18 August Deaf Institute
The best thing about a great voice is that it never truly fades, and I mean this in two ways.
The distinctive voice of Miracle Legion has survived 30 years, during which they’ve seen an extended hiatus, line-up changes, legal problems and a catalogue of the various trials and tribulations that comprise band folklore, all with its charming tones still intact. Likewise, this also applies in a literal sense, with frontman Mark Mulcahy’s vocals remaining still as polished and integral to the band’s idiosyncratic sound as it was all those years ago.
Traces of Miracle Legion’s sound can be found in all facets of contemporary indie guitar rock, whether the artists themselves are aware of it or not. Thom Yorke has cited the band as a major influence, the best bits of REM are a regular point of comparison, and Frank Black, Mercury Rev and Dinosaur Jr have all been known to perform covers.
So 30 years since their last UK tour, at a time when both the NME and Melody Maker fawned endlessly over the band’s jangle-laden college rock, they now return, and are greeted by fans that never really forgot, despite their inactivity, their fading presence in the online world, and the devoted but dwindling cult of alter egos Polaris.
It’s rare to see a band enjoy themselves so much during the era of fashionable cynicism, but tonight Miracle Legion are all smiles. At points, Mulcahy and co-founder guitarist Ray Neal seem genuinely surprised by the loving reception both their deep classic cuts and newer tracks receive, and through their energy, obvious passion and accrued experience combined, the gig altogether avoids cheap nostalgia, and becomes something much more rewarding and outright enjoyable.
Bookending the set with fan favourites ‘Country Boy’ and ‘All for the Best’, Miracle Legion take the crowd on a guided tour of a stunning discography, before ending on a stirring rendition of the Dr John Cooper Clarke piece ‘A Heart Disease Called Love’, sending us out into the night with ear to ear grins, sweating profusely, and instilled with the same joy we experienced upon first hearing the band.
The best thing about a great voice is that it never truly fades, and Miracle Legion is still as relevant, still as brilliant, and still as criminally underrated as they always were, so much so that it’s like they never even left the room.
This review first appeared on BagThing.co.uk
25-29 August Mono
A string of instrument-laden musicians with bemused looks on their faces, and questions such as “Is this it?” or “How will we get our gear in here?” written across their foreheads wandered around Mono bar. Billed as the largest free festival in Manchester, Monofest III did have over 180 bands playing during its four days/five nights, which can appear alluring, but all the bands played in the same venue, across two rooms. So Monofest, an event that takes place a couple of times a year at the diminutive Chorlton bar could also advertise itself as the most cramped environment as well.
Strangely enough, the atmosphere around the two floors was significantly different. On the main entry floor level, its internal seating arrangements comprised bales of hay laid out around two sides of the venue, with the bar and ‘stage’ forming the other two. This provided a relaxed, intimate environment, especially as the acts were always within physical touching distance. So people such as Heidi Dewhirst used this intimacy to engage with the audience and explain why her (drinking) antics at the Edinburgh Festival hopefully wouldn’t impact on her voice too much, and they didn’t. If anything, her pitch-perfect tales of breakups merely gave people ideas that taking up drinking whisky could act as a vocal warm-up exercise.
Similarly, Ancient Evenings, a trio unusually mixing flute, guitar and samples, delivered chilled out sounds that engaged with an audience relaxing in the warm bank holiday sun. Plenty of sharp, witty and acerbic comments are thrown out by the artists, from “Even your blood type is negative” (Alexander Rennie) to Rival Elk’s discussion of ways of giving your money to Theresa May, but not in a well-intentioned fashion.
On accessing the downstairs room, it takes a few seconds for one’s eyes to acclimatise to the darkness. It’s a lot smaller than the area upstairs, some would say more intimate, possibly resembling a dungeon from Pulp Fiction. Perhaps accommodating 20 people maximum, the tunnel-like setup means your natural line of view is to the narrow stage area.
For some of the performers, this is an ideal area to match the intensity of their lyrics or the ferocity of their sounds. Mike Webster is armed with only a guitar, but manages to generate Stars ‘n Bars era Neil Young passion matched with Talking Heads-esque deadpan vocal delivery as he utters, “I want to be invisible”. If that’s the case, then stop making alluring sounds. Similarly, the brooding vibrations of Second System, a duo of two guitarists, complain in an attractive manner that “You’ve turned my house of prayer into a robber’s den.”
Yup, the heartbreak stuff is definitely upstairs and tAngerinecAt, a last-minute addition who’re Manchester-based but with origins in Ukraine, demonstrated that situation admirably. A quick chat with the mild-tempered duo, Paul Chilton and Eugene Purpurovsky, before the set gave no hint of the venom to follow. The hurdy-gurdy that Eugene carried around her looked like a rather large violin, but that displays my ignorance of an instrument that is a mini orchestra in its own right. It seems hard enough to keep it wound up with the right hand and played with the left, but Eugene also had something to say and will make sure you hear it, her eyes piercing through the gloom to deliver the message. Powerful stuff.
Though it isn’t physically possible to watch all the bands – the body’s tiredness overcame the mind’s best intentions – there’s no harm in trying.
Background image (Michael Webster) and inset image (Heidi Dewhirst) by Ged Camera. This review first appeared on BagThing.co.uk