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:: Goldblade :: Liam Frost :: The Janice Graham Band :: Christopher Eatough :: The Watchers :: Mind On Fire Band :: The Farm :: Rook & The Ravens :: Suzuki Method ::
20 May 2011 / Capesthorne Hall / Cheshire
By Cath Aubergine

"Is the dance tent this way?" asks a bloke whose eyes are wavering about. Six o'clock on day one of a festival and we've already clocked a contender for "might not make it through the weekend". It's still pretty quiet at this point - but given that about half the population of Manchester is headed this way this weekend we're guessing many will be coming down after work. Slightly unfortunate for those on early doors - there's a little gathering at the Bowl Stage where Salford's THE SUZUKI METHOD are whipping up some 21st century indie funk. The next band on is not the one listed, and a little investigation reveals that the Big Top Tent - the largest of the festival's indoor stages - has been deemed unsafe and the bands transferred to other stages; good job there were only three on there tonight. ROOK AND THE RAVENS supply some down-to-earth bluesy traditional rock which makes a nice accompaniment to chilli and nachos, and the sun breaks through for the first time.

After a few years of putting on great if often flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants live music events around Manchester including the wonderful how-many-bands-can-you-see-in-a-day January specials in Jabez Clegg and Kro, Friends Of Mine seemed to go rather quiet in 2010. Promoters come and go in this city; perhaps they'd just gone? When the news broke in December that they were planning a "proper" festival, countryside and camping and that, the scale seemed just so much bigger than anything they'd attempted before. The venue is Capesthorne Hall, one of those stately homes of which there seem to be loads in Cheshire - conveniently situated on the A34 just a short drive out of Manchester: at last, the North West, home to so many music scenes for so many years, was getting its own festival. True, there's Kendal Calling, but that's relocated further north these days.

The bill, overall, is a mix of the brand new and the very retro, with hot bands du jour such as Yuck and Factory Floor rubbing shoulders with the likes of The Wedding Present and A Certain Ratio. (And indeed Buzzcocks, The Fall, The Charlatans, Badly Drawn Boy, The Lightning Seeds... prompting one friend of a friend of ours to ask if FOM stood for "For Old Men"). However, where the cool, southern Offset pitches itself directly as a deliberate juxtaposition of current and breakthrough acts with influential elder statesmen, here it's all just music. So while young bands from Manchester and further afield pile their amps into borrowed vans for what will in many cases be their first festival appearances, on the main stage THE FARM are knocking out the vintage to a crowd that for the most part won't see 40 again. You can sneer all you like at "pension pop" (and we do, frequently) but "Love See No Colour" and "All Together Now" work pretty well in the late afternoon sunshine (Got one great tune? Why not do it twice with different words?) - but there's a younger and much livelier party about to kick off down on the Lake Stage courtesy of four lads barely conceived when The Farm were actually relevant...

THE JANICE GRAHAM BAND have, within about three songs, managed to pull about half the population of the festival into their party. They're always good live, but tonight they're playing like headliners - bursting with confidence (no doubt bolstered by their recent signing to the legendary Acid Jazz label) and sounding spot on. Even after seeing them a good few times now their tightness is still impressive: "You Can Dance" brings the vibe of classic Northern Soul firmly into 2011 and forthcoming single "Murder" sees a lot of bouncing about - it's like everything up to here was just warm-up and now the festival's got going. An inspired piece of scheduling, that.

Janice Graham Band; Christopher Eatough

The Bowl Stage still seems to be operating on some random timezone all of its own, but this is good because it means not having to choose between The Watchers and CHRISTOPHER EATOUGH. He's in the Capesthorne Arms, as the name implies a Real Ale tent with a stage mostly dedicated to singer-songwriter type acts. Of which the north west has never exactly had a shortage, but right now this young man outshines most of them: there's just something about that voice and grasp of melody that makes him utterly absorbing (even when the sound bleed from the rather more raucous Ronnie's Bar next door would be enough to put anyone off their stride - as indeed would the bloke sat in the middle of the room who appears to be downing a pint down a long plastic funnel...) Those Jeff Buckley comparisons are not undeserved. Seems like such a lovely bloke, too: "There's a band called The Answering Machine and they stopped making music this week, they were going to play on Sunday, so I'm going to play one of their songs - probably not as well as they do..." - on the last point he's very wrong, and his beautifully haunting "Rose" is a tribute by which they'd be truly honoured.

Quite why THE WATCHERS' guitarist is wearing a feather head-dress is frankly anybody's guess, but as someone's just walked past in a full tiger suit I'm going to put it down to "that stuff that happens at festivals" - it's lasted all of half a song before being shaken off anyway. There's something delightfully anachronistic about this Tyneside quartet - just when you think you've got them nailed down as Radiohead fans who graduated to Pink Floyd they go off on some insane Exit Calm type sprawl-out then shift into weird four-way chanting. And then turn into Secret Machines. What with the mini Prog revival we've got going in on in Manchester right now it's little surprise they're catching attention on our side of the country. Shame the crowd seems to have largely shifted into the main arena by this point, but if you chose The Lightning Seeds over this glorious psychedelic journey, then have a good long look at yourself. Yes, somewhere in the distance Ian Broudie is singing "The Life Of Riley" - a quick escape is in order before we get some subliminal urge to buy whatever it is is advertised with it - so into the Lake Bar tent it is for more psychedelia, this time of the reverb-heavy dub variety courtesy of THE MIND ON FIRE BAND. There's eight members of the collective on stage and the result is a rich liquidy space-out that if you were watching it in a city venue you'd be thinking "this would go down a storm at a festival" - and indeed it does.

The Watchers; Mind On Fire Band

The other half of the site which accommodates the Bowl Stage and the stricken Big Top (as well as two small tent stages) is still rather less populated when we head back over for GOLDBLADE with Bad Lieutenant on the main stage proving surprisingly popular. The band's dissatisfaction is evident and anyway, John Robb is not one to hide his opinions on anything - "we might as well be playing in the campsite" - but he's also very much not the sort of bloke to throw a hissy-fit about such things, preferring instead to convert frustration into sheer energy, so we get a set that's fast, furious and frenzied even by Goldblade's already high standards of such. "Fighting On The Dancefloor" and "Strictly Hardcore" kick things off; by four songs in John's not only lost his shirt but acquired a woolly Blackpool FC hat with dangly bits from a fan (there will, of course, be further disappointment a couple of days later for the Seasiders but right now there's still hope - "are there any Manchester United fans here? You don't need that win, do you?") and dragged a load of fans up onstage to dance whilst the moshpit is wild but friendly. There's a tribute to Poly Styrene in the form of a brilliant "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" and even a small stage invasion before security get a bit worried; it's a truly joyous way to spend 40 minutes, and we may have been only few but we burnt more energy than the whole main stage crowd, pretty sure of that. Back in the Capesthorne Arms LIAM FROST makes for a lovely end to the evening, with the FOM founders down the front singing along to a universally demanded "Mourners Of St Paul's". It's not, of course, the actual end of the evening but this is Cheshire in May and we're not sleeping in a tent when there's a bed a short drive away... now where's the car?

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