BC Camplight

23 January

It’s been 8 years since BC Camplight has released an album. Whilst his previous band mates from The War on Drugs have been touring the globe, building their fan base and releasing records to growing acclaim, BC has been homeless, strung out and in self-exile from his hometown of Philadelphia. His new release, How To Die In The North, released on Bella Union looks set to change his fortunes.

Tonight’s set opens with new single ‘You Should’ve Gone To School’, which mashes Kim Deal backing vocals, Lou Christie melodies and a guitar sound that Link Wray would be proud of. This is followed by another recent single ‘Just Because I Love You’, a delphonic Philly soul track which galvanises the packed out crowd. After a few brief words thanking Manchester for putting up with him for the past few years, the audience are treated to most of the new songs, delivered just like the record. This is an impressive feat considering the layered production and orchestration, but the band make it look and sound easy, thanks in no small part to multi-instrumentalist Robbie Rush.

Midway through the set, BC plays ‘Atom Bomb’, a solo ballad that silences everyone in the venue. It’s unashamedly epic, building up from a lazy Dr John pianissimo drawl to a pedal pumping scream that fills the room. It’s hard to separate the feeling that a song with such soul and yearning could have been written if these past few years had been without tribulation.

For this adopted hometown show, a couple of trumpeters appear on stage to play on ‘Thieves In Antigua’, giving the performance a ‘Forever Changes’ mariachi feel. This is one of many songs where backing singer Hattie Coombe’s husky voice comes to the fore, answering BC’s natural falsetto like a role reversed Lee and Nancy.

Old favourite ‘Blood and Peanut Butter’ and an encore of The Kinks’ ‘Brainwashed’ are hammered out with the confidence of a band that know they’ve delivered. The group were recruited in pubs around Oldham Street and it’s hard to imagine anyone else channelling these songs so well, least of all the middle-of-the-road royalty The War on Drugs.

If you’re going to die in the north, you may as well do it having fun.

Nathan McIlroy

The Franklys

17 January
Night & Day Café

The 5:2 diet? Dry January? Detox for the New Year? All ways of reducing the love handles that accumulate around the waistline during the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

A more enjoyable way to shed any excess is to take part in a Franklys gig, where dancing in a frenetic manner is actively encouraged. The four-piece provide a vibrant soundtrack for those present and demonstrate that no-one really cares how odd the shapes you throw are. It’s the participation that counts.

Jennifer Ahlkvist on vocals, Fanny Broberg on guitar, Zoe Biggs on bass and Nicole Pinto on drums all embody the passion for enjoyment of their acknowledged influences, like The Hives, The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys. They wrap it around their own candy-coated shell, then hurl it via amplifiers turned up to 12 across to the listeners.

It’s not a constant wail of distortion and noise – there are deft changes of pace and touches of subtlety – but this band are in a hurry to get things moving and have too much energy to worry about slowing down just yet.

This should be one resolution that lasts past January.

Ged Camera

Background photo of The Franklys by Ged Camera

Cahalen Morrison & Eli West

25 January
Band on the Wall

Bluegrass is a style of American folk tale telling that has, until relatively recently, been perceived to sit in a checked shirt, ye-hawing from the margins. The white American blues of Hank Williams drowned out by a Two Ronnies music sketch image of straw chewing and banjo wrestling. All has changed. Contemporary performers display a bleached bone realness and casual virtuosity that leads the bluegrass team leader, Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile, to concert halls to reinvent Bach.

Morrison and West, two youngish players from Seattle, follow a different and interesting path. Their on stage patter is bone dry and very funny – your correspondent spat out his shandy at the thought of their local store that sells exclusively “liquor, firearms and sewing machines”. Their playing is awesome. They play at a technical level that allows them, on guitar and mandolin, to attack a mountain instrumental by interlocking, then moving apart by precise steps, then hammering the last note in unison. John Coltrane might have nodded approvingly.

The keening vocals lend heart to sea focussed fayre like ‘Jealous Seas’ and ‘A Lady Does Not Often Falter’. Their cover choices were frankly a little dull, but the originals, like those above and the lovely ‘Twelve Gates to the City’, carried the scent, feel and sound of something both old and new.

John Wigley

We Are Willow / Elle Mary & The Bad Men

24 January

Elin Rossiter, with her guitar hanging from her shoulder, stands to the left Michael Dubec (bass) whilst Pete Sitch sits in the corner behind his drum kit. Bass, drums and guitar are normally the stock line-up for a brash, aggressive punk line up, one that spits out songs at 100mph as all three play to the same rhythm.

But Elle Mary & The Bad Men are the opposite of that style, being subtle in delivery yet tight in structure, providing Rossiter the ideal platform to use her strong, clear voice to deliver her lyrics.

At times it’s a hushed and reverential affair, with the gentle caressing of drum skins creating an easy-going late night ambience.

The refurbished stage area upstairs at Gullivers can just about accommodate the seven members comprising We Are Willow. Chris Butler is at the heart of the band, which is more of a collaborative arrangement that’s extremely fluid, seemingly dependent upon what he finds interesting or challenging. A previous link-up included Kathryn Edwards, the North West singer-songwriter, whilst tonight is the second gig as a seven-piece line up.

Butler is sitting on one of the three stools lined up at the centre of the stage. There are plenty of stringed instruments ready to be played, including a pedal steel guitar, traditional guitars and a bass. Before a string has been strummed, a query about the potential of each instrument overshadowing the adjacent one emerges.

That’s quickly dispelled when the carefully picked notes of ‘Berlin’ float out, the first of a series of sumptuous melodies that tumble welcomingly into the ears of the crowd. Whatever label may become attached to the sound, from Americana to alt-folk, it’s rich and immersive.

With seemingly a lot of friends and aficionados in the crowd, the set delivered is warmly received and appreciated.

Ged Camera

Pangaea Festival

24 January

The cycle of Manchester’s tri-annual student-run festival, Pangaea, has persevered for five years this January. Pangaea is unique largely for the use of the sprawling Students’ Union and adjoined Academy building. It’s an entertaining, claustrophobic event as thousands of students funnel through close corridors. On the 5th anniversary, the line-up assembled and the organisation were arguably the strongest yet.

Looking at the bill, Pangaea certainly mirrors the more EDM-centric ventures of the city, such as Parklife, where DJs are absolutely everything. Hence, the low-key upstairs frivolities acknowledged the wall-to-wall representation of the entire University’s DJ division. Moving up from the minutiae of the festival, bland producers The Reflex and Doc Daneeka bookended the basement Club Academy proceedings. The cumulative effect of all of this beat-matching monotony pushed the masses towards the larger rooms.

The festival’s highlight was in Academy 2. Mr Scruff’s DJ set was a flawless mixture. It’s certainly a pity that Scruff’s own compositions and image have pushed him too far into the quirky camp for some, as his selections are always both varied and sublime. In the same vein as Gilles Peterson, Scruff is comfortable switching between a vast variety of tempos and genres without much recourse towards what is popular or known. Across three hours he expertly mixed together disparate Latin, house and soul cuts into one mélange.

On the strength of Scruff’s booking, the mixed minor acts are gladly overlooked and elsewhere fellow headliners Congo Natty, Rae Morris and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs were equally well-received.

One sustained criticism of the festival is certainly the lack of live acts at the event. When every crevice of the SU is packed with DJs, the desire to hear something rawer does press slightly, especially given the degree of care afforded to making every other aspect of the night original. Certainly with the strength of the festival’s name, at the five-year mark its further longevity relies on keeping it live.

Tom Dixon

Duke & The Darlings

31 January

Established in 2012 as an eight-barrel brewery under a Salford railway arch, First Chop Brewing Arm brewed Warminster Maltings into coveted nectar for the indulgence of a select few. Then, in December 2013 its bar and venue opened for all to enjoy. The bar’s current inventory includes many a spangled brew, such as the hop forward favorite, CHA. The venue space furnishes the location with its character, perhaps due to the unrefined piles of old supplies, corrugated iron, and point lasers that transport the audience into a 21st century firing squad. What better setting for a release by Sweet Sweet Records’ own Duke & The Darlings?

Without going into detail on the evident benefits of holding a single release within a microbrewery, it was safe to say the night got off to a good start. And it isn’t the first time the band has used such a tactic for a release. 2013’s Irwellian EP arrived at Blackjack Brewery. The sounds of local sister four-piece, Glass Tides, were very well received for a support act – almost perilously so. Their alternative pop set the stage for the headline act.

Duke & The Darlings played an array from their collection, including the anticipated ‘Middle, Man’ single. This track involves slightly more interaction between the vocals and the main melody than their discography previously demonstrates, but another catchy chorus and some serious riffs ensure it is well placed.

Some discrepancies were apparent in the otherwise respectable display of vocal talent by Alex Reed. But these, alongside the unfailing desire to fidget with his hat, could be put down to nerves. After such a vocal masterclass by Glass Tides’ Samuel Jenkins it would take some frontman to headline. Thankfully that is exactly what ensued, with Alex playing the majority of the guitar solos on top of his vocal duties. Such abilities were more evident than ever in ‘Svengali Says’, a release from 2013.

Despite being well travelled down the musical road, Duke & The Darlings have further yet to go in continuing to refine an act rich in personality and talent.

Charles Veys