For the second year of its existence, Gardenia Festival once again takes place at Hulme Community Garden Centre. The centre’s staff seemed to welcome the revellers with open arms “it’s great for us, because it brings people in who didn’t know about the Garden Centre already.” The centre is filled with rows of weird and wonderful plants and provides the small boutique festival with a setting that makes each trip between its three stages seem like an adventure. Especially after a few of festival organiser and master barman Massimo Zitti’s whisky and gingers. Massi is a member of the BarkMcr collective, made up of photographers, musicians, music writers and barmen. BarkMcr provide everything in-house for their events and there was a high standard of artisan vegan food, craft beers and cocktails at Gardenia. The lineup they had curated showcased the best of Manchester’s unsigned talent, with an emphasis on the folky, bluesy and soulful side, which gave the festival a real down-home vibe. The festival showed that there is some great folk music coming out of Manchester and next year’s event will be a must see for any fans of acoustic music in the city. It’s also a bargain, with weekend tickets just £15.
Music started early in the afternoon as the threat of rain turned out to be an idle one. In a tiny round woodland space surrounded by trees, solo acoustic sets from John Ainsworth and Bear Around Your Neck impressed in very different ways. Ainsworth’s frantic picking style and soaring voice reminiscent of a young Tim Buckley created a sound that seemed to transcend the one-man-and-a-guitar setup. You could believe that he really was a nomad folkie who slept by the lake the night before the festival, which only made his music more convincing. Nat Scott’s (aka B.A.Y.N.) mixture of grungy guitar sound and deep, brooding lyrics was begging for a drummer and bassist and a bigger stage. A spilt beer on his guitar pedals seemed to revitalise him before his penultimate song “ “ which was a real highlight. Catch him around the city soon. Lennie Hammersley, whose band headlined the Main Stage last year, closed this stage with a DJ set of singalong rock. Thin Lizzy’s “Sarah” was a real highlight. Hammersley spent the rest of the night as a kind of mascot for the festival, pogoing around in a tiger-print shirt looking halfway between Bootsy Collins and Bootsy Collins’ big-cat-poaching drug dealer.
Meanwhile in the Polytunnel stage, the temperature and humidity threatened to suffocate. Yet the music was a sufficient draw for even the most sensitive of festival goers. Here we were treated to mostly acoustic acts once again, selected by BarkMcr from the many open mic events they have hosted throughout the city. Carl North spoke in between songs with a strong Manc twang, but boy can he sing! With a voice a smooth as James Taylor, he got feet tapping with songs which followed conventions but were rescued from being boring by his velvet tones. Alex Greene was tapping his guitar and playing it on his lap with his eyes closed when I first arrived in the Polytunnel halfway through his first song. At first I thought he might be blind. He tapped his guitar like a drum as well as playing it with incredible precision. His cover of John Mayer’s “Something Like Olivia” gave his own style some context and hinted at a country direction for him in the future. Bethlehem Casuals closed the Polytunnel with their latin-inflected, brass led party music. Dressed in cosmic-ethnic gear reminiscent of the stage wear of psychedelic festival veterans Flamingods, vocalist Will Hearne commanded the audience with his vocal delivery and frantic gesticulations. Everyone was moving and they were just what the stage needed as the sun was setting.
The festival’s main stage was reserved for the bands who had a larger stage setup. The stage was raised and those playing looked out onto food stalls, hay bales and little seating areas. Chloe Foy was an early highlight. She seemed to be deeply affected by the music she was helping to create alongside her band. Her music is like a venn diagram of Laura Marling and classical music, and she is doing a good job of being the most exciting lady folkster in Manchester. Her songs, such as “Flaws” start off as fragile things, but gradually rise and swell to make something akin to a classical crescendo, that in the evening sun is quite majestic. Chloe is the shortest person on stage but her presence makes it impossible to watch anyone else. Her EP “Are We There Yet” is out now. Lizzie Jane treated us to some sparse, folky numbers before joining Robbie Cavanagh’s band for backing vocal duties. Alongside some tender ballads, Cavanagh’s radio 2-friendly country-rock songs are an anachronism, filled with impassioned Derek-and-the-Dominoes style harmonies and Robbie Robertson riffs. In a festival setting they are irresistible. To hear these songs played by young, hungry musos is a revelation, given that most of the bands playing in this style are fifty-year-old has-beens whose hearts beat 25 times and minute and whose songs move even slower. Catch Cavanagh wherever you can. He’s just been on tour in Europe. Watch this space.
Chloe Foy – In The Middle of The Night
Bethlehem Casuals – Bottom Coffin
Iggy Pop – Gardenia
Thin Lizzy – Sarah
Good Foxy – Easy Money
Derek And The Dominoes – Bell Bottom Blues
Robbie Cavanagh – Godsend