Friday 24 May 2013

Dot To Dot - Manchester various venues - 23rd May 2013

Dot To Dot is a one-day festival across three UK cities on consecutive days. It's a multi-venue festival where one wristband gets you access to all bands in any of the venues. Fresh from three days of this experience at The Great Escape, we attended the first of the three at Dot to Dot Manchester and this is what we thought.

After three days in Brighton last week, I was excited for Dot To Dot.  A one-day festival in my hometown with bands dotted across a relatively close geographic area. However, queueing for a wristband at The Ritz in the basement where the organisers had only deemed two people to be sufficient to take tickets and to check e-ticket holders off a list in a room that wasn't big enough for the task and appeared to be only lit by emergency lighting was not a great portent of what was to come. Still, it's about the music, and despite the limitations of the festival, some awful scheduling, admittedly not helped by a lot of bands cancelling because they got stuck by the closure of the M6, I did get to see some great music.

First up in The Joshua Brooks are The Lottery Winners, who come from Leigh in Lancashire. Buoyed by the recent appearance of their last single Elizabeth on The Sunday Brunch, they play a seven-song set full of joyful, indie-pop crossover songs that get the small, but relatively attentive, crowd tapping their feet and even at one point joining in a singalong of the chorus of one of the songs. Singer Thomas engages enthusiastically with the crowd throughout the set.  Someone behind me suggested he sounded a bit too much like Brian Potter off Phoenix Nights when he was doing so, but it's refreshing to see a band that's not afraid to look and be uncool, especially when they write great songs with fantastic melodies and hooks.  Surely that's cooler than standing there looking all mean and moody.

Next up we head across to The Thirsty Scholar and we catch the end of Lois Warrington, who sounds great, except we can hardly hear her above the combination of chatter from the crowd, who seem more intent on talking than listening and the sound of the much louder plugged-in band playing upstairs in The Attic.  It gets worse for Little Sparrow next as we're treated to a group of four people about ten feet from the stage having a loud conversation without even acknowledging there's a band on. Whoever came up with the idea of putting acoustic acts on in here really needs to have a rethink.

In this situation, Little Sparrow's set is something of a triumph. Little Sparrow is guitarist and vocalist Katie Ware and she's accompanied by Sarah Dale, who plays cello and shares vocal duties on most of the songs. The interaction of guitar and cello creates a drama to the songs, in particular on Polly which is a lament to a departed friend, and Sending A Message, which will be familiar to anyone who has looked them up before.  Their two voices work perfectly together as well, offsetting each other and building on the dramatic effect created by the guitar / cello.  It's just a pity most of it is wasted on most of the crowd.

Next up we wander back to Joshua Brooks for Candy Says. We're told later than this is only about their sixth gig, but it's difficult to tell that.  There's a full-size mannequin on stage and a head on a speaker stack, but you can't take your eyes off singer Juju, previously of Little Fish, as she's so intense in her performance, whether it's reading the last song from a little black book, howling into a megaphone or staring down members of the audience. Redhead Eliza on keys, drums and tambourine also adds vocals to the mix to create a unique sound as demonstrated on their recent single Favourite Flavour and Melt Into The Sun.  They finish the set handing out packets of Swizzles and Swizzles lollies.  For that alone, you should go and see them.

Everything seems to be running late and this point and there's a flood of cancellations so we waste time stood around in Sound Control after catching the last two songs of Indiana's over-running set in Gorilla. We decided to set up base in the Deaf Institute for a couple of bands, and it's a wise choice.  Houndmouth are about to release their fantastic debut album, From The Hills Below The City, and we're treated to a half-hour set of tracks from that album, the highlight being lead track On The Road.  Their sound is built around the vocals of Katy who plays keyboards and Matt on guitar although all four of them provide vocals at different points.  They write great straight-forward rock and roll songs, they look and sound fantastic and are made for bigger stages than The Deaf Institute.

Next on are Wolf Alice, a band I'd heard a lot about, but hadn't actually listened to other than one song on soundcloud.  The Deaf Institute suddenly filled up before they came on stage. Immediately, they hook you in though. With just two singles behind them, Bros and Fluffy, they create a huge loud sound, but in the middle of it is vocalist Ellie, who looks almost out of place until she starts singing.  There's some delicious harmonies in the midst of the chaos created by the two guys on guitar and the best dressed drummer we've seen for ages, but she can also play the full-on rock card as well.  They're going to be huge very soon undoubtedly.

The final act we see is a local one.  Findlay has been making a lot of waves recently with her single Off And On.  On the way down, we were discussing her and trying, as people shouldn't but always do, to compare her to someone and we came to the conclusion that she's actually incomparable.  She makes a huge sound, proper rock out music, she can play guitar but she can also turn on that Mancunian charm and look sweet and innocent during the breakdown of a song, before hurtling headlong in the chorus.  She heads out in the crowd at one point, just after informing us of a visit to a local burger establishment and warning of impending vomiting over the front row. She plays a new song called Greasy Love that feels like it's veering uncontrollably into chaos, but which, at the end, is just a mad four-minute romp.

We call it a day at that point, wary of The Ritz kicking out and the smaller venues running later potentially being overrun, the ridiculous situation where there's no band on in the Soundcontrol loft for an hour and the experience of some of the crowds meaning that it's worth waiting to see the likes of PINS doing their own gigs in the next few weeks.  After the highs of The Great Escape, Dot To Dot felt like the proper comedown, nothing to do with the six bands reviewed above who were all excellent.  It's a great idea, it's sad that the execution of it was so poor.

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