Hungry Pigeon – Festival Highlights

Posted on June 4, 2010

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Hungry Pigeon 2010 turned out to be an enormous success and Manchester can be proud to have hosted such an impressive event. Around 150 bands played over the three days and it allowed a large audience to assess the credentials of many aspiring music acts. With so many bands performing, there was inevitably going to be a wide-range of abilities on display, with some bands a little shoddy and ill-prepared; and some who could realistically be packed on to a bus and taken to the Jools Holland studio to perform their songs to the nation without fear of criticism. The bands discussed here all fall into the latter category, with slick professionalism at the core of their performance.

The Paris Riots are becoming a very well-known local band with a fervent following. They write stadium rock music, akin to the Kings of Leon’s more recent work, and they play with such intensity and tightness that they have to be admired. Their lead singer, Toby Connor, is extremely enigmatic and his onstage antics make for a very exciting visual spectacle. His vocals are very strong and the drumming from Scott McKnight is commanding and impressive. Having said that, their songs lack any kind of originality and therefore it is doubtful that they will make a lasting impression on the music world. They are churning out an indie music formula that has been done to death, and although they do it very well, it is tiresome to see a band that lacks inventiveness and imagination. Modern music is extremely diverse, with so many bands offering unique sounds and song structures, keeping things fresh for the listener. You only have to look at the diverse array of music coming from Brooklyn right now as an example; and if one borough of New York can offer variety, then one can expect bands from other areas to do the same. It just feels like The Paris Riots’ formula has been overworked, which leaves a slightly empty feeling inside the listener. However, the large audience inside Night & Day on the final night of the festival would disagree strongly with that analysis.

The opening night of the festival was set alight by an excellent performance from Kirsty Almeida at Band On The Wall. Almeida has a terrific and varied voice, backed by a 7 piece band of expert musicians. She has signed to Decca, is currently on tour across the UK, and is set to play Glastonbury in the coming weeks. She is, of course, attempting to enter a very crowded sector of the music industry, but the quality of the material her band produces should ensure she makes an impact. Her performance here was stunning, and her interesting take on pop music transmitted beautifully well to the audience. The band seems to take influence from many musical genres, and this really helps to create a sound that is different and complex. There is a serious groove underpinning everything, with a band that are so accomplished it is quite spectacular to witness. Her single ‘Spider’ stood out, with a smooth and chocolaty vocal and stunning brass solo sections it really does offer something different. Almeida and co are pretty much faultless and supremely well prepared, and they are producing music which is very much their own. You can hear these songs being played everywhere from small, back street clubs to grandiose venues like the Bridgewater Hall. Kirsty is charming and likeable, and her audience is so varied, with young and old all enjoying the music. It is very refreshing to see a band appeal to such a variety of people, even in the embryonic stage of their development. Keep an eye out for Kirsty Almeida, she looks set to have a big career ahead of her.

Liam Frost provided another festival zenith, playing a splendid set of honest and heartfelt tracks at Band On The Wall. Frost is much-loved here in Manchester and Sunday’s performance will only serve to enhance his reputation and cement his place in the hearts of the many Mancunian’s in attendance. Liam has a very good voice, one which tugs at the heart-strings and excites, and his songs are very personal. He is also a very amiable and likeable chap, with the barrier between him and his audience almost non-existent. He played with his band for the majority of the set, but towards the end the other players left the stage and Liam performed 3 solo songs before the band returned to play out the remaining tracks. The full band numbers were energetic and full of vocal hooks and, although his musicians are not particularly unique, they provide a solid platform on which Frost can launch into his sincere lyrics. The lead guitarist is not flash, but his tone was seductive and agreeable and it worked well with Frost’s voice. His songs demonstrate an ability to write catchy choruses, which is a skill that some find difficult, and he has a firm grasp of pop melody. ‘Shall We Dance’ was one of the set highlights, with a lovely harmonica section reminiscent of some of Dylan’s work, it also contains an excellent narrative. Frost clearly takes pride in his words, and his audience sing them back to him with the same kind of zeal he delivers them with. Indeed, the most impressive constituent of his stage performance is the passion with which he sings. It doesn’t seem like a job, rather something he has to do and it appears to take a lot out of him. It is quite a spectacle when you see a musician give everything, and Liam Frost delivers on that count.

The overall festival highlight came from the outstanding I Am Blackbird, who continue to impress every time they step on to a stage here in Manchester. Each band member exhibits distinction and class, making it blatantly obvious that Jonny Baldwin, the lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, has strategically hand-picked the musicians. In fairness, it’s the least his song-writing deserves, anything less than a group of outstanding players would be an injustice to Manchester’s best new songwriter. It is impossible to find criticism with a band that has quality songs, great vocals and excellent musicianship. They seem to strike a perfect balance with every aspect of their work, with lyrics that are poignant yet not preachy, music that is enduring and yet modern and a stage presence that is understated but not boring. Personally, I cannot wait for the day they play their inaugural Jools Holland performance because firstly, it will be wonderful to listen to, and secondly, I will feel vindicated in my conviction that they are, without doubt, Manchester’s best new band.

photography by Karen McBride

words by Rob Pollard

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Posted in: Music