Saturday morning (“Morning” – what IS this strange concept of which you speak at the weekend?) sees the Humble Reviewer, enthusiastically accompanied by trusty sidekick and camera grabber Editor Girl confidently striding through the Manchester sunshine ready to spend the next ten hours flitting, wraith-like between the gloom of the twin venues of The Peer Hat and AATMA (a Hindi word of Sanskrit origin meaning “Soul” – every day’s a school day, Dear Reader) to cover Owen Meikle-Williams’s annual After All Festival. It’s certainly going to be a challenge as regulars at these venues will confirm, AATMA is upstairs and the venue space at The Peer Hat is in its basement, so, a two-flight-of-stairs run between each performance beckons and given that the fact that pairs of acts are scheduled to start at the same time in each venue, this means that in order to tog and review, the best we can hope for is to see half of each acts’ sets, but such is the burden that we bear for our work… might lose some weight if nothing else.
Proceedings commence in the Peer Hat with local poet Karl Hildebrandt delivering some of his poignant and well-observes works. His bio states that “I intend to make people listen to my prose & poetry. Nothing more. Nothing less. Enjoy. Or not.” But we do, so that’s OK. He’s closely followed by singer songwriter Molly Andrew, who is making her live debut in front of an expectant but anxious group of family members who perch expectantly on the small amount of seating that the Peer Hat has to offer.
Thankfully, they needn’t have worried. Displaying a confidence that belies her years, clutching her acoustic guitar, Molly steps out and greets us with a, “Hiya, I’m Molly” and with a plea from her mum to us all to “Be kind!”, she sets of off with a cover of Amy McDonald’s “Pretty Face”. It’s nice to see someone at the beginning of their career and she displays an easy rapport with the crowed as she announces that her second song is about her ex and scans the crowd to make sure he’s not amongst us (he isn’t, thankfully, but we think she knew that really).
You can see her opening for someone like Yasmin Coe once she gets a few more gigs under her belt. We slip easily into a cover of Lucy Rose’s “Shiver” – there’s a mournful, fragile, yet engaging quality about her voice which makes you want to watch and listen. Sadly, as we can only make half of each acts’ set, in order to be able to see at least a bit of everyone, we have to take our leave, but not before seeing somebody trip quite badly whilst collecting glasses – thankfully Molly is completely unfazed and continues to sing without missing a beat. One to keep an eye on, for sure. Good luck, Molly.
We hurtle up the stairs (note that the speed of the hurtle will diminish as the day progresses), out the back door, up the alley and up the red stairwell (not the one that leads to the half derelict building, for future reference) to AATMA, a venue surprisingly as yet unknown to us. We fling open the door to the more strident sounds of Plastic Heart. Another relatively new act, whose debut only took place in Stalybridge back in November, you can hear elements of The Cranberries and Wolf Alice in the powerful vocals of Huddersfield born Naomi Schofield, backed by guitarists Zak Hadfield and Jason Shenton, bass player Liv Alara, and drummer Loz Riley. Again, there’s no lack of confidence from these guys – you can catch them at the “Made in Manchester” festival in Dukinfield on the 27th of May and at 33 Oldham Street on the 31st, and if you fancy either of THOSE, why not give their debut demo EP “The Estate” (a track from which, “Embers” is the set closer) an earful, while you’re at it. Another one – or possibly five – to watch.
Just as an aside, it’s refreshing to see the degree of trust that the bands have both in each other and in us the audience as instruments and equipment of all descriptions from multiple acts is piled at the side of the stage waiting to be called into play within minutes of the previous act leaving the stage. The event is running to a very tight schedule and it’s a credit to the two stage managers Livy and Sam that everything keeps running smoothly.
Back down the stairs to The Peer Hat basement, to catch up with Timperley-based Amanda Heywood, accompanied by Andy Millington on guitar. Amanda delivers a silky, soulful blues-y performance, that start of which I really wished I’d seen, and it’s testament to Owen’s ability to put together a line-up that consists of such a diverse range of musical genres. Definitely an act where I wouldn’t have minded my photographs being ruined by a smoke machine, as it would have added to the 2AM night club ambience (I’m thinking Julie London ) perfectly.
The crowd are respectfully spellbound and applaud appreciatively between songs. Amanda’s interpretation of “I need your love so bad” by Peter Green (of Fleetwood Mac fame, but then you knew that already didn’t you?) is achingly good and it’s only a shame that another of today’s billed acts, Damien Like McNeilly hasn’t been able to turn up, as she was planning on singing with him too later in the day. Ah well, we can’t have anything. Andy’s guitar makes me look for a rocking chair and a wooden balcony, but sadly, neither are to be seen as we take our leave and head back to AATMA for The Information Highway.
Describing themselves as “From East Manchester and proud of it – a keyboard and guitar based indie band with 250 years of musical experience”, I love these guys before they’ve even played a note (although the New Order-y strings and a riff that sounds like a cross between “Ceremony” and “Age of Consent” that starts the first song we hear doesn’t do their case any harm at all). Formed during lockdown and comprising Lee Kyte on vocals, rhythm guitar and (on this occasion) broken arm, Lee Gallagher (nephew of the great Joey Gallagher, should anyone remember him) on lead guitar, Joe Best on drums, Lee Wimp on bass and backing vocals and Jeff Wood on keyboards, there’s all sorts going on with these guys with elements of The Charlatans and The Mondays permeating their sound.
There’s such a sense of joy with these guys and an obvious love of what they do, you can’t help but be drawn in. We’re advised to enjoy ourselves and get drunk, but not so much that you break your arm, admonishes Kyter – not that he’s allowed it to get in the way of a thumping good set, thankfully. Catch them next at The Cavern Pub in Liverpool on Sunday and none other than The Cavern Club on the following Bank Holiday Monday.
No rest for the wicked as we plunge back into the depths of The Peer Hat to see what Violet Club have to offer us – hopefully something not QUITE as explosive as the British Cold-War nuclear device after which they are named. Comprising Hamish on drums (mentioned first because it was he who provided me with the band info), Sam on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jay on bass and Harvey on lead guitar, Editor Girl and I have managed to make it in time for the start of their set, which is a raucous affair during which we’re advised that there’s an Irish Violet Club on Insta too, should we wish to seek them out, but that the one we’re looking at right now is the best one. Obviously.
The second tune is, optimistically, “Going to be a hit” – and why wouldn’t it be? Another band at the start of their journey, they don’t have any gigs lined up, nor do they have a release date for any music, (although they’re planning to record soon) but there’s something about them I like already, borne out by the fact that whilst I’m listening to the playback of what I recorded as I’m writing, I can remember how the chorus goes – always a good sign!
You have to appreciate the work that goes into putting on these grassroots events, as for many bands they’re their first step on the long road to becoming established. Even though the audiences may be small, at least there’s an audience and it’s an opportunity to start to learn the tricks of your craft, such as learning how to interact with an audience.
We’d attended a gig the previous evening (not saying who) which, production-wise and sound-wise, was the epitome of excellence, but just no audience interaction at all. Audiences like to be acknowledged just as much as artistes and it’s an important skill to hone if you want folk to come back a second time. No problems in this area for Violet Club as they engage in friendly banter with those of us who have made the trip this afternoon. Keep an eye out for them.
A brief respite for our already howling calves (which sounds like a band who SHOULD have appeared today, but who got held up due to an accident on the M56 near Warrington) as Damian Luke’s absence from proceedings means that we can stay in The Peer Hat and witness Corvus & The Morning Star who describe themselves as “Hailing from the Greater Parts of Manchester” and feature Charlie Sherliker on vocals & rhythm guitar, Greg Neil on Lead guitar, Lewis Bolton on bass and Paul Hunt on drums and sharing an employer with Your Humble Reviewer.
Their latest single “You’re the only one” (which is due to stream down your streaming thingies on the 3rd of June), also features in today’s set. The fifth member of the ensemble, Frankie Stokes (who tambourines and percusses with things) isn’t part of the line-up today, but the other four deliver a dreamy, psych-y set which gets the audience, now starting to increase in size as we head into the late afternoon, nodding appreciatively. Their bio describes them as “A modern blend of 60’s psych rock, blues, late 80’s and 90’s psych tones, but bringing these up to date with a contemporary edge” and I couldn’t POSSIBLY argue with that. Another group whose progress I shall be watching with some interest.
Where do we go now, dear reader – why once more into the breach – or to be more precise, outside, along the alley and up the red stairwell at AATMA to see the force of nature that is VeeVV. Mark Ormrod is on vocals, Chris Anderton plays guitar and electronics, and Martin Reynolds is on bass. They have a have a 7″ single (ooh, vinyl) out at the moment called ‘All Your Money’ and it will be followed by their first album out later this year and more Manchester dates in August/September. They’re an intriguing proposition for sure – Mark is visually fearsome (sorry, mate!), but off stage is as nice a guy as you’d hope to meet. Musically, to me at least, they have a Madchester vibe about them – Martin stays out of the way at the back leaving Chris to do incredible things with electronics and percussion as well as his guitar, in turn leaving Mark up front to do his thing, which he does with great gusto – definitely a case for this business not being just for the youngsters! I’ll be looking out for them as they remind my ears of my oh-so-distant youth!
The legs are definitely in need of Sanatogen or Buckfast, or something as we thunder (well, more of a light shower) into the darkness once again to catch up with Lymm-based Olly Thornton who plays an excellent acoustic set down in The Peer Hat More accustomed to fronting 4-piece pop/indie/rock/electronic UNO MAS, this is an opportunity for him to show us what he’s capable of without his bandmates – which is impressive.
You can catch them headlining at Gorilla on the 9th of September, which isn’t as far away as it sounds, worryingly. It’s disappointing not to be able to see a complete set by any one band or artiste, such is the wealth of tightly-packed talent on display, but thankfully, The Humble Reviewer and Editor Girl are already armed with an impressive list of “Oooh, I like him/her/them”s to follow up in the coming weeks and months.
Back in AATMA, Horsemeat turn up the volume enough to raise the dead, or at least anyone in the ever-growing crowd who MIGHT look as though they need waking up. Formed late in 2019, Horsemeat are today’s first (and indeed only) band to provide me with a new genre (regular readers will know full well that I love me some hot genre action) – namely “Prunge – a mix of Grunge, Punk and Prog” – awesome! Vocalist and bass man Rob Jenkinson is ably complemented by Bert Genovese on guitar/vocals and Lewis Kirk on drums and if you’re quick, you can see them at The Salty Dog in Northwich on Saturday the 27th, followed by Atherton’s Snug on the 17th of June. And why on earth wouldn’t you?
So far, the crowd have loved today’s acts, but it’s interesting to note the other activities that take place in the alleyway linking the two venues. Bands catching up with each other, photographers comparing notes and kit (can’t beat a bit of lens envy) and at the centre of it all, assorted RGM folks and Owen, flitting from person to person, making sure everyone’s having a good time and that they’re where they’re supposed to be WHEN they’re supposed to be – well done, that man.
Northwich/Crewe-based Myria comprise frontman/guitarist/producer Leo, Izzy on bass, Charlie on drums and vocals and Ben on guitar and they have a two-track single out on the 2nd of June, as well as headlining at The Hive in Winsford on the 14th of July. In the meantime, they treat us to a shouty, energy-packed set (they describe themselves as having, “The energy of 10 self-immolating monks meditating in a fireworks factory”, so why on earth wouldn’t they?) as Leo is unwittingly added into my “Photogenic hair to watch for the future” category. Enthusiastic, great fun and nice and loud – what’s not to love?
Next up (or in this case, down), we have North – hailing from the north (unsurprisingly) of Manchester, Stu Wolfenden on vocals, Darren Duffy on guitar, Molly Duffy on lead guitar, Stan Matthews on bass and Foz on drums, they’re playing The Hop and Hazelwood in Tyldesley this coming Saturday the 27th May) so I hope this review gets out in time! Their latest single “Take a Deep Breath” is another look at the (very poor) state of things in the country at the moment. With debut EP Rise and a debut album giving us something to look forward to early next year, North played an accomplished set (at least the bit we saw) – another one that I wish I’d seen in its entirety, but never mind – someone else to hunt down!
Deep into headline act territory now, it’s a quick rush to catch up with The Marbellas. Formed in late 2019 in North Manchester (where else?) they describe themselves as “An alternative/indie/rock and roll band that embodies a deep appreciation for all things northern”. Their line-up comprises Brish Harvey (vocals + acoustic guitar), Jordan Ames (rhythm), Adrian Knowles (lead), Matty Cassidy (bass), and Joe Deegan (drums).
They’re another one to keep an eye on too as their live reputation already precedes them on the Manchester circuit and beyond. Their first full EP, “Chains” was released last June, followed by the ‘Live at Gullivers’ EP in March 2023. If you had to come up with their influences, you’d maybe be channelling Ocean Colour Scene, The Stone Roses, The Jam, The Smiths, and Stereophonics, but you wouldn’t want to pigeonhole them QUITE so tightly as their sound can often have a rawer, punkier edge, as demonstrated during tonight’s set. You can determine the interest by looking at the numbers in the crowd, which has by now swelled significantly. Theirs is a lively and energetic set that will also need following up at some point. WHEN are Editor Girl and I going to find time to fit all these new-found bands in?
Black Sonic Revolver take to the stage for one of the dreaded teatime slots, not made any easier by the abundance of nearby eateries that The Northern Quarter has available to tempt festival goers outside. Nevertheless, for those that choose to forgo nutrition and stay for the fun, Leon Kenny (vocals/guitar) Craig Devlin (guitar), Matt Byrne (bass), David Andrews (drums) play a fine set, comprising four songs from their upcoming album and four from their previous release. It’s a nice little touch when Leon asks for a cigarette lighter from the audience during a song, then uses it to play slide guitar during “Rules”. They are then joined on stage for set closer “Space & Time” by a girl from the audience on tambourine. Again, this highlights the importance of interacting with your fans whenever possible – this is how connections are forged, and more importantly, maintained.
The good folk of Ventrelles provide me with my second new genre of the day – they describe themselves as “Purveyors of “Fleece Pop” – yay! – another Manchester-based (STILL trying to make the connection with all these bands – I wonder WHAT it could be..?) band, fronted by Phil Knox, with Connor Long on lead, Paul Mawhinney on bass and Gaylord (G-Lo) Knott on drums, they play songs reminiscent of 80s groups such as the Pale Fountains and Echo and the Bunnymen, so their sound drifts easily across my battered lobes, and when they stray into the harder realms of the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Chameleons, then I like them even more. Definitely file under “Shimmery”. Sigh – another tick in the “See again?” box.
Describing themselves as a 5-piece rock band from Sheffield, Matilda Shakes, formed in 2019, consists of James Hallam on vocals and guitar, Jack Poulson on guitar, Sean Yeardley on bass & Joel Haddon on drums, the missing man being Kyle Sales who missed all the fun today due to illness – get well soon, mate, but fair play to the others for going ahead anyway! – They played a powerful 7 song set which was much appreciated by the crowd and should you want to catch this energetic crew, you can see them at Macclesfield’s Party in The Pews after party on the May 28th before heading home to play Mosfest on the 3rd June. Recording-wise, expect to see set opener Adrenaline released sometime in July.
Health Points are getting reaching critical levels as the sun dips over The Northern Quarter (well, it would be doing if we could see it) and we approach the final quarter of the day’s events – palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy (although a plate of Mom’s spaghetti would be most welcome at the moment) – right now, Yikes is just as likely to be our exclamation as we miss our footing on the stairs, but still we plough on with our ten hour mission – to seek out new bands and new genres – to boldly review where no (wo)man has reviewed before.
Yikes (or Y!kes, and occasionally just Y!x” hail from Birmingham and flit between punk, grunge and glam with effortless ease. Frontman Oli Long’s vocals really have to be heard to be believed, ably assisted by Liam Howard (guitar), TJ Weston (drums) and Rob McIntosh (bass) – think Nirvana, Iggy and The Stooges, Alice in Chains and Enter Shikari, but all these influences are mixed into something quite unique to these guys. Shouty, powerful and fun to watch – file under “To be hunted down”.
The Saddleworth-based generation-spanning “Gen X-Z psychedelic punks” Stepford Wives line-up today contains a new face – Niklos Jackson (guitar, lead vocals), Rowan Heywood (bass, backing vocals and MORE photogenic hair) and Brad Barlow (lead guitar & backing vocals) are familiar to fans, but today they’re joined by new boy Nathan Lowe behind the drums. Apart from their fiercely independent and non-conformist approach to what they do, the mix of youth (Rowan) and almost world-weary experience (Niklos) works remarkably well – a best of both worlds, if you will. They also have the dubious privilege of being the first band I ever photographed “officially”, as support to The Blue Orchids at Night and Day Café – although this seems like MANY moons ago, although it was only last September. Thankfully, my unrequited patronage doesn’t seem to have done them any harm at all and their combination of easy charm and energy captivates the crowd, with Niklos leaping enthusiastically into their midst. However, as a Facebook post featuring a VERY large icepack the following day warns, “Don’t jump off the stage mid song when you already have a torn knee cartilage”. Stay safe kids.
The Battery Farm, comprising Ben Corry (vocals/guitar/fly mask/erotic dancing), Dom Corry (lead guitar and scary noises), Paul Worral (bass and vaguely disturbing lemon trackie) and Sam Parkinson (drums and… well, that’s it. really. But DAMN good drums, all the same) are embarking on a new chapter having taken their Flies album (and its Flies Alive counterpart, recorded at Gullivers last year) to some very dark places, accompanied by the Fly Mask of Damnation (see my earlier reviews – I REALLY don’t want to have to talk about it again…) which sits perched atop a mic stand, staring at us all. Waiting to consume us all.
If you haven’t seen these guys, I strongly recommend that you make it a priority to do so since as a live act, there are few bands to touch them. Frontman Ben adds a degree of the theatrical to the proceeding as he skips and jumps amongst bandmates and audience alike. Paul is back on bass after his temporary absence at The Castle Hotel a few weeks ago and Dom forces sounds out of his guitar that really don’t belong in our universe. All underpinned by Sam’s manic Killing Joke-like pounding from the rear, their set is a fine way to make sure that everyone is ready for the mayhem that Pagans SOH will bring, but in the meantime, if you’re anywhere near Jimmy’s on the 2nd of June, there are far worse ways to spend a tenner.
The Peer Hat’s headliner, Bury’s Urban Theory consists of Alexander Quinn on vocals and guitar, Josh Rowlands on bass guitar and backing vocals, Oliver Wisla on drums, and Jake Heath on lead guitar. Formed in the summer of 2016, their bio describes themselves simply as, “A Manchester-based Indie/Post Punk band”, but it’s fair to say that there’s more to these guys than that label might suggest. They deliver their indie/dark new wave set with much energy and enthusiasm, and for those of we flaggers who’ve been here since midday, this is exactly what is required. If you missed them (and you really shouldn’t have), you can catch them at The Deaf Institute on the 1st of July and Bolton’s Right to Roam festival (night show) and the Neck of The Woods festival (early show) the following weekend. They tell me that they’re currently working on an EP that has reached the mixing stage, so we look forward to hearing that in the coming months too.
AATMA’s headliner, West Bromwich-based Pagans SOH (Shepherds of Humanity) with a pedigree dating back to 2016 are someone with whom Your Humble Reviewer and Editor Girl are familiar, as we saw them at Rockaway Beach in Bognor back in January and based on that performance, we’re expecting great things and they certainly don’t disappoint. Describing themselves as being on a “Pagan voyage” they combine so many elements from rap, hip-hop, punk, funk, jazz, metal and reggae, it’s impossible to pigeonhole them, apart from filing them very firmly under “Loud” and, just as importantly, “Fun”. Made up of Marcus Lesycsyznski-Hall on vocals, Daragh Guest on guitar, Conor Hodgkiss on drums, Nathaniel Hellier-Allport on bass and Theo Grant on percussion, they’re an assault on the ears and the eyes from the outset with bass wielder Nathaniel leaping into the audience at every opportunity to throw himself around and lock horns with Battery Farm frontman and labelmate (Rare Vitamin) Ben Corry, or indeed anyone else who cares/dares to make eye contact. As with Peer Hat counterparts Urban Theory, they bring a well-needed dose of Bucky-level energy with which to close off tonight’s proceedings.
And so, our work here is done – we stagger down the stairs for the last time and head off to the tram stop on Market Street where, in true Manchester style, I get drawn into an unwanted discussion with a VERY wide-eyed gentleman who insists that I’m part of a conspiracy that was responsible for him having his jacket stolen from there the previous week. Things threaten not to end well when I make the BIG mistake of smiling at him – never a good idea on these occasions. Thankfully, the tram chooses to arrive at that moment to whisk us off to the sun-drenched delights of Wythenshawe, where, hopefully an Uber will be waiting to help complete the final mile of our journey. £9.78 has NEVER been so well spent. Owen has put on a fine show today and the grass roots scene of Manchester and beyond has received another well-deserved shot in the arm.
If you can get to see ANY of the bands or artistes who made an appearance today, you really won’t be disappointed – After All, live music is what we’re All here for – cheers, Owen – see you next year.