Gigantic Indie All-Dayer Vol. 4 - Manchester Academy, Manchester

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:

Volume 4 of the 'Here and Now' equivalent of late 80s and early 90s Indie is upon us. My annual feeling youthful gig as the average age of the audience pushes the top end of the late 40s. The immediate feeling is that it's a very safe line up this year, with every featured artist having at least one top 40 hit. There's no droning experimentalism, as with The Telescopes, no Derby-based American-leaning guitar musings, as with Bivouac, and no singalong goofiness, as with the BMX Bandits, which were all highlights the previous year. Indeed the reduction from three stages to one (partly due to renovation at Manchester University), and thereby a reduction in artists, without a subsequent reduction in the price of the ticket, is a little annoying. But with 7 artists still on board and a baying heap of fans a great day is still enjoyed.

Catching the end of Mark Morris' set, which was more notable for his amusing (if surprisingly inaccurate) comment that this is the last original track you'll hear all day, sandwiched between some predictable covers, Thousand Yard Stare are up next and my main reason for attending.

In the annals of indie folklore TYS are often overlooked, probably as they were one of the few bands that didn't seem to fit in anywhere, and their diverse set today confirms this, drifting across a number of genres without settling anywhere. Opening with the instrumental epic 'Junketing' with its soaring guitars, a kindred cousin of Teenage Fanclub's 'Is This Music?', released around the same time, it is a beautifully hypnotic beginning to a great set. One of their more recognisable tracks from their Mappamundi LP 'Version of Me' follows, but it's the early EPs and debut album Hands On, which occupies the lion's share of the tracks. 'Keepsake' is a baggy thrall especially in the drums and choppy guitars, 'Buttermouth' is the perfect mould of early, organless Inspiral Carpets and the Wedding Present's 'Kennedy', 'Wideshire' is almost prog, with the guitars drifting in Siouxsie or The Cult territory at times and '0-0 AET' is bouncy and welcoming, inviting the audience to an early exercise workout.

The band are in their element, packing much more of a punch than expected, with Sean McDonagh bounding along with his bass and singer Stephen Barnes performing odd fidgety trawls across the stage during instrumental moments, covering as much ground as Future Islands' singer but without the overdose of facial gurning.

It's #37 hit 'Comeuppance' that the true star of the show. Intense and focused, Stephen's vocals lock in flawlessly with the instrumentation, the guitars are more abrasive and fuller, the hooks latch onto you for dear life and the chorus drives harder than anything else heard all day. Basically it's immense.

The Primitives, the overlooked transfusion of Transvision Vamp and Voice Of The Beehive, attempt to follow TYS' excellent performance and do a fairly good job with an upbeat set from the jangly end of the spectrum. 'Living In The Shadows' and especially 'Sick of It' are early highlights, quite acerbic, with a bit more of Shangri-Las/Ramones influence to their twee edges. Likewise 'Thru The Flowers' decidated to an ill friend is a delight.

Like a lot of their songs there is an element of familiarity, like re-visiting a long lost friend, with 'Nothing Left' a standout, perhaps as it was covered by Leeds' agitators Boyracer, and links well with the audience. Big hit 'Crash' of course connects even moreso and finally gets them moving, though 'Rattle My Cage' upsets the momentum, feeling flat in comparison as the crowd starts to thin out. But the summery and ultra positive 'Spacehead' raises the bar and is a nice send off.

There's no sign of cheap 80s drum machines, throttled guitars or bleepy samples with Jimbob's set and it's so much better for it. Instead, just vocals and an acoustic guitar, with social commentary, wit and clarion calls the main focus. Pretty much from the off the crowd's excitement is fever-pitch with early numbers 'Do Re Mi So Far So Good' and 'Anytime Anyplace Anywhere' hitting it off. But it's 'A Prince In A Pauper's Grave' and 'Falling On A Bruise that unites the audience in unison, singing along to every word. An acoustic guitar and vocal solo set-up can tire easily but Jimbob manages to get everyone's constant attention, with his Billy Bragg meets Half Man Half Biscuit troubadour tales. There's room for an 'intriguing' version of 'The Wheels On The Bus', which is more in common with Brookside gritty realism than Playschool, and is a joyous aside, though its the big hits 'The Only Living Boy In New Cross' and closer 'Sheriff Fatman' that truly lifts the roof off. A glorious performance.

With the amps returned to eleven, Pop Will Eat Itself are on next, shorn of all their original members, with the exception of chief 'shouter' Graham Crabb. With their former lead singer soundtracking Oscar-nominated films, Mary Byker from Gaye Bykers on Acid and Apollo 440, shares lead vocals with Graham, more rapping than singing, as guitars, bass, drums and a lot of pre-programmed keys provide the backing. The audience is a mixture of people going mental and bemusement. 'RSVP', a quirky English Breakfast tea Faith No More, is a strong track, with Graham's 'dad dancing' and knee pads, a hint and what we're seeing wear and tear wise. However, the music hasn't worn as well over the years, as 'Bulletproof' especially sounds badly dated and 'Everything's Cool' is flat and dreary. As the set progresses it feels like PWEI only have one idea, which feels dragged out to infinity, with only bass player Davey's Bennett's constant grin lightening the mood. It's a shame that they don't have more tracks like the powerful 'Ich Bin Ein Auslander', which is the exception to a rather dull set.

Now talking of bands with only one trick, EMF were synonymous with their huge debut hit 'Unbelievable', which subsequent releases struggled to distance themselves from being pale imitations of. Their garb certainly lives in the past as James Atkin's illuminous board shorts and Mancunian bucket hat, which shouldn't be seen outside of a Stone Roses gig, brings the early 90s crimes against fashion into today. However EMF are much better than expected, with second album Stigma getting more of a look-in. 'Lies' and 'Getting Through' are powerful, especially with Ian Dench's guitarwork. James still struggles to get past his singing choirboy persona, trying to make up with it with faux 'effing', though this leads to a comedy apology stating he doesn't normally swear in his role as a schoolteacher. Likewise though the musical proficiency isn't exactly solid at times (does Derry ever play his keyboards?), there is a naive charm to this occasional ineptitude that warms EMF to the crowd. Though 'Unbelievable' dwarfs a lot of the set, especially 'I Believe' and 'Children' from the same album, it is fun when it arrives and the band play it energetically and triumphantly. The rather charmless 'E M F' closes the set, with Jimbob joining in, but at least the band are enjoying themselves.

Celebrating 30 years since their seminal debut album was released, headliners The Wedding Present are here to play George Best in its entirety. Before that we're treated to a miniature tour of their career. 'Broken Bow' representing last year's Going Going Gone sums up their modern day stance, with bleeding caustic guitars mixed with Cinerama-esque harmony interludes. 'Dear Caught In The Headlines' is a powerful follow-up with plenty of changes in tempo and an excellent extended instrumental outro that gets the head nodding. Seamonsters' 'Crawl' is more typical, hardly surprising at it emerges from their frenetic heyday, but it's brand new track 'England' from their 'concept' EP The Home Internationals, that's a huge departure. With subtle, lightly-arpeggiod guitars, samples, polite bass and drums, glockenspiel and a slow pace, it feels like early Mogwai or late 90s Wirral-life narrator Rooney in its opening few minutes. Then pedals are pressed, drums are pounded and guitars hurtle in volume and fuzz. A glorious, entrancing track with a sneaky false ending to keep the masses guessing.

When the George Best tracks appear, leading with 'Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft', they are without fanfare and are rattled through in their two and half to three minutes each' glory, with barely a breath in-between. Though the tracks are thirty years old, bar some raw edges, none sound dated, and are lapped up by the audience. 'My Favourite Dress' is greeted with huge cheers, with a bit of comedy beforehand as a slightly naive request from an audience member for it riposted by David stating “well it's on the album!”. Though David is the only member who was involved with the recording, the rest of the band settle into their roles with total ease. It takes barely forty minutes for album finale 'You Can't Moan Can You?' to appear and with David stating his usual “we don't do encores”, the absolute classic tracks 'Brassneck' and 'Kennedy' close the set to a frenzied response from the appreciative crowd.

So Gigantic Indie All Dayer vol.4 was an excellent day full of unpredictability and great music. Hopefully the Manchester University renovations will be ready to accommodate a more expansive line up for 2018, I'll certainly be there again!

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