If those that can, do and those that know, teach; then those that criticise probably can’t do either. That’s why I get conflicted about the whole reviewing thing. I mean; so what if I do or don’t like a band? I can barely play three chords. It’s just my opinion. So I’m always best pleased when I get to write about something that I can’t reasonably fault.
The only criticism that I can find here is of the critic; I didn’t even get even put a full shift in. I got there at about 7 pm and it started at 4 pm. This was mainly due to my own tardiness along with a failure to plan for the traffic tangle of closed roads caused by the Greater Manchester Run; a good deed that shone that day in a weary and recently brutalised but ultimately united Manchester.
Worth turning-up on time for ….
So apologies to those above that I didn’t arrive in time to see but, though I’m usually Dawkins-like in my celebration of evidence over faith, I’m more than prepared to believe that there were no duds on this bill. On past form alone, I trust the organisers and I trust the venue. Plus. Loop were just one missed band that I felt the warmth of a glowing review from in discussions at the bar with more punctual punters.
Up for a challenge
I caught most of Royal Trux’s set. I’d pre-warned my gig pal, Rob that The Fall might possibly be the most ‘accessible’ and sonically digestible act he would be seeing all night and the fuzz of the Royal Trux number that was filling the main hall as we walked in seemed to bear that out. But we were soon pulled in like everybody else into a charmingly delivered set with between song badinage including phrases such as “bam bam” and “willy nilly” all delivered somewhat coyly, from behind and beneath the wall of hair long and baseball cap of lead singer Jennifer Herrema.
Herrema’s vocals were redolent of a lower-register Janis Joplin and the music was bluesey; grungey; loopey (as in engaging rotating hooks but also as in properly different); both rock and roll and in parts joyfully dissonant. In Google hindsight I now know that they formed in 1987, split up in 2001, had hardly played together since then but were now on the road again, which shows me how much I’ve missed and how much good stuff that I have to catch up on; which is in many ways is the purpose of the line- up of ecelectisism that the event gave us.
Lene Lovich, Kate Bush and the Fall in fancy dress
On the first trip to the second stage I caught the last couple of songs from Little Annie in the lower-ceilinged annex with a floor level stage which gave a more intimate (or as intimate as a gutted Victorian warehouse can be) gig experience. I first got a Kate Bush, Lene Lovich vibe from the challenging eye-to-eye contact that Little Annie was rejoicing in with the crowd and nothing wrong with that. There was a saxophone and that did worry me as it’s an instrument that, like a powerful chilli, should be used sparingly and by a trained hand. But even that worked.
I’d imagine it was like wandering into a Berlin cabaret towards the end when the chanteuse had got the crowd into the very centre of her palm with her story-telling and songs and us latecomers were intruding into a private conversation. Google now tells me that she’s an actor, a painter and a writer as well as a singer. In short a proper artiste and the only fair comparison to Lovich and Bush is that all three are one-offs.
Fancy dress but still no sign of a salad
I’m reluctantly restricting myself to one paragraph on The Fall (next on the mainstage) as I’ve already relayed in Sounds (December 2016) the eternal and immutable truth that you (yes you at the back! I can see you!) need The ‘mighty’ (copyright John Peel) Fall in your life, if they aren’t there already. But just to say that our musical leader was on joyful form, seen doing a little jig by the drums at one point and delivering a rollicker of a gig with the kind of conviction that Theresa May can only dream of. Also, to confirm, that is a floppy gardening hat on Pete Greenway and Keiron Melling (drums) is wearing a Mexican wrestling mask during this Fol de Rol. This in a band led by Mark E Smith who is widely reported to have once sacked a soundman for the sin of eating a salad. Times change. ‘The Fall always different, always the same’ (copyright again John Peel) indeed.
Cum on feel the noise
Canada’s Sunns were next up on the second stage. I’d brought earplugs for the headliners Swans but Sunns had me scrambling for them early, when even The Fall hadn’t. It was a glorious noise, alongside moments of silence that made the dynamics still more jarring. Delicate synthesizer beats and guitar notes building up to aurally assaulting grooves that repeated without outstaying their welcome. Intimate loops leading you into sometimes bludgeoning but always trippy crescendos. I’ve always liked a bit of Krautrock but I’m now a convert to Cannuckrock.
Mainstage headliners Swans have a name that is curiously out of step with their nature. If they have anything in common with a swan, then it’s the apocryphal kind of swan that is supposed to be able to break your arm with just an angry swish of a wing. That said, lead singer/guitarist Michael Gira did look fairly swanlike in his serene, shamanic pose; arms outstretched to the heavens as he delivered his occasional lyrics as pronouncements in between the death-clatter of sustained riff and rhythm. It was Sturm und Drang with added Sturm and Drang, with more than a hint of blitzkrieg.
To think we laughed at Nigel Tufnel, legendary Spinal Tap lead guitarist, when he said his amp went up to 11, Swans amps easily went up to 15. The earplugs were soon in ‘chocolate fireguard’ territory, as were my ears as I could better feel the music quite adequately through my kidneys. Like with The Fall, I still don’t know exactly what kind of music Swans is, which is a bloody good thing in this increasingly Spotified and pre-packaged ‘here’s something you might like based on your previous choices’ world. Maybe it was ‘industrial prog’?
Single riffs built progressively in longer timeframes than most bands churn out a whole song. Songs were more symphonic movements; earth-movements that built up to the lower reaches of the Richter scale. Drums were pounded into and beyond oblivion in a blur of timpani-style action and it’s the first time I’d seen a pedal steel guitar (to me a staple of comfy country classics) used as a weapon of war. Drone, power, whirr… see the thesaurus under ‘clamour’ but also go and see the legendary and veteran Swans next time they are back over this side of the Atlantic. They are something to experience and not just to read about (but don’t forget the earplugs).
Swans proved that I was right to caution Rob that The Fall might be the most accessible band of the night but I myself was just getting over the initial beating and, I think, on the way to coming to love my violator, Stockholm syndrome style when inadequate sign language gave way to text messages between people five feet apart but emasculated by soundwave energy – ‘How long are they on?’ and ‘this is loud’. To be fair Swans were contractually obliged to deliver a two hour set (half a Springsteen but without the bonhomie and banter) and middle-aged backs and younger frames but bamboozled minds weren’t all up for the full conflict. So your correspondent failed you once again when I / my unit left before the final assault.
What is my point?
As at the start of this review, I find myself still questioning the value of my trade. Jeremy Bentham, English philosopher and political radical stated in his principle of utilitarianism that actions should be evaluated based upon their consequences. The relevant consequences, in particular being the overall happiness created for everyone affected by the action. Happiness, according to Bentham was a matter of experiencing pleasure and lack of pain. We know that critics and reviewers can add to the general stock of pain but what use are they if they can’t produce a net dose of pleasure?
Well I got there late, left early and missed half of what was, in my defence a generous and value for money bill and to nail on the tin lid, Steve Berry got his review in first (see ‘Transformer Festival’ also June 2017). All I can say is that Steve’s review will get more votes but my review remains ready to serve, even with minority support.
But, that aside and even if I’d seen every minute humanly possible, the event is over now. Do you really want to hear what a good time I had and you can’t because it’s past? Well luckily ‘there’s more’ (copyright Jimmy Cricket). There’s another great value bill coming up at the very same groovy Manchester venue. Check out Transformer 2 in October below and get some of that good utility first hand, is my advice.
I’m giving an overall rating, rather than a band-by-band as I didn’t see everybody and, as any gig involving The Fall starts at a 9 (unless you are tapped) and what I saw alone was easily worth the £20 price of admission – it’s a 9.5; which is a 10 rounded up.
Stephen G. Titley can be heard reviewing the Transformer Festival on the Sounds Magazine Radio Show on Fab Radio International (01.06.17) on Mixcloud and available via https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1393249910769830&id=1112547395506751
n.b. The Fall release their 31st ? studio album New Facts Emerge on 27th July 2017 – REJOICE!!!!!!!!!
‘…come here, there’s more’