A Carefully Planned Festival #5

17-18 October
Northern Quarter, Various Venues

Over the last few years, a part of central Manchester has had venues ring-fenced whilst trails of people scuttle from one location to another hoping to reach their destination on time. Thankfully, it isn't a Tory party conference, but part of the Carefully Planned series. This year there are eight venues within staggering distance, supporting over 150 acts between them.

It’s an opportunity for bands from near and far to showcase their talents. The InTheCity events used to take place in October, but CP has consolidated its own identity, which is more focused on live music.

For A Sudden Burst of Colour, it's the furthest they've travelled from Glasgow for a gig, but it's only after the third song that the packed crowd can appreciate them fully, once the combination of a knackered amp and broken guitar string had been overcome. It was worth the wait.

There’s a rich diversity of talent to be stumbled across, sometimes literally. With the downstairs section of Cord partitioned off, limiting capacity to a maximum of probably 15 people, it was only going to be a workspace for acoustic acts such as Finn LeMartinel. Sitting on a beer keg, his guitar laid flat across his knees, Finn slaps the wooden frame and picks the strings with a delicacy and nuanced touch to match his emotion-laden vocals.

Ride the Bow’s set was all very sophisticated, with plenty of listeners sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, listening to lyrical inspiration gained from the horror stories of M R James. “Death and destruction brings truth and silence.” Possibly.

The dungeon-like basement of Soup Kitchen seemed the perfect environment to enjoy Hannah Lou Clark, with its minimalist lighting creating eerie shadows for the disturbing sounds.

The spine of the event was around the pub venue pair of the Castle and Gullivers. Even late on a Sunday night there was plenty to miss your train home for. One such band was the Leeds-based outfit Commiserations. After observing and listening to more than 20 acts, the three-piece had the ferocity to prevent indifference or tiredness setting in. A raw intensity flooded from the stage, with Claire Adams' strident, beautifully patterned drumming matching the passion and intensity from Esmé Louise Newman on vocals and guitar.

While the noise dies away in the following days and musical withdrawal symptoms kick in, there are still snippets of memories, such as Richard Lomax demonstrating his prowess on the omnichord, to bring a smile to the face during the wait for the next Carefully Planned Festival.

Ged Camera

Background photo of Finn LeMartinel and photo of Commiserations by Ged Camera.

Akua Naru

12 October
Band on the Wall

Capturing the hearts and minds of an inebriated Mancunian audience is no mean feat. In fact, when hip hop artist Akua Naru delivered an impassionate, chatty, jazz-bristled performance to her fans at Band on the Wall, she probably warranted some form of Nobel Peace Prize.

Charming her fairly intoxicated spectators with monologues about entrenched institutional racism in the US, the Connecticut-born rapper broke cultural boundaries in showcasing one of the more politically conscious performances you'll ever see.

It was also the return of, as Naru describes it, real hip hop. Imbued with avant-garde jazz musicianship from her album, The Miner's Canary, it was a huge relief from archetypal instrumentals, featuring the repeated sound of police sirens.

Highlights included ‘Poetry: How Does It Feel?’, which was as sensual a song as you'll ever have the privilege of listening to with a tin can telephone, let alone in person.

Naru would occasionally take a step back and let her band drift us away to another musical realm while she appreciatively gyrated in the background, in a show that was, essentially, a celebration of music.

She freely spoke of the illegal deaths of Afro-Americans in the US, and Naru's natural charisma evoked an unprecedented level of audience participation, to the point where stigma attached to the discourse on racism became non-existent.

Broadly speaking, Naru managed to ease a meaningful conversation into an environment more associated with pure entertainment, highlighting the consistency of her activist ethos as she confessed, “This conscious music is activism to me.”

In an interview, the Germany-based poet ardently spoke about the importance of unearthing a new wave of political hip hop since its commercialisation, which she declares has ‘silenced female voices’ within an increasingly repressive music industry.

But when Naru performed ‘(Black &) Blues People’, it was as if the void left by egalitarian lyricists like a disenfranchised Lauryn Hill had been filled, albeit momentarily and in a newly-awakened Manchester.

Samar Maguire

Photo by Umsonst & Draussen via Flickr.

Oxjam Manchester

3 October
Chorlton, Various Venues

On an overcast afternoon in Chorlton, Cavana opened the Saturday proceedings at Jam Inn, as a part of the Oxjam 15 festival. Previous Oxjam events have taken over different sections of the Northern Quarter, but this time the fun and frivolities moved for three days to the suburbs.

Inhabiting the heavier, rockier end of the musical spectrum, the four members of Cavana delivered songs carrying intensity and pent up frustration that was expressed by means of sweet guitar riffs and full-on pounding of the drums. Think American rock meets The Cult.

A 10-yard walk to Mono saw The Balloon Ascents playing their second gig of the day. The Oxford-based unit followed on from their earlier acoustic set with a full-band line-up that occupied over half the venue. Soft as Andrex, the sound washed over and caressed the ears of those fortunate to be present. Whilst the shoeless Thomas Roberts acted as a focus for the audience, with his face contorted as he delivered the lyrics, the subtle caress of guitar strings and drum skins from other members formed a fragile structure from which to hang his Yeats-inspired lyrics.

With the elastic band at stretching point, a return trip to Jam identified Half Day Hero ripping any early afternoon delicacy to pieces. This four-piece are all about passion and intensity, any words delivered with a machine gun clatter over a riotous cacophony of noise. The punk velocity was eagerly devoured by a sometimes bemused audience.

Contrasting the energy, a touch of delicacy arrived in the form of Sipsmith and Twine, who beautifully delivered heartache and longing. The lack of either a bass or electric guitar among the quartet wasn’t a handicap. Instead, a challenging and effective combination of cello, acoustic guitar, drums, violin and heartfelt vocals held listeners’ attentions.

Continuing the trend of no band being similar the next, the ice-cold yet strangely warming simplicity of The Edits kept the crowd interested. Decks of pedals and reverb boxes lie within Chris Abbott's stride reach on the floor, but for all the complexity, it’s a glacial, fragile beauty that shines through. Liz Westhead delivered the vocals that swooped and soared, perhaps recalling Liz Fraser and Kate Bush.

Apart from the live music, this was tailored as a family event, as demonstrated by the number of adults and children proudly displaying their Mike Tyson-esque face paintings.

When there are two venues side by side serving live music and real ale, the temptation to wander down to St Ninians diminishes, which is annoying when the likes of Jo Rose are playing over there.

Here's hoping it returns to Chorlton next year.

Ged Camera

Photo of Sipsmith and Twine by Ged Camera.