The latest in the series of Manchester's Musicians Against Homelessness gigs took place in the intimate setting of Night People, headlined by Thomas Haywood of The Blinders playing an acoustic set and supported by a stripped-down Afghan Sand Gang, an acoustic performance by Luke and Kaiden of Scuttlers plus solo performances from songwriters Ellysse Mason and Maddy Storm.
Maddy Storm has been very quiet this year. The good news is that she's spent that time writing new material and tonight she showcases five new songs, one of them, Dark Circles, so new she has to restart it at the end of her set because it's so fresh. Stripped down to just an electric song there's less of the textures of her early work, replaced by a harder edge which provides a really interesting counter to her rich expressive voice which is her most potent and powerful weapon. Sleep Deprived is a particular stand out track as is her future single Non Stop which she reveals will be out next February. Her strength is almost her biggest weakness though - how do you fully utilise the possibilities of that voice when the choices are endless.
Ellysse Mason is next up, her songs beautifully constructed and demanding that you listen to them as her voice contains so much emotion wrapped around every word. On EP tracks You're Such A Fool and Hunt Me Down there's a real intimate sentiment that draws you in, while on Love Like That, which she describes as being about being "a shitty person" you see a different side to her words that suggest not all is sweetness and light.
She also demands every single bit of credit going for addressing the ignorant chatterers at the bar and at the back, telling how she struggled to hear Maddy over them. She's very apologetic about it (and nervous) but has no need to be because she's making a stand. If your conversation is so important that it needs to be heard over the band maybe you should just leave or get up on stage and share it with us once you've done with your check-in to make it look like you support new music or you've got your selfie for your Instagram.
Scuttlers are stripped down to their dual songwriters and front men Liam and Kaiden, removing the band elements from the songs and leaving just guitars and vocals (plus Kaiden's first ever live keyboards for the final two songs). This gives a different flavour completely to live favourites such as Nobody Knows The Way, Ray Of Sunshines and Leaders Of A Lost Generation plus their debut single Lies In The Sky and, best of all, the first performance of their final track All The World. There's an instinctive chemistry between the two of them, which is right at the core of the band, which is evident in the full band shows but which reveals itself fully here.
We were curious as to how Afghan Sand Gang would play this given their usual live show doesn't lend itself to this format and they take it right down to just one keyboard, hidden at the back of the stage between Paddy and Matthew who are perched on stools at either end of it, that provides the haunting backing to the likes of Descension. They joke that they sound like Boyz II Men and how depressing their songs are when you remove all the technology, but of course that does them a massive disservice as these songs stand up on their own and reveal different qualities.
Thomas Haywood of The Blinders concludes the evening, and whilst the lead singer of one of the most exciting young bands out there, who've sold out The Ritz just round the corner, is on stage, the chattering idiots at the bar and back are back in force. "Ignore them, let them do they want" Thomas tells us and draws us into his forty-minute set with The Ballad Of Johnny Dream, the made-up character he depicts at shows and on the cover of Columbia. It's followed by a stripped-down version of Ramona Flowers before
Thomas then takes us on a trip through Clint Eastwood's Spiderweb Of Daydreams, a spiralling story of imaginary characters and situations. It's something he repeats later on Grave Of The Kings, introduced as a "love letter to Paris" but which contains a poetic view of observations of city life, drenched in pathos and a hint of wry wit. There's an intriguing solo album hidden away in these colourful tracks somewhere.
There's more Blinders tracks of course. Matty joins him on stage for Brave New World after some friendly heckling and knocks over a mic stand on the way off, there's a "new" song called Everything that they wrote whilst still living in Doncaster which should appear on their second album and he finishes the night with The Ballad Of Winston Smith and a reminder of why this evening is taking place at all - to raise funds to support the homeless, something that society fails to do as the whole is more important than the individuals within it.
The Blinders play Bingley Weekender (31), Blackburn Confessional Festival (September 6), London Gunnersbury (7), Amsterdam Paradiso Indiestad (19), Portsmouth Dials Festival (October 5), Manchester Neighbourhood Festival (12), Cardiff Shimmer Sounds Festival (November 16) and Birmingham Shimmer Sounds Festival (17).
The Blinders' website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
Our recent interview with them can be found here.
Afghan Sand Gang are on Facebook and Twitter.
Scuttlers are on Facebook and Twitter.
Ellysse Mason's website can be found here and she is on Facebook and Twitter.
Maddy Storm is on Facebook and Twitter.
Musicians Against Homelessness are on Facebook and Twitter.