enjoyable performances keep Neighbourhood Weekender crowds happy on opening day

Neighbourhood Weekender 2021 review

By Trevor Eales | Published: Fri 18th Mar 2022

around the festival site (Saturday)

Saturday 27th to Sunday 28th May 2023
Victoria Park, Knutsford Road, Warrington, Cheshire, WA4 4UK, England MAP
£127.50 for 2days; £66.50 for either day
Daily capacity: 25,000
Last updated: Thu 4th May 2023

Sunday brought sun and heat as crowds flocked to Victoria Park. The previous day there had been a steady build up of audience but today thousands had come early to enjoy a laid back afternoon sitting in the sun; eating and drinking while taking in some music. For those at the front, Sheffield band The Reytons brought early energy combined with a slight air of malevolence, aggression and council estate ethics as they promoted their soon to be released album, "Kids from the Estate". The ever lively The Pigeon Detectives followed, maintaining the Yorkshire theme but with a little more charisma. Undoubtedly enjoyable but one sensed that they were more background entertainment for many who were happy to sit and socialise while soaking up the September sunshine.

Looking for something a little different I headed for The Big Top for the curiously named, Working Men's Club. I'd seen them a couple of years ago; a messy guitar band playing with an excess of feedback and noise trying to mask limited musical capabilities. I'd heard that they'd changed and they certainly had. Guitars, feedback and noise had all gone to be replaced with electronic beats and a vocalist who'd developed a frankly weird stage presence and mannerisms. I still can't decide whether I liked them but they were undoubtedly engaging and a real improvement on their previous incarnation.

Reviewing festivals over the course of a summer there are often up and coming performers that one sees repeatedly and it's interesting to see how or if their popularity and performances develop. Playing the small Viola Beach stage was Lauren Hibberd. Six weeks ago she'd played the main stage at Tramlines Festival and while enjoyable, had failed to engage many beyond those front of stage. Here with a more intimate audience she really connected. She was dressed once again to impress; this time in a frilly white dress with bright red hearts. Her guitar driven pop mixing angst with humour and down to earth lyrics was deservedly well received. The Hara, nothing original musically, are simply a great visual rock band. They're played to a small enthusiastic crowd when I saw them a few weeks ago. Now, they gave easily the best received performance of the weekend on the Viola Beach Stage; drawing a packed crowd, forming boisterous circle pits who were left chanting for more after an all too brief 30 minute set.

Away from this small pocket of frenzy, late afternoon on the main stage was all about laid back vibes and quality songwriters and it was pleasant to take time out to chill in the sun. For the more "elderly," Lightning Seeds brought back memories of younger days with their well-crafted songs from the 90's. Tom Walker who followed them, has developed into an accomplished writer with a catalogue of varied material and a band that adds real texture to his work. He's come a long way since I first saw him playing solo with an acoustic guitar a few years ago. By the time he closed with the inevitable, "Leave a light on" he'd drawn easily the biggest crowd of the weekend.

Late afternoon and early evening at The Big Top was all about up and coming indie guitar bands, each with different slants on the genre. Sports Team brought brash energy with vocalist Alex Rice quickly down from the stage and among the crowd. Inhaler, performing beneath gloomy lighting, emitted an aura of rock band cool while playing songs with obvious hooks; the front rows of the audience packed with teenage girls and young women, their focus clearly upon Elijah Hewson. The Lathums meanwhile appeared to me as bland, bordering on twee at times, with little obvious charisma beyond their beaming smiles. Yet not for the first time I find myself out of sync with popular taste. The beaming smiles are clearly justified with the band receiving a rapturous response from easily the biggest crowd to grace The Big Top all weekend.

As the temperature dropped there was a significant exodus of people. It’s hard to know whether the evening chill was proving a little uncomfortable for some of those who’d come dressed for the afternoon heat or whether their departure was down to musical taste. Some of those who’d enjoyed The Lightning Seeds and Tom Walker possibly weren’t going to appreciate headliners Catfish & The Bottlemen.

The Wombats took to the stage as the sun went down, presenting the band with an opportunity to make full use of the main stage lighting. Instead, they chose to perform in semi-darkness with the ever enthusiastic Tord Øverland Knudsen scurrying  back and forth in the gloom. They were well received by many closer to the stage but for those of us further back, concentration gradually waned as their tiny figures melted into the gloom of dusk.

Chatter among the crowd prior to Catfish’s headline appearance was all about whether this was to be a farewell performance. In the event no mention of a break up surfaced, but as future shows have since been announced the rumours were clearly baseless.

Van McCann was as always the focus of attention as they delivered a balanced set drawn from all three albums. Having watched them on several occasions this performance was probably the most enjoyable I’ve witnessed. I’d last seen them with two albums under their belts when audience response had been skewed heavily in favour of their first offering. They got a great, much more even reaction on Sunday night. I watched them from a similar vantage point to James the previous evening and the difference in audiences was telling. For James, many present were obviously casual listeners who came alive when hits were played but showed little interest in newer material. During Catfish I came to fell a little uneasy in my silence as those around me were all clearly fans, loudly singing along to almost everything performed. It was also a more mature performance. Where previous shows involved a frenzied Van McCann ceaselessly running around amid minimal or strobe lighting as the audience wildly jumped, cheered and lit flares this seemed more measured. Yes, McCann was still a visual whirlwind but after every two or three songs the band paused for breath. A little disconcerting at first as the stage was plunged into silent darkness, but after a few moments respite we were off again. The lighting was also more varied and the audience more measured; not subdued but often preferring to sing rather than jump around.

It had been a good two days, well run as always with the long queues for food being probably beyond the organiser’s control.  From an audience perspective one logistical issue that causes issues each year is location in relation to public transport. It’s a long walk (at least 25 minutes) to each of Warrington’s rail stations; leaving many festival goers tired at the end of the day and resulting in some having to leave early to make their transport links. Whether shuttle buses are available or have been considered I don’t know but they would certainly be helpful.

Musically it had been another good year with impressive main stage performers from the headliners. For me though, what makes Neighbourhood so appealing each year is the quality and variety of up and coming bands that perform on the smaller stages. Let’s hope there isn’t another two year wait for the next edition.

For the photo galleries see here.

review by: Trevor Eales

photos by: Trevor Eales

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