Hot on the heels of the force of nature that was Vlure at The Brudenell on Thursday and the scarce-contained mayhem of Yabba at The Castle on Friday, Saturday sees your humble reviewer returning to The Castle to take in Duvet, Hank and Umarells. Running on fumes a bit by this point and with knees (and to be fair, pretty much the rest of me too) starting to crumble after two evenings of pointing a camera at folk from assorted angles, I’m hoping that tonight will provide some respite… but then, dear reader, you KNOW that that’s not going to happen, don’t you? Acknowledging Alexis Panidis, the man behind Sabotage, who are putting on tonight’s event and locating long-suffering gig buddy and sometime camera bag security man Mark, I stake my place at the front and wait for events to unfold. I wonder if I look good on the dancefloor? Probably not.
With a literal translation of “Little man”, “Umarell” is an Italian term for a man of retirement age who is hired (or chooses) to watch construction sites (especially roadworks) whilst offering unwanted advice to the workers and generally getting in the way. Who knew? This reviewing business is an education, for sure. Comprising Imogen Badrock on vocals and synth, Josh Yeung on guitar and backing vocals, Ryan Marsden on bass and Sarah Knowles on drums, this is only their third show, so absolutely NO pressure.
To help calm the nerves, Umarells have brought along a sizeable following who whoop and holler after each song, but the praise is not undeserved – for a band so early in their career, their vulnerability is mostly concealed by the confidence of a close knit group of friends who are happy to be on stage with each other and happy to play for their friends, but on the strength of this performance, they won’t have to rely on their friends to make up their audiences for much longer. They’re a close-knit group who have been friends for a long time – Imogen and Ryan shared the same accommodation for a while, Josh and Sarah went to secondary school together and Imogen found Josh a job at Bundobust… you want to like these real people before you’ve even heard them play a note. Bundobust was apparently a catalyst for song writing, but circumstances conspired to put it all on hold for a couple of years before a weekend in Blackpool started it up again, thankfully.
Their first gig saw Imogen break her ankle and spend the night in A+E, so hopefully things are going to run a lot more smoothly tonight. Umarells’ songs drifts along dreamily like a rowboat on a sunny afternoon with Imogen’s delicate vocals complemented by Josh’s at stage left. Imogen takes on a lot of responsibility with lead vocals and keyboards, but this role doesn’t seem to faze her in the slightest as Ryan and Sarah keep the whole thing moving along nicely. There’s a small but noisy element in the crowd (who are possibly a day too late for Yabba from the previous evening) who take the whooping and hollering to extremes on occasion, much to the annoyance of their real friends who are anxious to shush the noise to allow the quartet to just get on with it.
Imogen’s vocals are delicate and winsome and you can imagine her coming into her own in the confines of a studio where she’d benefit from the luxury of being able to do one thing at a time with her voice brought to the fore (as well as not having a rowdy crowd to deal with), but in the meantime you can’t help but be drawn into Umarells’ gentle world of keyboard-driven skilfully-crafted indie pop. Occasional glances between the four of them seem to say, “Look – we’re doing it! as their six-song set happily progresses. They don’t really sound like anybody, which is no bad thing, but if I had to make an old skool comparison, I’d be thinking of Tracey Thorn, with leanings towards Yasmin Coe for a more contemporary comparison.
Umarells leave the stage with the sense of a job well done – this was a good showing for their third time out and they can only get better. Thank heavens for days out in Blackpool.
Umarells setlist consisted of mostly untitled songs as they haven’t got around to naming many of them yet, but here goes: Ur Not Here, The Garden (possibly), Untitled, To the Tide (possibly), Orange Night (Old Misshapen Bones) and Teeth Right In (again possibly!)
This is London-based 4-piece Hank’s first appearance in Manchester, and they haven’t played many shows apart from that either, so tonight seems to be the night for the Mancerati to experience new things. Comprising Lola Stephen (front and centre) and Pip Russon (stage left) on guitar and vocals, Maddy O’Keefe on bass (stage right) and Ash Kenazi on drums (yep, at the back, although still managing to make the most outrageous expressions down my lens), they define their sound as “Defiantly avoiding the current wave of ‘post-punk’ and Sprechgesang” (and no, I didn’t know either – apparently, it’s “A style of dramatic vocalization intermediate between speech and song” – so there). They also skilfully employ elements from shoegaze and 90’s inspired alternative rock, whilst managing not to be pigeonholed as either.
Despite having only played a handful of shows, they’ve shared stages with such folk as Modern Woman (who supported TV Priest at YES not so long ago, as well as making an appearance at Rockaway beach in January), Been Stellar, Humour, Tapir!, Pretty Happy (check out “Boots”) at the London Windmill and Film Noir. Describing themselves as “Made up of a mix of promoters, DJs, and previous members of Happyness and Dog”, Hank plan on getting their first release to us some time in 2023. My research has been less than successful in yielding much information about them, definitely supporting their other description of themselves as “Mysterious” – you’d do far better to try to seek them out individually than as Hank, which will get you absolutely nowhere. They certainly make a fine noise and their twenty-four-minute set of six short and as-yet unnamed songs capture the attention of the crowd who whoop appreciatively after each. If I try hard, I can hear bits of Nirvana and possibly even Bauhaus and a smattering of Fontaines-y guitarwork lurking in there and whilst Lola’s vocal style is something akin to Just Mustard’s Katie Ball, by and large, Hank really DO defy categorization or comparison. Just go and see them, would be my advice.
None of Hank’s songs have proper titles yet, or are working titles at best, so I have nothing to give you, dear reader.
This is Duvet’s biggest Manchester gig so far as well as being their first in Manchester this year. Early research suggests that THIS Duvet is NOT the Duvet described as, “The ultimate covers band, perfect for weddings, balls and private functions”, although I’d be happy to be a guest at any wedding that DID have them performing. THIS Duvet describe themselves as a female-fronted Manchester-based independent five-piece post-Punk band with Punk influences (possibly a bit niche for a ball, then, but who knows?) They got together in June 2020, releasing Post Punk/Dream Pop song Running Around in Circles, but since then, their sound has taken on a heavier, more energetic feel.
There’s a definite riot grrrl thing going on here, with seemingly limitless amounts of energy. After almost three years of local gigging, Duvet have built up a strong following, and I spot at least one member of fellow Mancunians Supera Morza helping to create, then participating in a fearsome mosh, into which vocalist Grace Walkden cheerfully leaps, urging the crowd forward so as those at the back of the Castle’s gig space will be able to avoid being squashed. Ably backed by Tasmin Stephens on guitar and enormous sunglasses, newcomer Jimmi Brown on bass (replacing the recently departed and sadly missed El), Victoria Melling on drums and Seth Lloyd on guitar, here’s a gang out to have fun of the absolute shoutiest grrrittiest variety, before doing it all again supporting Warmduscher at YES’s Pink Room two days later. Having just recently supported Loose Articles at Northwich’s Salty Dog and played alongside local heroes Pyncher and English Teacher here back in December and the Ferret in Preston earlier this month, nobody could ever accuse Duvet of not working hard for their money.
CowGirl Rodeo includes some welcome cowbell (and we all know the first rule of Cowbell Club – you can NEVER have too much cowbell) with Grace clattering away furiously from underneath a Fred Perry beret – try saying THAT after a few pints… In Clown Clown Clown, Grace’s vocals and breakneck pace remind me very much of Pauline Murray at her most powerful. Tasmin’s and Seth’s guitars wail mournfully throughout P.I.P. – this is an energetic performance that will clock in at under 30 minutes, but that doesn’t matter – it’s quality over quantity tonight.
Grace tries to pull anybody who’s less than 3 feet from the stage even further forward, admonishing anyone who is still reluctant with “NO – don’t hide!” before announcing that she doesn’t have a setlist as she’s reading from her phone – The Humble Reviewer panics momentarily, but thankfully, via the wonders of Instabook, they send it to me later, so all good. The next song hasn’t been named, she announces, before having one last go at dragging us forward. “I’m not scary”, she pleads. Well, she is, just a bit, but doesn’t the best music come with just a hint of a threat? Sunk Again with its mournful spoken delivery slows the pace ever so slightly, but neither the energy nor the tightness of the music are diminished in the slightest – Duvet have things to say and they’re damn well going to say them, thank you very much, Vicar.
Sweaty Dog picks up the pace again combining post-punk and noisy rock, but never losing its rhythm for a second, a fact appreciated by the crown who gleefully sway/jump/avoid the broken glass in time to the beat. Fellow tog Sinead, a fixture at so many of these local gigs scuttles enthusiastically back and forth, worryingly disappearing to the ground briefly, before she is rescued by a sea of friendly hands. I think I may need to upgrade my injury insurance soon. With the promise of new music soon, all too quickly it’s time for the inevitable call to the merch stand and tonight’s set closer Sweaty Dog. “Come and have a dance”, implores Grace. Older members of the crowd (well, me) inwardly channel X Ray Spex’s “Identity”, but there are shades of pre-Factory Joy Division in amongst the echoey vocals too.
If you’re looking for “a” duvet, you’ll definitely get more Google hits for those than you will for this gang (and don’t forget that wedding band), but don’t let that put you off. Like many (especially newer) bands of their genre, their Internet presence is minimal and it’s not easy to capture what they do with words alone – you have to get off your derrière and see them for yourself. Twenty-six and a half minutes of energy, exuberance and noise say I’m not wrong.
Duvet played: GirlCow Rodeo, Clown Clown Clown, P.I.P., Untitled, Sunk Again and Sweaty Dog.
P.S. Thanks as always to Alexis Panidis of Sabotage Manchester for allowing me to shoot and review the gig. Sabotage’s next event is The Accident Group and Autocamper at The Castle on Saturday the 15th of April.