The Whisky Sessions are a new festival being held at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester on November 21-22. Tonight’s Unsigned competition is effectively a battle of the bands competition to win a place opening the second day of the festival ahead of Gomez, Turin Brakes and Badly Drawn Boy.
First up is Londoner Beck Lanehart. Usually she can be heard playing her songs at London Underground stations, but she’s very different to what we’d expect from that having endured twenty years of all sorts of strange instruments and off-key singers thrown at us as we travelled the capital. Her voice manages the fine trick of being beautifully evocative and fragile at the same time, enough so to silence the talkers at the bar which is no mean feat at these evenings. Our favourite is the second track she plays, entitled Jersey, where her acoustic whispers the tender accompaniment to her words. She’s got the personality to engage with the audience as well, critical for a singer-songwriter. She impresses so much that, even though she doesn’t win the competition, a second slot in the VIP area is created for her. With one of the judges from the Communion collective, home to so many great proponents of this genre, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear a lot more from her.
Next up are a four-piece called Larkins from Manchester. They’re introduced as a local band but we’ve not heard of them before, but we’ll be checking out more of their songs on the basis of their performance tonight. Immediately we’ve struck by their clever lyricism and a real ear for driving rhythm and melodies, particularly on recent EP track Bitter Lady. They’re not afraid to take a few risks either, playing a new song in the middle of their three-song set that’s so new that it’s still untitled. If this is the quality of the material they’re writing at the moment, this event will be a stepping stone for them.
Third are Troubadour from Blackpool. They’re older and would appear more experienced than the rest of the bands on the bill and this shows. They fuse elements of roots, blues, folk and indie into a mix that you can’t help tapping your feet to, familiar yet stamped with their own personality. They’re not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves either, even throwing in a bit of Wings’ Band On The Run into their final song, but this is no bad thing.
Next up are local favourites and eventual winners The Tapestry. Tonight they’re surprisingly not as tight as they usually are, although they are hampered by Liam’s mic stand failing, meaning he has to ditch his guitar at parts and step over the monitor to be able to sing at one point as well as Zara’s drumstick breaking mid-song as well. But, despite all that, we’re impressed by how they handle this adversity and this rougher, less polished sound works as evidenced by the judges’ final decision. They played Beating Heart, Infatuation and the earth-shaking stomp of last single Right As Rain, perfect for a festival crowd that don’t know their songs.
We’re already big fans of The Jordan Allen Band and if they can shake off people comparing them to The Courteeners (good looking singer, great band, great songs, lyrics about being a young man in the North West), they’re probably the band on the bill tonight with the most potential to make a major breakthrough. Those comparisons don’t do them any justice at all as they’re far more than copyists and have their own style and personality that should see them comfortably swerve them. Intelligent, articulate lyrics laced with an ascerbic wit (“a Jordan with big breasts is worth more than I’ll ever be”), observing people and situations around them married to robust tunes that already show a rich diversity of sound that will serve them well going forwards. They base their set off their EPs to date – Daydreamer’s Girlfriend, the cynical view of wannabes Rich And The Famous, Remembered and Set In Stone.
Last but not least are The Gramotones. Fresh from touring with Paul Weller and selling out Band On The Wall, they once again deliver their brand of delicious harmonic guitar pop. They're probably the most accomplished band on display tonight and it actually feels that this room is way too small for the sound they're making, not surprising given where they've played this summer on stages much bigger than The Whisky Sessions. With such a range of material as well they must have struggled to select three songs and they're hampered by the fact that they can't have Jake's keyboards on stage which limits their choice to Soldiers Kiss, Hang On To All Things Lost and Wrong Side Of The Road. They'll have plenty of opportunity to play big festivals as their upward trajectory feels unstoppable.
After all the bands had finished, The Tapestry were announced as winners. Was this the correct decision? A case could have been made for any of the seven to have won to be honest and I don't think anyone could have complained at any outcome such was the high standard. It was refreshing therefore that the judges took time to explain their rationale for their decision. They wanted a band to kickstart the Saturday of the festival, to cause a rumpus and create a buzz. And on that basis for their decision, they probably just about got it right.
Beck Lanehart is on Facebook and Twitter.
Larkins are on Soundcloud and Twitter.
Troubador's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
The Tapestry have two Facebook pages - here and here and are on Twitter. They are also on Soundcloud.
The Jordan Allen Band are on Facebook and Twitter.
Death To The Strange are on Facebook and Twitter
Gramotones' website can be found here and they are on Twitter and Facebook.
The Whisky Sessions take place on November 21 and 22 at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester and are headlined by I Am Kloot and Gomez. Other bands on the bill over the two days include Badly Drawn Boy, British Sea Power, Turin Brakes, Tim Burgess and Dodgy. Tickets can be bought and more information is available on their website and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
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