The inaugural Neighbourhood Weekender was undoubtedly a great success, highlighting exemplary organisation and selling out within a day. It came as no surprise that organisers to some extent attempted to repeat the winning formula, presenting a programme of mainly guitar based bands with a strong North West contingent while mixing current success stories with heritage acts from the nineties and early noughties. I was looking forward to seeing whether edition 2 proved to be as successful as the first.
Arriving on Saturday it was soon apparent that the layout of the festival was similar to last year; a long narrow site with the main stages at either end and a small third stage ideally located between the two to entice passing punters. There were slight changes around the location of the second stage and public conveniences which alleviated the occasional bottlenecks that occurred last year and the “Neighbourhood “ area of bars and retail outlets had expanded to include a corner shop and promenading performers. I would love to add more detail to what went on in the corner shop but couldn’t get beyond the door; the place being permanently rammed with dancers. Bars sold the usual festival fare of major brand lager and cider at typical festival prices and the orderly queuing system seemed to work effectively. Gin made an appearance, and there were also a couple of wine stalls which I didn’t sample but judging by the number of people clutching plastic bottles of white wine over the weekend, trade must have been good.
Musically, Saturday afternoon on stage 2 held more appeal than the main stage and as an undercover option, became more appealing as light rain began to fall. First up were Marsicans, pleasant enough with their melodic guitar sounds and harmony vocals but the first highlight of the day came with Anteros. Their energetic performance fronted by the always charismatic Laura Hayden was the first to get a real reaction from a growing crowd. Maisie Peters followed; much more laid back with wordy lyrics that didn’t detract from her voice and the quality of her songs; definitely someone to investigate further in the comfort of home.
Heading for the main stage, the sounds of the late 90’s drifted through the air as Embrace entertained the crowd which wasn’t great in size but those at the front were clearing enjoying revisiting the songs of their youth.
Back at stage 2, Ten Tonnes should have started but news had come through that he wouldn’t be appearing. This was the first sign of difficulties to come. A serious crash on the M6 at lunchtime blocked the motorway for several hours with ensuing congestion causing further delays. Bands on route to the festival from the south were stranded, unable to arrive on time. To the organiser’s credit, all other bands scheduled to play did so but set times were changed, as was the order of playing, which caused some confusion and clashes with bands on the main stage. To add to these difficulties, Pale Waves, their flight from a date the previous day in the USA delayed, couldn’t make their time slot so they too were re-scheduled for later in the evening. Most of the above information came to me too late; frequently checking the festival app, changes were being announced but they weren’t keeping up with the speed at which alterations were actually being made. Retrospectively I can confirm that I am in fact a dinosaur! I shouldn’t have been checking the app; I should have been following Twitter (which I don’t), where announcements were being made that kept pace with developments!
So, as a consequence of the above I only managed to catch the final 5 minutes of Gaz Coombes, who I’d been looking forward to, and had to abandon waiting for The Hunna as I was due to photograph Primal Scream on the main stage. However, to quote an old fashioned phrase, “every cloud has a silver lining”. The Blinders played for over 50 minutes instead of their scheduled 30. Their set of visceral, raw, politically charged punk / garage rock was for me the highlight of the day although judging by the reactions of some in the audience, it probably didn’t go down too well with some of George Ezra’s fans.
Final act of the day for me on stage 2 were Pale Waves. I always find the contrast between their catchy 1980’s flavoured indie pop and Heather Baron Gracie’s stage persona as a cross between goth princess and painted doll, incongruous. Image / music contrast aside, they delivered a really enjoyable set although in unguarded moments between songs betrayed expressions of utter exhaustion; I can only applaud their, “the show must to go” ethos but the toll of life on the road was clearly evident at times!
Late afternoon on the main stage saw the first big crowd of the day. I’ve seen Tom Grennan several times over the past couple of years and it’s always pleasing to see someone with a great voice gain recognition. Crowds have gradually grown as his popularity has increased but on Saturday I witnessed something different. It wasn’t just the size of the audience, it was the fact that so many of them clearly knew the words to the songs, and not just “Found what I’ve been looking for.”
An award for most perplexing performance of Saturday must go to Primal Scream. They’re a band I’ve seen on numerous occasions and always admired their passion yet up close photographing, they and particularly Bobbie Gillespie looked jaded and gave the impression of band going through the motions. Then a strange thing happened; heading back into the body of the crowd I bought a beer and stood listening. Without the up close visuals what I witnessed was a set drawing material from across their career featuring some great guitar that gradually drew in more and more of the audience; a slow burning triumph.
Predictably, George Ezra drew the largest crowd of the day and treated us to a highly professional show, sticking pretty much to the set that he’s toured around Europe and the UK over the past four months and building inevitably toward final number, Budapest before returning for an encore and firework finale. There was great musicianship from the band which numbered 9 with a brass section at times, and they delivered an enjoyable show but arguably the fireworks provided the biggest spark of the evening.
For me the day highlighted something of a dilemma for festival organisers. There is no doubt about George Ezra’s ability to fill arenas but a seated arena audience doesn’t necessarily transfer to a festival field. I would estimate that there were somewhere between 15 and 20,000 present on Saturday. Not a bad crowd but it didn’t come near to matching the 25,000 capacity that filled the site last year and Richard Ashcroft drew on Sunday. Mr Ezra is booked to headline bigger events than Neighbourhood this summer. It will be interesting to see what sort of crowds he attracts.
Defying weather forecast predictions, the sun made an appearance early on Sunday afternoon and stayed for most of the day, inevitably adding to the upbeat mood of festival goers.
First music of the day came from Irish band Whenyoung with their soaring anthemic songs. I can see them being really successful but they were a little too bland for my tastes. Next up, a wander to the main stage brought me to the retro, American influenced sounds of Jade Bird. With her big gravelly voice and stage presence she undoubtedly has a bright future. About four songs in she covered The Bangles, Walk like an Egyptian and although the rest of her set was self-penned there was a familiarity about much of the material; nothing approaching plagiarism, more a nagging feeling that songs sounded like something I’d heard before but couldn’t define. It was telling that there was a real mix of ages among the most enthusiastic crowd front of stage.
The Mystery Jets followed. It must be almost a decade since I last saw them and I’d forgotten how enjoyable they could be. You could hardly describe them as exciting, just a really pleasant listen on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Slow Readers Club were up next; a band I’d heard but never seen. Sonically them reminded me of Editors but without the live intensity of the latter; just don’t tell that to the loyal group of followers who gathered front of stage adorned with the band’s T shirts chanting, “Readers, Readers” between every song.
Walking back to the second stage I became aware of increasing congestion well over 10 minutes away from The Amazons were due to start. They drew that stages’ biggest crowd of the weekend playing a short energetic set drawing equally on their first and recently released second album. This was my first listen to their new material and initial impressions are of a much smoother sound lacking some of the edge of their first release.
Last year at Neighbourhood I reviewed Gerry Cinnamon as “Acoustic guitar, backing tapes and ego” after he’d played to a small but enthusiastic audience on stage 2. Well nothing much has changed in his performance but this year he played to the biggest and most enthusiastic main stage audience of the weekend, his arrival on stage greeted by multiple flares, arms aloft and bodies raised on shoulders. There’s nothing inspiring about the music, simplistic songs that an audience can sing along to. They did so in their thousands, bringing him the best crowd response of the weekend.
Every so often a festival throws up something unexpected. Early Sunday evening on stage 2 did just that. I’d never seen Kate Nash before and the last music I’d heard from her was nearly a decade ago; keyboard based songs sung in an irritating London accent a la Lily Allen. What we got on Sunday evening was something of a revelation. This was no shrinking violet behind a keyboard. Ms Nash was brash, in your face, full of angst and opinion with a huge presence on the stage and off; she was in the crowd by the 3rd number. Add to this her over the top costume and the energy levels that she and others in the band exhibited and you have something special. In my opinion this was by a long way the best performance by any performer over the weekend.
Back at the main stage the atmosphere in the run in to Richard Ashcroft built on the momentum created by Gerry Cinnamon. Local heroes The Charlatans evoked the sounds of the early 1990’s and beyond and could do no wrong in front of a home crowd. Following them were The Vaccines, a band who had impressed when I first saw them in 2011 but subsequent experiences seemed to yield diminishing returns. For me, Sunday was a significant return to form. In a set drawn significantly from their first album, they rattled through 16 or 17 songs in their allotted hour which seemed to be over far too soon.
So we conclude with Richard Ashcroft; playing in front of a backdrop featuring a huge image of himself. Eavesdropping comments made in the crowd during the day I’d repeatedly heard the word “legend” and I guess for lovers of 90’s indie music from the North West he probably is. Whether a legend or not, like The Charlatans he could do no wrong, carefully mixing Verve and early solo material with less familiar recent songs he delivered a celebratory 90 minute set. Culminating with the inevitable encores, The Drugs Don’t Work, and Bitter Sweet Symphony where he couldn’t resist referencing his recent re-acquisition of the rights to the latter from messers Jagger and Richards. It was an uplifting end to the weekend, sending thousands home happy.
I began by posing the question of whether this year’s event would be as successful as the previous edition and I guess that in terms of ticket sales Saturday wasn’t. However, it was once again well organised, overcoming the logistical problems faced on Saturday, and proved a thoroughly enjoyable weekend with a pleasing laid back atmosphere for those in attendance. It also saw some excellent performances, especially from some of the lesser known acts. Saturday’s decision to book a current arena filling headliner at the top of an eclectic bill clearly wasn’t as successful financially as Sunday’s more conservative but cohesive line up. Tickets for 2020 are already on sale. It will be interesting to see what direction the bookings take.
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