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FRIENDS OF MINE FESTIVAL: SATURDAY
:: Puressence :: The Longcut :: Buzzcocks :: Air Cav :: George Borowski :: Kong :: Frazer King :: The Phantom Band :: Patterns :: The Narrows :: David McAlmont :: The Minx :: Beats And Pieces Big Band :: Call Me Senor :: LA77 :: Dirty North :: Ruby Ann Patterson ::
21 May 2011 / Capesthorne Hall / Cheshire
By Cath Aubergine

Ronnie's Bar - the tent curated by the Blowout people - is open for business by midday, with RUBY ANN PATTERSON providing the accompaniment to a number of liquid breakfasts. (The two-for-a-tenner Mojitos seem very popular; by the end of the weekend there'll be so many discarded lime chunks Capesthorne Hall shouldn't be surprised if they have their own citrus grove in a year or two). Easing us in gently with some bright sunny acoustic pop she's later joined by a bassist and drummer; kind of reminds us a bit of Edie Brickell - could go a long way this one, she's got the voice and the songs, you could imagine her going down a storm on Jools Holland or something. Certainly talented, we'll forgive her for making us feel really, really old. Meanwhile the Big Top has at last been decared safe, and it's DIRTY NORTH who kick things off in there, pulling a big and enthusiastic crowd (some of whom quite clearly haven't been to bed) for some raw reggae-infused soulful pop - there's an excellent five-string deep dub bass actually vibrating the ground beneath our feet as frontman Johnny Gregory spills words like a hip hop freestyler and the drummer bounces over his kit like the Muppets' Animal. "Right, let's ave a fookin dance!" shouts Johnny and you know, I'd love to stay but I'm stone cold sober and my inner electronica geek is calling me back to Ronnies where LA77 are playing music completely inappropriate to quarter to one in the afternoon and/or a stately home in Cheshire: eerie melodica tones add depth to the downtempo beats and flickering bleeps.


LA77; Patterns

It says something about a festival line-up when there are this many clashes at this time of day, but it has to be PATTERNS. One of the most joyous experiences for a music fan is watching a band you love make their first big festival stage appearance. Opening the main stage, they step up to the task magnificently, the darkness and light of the brooding guitars and sparkling electronics perfectly balanced; newer track "Throwing Stones" is the high point of a faultless set and they win plenty of new fans. On a somewhat smaller stage (the Lake Bar) but still impressing pretty much everyone at their own festival debut are THE NARROWS: as ever the scale of their sound is arresting as two guitars fight it out with a dense mesh of synth, samples and beats. They finish with a visceral "Poll" that batters all the senses while singer Phil Drinkwater stands on the front of the stage staring at the crowd as if someone has really irritated him and he's going to track them down over the coming weeks and bury them in the woods.

All the way from Paris ("we're not going to tell you our story, it's a bit complicated, people died and shit"), CALL ME SENOR on the outdoor Lake Stage are summed up in four words by a friend of ours as "a two-man Kasabian" - a bit mean maybe, sound-wise he's got a point although they're rather more electropop. And we do like their sarcastic lyrics - "you say you hate a working day, I bet you've never even had one" - not bad for a second language... they start to go on a bit after a while though. And with various flavours of generic indie on the tent stages and Get Cape Wear Cape Fly (are you still here?) on the big one we find ourselves down at the Bowl, chilling out on the grass and watching... some big-band jazz?! And why not? BEATS AND PIECES BIG BAND are about 15 strong, very young (late teens to early 20s, at a guess) and exceptionally skilled musicians who have already (according to the flyer being distributed) won the 2011 Burghausen European Young Artists' Jazz Award. Not something we'd normally watch, but that's half the point of going to a festival, isn't it? We particularly like the lad in the Pink Floyd T-shirt wielding a saxophone almost as big as he is...


Beats And Pieces big Band; David McAlmont

Not ready to go back to guitar bands just yet, it's over to the Big Top in time to catch DAVID MCALMONT - who, incidentally, appears to be wearing Christmas decorations over his florid shirt and tie, topped off with a huge shiny pink scarf. Never knowingly understated, he basically has the whole tent under his spell. Just him and a pianist, his take on "Diamonds Are Forever" is stunning and his own 90s hit "Yes" even more so. There's all sorts watching - punks, indie kids, families, hard looking bald blokes, a real cross section of the festival's crowd; behind me a couple of members of The Watchers are swaying with big smiles on their faces - and pretty much everyone is just in awe of his truly incredible voice. I mean, why the fuck is this man not one of Britain's biggest stars? I guess hanging about with indie bands and covering Shirley Bassey just isn't what "soul" singers are supposed to do. As if to prove the point, he ends on a Tom Waits cover ("we're going to do it an octave higher!") and the applause goes on and on. We feel like we've witnessed something very special.

From there it's one hell of a swerve into FRAZER KING's world: this is their first of two performances today and this is the (relatively) sober one where the "six headed chaos machine" prove what a fantastic bunch of singers and musicians they really are. This set's a straight run through of (mostly) tracks from their "Working Towards The Fuhrer" EP; the multi-part vocals on "Sail A Boat" are excellent, and they tell us to come and see them again at half ten. Which given that the crowd at this stage mostly comprises regulars from the band's south Manchester DIY scene home turf (although a couple of lads down the front who have come from the Midlands and never seen them before fall instantly for them, looking delightedly shocked by "Name Of The Father"'s somewhat earthy take on religious myth), they probably will. "I'll have a lot more opinions by then" promises bandleader Nathan with just a hint of a devilish look...

Talking of devilish, disturbing things are afoot in the Big Top. The scary one from KONG's got his special festival pants on. We'd forgotten them... or blanked them out. The other, less scary but possibly madder, one starts the set by telling us we're all dirty rats and asking why we're in a field when we could be at home watching them on Youtube with a big pile of cocaine, and then they launch their first paint-blistering wild post-hardcore assault and there's something of an exodus. Good stuff - they're on form then, and they proceed to batter seven shades of fuck out of everything like Shellac on tramp-cider, interpersed with more crowd-baiting (many more people have drifted in than out) and indeed several less comprehensible proclamations. Extra points for the set-end stage-trashing and microphone being held out to small children at the front. Double extra points to said small children's parents for taking them to see this. Afterwards I find a couple of members of Patterns, fresh from their first live Kong experience. Their verdict? "A brain fuck. But good." Yep, that'll be Kong...


George Borowski; Kong

After a much-needed rest in Ronnie's - soundtracked by reliable festival stalwart GEORGE BOROWSKI AND THE FABULOUS WONDERFULS' punk-spirirted back-to-basics troubadour pop, every bit as revitalising as the accompanying curry - it's back to the Big Top for THE LONGCUT. They kick off with something new, sprawling and wayward which may be the "prog epic" they've been warning fans about online - it does indeed have something of an electro-punk Focus about it - and there's more new stuff following in a similarly progressive vein. But one of the moments of the festival comes during old favourite (and 2004 debut single) "Transition" when suddenly a moshpit breaks out down the front and Pierre Hall - FOM co-founder and legendary Longcut crowdsurfer back in the day - is once again hoisted up above the mass. Having claimed his crowdsurfing days were over following a serious car accident a couple of years ago, there are a lot of hands out to support him and still more to fend off the attention of the bouncers. In some ways Friends Of Mine was born in a Longcut moshpit - and an equally joyous "Quiet Life" sees various members of other Manchester bands past and present down the front. They might never have really broken the big time, but this band were an inspiration and a catalyst without whom it's entirly possible Manchester's music scene would be a different place today.

AIR CAV also cut their gigging teeth around Akoustik Anarkhy and the associated scene, but soon set off on their own path which will culminate some time soon with the release of a debut album which looks set to be one of the all time greats. Unfortunately they're having less of a good time here due to the fact that the sound in the Lake Bar tent (which has been pretty good so far) throwing as many feedback and crackle-shaped obstacles at them as it can. Luckily the gremlins seemingly spontaneously depart in time for a new song to be unveiled, a beautiful thing which could have escaped from Spiritualized's "Lazer Guided Melodies", and there are people sitting on the floor like its 1991, before a fiery "Picking At The Bones" ends the short set.

You have to feel for THE MINX who are next on in there - they're basically a tuneful and pretty old-school punk band with a great New Wave keyboard flavour, and they'd appeal to a lot of the older half of the crowd - and they've got to go on at the same time as the Buzzcocks AND The Wedding Present. They're great fun too, the singer's oddly reminiscent of the young Howard Devoto on "No Friends", and when he thanks the crowd for coming - "means a lot to us" - you know he truly means it... We feel quite bad leaving them, but the BUZZCOCKS are on the main stage and they're playing "Autonomy"... faced with a slot somewhat shorter than the gargantuan sets you get at their headline gigs the veterans quite sensibly bash out hit after hit after hit. "Whatever Happened To..?", "Why She's a Girl from the Chainstore", "Noise Annoys", "What Do I Get", "Promises"; these songs are so deeply ingrained into the punk / indie / pop culture of Manchester and beyond. Steve Diggle does some ridiculous arm-windmills. They go off for all of ten seconds before their encore because time spent milking it for adoration is time not spent playing music. Everyone knows the last two songs are going to be "Ever Fallen In Love" and "Orgasm Addict"; everyone sings along. Only when they come off do we realise how bloody cold it's got out here...

Not only perishingly cold but also blowing a gale, it's time to head for a tent and observe some interesting festival psychology: five minutes before THE PHANTOM BAND are due on the Big Top's rather empty; people walk in, see there's nobody in and half of them drift out again. The festival is far from sold out and there are fewer people to divide between stages. Still, a few more appear as the lights go down but it's not an easy one for the Scots, already missing keyboard player Andy due to some "family stuff" - "we'll do a pub rock set, might even have some fun..." Well if this is pub rock it's one deeply weird pub - a rather spooky Krautrock kind of pub where the locals wear woolly hats. And the lack of keys brings the band's folky side which is even spookier: lots of hitting of wooden stuff, blowing of melodica and long guitar drone.


Frazer King and the Blowout party

Back in Ronnies it's time for FRAZER KING's second set - well, it's forty minutes past said time if we're being pedantic - and where's Nathan? Um, nobody's actually sure. The band are on the point of holding open auditions (and you get the feeling they're only half joking) when "ah, there's the little princess" - he saunters onstage, pint in hand and straight into it. Everyone in the tent is insanely drunk, possibly mad or both; it feels less like part of the festival than a Blowout night picked up and transported into a tent in a field. Wythenshawe's finest respond with a rather more raucous set than this afternoon's - and god does that seem like a long time ago... "Sail A Boat" is now just one massive singalong and sway-along, and an encore is demanded. "Is Dirty Dave about?" Some of Dirty North join them on stage for a heavy reggae tune, followed by lots of other people...

The Blowout party looks like it could go on all night, but we're off back to the Big Top to catch PURESSENCE; in their rightful place as stage headliners. Oddly they choose to play it fairly downbeat for the first half of the set, with a strong bias towards tunes from their only just released new album; "Burma" and (particularly) the soaring, heartbreaking "Cape Of No Hope" sound excellent, but we could really do with something a bit more upbeat just to keep warm - and it comes in the form of old favourite "Walking Dead". Quite appropriate for 1am at a festival (as it is now). "Thank you nearly Manchester" smiles James Mudriczki as they depart. So the end of the world (as predicted by some US religious nutters for 6pm EST, or 11pm here) never came - ah well, guess we'll just have to come back here tomorrow then...

As we turn to leave the tent, it looks like someone has turned on a water feature above the doorway. Tomorrow could be interesting...


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