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:: (hooker) :: Samuel Sharp :: Mr Lizard :: The Vanguard (mcr) :: The Fucking Kings :: The Man Amp ::
26 August 2007 / The Castle (Oldham St) / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

Following the success of July's Castle Rocks Cancer, where the two free-entry nights of unsigned bands raised an impressive 700 for cancer charities, Castle landlord and promoter Damien's at it again - Kath Bash, in honour of his late mother and popular landlady Kath Smethurst who passed away during last August's bank holiday weekend, sees the pub presenting over 20 new and exciting bands across four nights. Castle Rocks Cancer saw the final performance from the excellent Duty Now, and this is the second outing for former frontman John and his new band, or "side project" as he mysteriously describes them, giving little clue as to what to expect. A vote is called - costumes or no costumes? We vote for costumes, not that we have any idea what sort of costumes these might be. When the trio emerge from the gents a few minutes later we're glad we did...

The Fucking Kings are wearing capes. Shiny dark red capes, accessorised with rather scary white bird's-beak masks and in one case, for no apparent reason, a chain-mail butcher's apron. It's a good start. The music's all laid down on backing tapes, so our three pound-shop superheroes take a microphone each and in the space of fifteen minutes pretty much deconstruct pop music as we know it. The set's bookended by two tunes which in the right hands could easily top the charts; "Candy Baby" is a wonderful morsel of sugary doo-wop pop, whilst "Wasting My Time" with the chaps taking turns on the lead vocal as they race towards the cheesy chorus ("give me a reason to stop me from leaving") could have escaped from a boy-band song factory. Unfortunately for these tunes - but fortunately for the assembled crowd who are looking almost universally aghast - they are in the wrong hands. Very very, gloriously, terrifyingly, wrong hands. And some rather silly voices. In between we get a further glimpse into The Fucking Kings' deranged world - the rather worrying melodrama of "Snipping Off Your Face", the brilliant power-pop tragicomedy of "I'm In Love With A Witch", and their crowning glory of a big waltz swing ballad "If I Was Attracted To Girls", where our heroes flatter a young lady before explaining that "You're witty and pretty, so it's a damn pity / That I swing the way that I do". They are the best worst band ever, well this week anyway. If David Lynch made boy-bands, they might be something like this - and the world would be a much better place for it.

Sunday night brings another second gig - this time for The Vanguard. Their first, at Dry Bar on Thursday, left the troop of mates you always get at early gigs stunned by just how good they were. Not just their mates - most of the other bands', too. Two girls with guitars upfront, two lads manning the rhythm section; they look young - most of them have been ID'd at the bar already; Sui's bass almost as big as he is. The tough Castle crowd looks like it could eat them alive. And then they start, and people stop talking. Peals of echo fill the room courtesy of lead guitarist V, who looks like a tiny, female Johnny Marr and plays like Neil McDonald on Puressence's first album; Julie gives her what Neil never had, a rich rhythm guitar foundation to twist around. "Fucking hell" says someone "it's a female Chameleons." Now that's tough talk, espacially around yours truly, but it's not wide of the mark - that way of making two guitars sound like four or five; drummer Dave, too, crashes like the natural heir of the great John Lever. Julie's vocals, meanwhile, recall Sonya from Echobelly - but maybe that's because it's still so unusual in indie rock to hear a girl singer that's neither wispy and ethereal nor ball-breakingly shouty; Sui's simple but melodic bass runs meanwhile give the whole thing a Galaxie 500 feel. Another legendary band they're barely old enough to remember. They play just four songs, but every one is fully-formed and perfectly executed; none of that let's-stuff-the-set-with-everything-we've-even-half-written that can often make bands' earliest outings a wearying experience. As they finish, another group of friends - theirs and other peoples' - are pretty much universally impressed. This is a band who will not be playing to friends in pub back rooms for long.

Next band to impress us are the excellently named Mr. Lizard. (You have to say it in a slightly lisping, sinister voice, like the scary TV repair man of that name in Chris Morris's "Jam" - at least I really hope that's where they got it from; one of the funniest comedy sketches in history. No idea what I'm on about? It's probably on YouTube somewhere, I mean isn't everything these days?) This Mr Lizard is the considerably less sinister proposition of five young lads mostly from Failsworth who make a fine and enthusiastic racket topped with vocals that pitch up fairly high and waver a little, like Brian Molko if he had his sinuses seen to. Continuing on the earlier thread of comparing young bands to those they're probably too young to be familiar with, Mr Lizard have the joyful urgency of early 90s "fraggle"-popsters such as Senseless Things and Mega City Four, although thankfully not the daft hair that often went with it; stirring a few hardcore and grunge flavours into their bouncy punk-pop. And adding a few nice garagey keyboards along the way, although they're rarely as loud as they should be through probably no fault of their own. Fun, slightly chaotic and pretty hard-working too; this is their third gig in as many nights, although if they're at all tired it doesn't show.

Most of the earlier bands and their friends have got on their way by the time Samuel Sharp are onstage - a couple of their own crew aside, most of the back room have sunk sufficient booze to have pretty much no idea what they're watching. This is perhaps as well, really - easy listening, in any sense of the concept, this isn't. It's nasty, loud and abrasive - and delightfully so, in much the same sort of way as Stranger Son Of WB - with whom they've played in the past - are. They're also recent veterans of a recent Wotgodforgot night, so anyone catching the name on the listing and expecting some form of solo, possibly pleasant, maybe acoustic turn is about to have their brain sonically dismantled. Apparently the trio are brothers (and no, none of them are called Samuel Sharp; they're named after a Jamaican slave rebellion leader whose actions and martyrdom led the way for abolition - there, you see, you can even learn stuff here) so they've had all their lives to cook up their own brilliant variant of discordantly loud post-rock. And they've got four instruments between them too - most of which are swapped around here and there in between crawling around the floor - at one point one of them appears to be playing the keyboard with his face because his hands are needed for the guitar. Towards the end of a set that's even more brutally intense than even I was expecting, one of the more pissed-up clientele decides to steal their microphone for a spot of karaoke and just for a second or two they look genuinely perplexed as to what to do next before unleashing one final blast of multi-faceted noise. Exciting stuff.

By Monday the timings have rather gone out of the window. (hooker) aren't supposed to be on for hours yet, but there's no mistaking one of the finest female voices in this city - even if its owner is somewhat hidden behind a packed-in crowd enjoying the last few hours of the bank holiday weekend. Zoe McVeigh has after all been fronting various versions of this, one of Manchester's original grrl-punk bands, for almost a decade now with her trusty and ever shirtless drummer Danny, and it's still a complete mystery why they're not absolutely massive. Her voice is a thing of beauty; delicate and bruised in the quieter moments rising to a raw, bleeding holler without losing her fine grasp of melody; whilst her hands thrash out life-affirming powerchords. And the band seem invigorated by (relatively) new addition Steph Walker whose muscular dirty bass is Fugazi-like in its power. Back when (hooker) started out the idea that an emotionally-charged femme-punk trio could crash into the nation's mainstream airwaves would have got you laughed at - but yesterday a performance by the chart-stealing Gossip brought Manchester Pride its most mixed audiences yet. How many of them knew we've got one of our own, and with better tunes to boot?

And given the eclectic mix of stuff we've seen in this dilapidated back room over the weekend, it seems not remotely unusual for hardcore punk to be followed by a solo electropop artist singing to a box of beats. The Man Amp is a spectacularly camp one man pop genius in a flat cap. Ready for another obscure indie reference? He reminds me of Creation Records oddball Momus (older readers might just remember his nearly-hit "The Hairstyle of the Devil") and this is officially a very good thing, as Momus was one of the best purveyors of twisted pop ever. The Man Amp has some intriguing subject matter of his own - "No Heat No Pressure" seems to be stuffed with faintly odd plumbing double entendres, whilst at least half his set comprises an extended conceptual ramble about teenage girls on trains who play music on their phones, and how we should all get up and dance along with them as we're just jealous that phones didn't do that when we were young. He's clearly mad as a bag of spanners, but he has a point - and it's a point you can have a right good dance to as well.

There were, of course, plenty of other bands over the course of the four day event. We're mildly disappointed to have missed Bluebird Kid Clark, whom we're told were so popular on Saturday night that they were literally unable to leave the stage; elsewhere there was the usual smattering of Oasis copyists, metalheads and who knows what else that transpires from a music policy of "anything goes". But we've come away with at least three new favourite bands, rediscovered one older one, and at the time of writing there's over five hundred quid in the bucket ready to wing its way to Marie Curie Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK. We could have coughed up a three figure sum to watch the alternative establishment strut their stuff in a field slightly further from Leeds than its advertising suggests - but Kath Bash 2007 has been living proof that great music, like charity, begins at home.

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