Sounds From the Other City, Salford, 1 May
Welcome to Clashfinder hell. Sounds From the Other City returns with its largest, most ambitious bill to date.
As ever, the Salford festival takes over the city's Chapel Street and its environs with a lovingly curated programe of music and performance art. By the time the organisers issue stage times, you've already resigned yourself to heavy losses: seeing everything you want to see is an impossibility. Still, with an ever-expanding list of local and national promoters and labels adding their distinct flavours to the event, even unthinking pin-sticking would surely pay dividends. Is there anything on the UK music calendar that offers such ridiculous value for – whisper it – £20? Roll on 2017.
"Hello, we're the soft rock band Hot Shorts. That was our first song and now we're going to play it again." And they do just that as they open proceedings on the SFTOC.TV stage. Lara Williams swaps lead vocals for drums and Chris Killen steps up for a second run through I Don’t Want To Do My Job Anymore. Maddening, right? Actually, no. They may underplay it ("Here's, um, another one…") but the Manchester four piece easily convert a cold, wet (and stone cold sober) crowd into a sea of smiles. It's all very silly but there's nothing slacker about how they toy with the components of 90s college rock. Is it a joke? Clearly – but it's a good one and when it feels like you’re in on the joke, who cares?
"Here's a song about rain…" deadpans a skeleton costume-wearing Emily Noakes as Tacocat set about the afternoon crowd on the Hey! Manchester stage in the rarefied surroundings of St Philip's Church. No wonder the Seattle four piece feel at home: outside, it's throwing it down, as it has been for weeks. And the likes of Bridge To Hawaii and Dana Katherine Scully are the perfect – if ultimately futile – antidote. Still, their fizz-bomb punk pop is a wiry, jittery blast and Salford folds and swoons.
"Let's just take five minutes to think about absolutely fucking nothing." John Doran begins his spoken word performance at The King's Arms with an invitation to go deep: close your eyes and connect. As the techno two piece Chrononautz build a backdrop of pulsing beats, Doran revisits his excellent Jolly Lad memoir. He unpicks the startling truisms of a 70s working class childhood. "There was so much violence when I was young," he recalls. It's an unflinching confessional and it makes for a confrontational but connective performance. A full house is rapt.
Local improvisational troupe Locean follow Doran but the atmosphere becomes properly charged when Ill arrive. Their crowd spills down the stairs and they deliver an explosive half hour that rattles the walls and lobs a series of pithy provocations at your tired sensibilities. They were always a prospect and a distraction but, ultimately, they've become a properly accomplished live act. There's a Riot Grrrl energy amidst the tumult but there's more on show than mere rhetoric: Ill have character and tunes aplenty. During Slithering Lizards, an epic, twitchy, tempo-switching discourse, they toy with the song and play off each other like old hands. There's no escape from Ill: stepping on a rattlesnake would be more relaxing.
Laura Cannell's Beneath Swooping Talons saw the fiddle player's reworking of early music forms find favour with a large and appreciate audience. The shadowy staging provided by Fat Out and Café Oto at Islington Mill makes for a wholly immersive experience. A few faint hearts slip away but Cannell's set works as a focused whole and those who stay connected are rewarded, and she exits to a warm reception.
Britain are the unexpected jewel on the Heavenly Records and Friends stage at First Chop Brewing Arm. The Preston duo have attracted gushing notices for the past year despite a frustratingly low profile and no official release as yet. As such, everyone in attendance almost chances upon them. No matter: a dash of serendipity is good for the soul, even though, stumbling into the makeshift venue after they've begun and wincing as a nattering crowd threatens to drown them out, Joey Cobb and Katie Drew appear to be on a hiding to nothing. Gradually, their stark beats and spiralling melodies take hold and people – for the most part – fall for them as they should. A less dreamy Beach House? Close but still a million miles away.
The White Hotel presents Salford & Gomorrah upstairs at The Old Pint Pot and Parade deliver one of the day's many minor triumphs. Manchester song writer Nick Townley steps aside from – amongst other things - playing keyboards in Hartheim, to front his own unique vision as part of that all day sequence. Accompanied by Becky Power, he plays a stripped down set, alternating between guitar and keyboards. The pair arrive wearing masks that are part Eyes Wide Shut orgy, part masquerade ball and the pretence fits Townley's crafty stage management, not least his decision to conduct all between-song chat in a French accent. Still, the songs are effortlessly melodic and shine with an oddball soul. Best of all is Laughing: a dead ringer for early, solo Jeff Buckley. More, please.
Last time Gwenno played to an audience this size round these parts, she was supplying girl group harmonies with The Pipettes. But these days, it's her own emerging vision that has a rammed St Phil's flooding out of the pews. Her largely Welsh language debut Y Dydd Olaf saw her emerge as a watchful and compelling commentator. A stirring concept piece, its heady synth-pop is bolstered tonight by the addition of live bass and drums. Chwyldro is a brooding whirl – this is pop as light as a cloud but heavy with intrigue. Euphoric flurries punctuate a riveting set. Last year, in these hallowed environs, a triumphant Jane Weaver finally, deservedly, saw her star ascend. Only a fool would bet against Gwenno gaining a similar – and equally deserved – foothold.