The third When In Manchester Festival spread its wings further than before with four stages in Manchester's Northern Quarter hosting 23 bands from across the country with a rich diverse mix of styles that's sadly lacking in most festival line-ups. The only problem we had was choosing which bands to see.
The Strawberries opened up proceedings for us at 4pm, a band that would surely be vying already for headliner status had they not got another show a hundred miles away at the equally wonderful Stockton Calling at 8.30pm. The Castle's music room is packed and as hot and sweaty as ever despite the cold outside and the vibrant energy and feel-good factor in their songs make us even warmer. Future single She Rhymes is one of the highlights of a set that's full of great songs that have an immediacy to them that makes them feel familiar, yet very much steeped in their own style and personality. Front man Sam is animated throughout, engaging with the crowd whilst delivering a strong vocal that emphasizes the inherent quality of their songwriting. They finish with a wonderful slightly fuzzy Laburnum House that feels like a kaleidoscopic coming together and disappear to fight with the M62.
Next up are Berries over in Gullivers. It's their first ever Manchester gig for a band we've wanted to see live since they dropped their Those Funny Things EP last year and they're a revelation, even better live than we hoped and the response they get from the crowd that fills the room is rapturous by any standards before you consider there were probably only about ten people who'd heard them before. But it's no surprise when you consider the three-piece produce brilliant angular rock music that one minute stabs you in the neck and the next tends your wounds. There's new songs as well - Faults and Stormy in particular - that show they're going to be a force to be reckoned with. As they finish Holly, Lauren and Lucie look a little taken back by the reaction they get, but it's absolutely deserved, the highlight of a day where the bar was raised to the very top.
We rush over to catch the last two tracks of Jack Oliver Monty's set back in The Castle. In addition to playing in Maddy Storm's band or Ethan And The Reformation, his solo project demonstrates a very different string to his bow. To Be Alive and Peace Of Mind are just the sound of a man with a guitar, a voice and some sound effects through his iPhone, but above the chatter from the back of the room, it's an intriguing sound he's created, sparse, intense, dark and very different to anything anyone else is doing round these parts.
Next up in The Castle are St Helens' three-piece Sapho, a band that's still in its formative phase, but you wouldn't be able to tell it from their performance or their songs. They fuse elements of their influences into something that's uniquely theirs. Songs like Raygun, Partners In Crime, Fish and the highlight set-closing I Feel It are powerful, full-on and intense in both their structure and delivery and get the packed room moving along to them. They seem certain to go on to much bigger things very quickly once they get these songs down and out to people.
Ivory Wave follow on from them and the Birmingham five-piece are a very different proposition. You can see elements of The Twang in them, more so in the manner of the delivery than the songs themselves. They open with forthcoming single Separate Beat and another set highlight Same Towns is about growing up "in a shithole" and both songs say a lot about the attitude of the band and where their songs come from. Front man George is a real live wire performer, strutting the tiny Castle stage and bossing it.
We then head to the Night And Day where we've been told Where Fires Are are "the best live band I've ever seen" by one of the organisers. We only manage to catch the last two songs of their set, but we see enough in the Leeds five-piece's ferocious adrenaline-filled performance to have them noted down as a band to see next time they're in town. They get a thunderous response from the gathering crowd at the end that's more than well deserved on what we see.
Next up are Asylums who've come all the way from sunny Southend. The four-piece's set follows on in the same vein as Where Fires Are, big in-your-face songs that you can't help but engage with even if you don't know them. They mix songs from last year's Killer Brain Waves albums with new ones - one we think was called Bedroom Pansy being the standout of a very strong line-up of tracks that still have that undiluted punk rock ethic with which they announced themselves to the world with back in 2014.
We then head back to The Castle for Guildford trio Foxe, who are becoming When In Manchester veterans having played an early slot at the first event last year. The three-piece have grown massively as a band in that time and have the look, stage presence and the sound to go on to bigger things. George shares vocals with Antonia and the combination of the two leads to some of the most dizzy and intoxicating sounds we've heard in ages as attested to by recent single Bubblegum, a new song called Honey's Up and one of our favourites from last year This Is Not Love Song.
The final act we catch is the returning hero Jordan Allen and his band. Fresh from having played both his biggest shows supporting The Sherlocks as well as an extensive set of shows on their own, they're into a smooth groove and it's noticeable just how tight an unit the four of them have become with, and this is the magic trick, diluting the energy or the intensity of the set. Rosie has become a real crowd favourite and is greeted with a sea of arms clapping all the way to the back and a huge singalong. It hits us as the forty-minute set progresses just how many great songs he's written over the past few years and how the older ones have been revitalised and kept fresh, something bands often fail to do with time. You can sense they're loving as much as their audience, a girl gets on a guy's shoulders close enough to the stage for Jordan to reach out to her and you can see people singing every word to these songs. They're at the point now where they're headlining festivals like this on merit rather than as a local crowd puller and you sense their star is going to keep rising this year and beyond.
And that's then a wrap for When In Manchester 2017. We saw nine great acts across three of the venues for just £12. Quite how the four girls who've set this festival up manage to make that work and give us such an incredible diverse line-up takes some doing and is a real pleasant change to even some of the local festival line-ups that trade in the same old same old four guys in a band standard. When In Manchester and the equally brilliant Ramsbottom and A Carefully Planned festivals are shining examples of how to curate one of these events. Everything runs like clockwork too, bands are on when the program says they're going to be on and no shortcuts are taken. The line-up has something for everyone and you can see the thought that's gone into bringing bands to Manchester that will work for their audience. The only complaint we could think of is that there wasn't time to see many of the other great bands that were on the line up and actually that's a fairly massive complement. Can't wait for the next one.
The Strawberries are on Facebook and Twitter.
Berries are on Facebook and Twitter.
Jack Oliver Monty is on Facebook and Twitter.
Sapho are on Facebook and Twitter.
Where Fires Are are on Facebook and Twitter.
Ivory Wave are on Facebook and Twitter.
Asylums' official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Foxe are on Facebook and Twitter.
Jordan Allen's official website can be found here and he is on Facebook and Twitter.