Although there will be reviews aplenty, at Shout Louder we want to offer two unique perspectives on the fifth year of Manchester Punk Festival. Sarah Williams is an MPF veteran who volunteers at the event, who’ll be giving us a behind-the-scenes perspective, whereas Mark Bartlett’s has given us his highlights as an MPF first timer. In this article, Mark explores his nerves about attending alone, and why the effort was worthwhile.
Here are some thoughts about my first ever trip to the Manchester Punk Festival over the long Easter bank holiday weekend.
My first ever MPF can only be described as a completely heartening, life nourishing experience, which was briefly prodded by the occasional anxious freak out.
By the time the weekend was done, my notions of what punk is or isn’t was challenged by the massive breadth of genre variety on offer. Ultimately, I felt that the living spirit of punk rock is the ethos, outlook, morality and community of the few thousand individuals who make this annual pilgrimage.
I fully expected to feel awkward a lot of the time. I’m a real loud mouth once I get to know a person properly, but alone I’m very shy around strangers, and that’s further exacerbated when I’m around people who I think are talented (no shortage of that here). I naturally assume that people dislike me and in groups I always feel very visible and awkward. It’s a behaviour I have to work quite hard to deprogram myself of.
If I’d had somebody to go with, I would have loved to have come to any previous MPF, but the general feeling of being lonesome and weird was insurmountable. Last year, I felt the pangs of jealously having heard about all the fun everybody had, and I was resolved to go no matter what, come rain or shine. Luckily for all of us, the weather was completely glorious and, even as a solo traveller, I didn’t feel alone for any significant portion of my weekend. Honestly, I was surprised to find out that so many people I met have so many of the same social hang ups. I enjoyed the weekend from a social perspective every bit as much as what was on offer musically. It’s a brilliant atmosphere and it was great to finally get the chance to meet some long term social media pals in the flesh, as well as catching up with some old friends.
What I didn’t enjoy was 6 hours on the Megabus from London Victoria to Manchester on a scorcher of a Good Friday. I’m quite an ample gentlemen, and an equally portioned dude was wedged in next to me for the whole journey. It was a pretty sweaty and cramped time but you can’t beat the price! To be fair, the whole weekend is a steal at just £60 for 3 days.
One of my favourite things about the festival was that it was spread around several centralised Manchester venues. They’re all within close walking distance but each has its own character and the walk enables a visitor to see a bit more of the city. There’s loads of local supermarkets along the route to venues to keep the costs down and there’s plenty of vegetarian and vegan options too. The venues varied wildly in size from the intimate Zombie Shack (my personal fav) to the gargantuan Union. It almost felt like a convention evangelising for the UK DIY scene with so much distro on offer and all the best UK small labels represented in some way, shape or form.
While I don’t have the words to speak about every band I saw this weekend; I’d like to talk about some of my highlights.
The very first band I saw were Manchester’s own hardcore stalwarts Incisions, who lay waste to the large Gorilla stage and a completely packed room. It was clear and obvious that this was their biggest moment as a band to date. Therein lies the charm of purpose of MPF: giving fantastic bands an opportunity to play to a far larger audience than is normally viable and to shine a spotlight on everything great about the UK and international DIY punk scenes.
I spent most of my day in mid-sized venue The Bread Shed, and the highlight of my Friday was undoubtedly the utterly rad double-bill of Charmpit followed by Big Joanie. Charmpit, from London via California, are probably my favourite UK band. They write low-fi pop-punk songs with a hard emphasis on the pop, with sugary sweet harmonies and a dreamy, hazy romance about them that reminds me of why love the B52’s so much. They have an indefinable magic that fills me with joy every time I get to see them.
Songwriting duo Anne Marie and Rhianydd have a very strong friendship that translates to a great presence on stage, and they understand the fundamentals of what makes a song great. Every song they power through feels like a hit single from a parallel universe. Free The Burbs and Buckfast My Heart in particular are brilliant songs, and their new material sounds like it’s going to drastically surpass their previous output. I’ve seen Charmpit live about five times now but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to see them with their 2nd guitarist Estella (who is doing double duty today in Big Joanie also). I felt she added a lot of musicianship to the band and Estella’s lead parts really elevated the quality of the new material.
I was supposed to then run over to Gorilla to watch UK ska-punk saviours Call Me Malcolm, but instead I got caught up with Anne-Marie from Charmpit (who is a completely wonderful person) and then got captivated by London’s Big Joanie, who I’ve never seen before but I’d heard great things about. They had an unconventional set-up with the drums bought to the front and centre of the stage. Big Joanie’s songs have an earthy, elemental and hypnotic power to them and the tracks from last year’s excellent Sistahs worked better for me live than on record. I’m excited for the future of this band.
I ran over to Gorilla to catch the last half of The Arteries and then to watch my pals in punk/metal hybrid Eat Dirt bust through some new tracks from their forthcoming album. Ben is quite the showman and clearly felt very comfortable on the large stage. Tracks from their excellent EP Shithouse On Sea went down a storm and new track Moribund was an obvious highlight.
From this point a took my critical hat off and committed to a night of mostly ska. I enjoyed seeing Harijan for the first time. I also got to see Nervus for the first time ever on the giant Union stage; they’re fantastic songwriters.
Saturday was even better, and a mixture of the MPF signature Queen Bee beer, endless cans of Red Stripe and ‘Dark and Horny’ cocktails from the Zombie Shack put me in the appropriate party spirit.
Based on Sarah from Shout Louder’s recommendation, I checked out the ferocious Follow Your Dreams. They kill it to a packed room with their mathy, challenging hardcore going down a storm. Front-woman Kaz has a powerful stage presence and great banter with the rest of the band.
What happened next justified my entire weekend on its own. I’ve heard in passing that Kermes from Leicester are a great band, but I wasn’t prepared at all for how utterly and completely blown away I was about to be.
I go to gigs as an adult to chase the euphoria I had as a teenager discovering amazing music for the first time. It’s a super rare animal to have that feeling transmitted directly to you by a band you’re almost entirely unfamiliar with. It’s hard to categorise Kermes as a punk band in the traditional sense. Their songs are adventurous and progressive even, but without the pretension. They’re poppy and canny songwriters and every song is littered with ear-worm melodies, memorable lyrics and superb guitar work that seems to not just complement the vocals, but is have a lively argument with them.
Emily Rose Teece is the front-woman I’ve waited a long time to see. As excellent a guitarist as she is a singer, and able to dance between passionate joy and heartbreak effortlessly, before finally evoking some giant sense of rock phantasmagoria within me. I felt myself welling up during Questions with the clear realisation that this is one of my best rock shows I’ve seen since At The Drive-In circa 2001. Kermes are a truly special band.
I love Bristol’s Boom Boom Raccoon. They’re an acoustic ska/folk hybrid that play catchy and endearing songs about biscuits and The Simpsons with a strong political message and passion for activism and environmentalism. Once again, amazing to see a band so completely committed to DIY playing to such a big and happy group of people.
London pals SKIV were asked to play the Zombie Shack at the last minute and it was great to watch them rise to the occasion. I’ve seek SKIV at least five times now but this was their best show yet with bassist and backing vocalist Connor being especially impressive. He plays his bass like a lead guitarist would and pulled off some pretty admirable stuff during their set. I can’t wait for their next EP.
The second half of my day proceeded in a blur with me catching excellent sets from the typically excellent Harker and Martha. The after party at Rebellion was clearly a day highlight for many this year, with Call Me Malcolm absolutely smashing a cover set of Less Than Jake’s classics to a massively enthusiastic crowd, even more to my liking though was the proceeding Alkaline Trio cover set band formed from by James Choice and members of Astpai and 7 Years Bad Luck.
I didn’t get back until 4 am the following morning and my old bones weren’t feeling up to the task of another full day of bands, but it was nothing a large breakfast at local haunt The Font couldn’t resolve.
Another awesome part of the MPF line-up was a full programme of podcasts, punk cinema and talks all hosted in The Font’s basement. I spent two hours in the lovely company of Mike and Jamie from Aerial Salad (one of my very favourite UK bands) filming an MPF special of their podcast. I even got to be a guest panellist for a bit (thankfully deleted) and it was a really fun start to the day.
Today, I spent the bulk of my time in the Zombie Shack. They have a big beer garden outside, delicious vegan food and a monopoly on the bands I was excited to see that day. Werecats started my Sunday on the right foot with a fun and fast blast through tracks from their very entertaining debut released last year. They play stripped back, fun and catchy pop-punk with a schlocky B-movie lyrical emphasis, My Boyfriend Is A Werewolf being a particular fave.
Next up was a run down to Gorilla to catch Irish 3-piece power-pop newbies Cherym. Ollie from Mean Caesar has spent some time being very vocal about his love for this band and I’m so glad I checked them out. They play super catchy pop-rock that sits somewhere between Pup, Against Me!, Hole and early Placebo. Hannah Richardson is insanely talented performer and considering they’re a relatively new three piece, they effortlessly conquered the large Gorilla stage. I don’t think there’s a debut album I’m anticipating more than Cherym’s in 2019.
Another last minute addition to the bill at the Zombie shack were Brighton and London skate-punkers Fastfade. They’re no doubt one of the most entertaining live bands on the UK scene and I’ve seen them come along leaps and bounds in the last few years. They play super catchy skate-punk in the vein of Captain Everything and Green Day but at what feels like a superhuman speeds. I stayed put and drank cocktails for the next hour and a half, catching Manchester local gruff-punks Clayface and the dark ska stylings of One Eyed God.
It was a real shame that Fresh, another of my homegrown favourites were unfortunately unable to play. Fortunately, London regret-punk heroes Burnt Tapes were tapped in as a last-minute replacement. It was a great moment to get to see them on an enormous stage at the Union, surrounded by a large group of London friends and newly converted fans.
Unfortunately, I had to get the Megabus back to London at 11pm on Sunday, which in hindsight was a big mistake because I missed out another another two apparently brilliant cover sets from Incisions aping Minor Threat and Burnt Tapes doing their best impression of The Menzingers.
I had a brilliant weekend, and I can’t believe I was trepidatious about going previously. I’ll definitely be returning next year and hopefully I’ll be able to convince some people to tag along. Regardless, the line-up, price, atmosphere and organisation of Manchester Punk Festival can’t be beat. Hopefully see some of you next year!
This is part of a two-part review of MPF. In contrast to Mark’s first-time perspective, Sarah’s also given the view from behind-the-scenes of the festival, you can read it here.