Monday, May 07, 2012


In its seventh year, I finally made it to multi-venue one day festival Sounds From The Other City but nearly ended up spending all of it in just one one venue. The day started – and ended - at St Philip’s Church one of the twelve stages for the one-day festival, today programmed by Hey Manchester.

I’m not sure what factors led opening act Dancing Years to change their name from Joseph and David but factual accuracy may have been one of them. Performing as a six-piece - grand piano, violin, melodica, guitar, bass and drums - this felt like an ensemble of equals rather than a duo backed with hired help. As well as their mellow, gracefully arranged folk-pop, the Leeds band also gave us burger recommendations ("only £1.50. And with onions and cheese") and a final acoustic song performed in the church’s central aisle. A lovely start.

Seeing Withered Hand live has been a long time coming but it didn't disappoint. And as Dan Willson pointed out, church is the perfect venue for these religion-infused confessional songs of failure, heart-break and holy days peppered with off-hand between song reflections on communication between people, home-schooling and self-deprecation. A new EP is due later this year (“I’ll probably self-release it... look, I’m jaded already”) containing one of the two new songs he played. Like everything else he has recorded it will be essential, especially given the evidence on show this afternoon.

Withered Hand Set List: Cornflake / Providence / No Cigarettes / Gethsemane / Take Me To The Promised Land / Religious Songs / It's A Wonderful Lie / New Dawn/ Love In The Time Of Ecstasy

I stayed on in St Philip’s Church for Stuart McCallum’s instrumental jazz ruminations, mostly down-tempo numbers performed on guitar, double bass and drums except a final acoustic guitar-and-loops song ("here's a cheery one I wrote") to finish.

Restlessness finally pulled me out of St Philips Church to Islington Mill. It was a shame to miss Stranded Horse’s twenty-four string kora playing but it was time for something a bit noisier. Brighton’s Fear Of Men were certainly noisier than earlier fare but their dark reverb dream-pop also comes with waves of melody and sweetly sung vocals – as sugary soothing as it is fuzzily loud. Other than occasional swaying the band are largely impassive as they play – the exception being for their cover of The Chills ‘Pink Frost’ which became a spooky, almost hallucinogenic trip with the band twitching and convulsing along. Haunting and majestic.

Then back to St Philip’s for Laura J Martin. Now of all the day’s performers, Laura J Martin was the one who I was nervously interested to know how her delicate flute-and-mandolin-and-loops songs would work in the cavernous setting of the church. Brilliantly was the answer. She may have been a diminutive, solitary figure upon the now darkened parapet but the songs rang out, whether the frail, pin-drop quiet of ‘Tom’, or ‘The Lesson’ performed at the grand piano (“I like to keep it light: this is about family in-fighting mixed with cock-fighting”) or the furious flute-playing of ‘Spy’, tonight dedicated to Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.

Laura J Martin Set List: Fire Horse / The Lesson / It's Taking So Long / Spy / Tom / Black Caravan / Red Flag / Salamander

It was only a few weeks ago upon seeing this video that I realised how young Paul Thomas Saunders was. From the epic, cavernous sounds and emotions of his two EPs, I’d imagined someone with more years of bitter experience, remorse and pain tucked under their belt. Backed by a similarly youthful three-piece band, live these songs were just as sonically soaring and widescreen as their recorded versions. Another perfect pairing of music with setting. And imagine what Paul Thomas Saunders will sound like with a few more years of life’s ravages thrown at him.

I didn’t think Sweden’s Emil Svan√§ngen aka Loney Dear could surprise me. I came expecting solo acoustic versions of the songs from his now seven album back catalogue. What I wasn’t expecting was the cleverly layered and hypnotic delivery of them. As well as acoustic guitar he was travelling with organ pedals, loop station and half a drum-kit. Seated he added subtle loops of guitar, voice, handclaps or individual pieces of percussion almost without you realising he had done so. It meant that songs were slowly and surely built up – often seven minutes plus in length – topped off with his emotive falsetto, just as moving as when wordless. Again the setting was perfect and the performance meticulous but deeply affecting. For final song ‘Resonance’ he tried to get the crowd to hum a specific refrain in f sharp – we failed but he really did not need any help from us or anyone else. A worthy headliner and a fine, fine finish to my first Sounds From The Other City.

I only caught seven out of eighty-three bands and made it – just – to two out of twelve venues but even that small sampling of Sounds From The Other City was fantastic value for money. In a week when a woeful BBC article wondered whether Manchester can get over its musical past (‘it can, it’s the media that can’t’ was the best retort I saw), here was another retort from a group of independent promoters looking forward not backwards, bringing local and international, new and emerging talent to the sunny city of Salford. Oh where many BBC departments are now based. A visit to their own backyard for SFTOC should put paid to such poor 'think' pieces in future.But as this article reveals Sounds From The Other City is 'up for review' by the organisers and will probably change its format to stay one step ahead. Definitely looking forwards not backwards.

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