Heaven On Earth festival celebrated Earth Day on Saturday in the beautiful surroundings of Halle St Peters smack bang in the middle of the Ancoats construction zone. A wide range of bands hand-selected by the audience entertained the crowd throughout the day and evening.
Opening up proceedings was Hannah Nicholson, playing her first show under her full name (she'd played a couple as Hana since leaving Bird To Beast). Her solo work really serves to emphasize how beautiful her voice is, classically trained, able to hold high notes to maximum effect and to use the voice as an emotional instrument to accentuate the words that she's singing. The musical accompaniment is sparse, just a guitar and understated drums as well as the keyboard she sits behind for about half the set. She unveils tracks from her forthcoming EP including the lead track Oliver, but it's one called Old Fashioned Girl that really stands out for us.
Next up are The Maitlands and they suffer at the start with microphone failure during the opening track so Carl is forced to improvise with the second one and they're off into their stride. The five-piece might be unsung and underappreciated on the local scene, but they're an incredibly tight live outfit; their songs stop and start at will, each time a different member bringing the song back in. Tracks like Arrested Development and Occupy Headspace feel deserving of a bigger audience, whilst Carl's offbeat but hilarious interactions with the audience and the rest of his band make them a joy to watch.
99 Degree are a new band to us as they prepare for the release of their Losing My Mind EP in May. They're hampered by the guitarist drowning out a lot of the rest of the music for most of the set which doesn't help us form an opinion on them as the melodies that we could here at points we couldn't in large parts of it, which is unfortunate as songs like Roll, Roll, Roll and The End Of The Line sound like their self-described psych surf garage rock could hit the right buttons and in Joe, they've got a front man who isn't afraid to engage with his audience.
There's no such danger of no crowd interaction as The Creature Comfort take to the stage though. Front man Ben spends half his time down on the floor among us and at one points takes to curling himself up in a ball on it. It might with other bands detract from the performance but for them it feels like a completely natural part of the act. Cool Spot and Life's A Crime are stand out tracks in a set that often feels like it might implode at any time with the front man's antics, but which holds itself together thanks to the band remaining oblivious and delivering tight rhythms and grooves.
Hey Bulldog are the last band up before the interval and they switch things up a notch. A band with a genuine love of great guitarists past and present, it shows in the way they let loose at every opportune moment in their set to do so, from an opening extended jam that leads into opening track Find The Sun. The audience has grown considerably by this point and songs like Under My Spell, the exciting new single Stranger and set-closer Divide And Conquer get a delirious response from a crowd that clearly love the unashamed indulgences of the songs' instrumental sections.
OLA have been building an audience over the past few years on the underground scene in Manchester and the duo's set as darkness starts to fall outside will no doubt have won over a few more admirers. Using both guitars and electronics, they create an uplifting sound that feels perfect for these hallowed surroundings as it reverberates around the hall. Often this style of music can leave the listener feeling distant, but they imbue it with a warmth that lets the listener in to fully appreciate what they're about.
Dantevilles are next up before heading off to headline the Night And Day later in the evening. The half-hour set feels now like it's not enough to get their full experience such is the progress they've made over the past few months and the strength of their new material. They're also not a band to rest on their laurels or deliver what's expected of a young band on the brink of making a breakthrough. An instrumental section mid-set reveals as much about them as the trio of singles Perfect Place, It Might Be Tomorrow and their most recent Graffiti, whilst The Fighter shows that they're not afraid to step away from those three three-minute radio-friendly songs that have made their name.
The Goa Express's blues-tinged psychedelia goes down well with the evening crowd that's starting to feel the benefit of the booze and the vibe of the stunning lighting show that's been brought in. Songs like debut single Reincarnation Of The Lizard Queen, What Are You Thinking? and their set-closing Space Woman are ambitious in scale for the five-piece yet they manage to create a sound that fills even a room of this size. It's been a few months since we first saw them and we can see the development they've undergone in that short timeframe.
Déjà Vega steal the show though, a band full of confidence and at the peak of their powers and this feels like the perfect setting for them, the abrasive, confrontational nature of their sound providing a stark contrast to the beautiful surroundings. With just a guitar, bass and drums and a pedal board of tricks at their disposal, they create something that's raw and skeletal one minute and overpowering and overwhelming the next. The audience lose themselves in the likes of Pentagrams and their now traditional set-closing The Test, a song that never takes the same direction two performances running. If the album captures just half of the raw energy and excitement of the live show, it's going to be one impressive document of one of the country's most underappreciated bands.
It's a very hard act from Crimsons to follow and they do so in their own inimitable style. Their songs drip with dramatic intent which again St Peters feels perfectly atuned to, the natural showmanship in front man Sam and bass player Luke's performance undiluted by surroundings far more imposing than the clubs they're used to. They grow into it though and by the time they complete the set with Shy Talk, the title track from their forthcoming EP they've captured the moment and the spirit of the event perfectly.
Hannah Nicholson is on Facebook and Twitter.
The Maitlands are on Facebook and Twitter.
The 99 Degree are on Facebook and Twitter.
The Creature Comfort's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Hey Bulldog's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
OLA are on Facebook and Twitter.
Dantevilles are on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud.
The Goa Express are on Facebook and Twitter.
Déjà Vega are on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud.