Blackthorn Festival

Published on August 1st, 2015 | by Nigel Cartner

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Blackthorn Music Festival – Saturday

It was in ‘Withnail and I’ where Richard E Grant came out with the line “I Have a Bastard Behind the Eyes”. Never a truer word said as I woke up to a pounding head and numbed body in a tent that had turned from a freezer into a furnace overnight. I blame the Eastern European strength beer! Simultaneously, I had a text asking “Did anyone peak too early?” “Yes. Me!!” was my reply. Damn you Blackthorn….what did you do to me??

Matt Fryers Blackthorn

Matt Fryers – Photo By Stacey Knowles

I laboured down to the only van that served bacon butties, but the queue was far too long to comprehend, so I opted for a coffee at a less busy stall instead. I was still feeling the detrimental effects of a brilliant night so I opted to go back to bed for a couple of hours in preparation for the first act I wanted to see, Matt Fryers on The Meadow Stage at 13.40.

This really was the hidden gem in Blackthorn’s arsenal and was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time. Matt had been in the studio on our show only two weeks earlier, where he knocked out a few new songs, performed at such a level it left me and co host Andy Barnes awestruck watching him at close quarters in the studio. The three songs performed, ‘Lightning Bolts’, ‘Last Words’, and ‘Wasteland’, were performed with the same zest and gusto on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Blackthorn. Matt’s high standards never dip below exceptional. A gritty and bluesy vocal that carries such range it skips over a multitude of genres within the given acoustic range. From bluesy undertones to a series of chords that pierce your gaping heart, it’s hard not to fall under the spell of this guy’s vocals and song writing.

Older and better known songs in his repertoire, ‘Rabbit Hole’ and ‘Out in the Cold’, were coolly delivered before he ended on a real treat. I’d said in my preview of Blackthorn that if Matt played ‘John The Revelator’, taken from the TV Show ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (cover by Curtis Stigers) then it could be the moment of the whole festival. Matt’s vocal is so suited to this particular style and I’m not the only one to have harassed him in the past about performing it someday. Today was that day…and it was a true honour to accept the dedication before he gave a simply awesome, growling rendition of a song befitting of infamous motorcycle gangs in the American West. If you hear the name, ‘Matt Fryers’ playing anywhere then assume it’s a gig with ‘Must Attend’  plastered all over it.

Strangeways Blackthorn

Cool Jacket From The Strangeways

Off to The Main Stage in mid afternoon and Stockport band, Strangeways, were just beginning their set, again a band played a few times on Sonic Bandwagon. Very much a sleazier version of The Courteeners with a northern slant on The Libertines, their music has been bandied around Manchester for a couple of years now. Lead singer Simon Collier rocks up with a leather jacket donning the words, “Who The Fuckin Hell Are Strangeways” scribed across the back, and after another commanding performance, the pinnacle being their performance on top single, ‘Nothin Special’, then the Blackthorn followers needn’t have to ask that question. I’m looking forward to a full album release in the future, which is the next step for a band who play music in the same perilous way as their notorious name suggests.

Delamere Blackthorn

Delamere – Great Indie Band Who Should Go Far

We stuck around The Main Stage area waiting for Delamere’s set, a band that had rave reviews coming from the Scruff of the Neck camp. This was perhaps the surprise of the whole festival. I’d heard one or two songs beforehand and thought they were a solid indie/electro rock band, but seeing them live brought a whole new spin on my thoughts. They abandon heavy hitting indie anthems in favour of a much more structured and refined style that sees a blend of hypnotic harmonies, cool, meticulous guitar riffs, all coated by some smooth vocals to create a refreshing approach to indie music. Delamere have a lot going for them that could take them far in the scene, and tracks like ‘Bright Young People’ and ‘Headstrong’ are the stand out ones that capture this melodic sound. New single, ‘Heart’ will be released at a launch party at Academy 3, Manchester on 10th October.

The obligatory race around stages was on again as I made a promise to Dennis Ferrige, from my earlier queue at the bacon butty van, to see his band Last Race Home, which clashed with Delamere. I was in time to catch the last couple of songs, but was particularly impressed with their final one which had a riff attributed to Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Spoonful’, sounding very bluesy with a beat that carried a devilish swagger within it.

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Keeping Warm Against The Hay

The stage merry-go-round continued to Blastbeat to catch the second half of acoustic singer/song writer Jess Kemp, and boy was I glad to catch her. What.A.Performance! Jess is a workaholic around the gig circuit, and I’m amazed I’ve only seen her once before considering how often she plays. Her work ethic took her to the brink of supporting Paolo Nutini at Manchester Arena recently, but unfortunately she came second, yet it showed how much love and support she has going for her. Her single, ‘Stars’, is a wonderfully charming song, full of catchy melodies, showing just how talented a song writer….and singer she is.

Jess went on to play a series of covers too, including Estelle’s, ‘American Boy’, and ‘Love Like This’ by Kodaline, but it was in her bouncy and upbeat rendition of ‘Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars that really left the crowd impressed. Her vocal twists and turns between a beautiful gentle sound, but can flip in an instance to the odd snarling, yet soulful vocal notes that has a subtle similarity to Wanda Jackson in parts, and certainly one that sends a shiver down your spine when she turns it on. I believe that pound for pound on audience size, Jess’s set ended with the biggest cheer and round of applause that I witnessed all festival. In fact, I was so impressed that I asked her to appear on The Sonic Bandwagon Show on 14th August, so watch out for that appearance on the show.

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The fans Showing Their Adulation

With a bit of time to kill before one of my favourite bands appeared, I took the time to sit and relax and take in the festival for a minute. It was a great atmosphere with just the right numbers attending, not too busy and not too quiet. The weather was perfect too as people flopped wherever they could on the luscious green grass to similarly absorb the magic swirling around them.

Evening had now arrived, and after the shambles of the earlier hangover, I’d now perked up. It was definitely time for a first beer…well bitter of the day to salute the mighty Mohawk Radio.  Pumped up from the previous night’s record label signing gig at The Hard Rock Café in Manchester, they were full of energy and ready to deliver yet another energetic and high octane performance at The Meadow Stage. They made their intentions known by opening with Foo Fighters’ ‘Best Of You’ before launching into a series of trademark hits that got them on the course to stardom they’re currently on. ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Lifetime Sunshine’ are two contrasting songs, but show the variety of ranges they can hit. The former being a cut loose fiery and thundering rock track, whilst the latter carries a more gentle rock tone with poignant lyrics, but both are delivered perfectly from a musical and vocal point of view. Lead singer, Mia Page, the darling of future rock, is especially fiery with a vocal that melts faces and a stage presence and antics that breaks hearts. A true natural star! They gave us a real treat by covering a song that suited their rough and ready rock approach with AC/DC’s, ‘Highway to Hell’, which was another festival highlight. They ended with classic anthem, ‘Rock n Roll Heaven’, a song that strikes at the core of what rock is all about. Delivered with such perfection, played with such veracity, it’s the type of song that has you listening in order to psyche yourself up for every occasion, and it was great to see so many fans singing the lyrics back to them.

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The Better Looking 2 From The Cornelius Crane!

Liverpool band, Matchstickmen, followed Mohawks, and due to stage clashes once again, I was only able to stay briefly, but at least I caught new single, ‘Cheap Little Thrill’, a fantastic homage to classic rock full of pounding basslines and raucous riffs, a real crowd pleaser. Lead singer Lewis Wright uses a megaphone to amplify the sound into the mic as he sings, a novel prop for a frontman, but one that was eye catching.

I had to leave The Meadow Stage for The Main Stage to catch The Cornelius Crane, whose brand of ‘Mancana’ is one that cast a chilled wave over Blackthorn before the heavier bands finished off the day’s festivities. Fusing the Neil Young type Americana with a Mancunian folk sound, The Cornelius Crane create the sort of whimsical music that fits perfectly into a festival’s requirements. Adding two female backing vocalists into the mix, Lucy Whitehead and The New Southern Electrikk’s, Monica Ward, it gave The Crane an added dimension with the female tone sitting beneath lead singer, Steve Wilson’s mesmerizing and coolly delivered lead. ‘Needle and the Gun’, ‘Soul in the Lightning’, and ‘Oklahoma and Me’ were all well known songs performed that formed the highlights. Compared to their recorded EP’s, they felt louder tonight with the guitars sounding more prominent than usual. It worked extremely well and it was the sign of a great band that you could see them in a new light and still be just as captivating. Certainly one of the best bands over the weekend!
As dusk was setting it, the glorious weather we’d had all day began to turn to a chill, but fortunately West London rockers, The Turning, were up next on The Main Stage to keep the fire burning with a series of hard hitting indie garage numbers that was the perfect type of music for the crowd to bounce too in order to keep the cold at bay. ‘Settle For That’ and new single, ‘Groundhog Day’ were as explosive live as they are recorded. 

Blackthorn Gramotones

The Gramotones Were In Fine Form

The Gramotones were up next as the party began to hit full swing at The Main Stage, a local band who have featured, and have appeared live on Sonic Bandwagon. I was really looking forward to seeing them having never done so before. Their raw, garage, rock n roll sound straight from the gutters of the 60s was a revelation, partly reminding me of early Who in parts. Vocal duties are split between Sid and Jake for different songs, but both keep a fantastic energy flowing through the dynamic. ‘Old Man’ and ‘Soldier’s Kiss’ were two highlights of the set. It was announced shortly after the festival that The Gramotones will be changing their name to Cupids. I’m sure they have their reasons, but you can see them support Blossoms at The Ritz on 23rd October in what promises to be a huge gig of local Manchester talent. 

Blackthorn The Tapestry

The Tapestry Showing Why They Should Be A Signed Band

The Tapestry hail from the same side of Greater Manchester as The Gramotones, and were the final band performing before the main act would appear. Similar to the preceding band they’ve been featured before on Sonic Bandwagon, but I’ve never seen them live. Comprising of two males and females, The Tapestry’s unique composition have been drawing attention from all walks of life within the industry, including Liam Gallagher and Chris Difford from Squeeze. Tonight was no difference as headline band, The Enemy, also saluted their performance, and rightfully so. It’s amazing how these are still an unsigned band considering they gain more fans and followers whenever they play. Their catchy, anthemic tunes complete with funky beats sitting in the background are ones that connect instantly with audiences, and are the sort of songs you’d expect to make their mark within the industry considering their originality. Recent single, ‘Infatuation’ and set opener, ‘Look Out’ capture this blend perfectly, and it’s no wonder they’re attracting the level of rave reviews they are getting at the moment. Expect to hear more from these very soon.

Blackthorn The Enemy

The Enemy Rocking The Main Stage!

Midnight had arrived and the crowd had gathered around The Main Stage to watch main act, The Enemy perform, one of the real draws to Blackthorn. For whatever reason they kept the crowd waiting as rumours began circulating as to why. Fortunately they did appear and blasted out a few of the tunes that gave them success in the late 2000s, with the likes of ‘Aggro’, ‘Had Enough’, Saturday’, and ‘Be Somebody’. For the hardcore fans of their music, these tracks went down a storm and created hedonistic scenes at the packed front of the stage. However, some voiced their disappointment that they played for less time than they actually kept the crowd waiting.  One of their final songs was a tribute to Manchester with a rocking version of James’ legendary track, ‘Sit Down’, which whipped their passionate fans into a screaming frenzy before they brought the festival’s music to a close for the night with, ‘You’re Not Alone’ to round off an unprecedented series of music.

Bands I didn’t get around to seeing due to stage clashes were Demons of Ruby Mae, No Hot Ashes, The Larkins and The Reveurs, but it should be noted that they performed fantastically given the opinions of those who managed to catch them and advise me afterwards.

After a hectic day of great music, before nearly freezing myself to death with my naive dress sense of shorts and a hoody at night it was off to bed, and fortunately not as intoxicated as the previous night, making the Sunday a much more pleasant experience of waking up around nature’s beautiful scenery.

All Band Photos (apart from Matt Fryers) and Main Photo by Andy Carson

Two Crowd Photos By Paul Husband

Enjoyed this Review? Find out what happened on Friday and Sunday.

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About the Author

Nigel is a huge fan of music from the 60s and 70s with an emphasis on rock, psych, blues and indie. This spreads to music of the same genre into the modern era. Being a Manchester lad he also has an affiliation with local music past and present. He has also recently released his debut novel, 'Lost in Manchester, Found in Vegas' which is available on amazon or njcartner.com



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