On a rare day where the sun has decided to shine down on Manchester we join the flocks of music fans gathering in the cities Northern Quarter eager to discover the next big thing. Heading to the Methodist Church Hall we pick up our wristbands with ease and head off armed with the mini guide in hand. Sometimes the problem with these sorts of metropolitan festivals is that you can get caught up in trying to plan the day too much and end up spending too much time worrying how you’ll get between each venue in time to see whoever is on your short-list. Usually the best thing to do is just go with the flow and that’s how we end up seeing our first act of the day – Cape Cub – who is taking to the stage at Gullivers, the pub is home to two venues on the Dot to Dot list, with the main room upstairs and “Gullivers snug” which is tucked away at the back of the pub, housing acoustic performances throughout the day. Cape Cub is North East singer Chad Male who after performing in various bands decided to go it alone (albeit backed up by a full band), melancholy vocals and emotive lyrics are complemented by gentle beats. His debut EP ‘Closer’ features the single of the same name as well as ‘Keep Me In Mind’ and ‘Swim’, it’s a rather more chilled out start to the day than anticipated but Cape Cub has been a good first discovery to stumble across. Next up it was time to see US teens SWMRS, well we thought it was anyway, but unfortunately they were let down by traffic and couldn’t play their afternoon slot at the Ruby Lounge, which is a shame because after seeing them in London a few days before we were looking forward to seeing them again.
With Dot to Dot Favouring Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter bars and clubs this year meant there wasn’t far at all for punters to amble between venues, although they did have to head slightly further afield if hoping to see any of the bands taking to the stage at the Cathedral which was a bit of a trek away, cathedrals always provide a dramatic setting for a gig and Manchester’s one is no exception. The first band we see there is Sundara Karma who are playing an early evening slot and have attracted a large crowd, mostly made of teenage girls, many of whom are decked out in the bands merch. The Reading band took off last summer after various festival performances, fronted by the androgynous Oscar Pollock with his Kurt Cobain-esque bleach blonde locks they have the audience in the palm of their hands, whipping them into a joyous frenzy during impossibly catchy songs such as ‘Flame’ and ‘Runaway’, so much so that the gig has to be halted at one point so the security can rearrange the make-shift barrier; Sundara Karma sound stadium ready and they prove to be one of the biggest highlights of the day.
Also taking to the stage at the Cathedral is arguably one of, if not the biggest name on the line-up, Mystery Jets. With those big old stone pillars that cathedrals tend to have it means we have to weave our way through the expanding crowd to be able to see the stage, however despite the slightly awkward layout inside the venue Mystery Jets ambient sounds fill the room beautifully with Blaine Harrison’s striking vocals benefitting from the acoustics. They play a set full of old and new, taking us back to the early days with ‘Two Doors Down’ and ‘Half in Love With Elizabeth’ before effortlessly switching to newer material like the epic ‘Blood Red Balloon’, which is made even more dramatic combined with red stage lighting and the stained glass windows. Recent single the synth-led ‘Bubblegum’ has everybody dancing around. Finishing proceedings with the brilliant ‘Alice Springs’ Mystery Jets prove yet again they are headline-worthy.
We pop back up to Gullivers and catch a little bit of Rothwell, the young Manchester band sound like a mix between Human League and Evanescence, not really my sort of thing but impressive vocals nonetheless, especially during their cover of a Bring Me The Horizon track. Staying at Gullivers, but heading back upstairs to watch former Tribes frontman and Camden troubadour Johnny Lloyd play a set made up of songs from debut EP ‘Dreamland’ which has seen the likes of The Maccabees guitarist Hugo White and Jamie T take over on the production side. There are elements of Tribes but Lloyd seems to have developed his own style, slightly more bluesy and less “stadium rock”. ‘Happy Humans’ is a cheerful singalong while ‘Hello Death’ is a more melancholic tale of saying goodbye. If Johnny Lloyd continues in this vein he is likely to eclipse the success that his old band had.
The plan is to get to The Methodist Hall to catch Aussie indie veterans Temper Trap however we get distracted making new friends and poking our heads into various venues along the way (which is really what these sort of festivals are all about) so turn up just in time for the predictable closing song of the set, their standalone hit ‘Sweet Disposition’, rumour has it they saved the best to last so let’s just assume we didn’t miss much there.
For those that are still standing after a good ten hours of live music and beer drinking in the sun Manchester’s very own Spring King are here to close of the night at the Methodist Hall and at this point in the night it’s probably a good idea the venue is a strictly non-alcohol one, anyone who is flagging by this point is soon awakened by this bands frenetic guitars and the contagious energy from all the band but especially drummer/singer Tarek Musa as they tear their way through an impressive set that’s already full of recognisable hit after hit. Their new single ‘The Summer’ is delivered under the orange and yellow hue of the lighting and is set to be, well, a huge summer favourite on festival playlists. Their songs are short and riotous; ‘Rectifier’ and ‘City’ both send the crowd wild, Spring King are a phenomenal live band to watch and the perfect way to end another year at Dot to Dot!
Words and photo by Gillian Fish