BBC 6 Music Festival Fringe, Victoria Warehouse Hotel, Fri 28 Feb, Midday-3.20pm:
There’s a victorious puff-chested we-told-you-so air about the BBC Radio 6 Music lot.
So they should.
Threatened with closure a few years back, the 6 Music troop rallied, and rallied hard. Following a listener campaign the BBC thinking-mans ‘alternative’ radio station, a church to the likes of veterans Steve Lamacq and Mary Anne Hobbs, fun-lovin’ Huey Morgan, Jarvis ‘Pulp’ Cocker and Corro funky soul man Craig Charles, was saved from a premature end.
Some years later and the station is going from strength-to-strength, now boasting around two million regular listeners (In 2010 they had around 600,000), they’ve just thrown their inaugural festival at Old Trafford’s Victoria Warehouse. Tickets sold out in minutes.
Good on ‘em. 6 Music is great. So a 6 Music Festival, surely great too? And the fringe festival... well actually, it wasn't convincing.
There were certainly splashes of brilliance.
The venue for one, the Victoria Warehouse Hotel, next to the venue proper is a gritty cave of brick, steel, dark wood, leather and heavy red curtains. The fringe taking place inside though fell short (the first session at least). If it wasn’t for John Cooper Clarke's star turn, you’d be forgiven for feeling slightly gypped.
The rest of it, with the exception of the punk-journo Jon Robb in conversation with the former label boss and captain of the good ship Oasis, Alan McGee, and a surreal few moments spent in the back room listening to a band of aged fellas - the BBC Radiophonic Workshop - carve out some Hitch Hikers soundscapes, felt like padding. Much filler.
6 Music DJ Shaun Keaveny practically had to drag Tim Burgess through their conversation on the Talking Head stage. Unlike his increasingly odd barnet, Burgess was surprisingly mundane. He strayed at times towards tedium. For a songwriter and performer, he seemed painfully shy, with short bursts punctuated by muffled ramblings and incomplete anecodotes. Keaveny tried to pull it back, but he was flogging a dead horse.
The film screening area curated by Don Letts only ever had three and a half people in it, the photography exhibition was a second-thought, dark and accompanied by utterly inaudible headphone commentary, and the Cornershop in the middle of it all, a collection of record stalls, catered only for those with a vinyl player. The rest of us could settle for a pie (which were good to be fair) and piss off back to Vulgaria.
I'm sure there was even karoake at some point... Come on 6 Music, you're better than karoake.
Luckily, John Cooper Clarke's appearance was value enough. Hilarious, dry and achingly humble, it felt as though the rest was fluffer for the Salfordian gutter-bard's glorious twenty minutes on stage. The room was packed, a queue backed up, even the three and a half people from the film room were trying to squeeze in.
Red curtain, yellow manNone need have missed out though. Spacial issues could have instantly been remedied by drawing back a thick red velvet curtain standing between the stag and the bar, it would have thrown the room open with little effort.
The stand-up poet and the only thing in the world thinner than graphene bundled on stage, fired off some well-aimed regional rib-digging ('They do say you should never do gigs in places like Burnley where they still point at planes in wonder') that locked the crowd down in his pocket, a haiku here, a few limericks there and the set was over all too quickly.
'Oh shit we're nearly at the end,' said John, 'I better do a long one then, how about TWAT?' Never has a TWAT been more welcome.
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David Blake wasn't convinced by the fringe, would L'Oreal Blackett fare better at the festival proper? Yes.
BBC 6 Music Festival, Victoria Warehouse, Fri 28 Feb, 4.30pm-Late
A lot of popular music can be ordinary at best: repetitive, rudimentary, and given the state of a few well documented live performances, a little shambolic.
Lucky for us then (and the other 8,500 who managed to get tickets), this festival remedied the mundane by offering up a feast of extraordinary musical talent (and pulled pork burgers) at Victoria Warehouse over the weekend.
Two nights, three stages and a full and varied line-up. They even prettied up the Old Trafford venue in the process.
Scarcely are they more extraordinary than Damon Albarn, Friday night’s headliner and regular to Manchester’s art performance offerings.
It was a special performance, mostly in part due to the hypnotic gorgeousness of Albarn’s pretty melodies, but also in the knowledge that this was the start of the Blur and Gorillaz frontman’s spectacular 2014. It was a performance full of firsts: the public hearing his new music on radio for the first time, playing live with his new band for the first time and the soon-to-be released new album, Everyday Robots, his first solo debut.
Albarn admitted to the crowd his nervousness about the performance and some 'cock-ups', but largely he was on fine-form. Admittedly, Albarn’s music is subduing in a festival setting; a few more of the old-time Blur crowd-pleasers would have satisfied his original fan base in the crowd. It became clear as he journeyed through his new music with the odd Gorillaz track thrown in, this performance was less about a nostalgic look back than it was a preview of the music to come.
Also on the main stage were the musically dextrous Los Angeles sisters, Haim, with their long hair and very long legs. The girls played cuts from their album, Days Are Gone, including the popular track Forever. Lead of the band, Danielle Haim, was a vocal delight - even if her choppy and throaty diction listens like early 90s Michael Jackson.
There’s something very enigmatic about Kelis, who also took to the main stage. It might have been the gold lamé spandex dress and Diana Ross hair that she chose to don on the night, plus all that milkshake that brought all the boys to her yard. Whatever it was, her performance garnered one of the more lively responses from the audience. She played a collection of her early R&B hits, including Trick Me and inspired lots of uncoordinated dancing and bad miming.
Away from the main stage there was the Silent Disco, which is always a peculiar experience. Drunkards shouting ‘are we listening to the same thing?’ and dancing to their own beat.
The smaller second stage also offered up some delights and we managed to catch electo-indie-pop band Metronomy. We were spoilt for choice, adding to the common festival problem of having to miss one act in favour of another.
Round of applause for 6 Music and its inaugural festival. It stirred up that musical soul that have come to associate with the city. It was a truly memorable event and we want it here again. Second one please.
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