A Carefully Planned Festival #4 @ Various venues, Manchester, 18-19 October

Live Review by Gary Kaill | 23 Oct 2014

In a week that sees Noel Gallagher asking £55 a pop for his forthcoming tour, A Carefully Planned Festival shows the locals a tad more respect. A mere £15 gets you 120 acts across eight Northern Quarter venues over two days. So mind-bogglingly reasonable, you're tempted to tip. Now in its fourth year, quality more than matches quantity.

Tekla's delicate noir folk opens proceedings at Soup Kitchen. She's a beguiling presence and her gutsy solo performance captivates a hushed crowd. The Orielles take things up a notch, their superior indie pop making a mockery of their years. They’re sisters Esme and Dee on bass and drums respectively, and Henry on guitar. Somewhere in their parents' record collections you spy, ooh, Goo and New Dawn Rising. A young power trio with both song craft and advanced chops, these kids can play. But, more importantly than that, they're gifted songwriters. If Henry steps from behind that fringe and they dare push those harmonies, they'll soar. For now, add them to the 'ones to watch' list.

Image: Sam Huddleston

Glass Ankle complete a dazzling opening trio in the Soup basement. Fronted by the charismatic Greg Jackson, the Manchester outfit are big on melody, harmonies and heart, shifting from power pop to soulful folk without missing a beat. A boisterous crowd falls for them big time. In a parallel universe, they're already arena-fillers. 

Image: Sam Huddleston

Elswhere, Jane Weaver's artful chamber pop shines at Mint Lounge and bonkers collective a.P.A.t.T. run riot at Kraak. Somewhere within the madness – a netherworld where melody and rhythm play musical chairs and 'performance' loses its meaning entirely – they’re still reinventing pop, the little rascals.

"It's quite a lively room," says The Castle Hotel's sound engineer to The Melting Snow Quartet's tech guy. Half an hour later his words reveal a sweet double meaning. Effortlessly cool, the French four-piece win over a mid-afternoon crowd with Gallic guile and a sinewy guitar attack that recalls early We Are Scientists. Exceptional: they take Saturday's spoils with ease.

Sunday, and the streets fill once more with increasingly familiar faces. Hey, didn’t I see you at...? Nodding and smiling at strangers becomes the norm; sharing a pint with the acts a given. Sparrowhawks' gossamer folk pop is a bracing start at Soup Kitchen. Gymnast follow them and the local duo are a revelation, bringing the advanced artpop of debut album Wild Fleet to invigorating life. Later that afternoon, Cathy and Chris display typical modesty: "Was it okay?" Beneath the shuffling beats and the complex melodics, not to mention an appealingly unassuming stage presence, Gymnast are special indeed.

Image: Sam Huddleston

Her Name is Calla and Tomorrow We Sail share venue (Mint Lounge) and aesthetic, their ambient soundscapes demanding much of potentially casual audiences – but both acts connect deeply and both dare to toy with (oh so) quiet and loud.

Image: Sam Huddleston

Remember Remember push Soup Kitchen's capacity limit to breaking point and beyond – but with people lining the stairs, their early evening performance suffers badly from sound gremlins. Perhaps that's why, despite the warm vibe in the room, their performance seems oddly stilted. Or perhaps a fixed half hour isn’t quite enough for their show to properly fire. Mark this one down to experience, then, and await their return as headliners, where their track record says their standalone live show can be a hypnotic wonder.

Over at Kraak, Conquering Animal Sound are breathtaking, singer Anneke pacing the tiny stage. In how they marry jittering beats to soaring melodies, they emerge as digital dilettantes: imagine Björk backed by Laurel Halo and you’re not even halfway there. Jamie downplays the marketing when 'selling' their new EP to a suddenly transfixed crowd: "A fiver. In the current financial climate, I really don’t think that's too bad." There are many shows over the weekend that see polite interest morph into rapture, but there are none more dramatic than this: Manchester swoons.

If folk-influenced dance pop ever takes off, Acre Tarn could corner the market. On a day where electro duos emerge triumphant, their crowd at The Castle Hotel spills out of the venue and into the corridor. Adam hunches over banks of equipment grinning, as ever, like a loon. Anna lets loose with that voice. Is that an emerging shift towards a deeper, euphoric groove? If so, it suits them well. Entirely in line with the ethos of this remarkable event, they attract the curious and hold them captive. Careful planning indeed – and as the Manchester heavens open, an indoor festival is suddenly the greatest idea ever.