18 March Band on the Wall
Approaching the best part of a decade of gigging in its various incarnations, Honeyfeet can now be considered a Manchester music institution. Having played everywhere from tiny pub backrooms to festival stages in the wilderness, they’ve made a habit of entertaining all who hear their bluesy, jazzy, hip-shaking grooves, whether as a downscaled duo or as a full septet.
On the day after St Patrick’s Day, Band on the Wall was treated to the latter and, despite an early admission by ringleader and vocal tour de force Rioghnach Connolly that she’s “hanging like a bat”, the revelry continues from Lorien Edwards’ opening bass lines of ‘All I Know’ to the self-described “disco murder ballad” of a curtain closer, ‘Buried My Husband’. Between these dextrous delicacies are a set of songs to justify the popularity of the sold-out show.
Ellis Davies’ guitar riffs pay homage to Bo Diddley and Rik Warren’s drawl on ‘Demons’ is akin to the classic bluesmen of yore, but Honeyfeet’s speakeasy grooves are anything but formulaic, instead carrying the sentiment of the poetry highlighted on their backing visuals reel, “I’ve stopped sleeping in a straight line”. Theirs is a windingly lucid journey, with memorable sections delivered through Phil Howley’s drum solo; John Ellis’ keys leads on the Iron & Wine cover, ‘Freedom Hangs Like Heaven’; Davies’ ripping solo; and throbbing rhythms courtesy of Biff Roxby’s trombone. By the time Connolly, on tempestuously blistering form through the hair of the dog, orders a cross-legged sit-down to the slow-burning ‘Knocking on Another Man’s Door’, the audience is in the palm of their collective hand.
The crowd’s spirits had previously been primed by Plume, the support act personally invited by Honeyfeet. Their ambitious opening gambit saw a reinterpretation of the finger-picked acoustics familiar to John Martyn’s ‘Don’t Want To Know’ as rumbling and progressive electronica-fused jazz thunder, breezed over by singer Carline Hendry’s repetition of the titular refrain. After pulling that off, they set coordinates for diverse sounds, from space rock to smooth jazz, evoking the eclectic skylines of Flying Lotus, Jefferson Airplane and Sun Ra in a modern jam band filled with sonic UFOs spiralling into discombobulated breakdowns.
As for Honeyfeet, a second LP is promised for this year, but keep an eye on their gigging calendar for chances to experience the show at festivals through the summer.
4 April Band on the Wall
As we walk into the live room at Band on the Wall, Manu Delago has just started to tap his hangs in ambient solitude, surrounded by a stage of unmanned instruments. It’s a first glimpse into the impressive array of sounds that can be mustered from an instrument that looks like two dustbin lids melded together and connected to an effects pedal.
Tru Thoughts, the Brighton-born label that released his latest LP, Metromonk, aren’t the only ones to be impressed by Delago’s musical charm, having earned kudos via music industry voices from Nitin Sawhney to Lauren Laverne, as well as a Grammy nomination for collaborative work with Anoushka Shankar. The Tru Thoughts affiliation is a clue to his musical style, at first flirting with glitchy hip hop beats before his fellow sound crafters emerge.
The show, which is billed as ‘live AV’, is an all-round experience for the senses. It’s music as theatre, with triggered strobes, an LED coloured cube chair and panoramic backing videos that coalesce deliberately with each song, from the accumulated paintballs akin to Brian Eno’s Bloom app to a pencil-drawn chimp aptly raving to the frenetic tribal pounds of ‘Rave Chimp’. All the while, a largely seated audience absorbs the performance in the near-silence of awe.
Loosely a gig of two halves, the more mellow opening sequences are tempered by borderline drum and bass flourishes within songs like ‘Abrupt’, but there’s still room for subtle precisions as ‘Sun in the North’ matches the glistening moonlight across the backdrop’s night sky.
The climactic wig-out of ‘Medina’, from 2013 album Bigger Than Home, may have closed the curtain on a set filled with innovations, but a brief encore gave enough time to beat it all with the first time anyone will have seen a toothbrush duet performed on a stage.