The Hope Mill Theatre, hidden away at the back of Ancoats, is the setting for the second Crafted Festival, a celebration of beer, food and music - possibly the best three things known to man. In wonderfully intimate surroundings we watched The Slow Readers Club, Bang Bang Romeo, Katie O'Malley and Ryan Jarvis play sets as the beer flowed and all sorts of street food was consumed.
The first act we catch on arrival is Ryan Jarvis, playing an acoustic solo set. He writes songs about life in a Northern town - grim dark tales of journeys on the 219 bus from the suburb of Gorton into the centre of Manchester, of meeting people who look down their nose at him because of where he's from and how he speaks. He also covers Ask by The Smiths, but adds his own Mancunian twist to the words and a personal one where he name checks Wolverhampton, his girlfriend's home town. He never stands still whilst he's playing either, losing himself in his songs as he plays them. His set is well received by an enthusiastic crowd. He tells us he's got a new song coming out, but he doesn't play it, which strikes us as a bit odd, but when he finishes with his first single Outside This Town, all's forgotten.
Next up is Katie O'Malley who we knew very little about before her set. Playing an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a violinist and a drummer playing a beatbox, her set is full of delightfully understated folk-tinged songs, delivered by a voice that could melt the hardest heart. Her recent single Beg is one of the standout tracks in her set as is the one that she finishes with that we didn't catch the name of. In fact, the only time she doesn't quite grab us is when she tries an inventive cover of Hit The Road Jack that doesn't quite work. Still we'll forgive her that as she's a name and voice to look out on the basis of this set.
We're big fans of Bang Bang Romeo, but tonight's set felt like a huge step up for them. Whether it's the confidence of some big recent support slots with Kitty, Daisy and Lewis under their belt or whether the booming crystal clear sound that had been fashioned from this old mill contributed, but they sound absolutely phenomenal. Anastasia's voice sounds even more powerful than usual with so much range and emotion in every word that she sings to us.
The Crafted crowd, who we reckon an overwhelming majority have probably never heard of them before, are taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the opening trio of Revolver, Johannesburg and Revolution and the more seductive slowed down atmospherics of Chemical. People start dancing, egged on by Anastasia telling them "come closer, I'm a big girl but I won't eat you." They finish their set with a rip-roaring Invitation and have won over everyone in the place by this point. They should be absolutely huge if there's any justice in the world.
The event is headlined by The Slow Readers Club and the place is packed out for their set, a mix of their ever-growing hoard of fans and festival goers and they don't disappoint. The fact the lights are up in the venue make this feel like a studio rehearsal rather than a gig at times, but that dissipates the moment they strike up into Fool For Your Philosophy. The sound is perfect for them, on the edge of distortion it's that loud, but not quite. It accentuates the sharpest edges of their songs so the likes of Forever In Your Debt and Days Like This Will Break Your Heart pack an even fiercer punch tonight than normal.
As they power their way through most of last year's Cavalcade album the love in the room for them is palpable as each song gets a bigger cheer than the last one as the virgins in the crowd fall in love for the first time. Compared to just twelve months ago, it's incredible to witness the transformation into a band that could grace the city's biggest stages and take it in their stride. A thrusting thrilling rhythm section and a compelling groove run through every song, but never once sound like they're repeating the same approach to the songs - the diversity of the battering ram of singles Forever In Your Debt, Start Again, Don't Mind, I Saw A Ghost and Plant The Seed being a case in point. There's a definite Slow Readers sound, but it's one that they then take and turn and twist so many different ways.
Their confidence is evident, there's a cocksure feeling about them now based on the growing tidal wave of love that's being directed towards them. Aaron has become a dominant front man that it's impossible to take your eyes off as he's living every word of every song as he sings them. They finish with the epic album-closing Know The Day Will Come and sadly there's no time for an encore which means we rue the lack of One More Minute and Block Out The Sun in the set, two songs that would be a centre-piece of lesser bands' careers. The feeling there's an unstoppable momentum behind them at the moment shows no sign of abating just yet.
The final word has to go to the festival though. The venue Hope Mill Theatre is perfect for the event, a gig room and an area for those that want to engage in conversation rather than watch bands. There's a great selection of beers including real ales and lagers (there's none of the anti-lager snobbery that some beer events invoke) and Hip Hop Chip Shop, Nasi Lemak and Northern Soul Grilled Cheese provide the delicious and varied food to help soak it all up. It's a massive success and hopefully will become a regular event in the Manchester calendar.
The Slow Readers Club can be found at their website. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Bang Bang Romeo's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Katie O'Malley is on Facebook and Twitter.
Ryan Jarvis’s official site can be found here. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.