When In Manchester, one of the country's most exciting and diverse multi-venue urban festivals once again took over the Northern Quarter for the fourth instalment of the event that's now become a fixture on the Manchester music calendar. We caught Nimuah, Humbar, Gardenback, Sapho, Bedroom High Club, Cabezudos, Scarlet, The Big Peach and Nova Twins whilst rueing a list of clashes the length of our arm.
Nimuah opened up proceedings in the music room of The Castle Hotel. With a mix of rock guitars tinged with a psychedelic blues feel and Nicola's voice which moves seamlessly between soulful and full on rock, they impress a crowd that grows as their set progresses. Highlights include last year's single Love Takes Control, a song so new it's known as Harry's Song after one of the band, but they save their best for last, with an impassioned Where Have You Been finishing off the set to start the day off with a bang.
Next up, we hop across the road to Gullivers to catch Sheffield's Humbar play their first ever show in Manchester. Led by the stunning voice of Julia, they dish up a rich varied set of soul / pop crossover that has us wondering what Amy Winehouse would sound like had she been born in South Yorkshire. Songs like 3am and Follow Me from last year's EP are delivered with a crisp precision which still feels genuine, real and from the heart. You can sense that the audience are being won over too, the curious applause at the start of their set being replaced by something more prolonged and heartfelt by the end.
Gardenback shrug off a stage invasion and the presence of a hen party with an inflatable dummy, cock and all with a Jeremy Corbyn mask on its face, to deliver our favourite set of the day. Punchy, agitated and powerful, the likes of last year's single Bulldogs, the one-two blow to the head of Motorway, and, best of all, their set-closer and next single Health And Well-Being, demonstrate their two-vocal approach which works brilliantly when they're either fighting each other for supremacy or they use the call and response technique to hammer home their message. As the hen party form the worst mosh pit circle ever, Gardenback make their case for being much higher up the bill.
Next up are St Helens' Sapho who impressed us when they played last year's festival over at Jimmy's. The three-piece have in the year since we last saw them, Liam, Brad and Luke have fleshed out and beefed up their sound without compromising the raw energy that made us have them down as a must see on our list this year. Songs like Radio, Fish and I'm Feeling plus a new one that they play for the first time possess an energy that starts to get the crowd going even though it's still only six o'clock.
They're followed by Bedroom High Club, a band that came highly recommended by our friend Martin Clark who's championed them ceaselessly since they burst onto the scene with their Amazing Radio chart hit Into You / Make You Mine. They play this during their soundcheck, but not their set, a bold and confident move but one which you can understand once they deliver songs of the quality of Carefully Watchin', Tokyo and their final song 925. Their songs have a warm summery feel to them, nodding to the past, but very much of the here and now.
Cabezudos are a band we seem to have inadvertently missed for a while now, so we're happy to make that right. A band very much steeped in the finer traditions of rock and roll, whether it be in the big anthemic choruses or the confident swagger of front man Jack and his cohorts. They do have surprises up their sleeve though, adding brass to the set that marks them out from many bands that take this path. They don't introduce songs so it's hard to name favourites, but one of the brass-infused ones which we think might be Calling Your Name stood out in a set that didn't pause for breath throughout.
Next up are Scarlet and they keep the energy levels in the room high. Infectiously enthusiastic Jessie holds the crowd's attention rapt as they run through tracks from their was-it-actually-released album Effigy and new material that shows a progression in their songwriting but without losing the spark that makes them such an exciting band to watch live even if you don't know their songs as many of those in the room don't. The album's opening track Alone and their most recent single Bones bookmark a half-hour set which also features singles Who Left The Iron On and Your Control. The response they get at the end tells its own story.
We then head across the road to The Castle for The Big Peach who run through their debut album in its entirety. Live they're even more irresistible than their recorded output, every song has a hook that'll be instantly familiar, but somehow they never feel like they're just rehashing someone else's ideas such is the clever way in which they walk that line. They're the perfect headliner for this festival, their songs exude such a feel good vibe that it's impossible not to drag your weary feet on to the dancefloor and they turn it into their own party. There's the boy-girl stories like Give Up Askin', the more serious topics like Politician and the glorious finale of the record It's Alright Mama, all of which come together to make their set a glorious fun-filled finale to the night in this venue.
There's still time though to head back over to Gullivers for their headliner Nova Twins. Amy and Georgia take aim at us with a set of songs full of huge basslines, live drums and an energy that shakes the walls of the room to its core and gets the audience moving even at the end of a long day on their feet. The likes of Bassline Bitch, Losing Sleep and Lose Your Head are three minute punches to the gut, slaps around the face and pokes in the eye that mean no one's attention is diverted away from the stage for a minute. It's incredible to watch how they take a crowd stood there waiting to be impressed and have them eating out the palms of their hands by the end.
They're the sort of headliner that most festivals wouldn't dare consider because they don't fit a certain mould, but who, like The Tuts last year, perfectly sum up the ethos of When In Manchester, opening people's eyes and ears to great new music that wouldn't necessarily be on the radar of large parts of the crowd. And that's why this festival needs to be celebrated, supported and shouted about from the rooftops.
Nimuah are on Facebook and Twitter.
Humbar are on Facebook and Twitter. Read our interview with them here.
Gardenback are on Facebook and Twitter. Read our interview with them here.
Sapho are on Facebook and Twitter.
Bedroom High Club are on Facebook and Twitter.
Cabezudos are on Facebook and Twitter.
Scarlet are on Facebook and Twitter.
The Big Peach are on Facebook and Twitter. The album is available from their Bandcamp.
Nova Twins are on Facebook and Twitter.