A solo outing for The Humble Reviewer tonight, courtesy of those nice Information Highway chaps, who Editor Girl and I bumped into at The Violet Club’s gig at 33 Oldham Street a few weeks ago. The invitation had a graphic of The Hacienda on it, and somewhat foolishly, I assumed that that it would be nearby where I would find tonight’s venue, Taylor’s Shure 5 Studios, but, Dear Reader, this was not the case.
It is, in fact in Royton, near Oldham and as its 4th birthday approaches, it’s hopeful that owner (Chadderton-based musician Chris Taylor) isn’t not going to be hit with any Night and Day-type noise complaints any time soon, as the venue is situated on an industrial estate, mercifully free from the earholes and keyboards of pesky neighbours.
Comprising four rehearsal rooms and a beautifully-lit venue space with a balcony (with sofas!) and first-rate sound system, it really is a hidden treasure that deserves to be frequented – I urge you to seek it out with all haste.
First up is 18-year-old Oldham-based singer-songwriter Zeny Bux. Inspired by the likes of Oasis, the Stone Roses, The Las, The Smiths, The Who, The Jam and a whole host more, he’s been working his way around the North West circuit supporting the likes of Chris Helme, Mercy Kelly and Dirty Laces to name but a few.
He also numbers The Las’ John Power, Ian Brown, Cornershop’s Tjinder Singh and Clint Boon amongst his fans, so there’s absolutely NO pressure tonight as he takes to the stage armed with just an acoustic guitar and encased in what looks like a VERY warm Lambretta top. Let’s see what the boy’s got before he melts.
The answer is, quite a lot, to be fair. He opens up his predominantly covers-based set with an original track, “Better Dreams”, which sounds like it should have been an Oasis track with a title like that, but I eventually convince myself that it isn’t as he tells us that it’s due to be released on August the 6th (which should be just about the time this review is published).
The crowd respectfully shuts up, which is pleasing – no artist wants to think that somebody’s conversation is deemed more important than them pouring out their heart and soul. If this is the standard of song that Zeny is going to be able to put out there, he’s going to be able to drop the covers very soon indeed. He obviously has a lot of mates in the crowd who’ve come to support him as they belt out their support enthusiastically. After a false start that doesn’t put Zeny off in the slightest, second song “Flame” is also an original which loses some of the Oasis flavour, but is none the worse off for it.
We now launch into a set of covers from Zeny’s more obvious influences – The Stone Roses’ “She Bangs the Drums” sees the crowd sing along happily and it’s nice to see an opening act received as well as this. The Las’ “There She Goes” is followed in quick succession by Oasis’ “Supersonic” and The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” both of which get the crowd (including me) joining in. Zeny clearly feels no fear in tackling massive songs and his confidence builds as his set progresses. Many of those joining in probably weren’t even born when some of these songs came out originally, but they’re part of Manchester’s DNA and… well, you just KNOW them.
Zeny pauses to thank The Information Highway for having him along and expresses genuine surprise at the crowd’s reaction, compared with previous gigs where nobody turned up at ALL, but it’s clear that the crowd are here to see HIM too, as well as the more established acts. Cast’s “Alright” and The Who’s “My Generation” close off a fearless set that shows that this fella has the potential to pump out class songs of his own as well as pay tribute to the artists he’s covered tonight.
You can catch him next at St Anne’s Rugby Club, Oldham on the 5th August, The Old School BBQ Bus, Failsworth on the 12th of August and the Sounds of Manchester Festival, Salford on the 18th of August – crack on, Zeny!
Zeny Bux played: Better Dreams, Flame, She Bangs the drums, There She Goes, Supersonic, There is a Light That Never Goes Out, Alright and My Generation.
The Fixations are relative newcomers to the Manchester scene – formed at Manchester’s BIMM as recently as last November and comprising Sam Bennett (bass), Laurie Bradburn (vocals), Eden Hadfield (backing vocals), Thom Barlow (guitar) and Oli Sowden (drums), their polished performance belies their relative musical youth (an “Aha, see what I did there” for the older readership).
They launch into their set off the back of an introduction that promises that they’ll be “Really big, really soon” – it’s all any of us can hope for really. Laurie requests that we remove the obligatory early-in-the-gig gap and the front, so we all shuffle forward obligingly – well, a couple of steps at least – we hardly KNOW each other…!
Set opener “Complacency” gives us some fancy, almost Bruce Foxton-like basswork from Sam, stage left as Laurie and Eden take up vocal duties, complementing each other delightfully. The pace slows down for “My Child”, which Laurie dedicates to her Mum and her voice with its impressive range reminds me very much of Chrissie Hynde on this one.
Guitarist Thom is very much the performer of the group and in addition to some fine musicianship, particularly in the next song, (a cover of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”) he treats us to a wide range of slightly fearsome expressions as he prowls the stage. Good fun, though. “Cheers to Better Days” definitely has some Seven Nation Army lurking within its DNA as Oli displays his impressive prowess behind the drumkit before launching into “Obsession”.
Jazz this is not, but you could easily see these guys emerging from the smoke at 2 a.m. in some late-night club as the bar staff try to clear the last of the customers so they can go home. The songs are punchy, varied and brief, delivered with powerful vocals and tight instrumentation.
“Easy” is described as, “One for the hopeless romantic girlies in the audience” as Thom switches from electric to acoustic and the tempo ratchets down a couple of notches as Laurie and Eden harmonise to deliver something rather special. It just a pity that the crowd decide that this is the moment to increase THEIR chatter proportionally. Not good, folks. If you don’t want to listen, take your chatter outside – there are plenty of us who DO, and they signify their approval as it draws to a close.
Proceedings start to draw to a close as we launch into an energetic cover of Arctic Monkeys’ “Somebody” which has the crowd bouncing and it’s loud enough to drown out everybody else, thankfully. Last up is, “Equivocate” and Laurie invites us to bounce, which we’re only too happy to do. More dirty, squelchy bass from Sam, some more clever guitarwork from Thom and the drums get a final battering from Oli who has by now removed his shirt, much to the delight of certain quarters of the crowd, all backed up with Laurie’s powerful voice and Eden’s enchanting backing vocals.
Speaking to me after the gig, Laurie admits that the dream is, “Music full time”, and on the basis of tonight’s performance, your reviewer can see no reason why this shouldn’t be a thing. I know, because Somebody Told Me (sigh… I KNOW). You can catch The Fixations next at Bridge Fest in Stalybridge on the 2nd September and The Eagle Inn in Manchester on the 16th September!
The Fixations played: Complacency, My Child, Tainted Love, Cheers for The Better Days, Obsession, Easy, Somebody and Equivocate.
As mentioned earlier, The Information Highway and I have crossed paths before, at Owen Meikle-Williams’s After All Festival back in May and not only is this their event, but it’s at their invitation that I’m here, so, big thanks to them before I even get started here! They describe themselves as “From East Manchester and proud of it – a keyboard and guitar based indie band with 250 years of musical experience” which is as good a place to start as any.
Even though they’ve only been playing together in this lineup since the 2020 lockdowns, they variously boast a 30-year history of being in bands. What grabbed my attention back then was, in addition to their warmth and camaraderie, was a wonderful Manc-y, Madchester, baggy wraparound sound that made me want nothing more than to be in their gang, so I’m hoping tonight to see more of that and, Dear Reader, on this score, The Information Highway do NOT disappoint.
Lee “Kyter” Kyte takes vocals and rhythm guitar duties and thankfully on this occasion has both arms intact (one was broken at After All, and I STILL can’t figure out how he got through the set) accompanied by bandmates Lee “Gal” Gallagher (lead guitar and backing vocals) who’s only been with the band since the beginning of the year, but who looks like he’s been there forever, Joe Best (drums), Lee Gall (bass and backing vocals) and Jeff Wood (keyboards)
“Lift Your Head” opens tonight’s proceedings and if you close your eyes, you can feel like you’re back in Manchester thirty-odd years ago, which is exactly the desired effect – works for ME, at any rate.
The Information Highway play with the ease of a gang of mates who know exactly when and where they all need to be, knowing that they can rely on each other completely not to put a foot wrong. “Let You Down” tells us that “I’ll be around for as long as you want me”, and the message could equally be delivered to the recipient of the song, to each other or to us, it somehow really doesn’t matter.
If I listen hard enough, there are bits of, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” in amongst Lee’s keyboards if that helps, at all. The Three Lees (yes, I’ve only just realised that) raise their voices as one as we stand and stare at the spectacle of five unassuming blokes just having fun whilst bantering with their mates in the crowd.
“My Life” slows the pace a little and there’s some nifty solo work from Gal as Lee sings out mournfully, reminding me of a slowed down version of “Keep on Runnin”, but there’s a whole lot more emotion going on here – you feel like Kyter and the boys have lived these songs personally, such is their intensity and sincerity. “The Light” mercilessly whiplashes us back to 90s Manchester once again, but nobody is going to put in an insurance claim, that’s for sure.
“Iccarus” opens with some gorgeous church-ey/60s style keyboards – we may not be in the House of The Rising Sun, but we’re quite happy to pray at the Church of The Information Highway, thank you very much. Gal gives me a shout to remind me that this’ll be the first time that I’ve seen Kyter play with two arms, to which someone cheekily replies, “Does he know how to do that?”
“Silver” is a personal favourite of mine, because I think they’re going to launch into New Order’s “Ceremony” every time they kick it off – with its Hooky bass and shimmery keyboards hovering just on the edges of the Age of Consent, it’s utterly delightful. I’d dance, but togs are WAY too cool to dance (No, you’re not. Ed.) “Holy Ground” delivers a Mondays vibe and “Billy Liar” gives you a swift kick in your Charlatans, just when you’re not paying attention.
Kyter thanks everyone for attending before thanking soundman Chris for, “Making us sound better than we are” before launching into “Lazy Days”, a wonderful Stones-ey psychedelic romp across FAR too many decades, but it somehow doesn’t matter. Kyter introduces us to the band and advises us that if we come on their journey, they’ll come on ours. Where’s the app, so I can get me ticket?
If you want to see a gang of mates having fun, without paying too much attention to the inner voices asking you, “Where the HELL did all those years go?”, then catch The Information Highway next at Lions’ Den on the 11th of August, supporting Black Sonic Revolver. You’ll not be sorry, and at the very least, you’ll walk out with a smile on your face.
The Information Highway played: Lift Your Head, the Game, Let You Down, My Life, The Light, Icarus, Silver, Holy Ground, Billy Liar and Lazy Days.
Finally, another group of relative newcomers to the Manchester scene, Scapegrace are Isaac (bass), Tilly (vocals), Alfie (drums), and Matt (guitar). I’m told they don’t have surnames, but I wouldn’t be too sure. Although they’ve only been together since last September when they got together at BIMM Manchester, they seem to be destined for big things.
Having recently secured support slots next year with none other than the Happy Mondays after catching the ear of the legendary Mr Ryder whilst appearing on Mancunia TV. Not a bad gig to net, in ANYBODY’s book, and they’re also off to Steve Barnard’s studio in Guildford in September to start recording under the watchful eye of none other than The Script’s Ben Sargeant. Exciting times indeed.
Scapegrace burst onto the stage with the force of a small nuclear device and it would appear that they don’t plan to put the genie back in the bottle for the next forty-five minutes, which is fine with me and, by the end of set opener, “White Lies”, would appear to be fine with everyone else too. “Polly Pocket” allows Tilly to demonstrate her powerful vocal range, matched with an infectious energy that’s shared by her bandmates.
She asks us to, “Jump about” and there are definite signs that that might happen sometime tonight. “All Day All Night” is a no-nonsense, heads down rock, and allows each band member to be introduced and given thirty seconds in the proverbial shop window to demonstrate their solo skills, which they do with great enthusiasm as they merge seamlessly into “Lullaby”.
Comparisons between Tilly and the iconic Debbie Harry have been made elsewhere and on the face of it, it’s not hard to see why, but in addition to the hair, thankfully, Tilly also shares Ms. Harry’s energy, sass and the ability to get a crowd eating out of her hand. Oh yes, and she can belt out a choon, too.
Next up is second single “Scars”, which has only been out for a week at the time of writing (22nd July) and has been described elsewhere as, “Kate Bush stuck in an elevator with three members of Radiohead” – an interesting, if somewhat snug analogy, so let’s see how that works out. There also currently seems to be a penchant for pleas for drummers to take their tops off, but Alfie defuses the situation by announcing that he’ll pass as he’s put a bit of weight on. “Scars” is a less frantic number – a little slower and a little more thoughtful, as is “New Age”.
Now it’s time for a bit of fun with an impressive cover of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”, including a few Lene Lovitch (ask your grandparents, kids) whoops thrown in for good measure. It would be a difficult to pigeonhole Scapegrace as their setlist covers a fair range of pop and rock genres (and you KNOW how I love a genre), but that’s probably no bad thing as pigeonholing is the last thing that any band needs.
What DOES strike you is a self-confidence that belies their young years – they have the air of four people who know where they want to be and have their eyes set firmly on it. You HAVE to believe in yourselves to try to cover something like Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know”, but seeing as they clearly do, that’s what we’re treated to next. Tilly may be fronting this operation, but it’s clear that they’re very much a team with each member making a vital contribution to the whole.
It’s back to punk for “Riot Life” and I swear I can even sense Poly Styrene smiling down from somewhere as she’s also channelled through the sound system. Alfie (reluctantly bare-chested by now) also explodes into life as his both his inner and outer drummer engage in violent shenanigans with the drumkit, which comes out of things a very poor third.
As Arctic Monkeys covers seem to be de rigeur tonight, we’re treated to Scapegrace’s take on “Take Me Out” which is really something (and a lot louder too). The set draws to a close with the power pop of “Cigarettes and Party Sex” with Tilly singing her heart out as her bandmates take a final four minutes to wring every last decibel of noise out of their instruments.
And as swiftly as they arrived, they’re gone, after the usual round of thanks to us, to their fellow artistes and to the venue, which really has been a contributing factor to tonight’s proceedings. Scapegrace are able to combine confidence and ability and we wish great things for them, as we do for all tonight’s artistes – it’s a tough world out there, but by the (Scape)grace of God, they’ll make the big time.
Scapegrace played: White Lies, Polly Pocket, All Day All Night, Lullaby, Scars, New Age, Psycho Killer, Devil, You Oughta Know, Riot Life, Take Me Out and Cigarettes and Party Sex.