been promising to bump into for some time. Mercury Machine HHH have been firm Manchester favourites for half a decade or more and the stash of class, accomplished songs at their disposal is testament to steady hard work. The band are in the Ist Ist stable of doom electronic with dramatic songs of sweeping landscapes and soaring ambition. There’s an impressive sense of drama to these Mercury Machine songs and it is both a blessing and a curse for the band that the tracks sound like classics from the days of the likes of “the Mode” and Tears for Fears. There’s an immediacy to the band but also a risk in the familiar that their skill is being overlooked.
I had assumed that a hard electronic band would have to keep up dour Numan appearances but it was all smiles and laughs as the band realised their complex kit of electronics were compromised by human error as they couldn’t see what tune they were setting off from the sun obscured computer screen. I suspect the set list was all played but not in their intended order; unexpected consequences of global warming at its finest.
The set has led to my discovering the band’s very enjoyable first album released earlier this year. During the set my watching was distracted by being bounced on the head by a football; curse the concept of a family festival, and the inconvenience of a full stage set up in the middle of an impromptu football pitch.
Polished and accomplished Dave Fidler HH and a set heavily influenced by alternative US country and some nice guitar was a perfect accompaniment to a further acquaintance with the grass (grass of the cricket pitch variety), a second treble gin and a pizza. No messing around with pizza slices for £6 at this value conscious festival. £8 got you a full round of gooey cheesy love in a cardboard box.
Dave Fidler has carved out a career in the cutthroat world of music and he could be spotted offstage perhaps sharing tips and advice with the Narrow Margin lads.
Finally, for my personal stripped back Made in Manchester experience; a band I’ve seen a couple of times and written single reviews about; the hotly tipped Callow Youth HHHH. I had a misspent youth myself (singing… ahem… Latin and Welsh choral) and last time I saw the boys live I wondered whether lead Alfie was straining his voice. This time around I had no worries; the set had extended to an hour and our boy was in fine voice throughout, with solid breathing and a voice in his diaphragm. It all just helps show how serious these guys are about developing their music.
With the jump of set to an hour, it meant a lot of new songs for Callow Youth and while I like the tracks from the Vibe Demos EP it was time to spread Callow Youth wings, and I’m pleased to say they quickly picked up a thermal. The sound follows the more polished and accessible radio friendly style of recent single Wake Up, but there’s still a consistently hard and quick stabbing punch in there.
It was nice to hear a track or two from the start (Long Way Back) for it showed the journey this band have tromped along; now the band are very controlled and there are just the perfect number of beats and flourish for each song. In comparison to the earlier Callow Youth, it feels like every note is considered for its value. The second guitar offered a nice sparse but jangling edge to the tunes.
While there are welcome developments, Callow Youth remain close to their roots, and songs like Looking Glass add to and build upon the Oasis heritage. I also got a shedload of gritty realism in songs like Tear Me Inside Out (“what’s the point of finding out your last name?”).
To build up to a class close, Callow Youth brought out their Radio 6 big guns Wake Up and Does It Really Matter? but they truly impressed with a staggering and well-placed confidence for the future by closing with a first time live brand new track. I love a band to have faith in their new material and it worked perfectly. I am excited for what the future holds for Callow Youth.