A Very Bon Event

28 January
Soup Kitchen

"The last time we played here, one person clapped." That’s the opening introduction from The Hipshakes. I think I could see the person to whom they referred, lurking in the audience. He looked just the wrong side of 40, balding, seemingly enjoying a beer. By the end of the gig he was seen swinging his upper torso along to the music in a style akin to a ‘bad uncle’, dancing without moving his feet an inch.

Many years ago, there was a TV programme called The Tomorrow People - which incidentally starred Martin Kemp, who would go on to start a band called Splendid Buffet, or perhaps it was Spandau Ballet. Anyway, these youngsters had the ability to jaunt from place to place without the need of a transporter. Such a personal transportation system would have been a great advantage on a day when there were at least two all-day music events, plus a host of decent bands at other venues.

So whilst Deaf Institute’s Stay Fresh had an inviting itinerary, the people at Very Bon also have an excellent reputation for intriguing line-ups. Hence, for less than the price of a pint, I jaunted into the two bands at Soup Kitchen. They didn't disappoint.

There weren't that many at the start of their set to see and hear The Hipshakes create their own musical formula to banish the January blues, but don't let that put anyone off catching some glorious dispatched, sparkly, sparky numbers. With punkish overtones, but less phlegm, the three-counties four-piece (Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester) ripped through a thoroughly enjoyable set that may have included a cover of The Damned to finish with. But then again, I'm on the wrong side of 40 to remember things clearly.

Yes, several more than one person did clap.

Don't turn up to an Irma Vep gig expecting to stumble across three-minute pop nuggets that will go straight to number one in the charts. In addition, and just to avoid any confusion, whilst there may be four males in the current line-up, they are most definitely not a boy band.

Edwin Stevens is the fulcrum around which Irma Vep revolve and his participation in other bands provides a cross-pollination of sounds, so, having previously seen Irma Vep on a number of occasions, the one thing to expect is the unexpected. On some occasions, you may find Stevens delivering a solo set from inside a one-person tent (Klondyke Club) or you may find a full band line-up.

Having all the impact of a 38-wheel musical juggernaut that has approached the edge of a steep incline, checked that the road is clear and safe, then tumbled sonically across the audience, Irma Vep delivered an impressive performance that captured the appreciation of those present.

Even with one guitarist who was sat on a chair looking as though he had a plaster cast on his ankle, momentum was not lost. With the red lights casting an almost ghostly glare over Stevens, shuddering chords were dispatched and agonised vocals relayed across the subterranean part of Soup Kitchen. It was packed, suitably fitting for an event that was part of Independent Venue Week.

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Cute Owl Experiment

21 January
Gullivers

What do you want from a music festival? Is it the tried and tested staple that you might get at a Donnington metal event. Or how about a dip and see smorgasbord, such as Glastonbury, where you’re not quite sure what’s about to enter your ears, but you’re open to it?

After Blue Monday, Manchester had a couple of events to tickle people’s ear lobes. Soup Kitchen featured LooCoo and Gullivers played host to the first Cute Owl Experiment. Then, a week after that, the second Stay Fresh all-dayer will visit Deaf Institute. So many bands, so little time.

Dressing in binary colours of black and white seemed apt for a duo that deals in electronically generated music. Joining forces as Code: Marla vs Spire Cranes, Richard Smyth and CJ Thorpe create ice cold, emotionally intense songs. The boys like their toys, and there is one gadget that appears to be an iPad sunken into a bass guitar. Let’s call it an iBass, a specially created unit (£1,100 including shipment costs from Australia) that CJ hasn’t quite yet mastered, but promises much warmth against the glacial sounds. Up stepped Millie Davis for a few songs, in the manner that Alison Moyet fitted snugly into Yazoo.

When Stephanie Finegan took to the stage, it was with a minimum of fuss, and no introduction. It could have quite easily been interpreted as a warm-up, a loosening of the vocal chords, only it wasn't. Part of her modus operandi is to explore how sounds can be created and manipulated, whether guttural urgings, slapping the wooden frame of the guitar or anything that's within arm’s length. I wonder if her and Liz Green compare notes and influences. These sounds are mixed with intriguing lyrics dispatched at a rate approaching a John Cooper Clarke effort, emphasising what caught the judges’ ears at the 2016 Swansea Poetry Slam.

tAngerinecAt have been gigging extensively over the last 18 months or so, both around Manchester and further afield. Wherever they play, the duo leave a lasting impression. That could be due to the sight of someone playing a hurdy-gurdy (part guitar, part keyboard, part wind-up motor), whilst spitting out fiery, politically charged lyrics. Or it could be efforts of the second member of the duo holding up a miniature glove puppet that resembles Rupert the Bear. When fully wound up and with the laptop churning out deep, penetrating rhythms, the intensity is palpable and will either fully engage with watchers or leave them cold.

The crowd had thinned out by the time Cynthia's Periscope took to the stage. As if to exemplify the theme of a musical experiment, it was the darkest act to perform. Paul Morrice is a one-person entertainment factory, both visually and aurally. Taking to the stage, he wears an ankle-length dress and, if the red stage lighting didn’t deceive my eyes, red lipstick applied like Heath Ledger’s Joker.

There is a similar edginess to Cynthia's performance, one that those remaining initially struggle to understand. Accompanied by a single drum and a few effects pedals, the self-confessed creator of “weirdo pop varying from melodic and tender to brutal and cathartic” delivered songs demonstrating just that. After three songs, the audience approved and responded enthusiastically.

The experiment seemed to have been a success.

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All photos by Ged Camera.

3x45

12 January
Klondyke Club

“Out with the old and in with the new,” goes the saying that normally accompanies the introduction of a new year. John Haycock has combined the both, with a combination of the kora, loop pedals and clarinet. Whilst not everyone will know what a kora is, many will be familiar with the sight of it amongst the buskers who gather around Piccadilly Gardens. It's a 24-stringed instrument that has been around for a few hundred years. It must be a nightmare to tune, but is capable of creating wonderfully sharp and enticing sounds, like wind chimes on a windy day.

So while Haycock is sitting down, picking the strings, he is also creating beats with his hands that are recorded on 20th century effects pedals then looped to form the underlying rhythm. Once that’s done, he can begin to focus on the kora, manipulating the long-necked instrument that is prevalent in parts of Africa - and Piccadilly Gardens. The incongruous blend is emphasised when he leans back to fill his lungs in preparation of playing the clarinet.

That essential rhythm and vibe, which varied considerably throughout his set, draws the listener in and received warm acknowledgement from a crowd that braved a cold January night.

The second of three acts at this monthly 3x45 event sees the Beulah String Band trio performing an acoustic set. When Andrew Butler (banjo, also of Dr Butler’s Hatstand Medicine Band), Dom Dudill (fiddle) and John McKay (guitar) get together, a tour of American music’s history is guaranteed. If music is timeless, then this trio are exploiting its potential and exhibiting it to an open-minded audience. No Beyoncé covers here. Instead, they play covers of songs that in their heart and sentiment are from the 1930s, but with validity that remains apt for today’s society. If you’ve never heard of Blind Alfred Reed, an evocative name in its own right, then to hear his song, ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’, illuminates the same hardship and inequality today as when it was published in 1929.

The contrast between all three acts is a deliberate ploy by the organisers, such that if there is a group or performer you don't like, then the likelihood is that the next one will tickle your musical taste buds.

Branding themselves as influenced by R&B, soul and hip hop, the third and final set sees Lucy Mae and her band take to the stage. I've seen people wearing higher heels than the elevation of tonight’s performance area. It’s a tight squeeze, but well worth the effort to fit the keyboardist (Christian Van Fields), guitarist (Luc Phan), bassist (Tom Chapman) and drummer (Phil Howley), along with the rapper Wherezneekz (aka Nico Walber), who played on selected numbers, into the confined space.

With a low, sultry voice at times reminiscent of Sade, Lucy Mae led the band into each number, but then allowed her superb fellow musicians to come to the fore in their own right, especially the rolling keyboards which raised the tempo. It all made the snow falling outside seem enjoyable.

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