The Blackthorn Festival weekend is a music lovers dream. It may be established names in lights at the top of the posters but it’s the 50 or so emerging bands underneath them that lay the foundations of this festival and make it what it is.
The laid back atmosphere is accentuated by the picturesque and the camaraderie between bands/artists that are playing and growing together on a regular basis and their desire and willingness to interact with any person, professional or not, who shows an interest in their music and, at a music festival full of music lovers alone, there is plenty of those.
Blackthorn prides itself on its reputation as a welcoming, family friendly festival. So much so that I come with my wife and our 1 year old daughter and, despite only being 1, this is her second Blackthorn Festival.
Musically speaking though Blackthorn Festival 2017 gets underway in The Paddock Stage- start as you mean to go on- with Dear Caroline. In a thriving city of indie bands, such as Manchester, having a niche is essential in order to escape being drowned out in the flood of generic bands and the violinist stood stage left certainly helps Dear Caroline do just that. This is a band with clear potential and their set attests to this. Things may be raw at the moment but by Blackthorn 2018 don’t be surprised when this band are much higher up the bill.
In contrast to the Blackthorn newcomers Dear Caroline we have a festival stalwart and a band who help make this festival what it is. Kashmere. My very first experience of Joey and the boys came at Blackthorn 2015 when they were, in comparison to the Kashmere of today, a raw band that had heaps of potential. Potential that has evidently been surpassed as they showcase themselves perfectly on the Meadow Stage. They rattle through a setlist that is peppered with Indie hits, some familiar- Hoxton & Porcelain, which receives a huge cheer when announced as the set closer- and some less so- Codeine, which Joey refreshingly performs sans guitar & Tokyo, which sounds incredible and surely has to be released as a single soon- all of which, however, are massively effective in this all killer no filler set. Kashmere are a band who are growing significantly in stature, ability and belief and it’s time that people stood up and took notice of this band because they mean business. Once again Kashmere owned the Blackthorn stage.
Having brought baby Marley with us to the festival our routine dictates that it be dinner time at this point of the day. It’s now that I want to give special mention to, firstly, The Leathernecks, and, secondly, Factory. Despite not being inside their respective tents for their sets the sounds that emanated from within were enough to help me understand that something special was happening.
The Leathernecks’ upbeat and vibrant take on indie rock sounded as though it was made for festival stages like this. The passion and energy exuding from the tent acted like a magnet, attracting a fair few passer bys in to the tent to witness what was going on. I really wish I could have felt the vibe from a closer proximity but took great pleasure in the set from my vantage point not far away. It’s certainly piqued my interest in this band more.
Factory are a band known to me who I still haven’t had the pleasure of catching live. At least not properly anyway. I was sat behind The Paddock Stage as they ripped through a set that sounded brutally delicious and was delivered in a manner that helped paint a picture of the bands performance despite my stage blindness. It’s left me with a big desire to catch this band again sooner rather than later.
The biggest surprise of the festival weekend for me was The Nix. I caught the back end of their support slot for Larkins at Gorilla all the way back in February(!) and I was quietly impressed. Things have stepped up a notch or two since then it would appear. They are a magnificently slick outfit with a smouldering sound and image. They own the Paddock Tent stage with an unrivalled flair and prowess and as the tent got busier and busier the band only seemed to grow in confidence. Midway through the set the temperature had really risen and it’s hard to tell whether the smoke machine has gone off or the cloud above our head is the steam off the crowd. I thoroughly enjoyed The Nix’s set and it is over far too quickly. It’s safe to say that they have a big new fan in Emerging North and I am relishing seeing this exciting band again.
Next it’s a quick dart over to the Main Stage for one of the freshest, exciting and driven new bands around. Corella.
It’s been a whirlwind 2017 for Corella and it’s evident as this band grace the Blackthorn stage that they are riding the crest of a wave thanks to big shows at Gorilla and Deaf Institute and the release of the huge summer anthem Barcelona Girl. Their discernible passion and talent make this Main Stage set a joy to watch. You can almost see them grow as a band as each song passes. Barcelona Girl and Fever are the tracks that steal the show but each and every song on the setlist in a genuine delight. It’s frightening how early on in Corella’s career we are, they are extremely accomplished yet hint that this is just the beginning of their talents and they look incredibly comfortable on a big stage like this one. Something tells me they will have to get used to the festival main stages because plenty of them will be calling them soon.
It’s my first time seeing New York Tourists but it certainly won’t be the last. They have wowed me with their studio work and now they have wowed me with their stage work. This is a band that truly know how to do it live. Their blend of indie pop is sumptuous to the ear and frontman Gary has a voice that is as good as any I have heard since my time doing this website and covering emerging bands. The whole set is impressive but for me Adrenaline rules the lot and really proves what this band are capable of. Be sure to keep an eye on this band because I’m sure big things are on the horizon.
It’s took 3 years but I have finally managed to see Scott Lloyd at Blackthorn and, not to anyone’s surprise, it’s a headline set. Closing the Buckle and Boots country stage for Saturday is Manchester’s finest folk/country/Americana singer songwriter and he isn’t messing around. His set is a beautiful summation of his fine career so far and includes all the finest tracks from his unbelievable 6 EPs so far. I haven’t seen or heard this Manchester stalwart in finer fettle and his set really leaves a lasting impression on those in attendance. I’ve seen Scott many a time but he is an artist who really is maturing as time passes by. This was a real festival highlight for me.
Because of my desire to catch Scott I only manage to catch the last 10/15 minutes of The Jackobins Meadow Stage set but them final few songs are an absolute delight to catch. The Jackobins are another band who I have watched grow and develop at Blackthorn Festival and whilst the line up is a bit different for this show their impact is just the same. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I saw this band first on a tiny, now defunct, stage at this festival in 2015 and the feeling I get as I watch them now- and the in the times between- has only amplified. There are only a handful of bands who can claim to have members with the stage presence and performance of Dom and Veso. The way they thrash and strut around in their own inimitable style is a joy to behold and it allows Sean and Tom to be the glue that holds the rhythm section together. Superb.
For my money there aren’t many, if any, better bands in Manchester- and beyond- than Types at the moment. Their abilities and professionalism are so far progressed from many other bands on the circuit and their Blackthorn set is all the proof of this you need. I was lucky enough to be invited to a top secret preview show at a top secret location during the week before Blackthorn and knew that something special was going to happen at the festival and I wasn’t wrong. Everything falls in to place and the band wow a packed Paddock Stage delivering their unique and self styled “post post punk” with tremendous vigour and all to the backdrop of a meticulously thought out light show of the bands own doing. It’s the careful attention to details like this that prove how driven and committed to this project that Types are. Of all the bands I see at Blackthorn this year Types are easily up there as one of the more proficient bands. Perfect.
Stillia. Oh, Stillia. Where do I start with these lads? It’s almost impossible to believe that I saw this very same Stillia perform as young upstarts on the tiny, underpopulated Blastbeat Stage at this festival only a couple of years ago. This year they absolutely own the Main Stage with the confidence and aplomb of a band who have been doing it for years. Their setlist is wall to wall indie anthems and every single song is greeted with glee and open arms. 4am is a particularly shining example of the kind of glowing indie that this band are producing and a sign of the big things to come from this band. They are about to embark on even more festival main stages and will be opening for Ocean Colour Scene on the tour of a lifetime in the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand and I have full faith that they will impress each and every audience they play for. It’s just the start of the journey for this budding band but with the opportunities they have at the moment and the even bigger things on the horizon you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t be long until Stillia are a household name. I’m totally consumed by them.
The last band I see on what has been a particular special Saturday at Blackthorn are quite possibly the most spectacular band I see all weekend. The air of excitement and expectation that is in the air as we wait for No Hot Ashes to take to the stage is like nothing I’ve witnessed for a band since I started this website. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Stockport Indie Funk pioneers are the main headliners, that’s just how it is for this band these days. After years of graft NHA are finally reaping the rewards. Massive sold out Manchester shows, a bigger one to come, big backing from This Feeling and packed shows country wide, these are glorious times for NHA and as the absolutely packed Main Stage crowd wait for the band- the kind I haven’t seen here since The Enemy and Maximo Park performed here- it feels like all roads have led to this. What proceeds is probably the best set that Blackthorn Festival has seen since its inception. Kickstarted by a loyal army of NHA fans at front centre we have mosh pits, people hoisted on shoulders and even a dance off in the crowd as their heroes treat us to a setlist that now listens like a greatest hits. It’s hard to believe that the timid Isaac I remember from the early days of this band is now a frontman to admire as he cockily struts around the stage and treats us to his finest dance moves and I’m pretty sure that Luigi is going to be this generations John Squire. It’s a truly special moment for this band, one I’m sure they’ll look back on for years to come, and I feel blessed to have witnessed it.
Saturday was an unbelivable day full of incredible bands and the stage was set for Sunday to be more of the same. Eyes peeled for our review.