Night Flowers and Café Paloma

9 September
Star & Garter

On a night when one part of Manchester, over at the Arena, is putting up a big and reassuring sign of ‘business as usual’, another venue in a nearby part of Manchester has been displaying a similar, though less life-threatening, air of defiance. The Star & Garter’s battle with existence pits the venue against property developers, but tonight shows that its business is very much still on.

The Star & Garter may have lost revenue through promoters’ reluctance to look more than a few months ahead in case a Compulsory Purchase Order is placed against the venue, but the rock, heavy metal and punk end of the musical spectrum has kept this institution going. Tonight there’s a lighter touch promoted by Behind the Bar, with support from Worsley Radio.

“We don’t have any records to sell, but we do have our clothing line,” uttered John, the main vocalist of Café Paloma, whose affection for the Star & Garter extends as far as staging his stag do there. Not that he’d remember much from that occasion, apart from “it got very messy”. He adds that, “It’s not changed much since” - probably very accurate.

His familiarity with the place made him comfortable enough to emerge from amongst the crowds there early enough to catch Laurie Hulme, aka Songs for Walter, who performed an intimate solo set, to see John join Bernadette (drums) and Mark (bass) on stage.

As promised, they did have a few t-shirts on sale, and they produced songs about buying trainers, because that was how boring John’s life was and is. With a raw and energetic delivery that carried whiffs of XTC and The Smiths, they grabbed attentions, before closing their set with a superbly reworked cover of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’, where they took the structure to pieces and created a version far more captivating than the original.

When Sophia Pettit introduced Night Flowers with her delicate, soft Boston - USA, not Lincolnshire - via Oklahoma accent, it would be easy, but wrong, to assume this is another American band on tour. In fact, the quintet’s core have been around for a couple of years now, allowing them the time to hone and craft richly layered numbers that avoid bombast to allow the detail to shine through.

The five-piece can just about fit on the stage, not because they have masses of equipment, but their personnel comprises bassist Sam Lenthall, drummer Zebedee Budworth, guitarists Chris Hardy and Greg Ullyart, and a few foot pedals, plus Sophia with a small set of keyboards. Thankfully, on a brutal day of weather, there was a decent crowd in the venue, with quite a few in the audience familiar enough with their sound to seek their live performance.

They were in pretty good and confident form. The core of the line-up are from this year’s City of Culture, Hull, with another from Grimsby, but they only met on the dodgems at a music festival in London. Sometimes you have to move hundreds of mile away to appreciate your neighbours. As a side note, I wonder what their views on the similarly titled film are.

The deployment of twin guitarists sees one creating lush, melodic effects, whilst the other offers a more striking, intense counterbalance. Then Sophia adds another, ethereal effect with her soft vocal charms. It’s enough to make someone in the crowd shush a less appreciative co-punter.

To reference the poem by Tony Walsh that he will have recited across at the Arena: “This is the place”, as the Star & Garter keeps on performing.

Ged Camera