Urban festivals are becoming all the rage these days, but When In Manchester is one with a difference. It has a true DIY ethos to it that's different to the increasingly corporate ones where major labels see them as a showcase and a testing ground for their potential next big things. When In Manchester was conceived by four young women on a night out and then became reality through lots of ground level hard work and planning to create something that's both intimate, diverse in its line-up and a true testament to being able to do what you want in music if you put your hearts and minds into it.
Opening up are Guildford trio Foxe who are a very late addition to the bill. It's their first Manchester gig and we're hopeful it won't be their last. They're fast, furious and there's a wonderful chemistry between the three of them that makes their self-described indie grunge stand out. Guitarist and lead vocalist George half sings half screams his words with a passion that's slightly disturbing mid afternoon above a Manchester boozer, but when cool as fuck bassist Antonia's voice cuts across him it reminds us of those classic early Pixies Black and Deal interactions that made their first couple of records so special.
Their first track Frequency is naturally a set highlight, but the likes of A Song For Frankie (a character who pops up numerous times within the set), Bad Day, Helena, This Is Not A Love Song and And all stand up to the task as well. Visually enthralling to watch with drummer Mat a real live wire as well, we're mightily impressed by them and they're a great opener to our day.
Next up are Manchester's very own Lunar, one of Even The Stars' current favourites on the back of their you had to be there headline slot at Academy 3 last week. You can see and hear the confidence that show has given them in their performance today. They keep it short and sweet with just six songs, but the four that haven't been released yet - Come Home, Girl At Home, Love And Affection and in particular Gonna Get You Down - are all potential singles and classics in the making.
The songs nod to their heroes - and there's few bands in Manchester that escape that - but what they do is throw away the mould and create their own. Guitarist Luke is lost in a world of his own, but you can't ignore the sounds he's effortlessly squeezing from his six-string, whilst drummer Max's influence on the sound is becoming more dominant with each gig. However, it's front man Sam and the effervescent bassist Christie that give them the star quality that should see them headlining events like this and bigger ones next year. Current single Showboater is a great tune, two and a bit minutes that straddles the divide between pop and rock with consummate ease and their closing song debut single Our Way feels like it's a youthful anthem for the times.
Our third band, still in Gullivers, are Bang Bang Romeo. It's an absolute mystery to us why they haven't been signed and they're a band that are getting better every time we see them. It's impossible to take your eyes off front woman Anastasia who lives every single moment of every song, imploring each and every one us to join in and dance, whilst Ross, Joel and Richard provide the soulful, at times funky, foundations for which she can preach her message. And it does feel almost evangelical at times such is the passion and ferocity of the delivery.
They've got the songs too. Revolver is an opening punch to the guts, Chemical is a beautiful slowed-down torch song that needs thousands of lighters held up to do it justice, whilst their set closer Invitation is a perfect call and response that's simply and catchy enough that you just have to comply. They debut a new song called The Bliss which hints at a broadening of horizons and the highlight of their set is when Anastasia comes to the front of the stage and delivers an impassioned improvised call to arms. We love Bang Bang Romeo. We think you will too.
Next up, and still in Gullivers although the quality of the line up means we'd be sated wherever we went, are Louie Louie, a band we've been dying to see play a full set for some time now and we're not disappointed. They're a little less in your face than the bands we've seen before, but none the worse for it. With songs like Carry The Man and It's Coming, they've got the ability to disarm and charm you without you realising you're under their spell.
Still without a single release to their name, they've got a number of songs that could fit that mantle perfectly, although it's Lighthouse and "the nearest we get to a ballad" Leaving Home that stand out for us. They're effortlessly cool with the sister / brother pairing of front woman Rita and her sibling bassist Pedro contrasting to the closer to home talents of guitarist Tom and drummer Paul to form a heady mix that is sure to catapult them to bigger things in 2016.
After a quick break for food we head across the road to The Castle where serious stage reconfiguration is afoot. Girl Friend operate with a live guitarist and keyboard player but no drum kit, preferring to rely on backing tapes. We're cautious about this, but once they start playing our fears are allayed. They're naturally very different to anything else we witness today, but isn't that the beauty of a festival? They play in almost darkness for most of the set with just the occasional light coming from a bank of desks on which the keyboards are held and which the guitarist stands behind.
The highlight of their set for us is the closing track, Tragic On The Dance Floor, which they tell us is going to be their next single, but they also play tracks from their first three EPs including Nocturnal, Poison and Call Me When You're Lonely. Whilst the set up might not be everyone's cup of tea, by the end we've been intoxicated by Amory and Eleanor's vocals.
Next up are Trampolene, long term favourites of ours before we started blogging. They start off with a poem read by Jack entitled Ketamine which is interrupted bizarrely by an audience member who throws Jack off course a little, but by the time he starts into No One's Got Love Like We've Got then we're back on track. Trampolene are a band full of contradictions - from moments where there's three of them around a mic singing acapella to the hardest rock and roll you hear all day when they blast through Concept Lover as well as their early single You Do Nothing For Me. They play a few new songs too, meaning hopefully a debut album is on the horizon the best of the lot being Gangway and the closing song Storm.
It's those contradictions that make them so fascinating though. They write a blast of a song about an actor called Tom Hardy and leave us with a poem about a visit to Poundland and veer between lots of places in between, always on the edge of spectacular breakdown like so much great music, but always placing their feet down on the right side of the line.
We head back to Gullivers for the headliners Cupids and the room is packed for them and not without reason. They're a band that have an almost cult following around Manchester. We miss their first four songs because of clashes, but we walk in just as they start Heaven Knows Me Now. What makes Cupids such a great band is the way all four of them contribute to the sound, Jake and Sid interchanging lead vocals, guitars and keyboards, whilst bassist Ryan and drummer James's contributions can't be underplayed either as Cupids are very much more than the sum of their component parts.
What Cupids do so brilliantly is fuse many of their influences, and you can hear them in the jam they break into at the end that precedes their single Money, into something that feels so warm and contemporary. They're accomplished musicians, but rather than get lost in that they've created a raft of great songs that justify their headline billing. Cover In Storm, Drive and their recent single Kickin' In are songs that you can't help but fall for. They're a perfect way to end a great day.
When In Manchester was a massive success from start to finish. Impeccably organised, run pretty much to time, no overcrowding of venues despite being sold out, a great selection of bands (including many like the fabulous No Hot Ashes that we missed because of clashes) that avoided the pitfall that many Manchester line-ups fall into of having a list of all-male bands that sound like variations on the same theme and a great atmosphere and environment all day with bands watching each other as they should. Bigger more established urban festivals could learn a lot from how Abi, Miriam, Nicole and Ellen have set about doing this and we can't wait for When In Manchester 2017.
Foxe are on Facebook and Twitter.
Lunar are on Facebook and Twitter. Listen to Showboater and read our chat with front man Sam Carson here.
Bang Bang Romeo's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Louie Louie's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud.
Girl Friend's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Cupids' official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.