The Membranes and Friends - The Ritz, Manchester - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

The Membranes and Friends - The Ritz, Manchester

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:
The Membranes and Friends - The Ritz, Manchester
The Membranes and Friends - The Ritz, Manchester

Last year’s Membranes and Friends event was on one of the hottest days of the year; I remember feeling mildly guilty about spending the majority of the day inside. Today offers no such conflict of interest as it’s absolutely miserable outside. Manchester looks more familiar in the rain. Fashionably decked out in waterproof trousers, I head into the Ritz for a little shelter and another brilliant line-up.

The evening’s entertainment begins with the sonic equivalent of a refreshing, well-needed, bucket of water to the face. A much-appreciated wake-up call from post-punk duo, Glove. Holding hands and wearing Michael Stipe style blue warpaint they begin with a chant about aliens and recycling. Seconds later, the song explodes. A single floor tom is pounded relentlessly, the vocals passionate and untethered.

The duo creates a fresh, unpredictable and experimentally inclined post-punk rattle; they well-and-truly own the stage. Hen aka Slosilver switches to bass as vocalist Stephanie Finegan playfully whips her microphone lead, “I love having a long tail”. Slosilver brings the drum out into the middle of the crowd for a riotous ‘Escalator’, capping off a thoroughly joyous performance. Go and see them play and feel the (g)love.

Formed in 1978 by punk stalwart Kirk Brandon, The Pack offer up a more old school punk-rock experience. It’s a thunderous and hard-hitting sound that puts me in mind of the mighty  Killing Joke. They aren’t messing around. Brandon stands pillar-like at the centre of the stage, belting the songs out with full-throated conviction.

“These songs were written in ‘78/’79” Brandon tells us “it’s a mythical place. Don’t try and go there”. The likes of ‘King of Kings’ would knock you off your feet in any decade, familiar but highly effective. Heavy, muscular riffs, drums that sound like someone being beaten-to-death and Brandon’s larger than life vocals prove to be a powerful combination.

Manchester’s very own Liines come next. Guitarist/vocalist Zoe McVeigh, drummer Leila O’Sullivan and bassist - and one-time ILL guitarist- Tamsin Middleton have had quite a buzz around them and it’s not hard to hear why. Opening with recent single ‘On and On’ the bands taught, propulsive post-punk starts at full pelt and doesn’t let up for the entire set.

Each song is a fearless and brilliantly urgent charge into the fray. There’s a danceable undercurrent to the songs too, Middleton sneaking grooves into the band's relentless drive. Sloman and Finegan from Glove dance in energetic appreciation in the crowd. It’s an undeniably exciting set, hairs standing up on end as McVeigh leaves us with one last defiant howl, “I’m not afraid of you!”

Just like last year, John Robb has put together a pretty incredible line-up. We’ve just enough time to catch our breath before Liverpool’s Queen Zee arrive to take the party to the next level. Vocalist/guitarist Zena "Queen Zee" Davine arrives wearing a sailor’s hat, shades and torn fishnets, gradually shedding clothes as the band plough through a frenzied and ridiculously fun set of punk ‘n’ roll.

Davine tells us we’re “the quietest bunch of punks” he’s ever seen and gets a tongue-in-cheek “f#ck off” for his trouble. They encourage some Evil Blizzard-style booing towards the end (Blizzard actively ask the crowd to boo them), Davine even mooning us Bart Simpson style mid-song. Down to his underwear, he screams his way through a wild ‘I Hate Your New Boyfriend’ before leaving us to the charred remains of our “magical, family friendly evening”. Punk-meets-lipstick smeared glam rock complete with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Just when you thought the party might be reaching its pinnacle, interstellar dance cult Henge beam in from the outer regions of space. Possibly from Venus or perhaps the same musically adventurous planet Sun Ra was always trying to get back to. Henge really are a sight to behold.

No single genre label is ever going to do this band justice, their influences a veritable smorgasbord of esoterica and eccentricity. The atmospheric twang of a Morricone Western rubbing shoulders with a  psychedelic wig-out and a cowbell-led dancefloor banger. The squelchy, funk-laden ‘Get Outta Ma House’ is absolutely ridiculous but also the most fun I’ve had at a gig in quite a while.

The singer has one of those plasma globes strapped to his head while one of the synth players is a fully-fledged alien. The singer might possibly be the happiest man alive, a huge smile on his face throughout. Go and see Henge and try, just try, and not smile. It’s impossible.

The Membranes began life in Blackpool in 1977 yet it was their radical rebirth in 2015 with the album Dark Matter/ Dark Energy and a co-headline show at the Brudenell with Evil Blizzard that first brought them to my attention. The heady double-whammy of an incredible album and a mesmerising gig more than enough to get me hooked.

Having just released a new album, John Robb and his fellow Membranes decided to get some friends together and have something of a celebratory bash. To add to the sense of occasion they’re joined by Manchester’s BIMM choir. With all the dials pointing to epic the band open with a suitably huge ‘The Universe Explodes Into a Billion Photons of Pure White Light’.

This is the sound of post-punk throwing off its accumulated shackles and reconnecting with its heart and soul. These songs really get to me, the sound pounding in my chest as the choir help lift everything through the roof. It’s sweaty and emotional; it’s punk Jim but not as we know it.

The band take their sound into an epic, expansive space without losing any of their post-punk punch. The BIMM choir are superb throughout,  creating beautiful and occasionally apocalyptic accompaniment while Nick Brown’s guitar (no relation) remains suitably brutal. The mesmerising ‘In the Graveyard’ is near-spiritual tonight and I find myself howling along.

The songs from What Nature Gives…Nature Takes Away slide effortlessly into the set, ‘Black is the Colour’ and the monumental ‘A Strange Perfume’ revealing a band at the peak of their powers. Robb’s bass parts remain integral, the songs weaving their way into our subconscious rather than simply bludgeoning us into submission.

At one point there’s an issue with Robb’s bass amp but that isn’t about to stop them; the brilliantly belligerent and fantastically noisy ‘Space Junk’ proving to be the ideal sign-off. A great day of music topped off by one of the finest post-punk bands to ever walk the Earth. Not bad for a rainy Saturday in Manchester.

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