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:: DILE :: Dr Butler's Hat Stand Medicine Band :: The Vortex :: The 66 :: Thingumajigs :: Smart Soutane :: Slow Readers Club ::
24 May 2008 / The Roadhouse / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

It's 5 o'clock Saturday afternoon and there's a huge crowd in Moho for the most intriguing sounding thing on the whole weekend's bill - The Thingumajigs Rock Opera. Under the festival's remit of Music, Art, Poetry and Stuff this pretty much ticks all the boxes, and several more beside... Thingumabob and the Thingumajigs are one of those anachronistic pockets off strange that make this city (or, er, the other city; they're from Salford) such a wonderful place to go to gigs; there we were one night last summer in the Green Room to see Juno Ashes and these four blokes come on in loud Hawaiian shirts playing a song about an imaginary bear on ukuleles. This, though, is a whole new level of insane genius.

It's a traditional music-hall tale of dreams and deceit, complete with songs you can clap along to and a baddie you can boo. Fresh out of prison (his jaunty little number detailing the night of boozed-up GBH that landed him there is outstanding) Dangerous Dave has reinvented himself as slimy French charmer Jean-Claude, with the intention of conning Vivi Vaudeville out of her nightclub and money, and when an old mate from his home-made porn days ("Debbie Does Denton, that was us!") turns up in his bistro looking for funding for his new film noir venture, Dave sees his chance. Lead Thingumajig, er, Thingumabob as Dave is an absolute delight; all-singing, all-dancing and full of innuendo; meanwhile the club bar staff, house band and dancers - played variously by the other Thingumajigs, a burlesque troupe (clothed; after all, there are kids here) and a brilliant Aidan Smith, his piano doubling as the bar - conspire to foil his evil plot. Yes, on paper that does all sound a bit like studenty high jinks, but the sheer quality of performance and great tunes (some written specially, others such as Aidan Smith's "Vaudeville" just finding their natural home) sees one of the best crowd reactions of the weekend. Let's hope they put in a repeat performance some time; if you were around at the weekend and missed this, you missed out.

The music hall atmosphere continues with that other great local musical anachronism Dr. Butler's Hatstand Medicine Band, who start their set with a lovely quaint ode to a penny-farthing - or indeed a collection of top quality double-entendres. (She "lifted up her dress and climbed aboard" did she now?) After that it's a breezy set full of washboard, kazoo, double bass, skiffle folk blues and friendly banter - and in the excellent old-time dancing tune "Manchester Shakedown", Dr Andrew Blind Boy Butler's quite amazing skills on the old mouth-organ. I suspect he's not a real doctor, but I could be wrong... A lot of the crowd have stayed around and people are sitting, drinking, chilling out; it's a bizarre but lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Over to Dry Bar where DILE are just getting started. There's fewer of them on stage than usual but the sound is still as big and bouncy as ever. Watching DILE is a bit like being transported to a summer of 1979 Rock Against Racism carnival, although on this occasion singer Dennis, a wiry crop-haired 40-something, feels the need to introduce "Love Thy Neighbour" by explaining that it's anti racism. And specifically anti a particular traffic warden with a reputation for selective ticketing based on car owners' ethnicity; cheekily it even names him... it's just one of a pack of great shout-a-long tunes which blend punk, ska and classic indie pop, even a bit of calypso, and have the early doors crowd dancing like it's actually a lot later. They even squeeze in a couple of new tunes, including a brilliant piece of dub skank about the gangs of Salford, before finishing with "the radio hit" "Garstang", which I'm sure has sprouted some new and even more ridiculous lyrics about the shady goings-on in said Lancashire town. Note to those taking it all too seriously - no, this one's not based on true stories and Tupac Shakur was not murdered outside Popeye's takeaway.

At least tonight they've got the stages sorted so there aren't two bands on at once upstairs, as was apparently the case last night according to a rather disgruntled poster on the MM forum. Smart Soutane, on the back room stage, do enjoyably summery jangly indie pop - nothing startlingly original, but lifted well above average by some energetically catchy tunes and a brilliant voice which really comes into its own late in the set when they shift towards something a bit more Muse-like and he gets to explore a higher register. Somewhere in this sweet young indie boy there's an inner prog trying to get out.

Back on the front stage Slow Readers Club are having technical problems, the sequencer's gone down, and without the pulsing electronics they're... well, still a bloody good band actually. Sprung from the ashes of Omerta, Belief System and the several billion bands their drummer's been in these lads just know how to write an absolutely brilliant pop song; musically upbeat and lyrically often a little caustic. Aaron and Kurt Starkie have got that brothers harmonising thing down to a fine art, and last track "Feet On Fire" is definitely a tip for first single.

Right, time to introduce Manchester's next - or next but one, or two; these things take time - megastar frontman. His name is Daniel Rimmer, his skinny frame's wrapped in a very tight girl's blouse and equally tight jeans riding low on his hips, and he's got the presence of the young Ian Brown and Liam Gallagher and Bobby Gillespie. Yep, all of them. And a megaphone. And, luckily, he's the singer with The 66, who've got every bit of the sleazy rock'n'roll spirit required to give him context. Think of Primal Scream when they really rock out with the loose-limbed post-baggy acid blues, and then imagine if they were still in their teens, or not far off. And fuck, can these lads play. Not only in terms of ability and togetherness, but they've got the performance bit nailed down too. It's retro, yeah, but in the sense of instant classics as opposed to old hat. Those gloriously loopy organ lines straight out of some late 60s garage band, punk-fired guitars, and there's Daniel up on the drumkit, then swinging a strobe light around over his head. The crowd - who by the end of the set comprise not just the usual mates you get with a lot of unsigned bands but pretty much everybody in Dry trying to cram into the back room - love it, and rightly so. The band's Myspace page tagline reads 'Good evening Wembley!', and I think they're only half joking; there's just something about these lads that says "massive".

There's about an hour gone missing at this point. Vodka might have been involved. The doors are one in one out and you can't even nip out for a smoke or some fresh air without queuing up again - and the billed Northern Uproar have disappeared off the listings, all of which makes for a prime time set and big crowd for The Vortex. Who are exactly what you need at this time on a Saturday night. Already picking up accolades from (deep breath) Hooky, Clint, John Robb and Dave Haslam this is the sound of the Hacienda updated, shot through with the rock'n'roll ambitions of Oasis when they were young and exciting, a Primal Scream feel for exactly how to use samples and a techno edge coming jointly from a sequencer and the fact that bassist Nick Repton appears to be playing through what we drunkenly christen a "squelch pedal". You know what I mean. I hope. And unlike so many other bands tilting vaguely at such things, The Vortex have got a secret weapon in the form of Jaxx, less of a backing singer and more of a joint frontperson, complementing Mike Price's laddish swagger with the sort of glorious soul that recalls the great Denise Johnson. And for the second time in little over an hour we feel we're watching the future stars of this city.

Oh god, I've been out for hours...... and there's still another day to go....

++++++++ (Aidan Smith)

Slow Readers Club
The 66
Dr Butler

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