LIVE REVIEW: Woman’s Hour @ Gullivers, Manchester (25/04/2014)
Gulliver’s. One of Manchester’s rough and ready grot-spot dingy drinking squats. Littered with time-ravaged old timers slumped amidst coiled moustached tweed-clad hipsters, pasty-faced goths, and Richey Edwards look-a-alikes, at times can bear more in common with the cantina on Tattooine than your expectations for happening bar in the heart of the city’s trendy northern quarter.
A casual perusal of the Manchester gig listings only to find that this weekend would be kicked off with a rollicking edition of Woman’s Hour being hosted here of all places, could understandably have caused a few hipster’s to have choked on their real ales in surprise. Alas, on closer inspection tonight’s bill was unfortunately short of the radio fox that is Jane Garvey* and instead proceedings were being left to the London-based quartet who have adopted the programme’s identity as their own.
Signed to the legendary Secret Canadian label, championed by 6Music and tipped at the beginning of the year by oodles of publications for big things, 2014 has been shaping up nicely for them so far. Whilst their name is hardly going to set the world alight any time soon, word of mouth and airplay have clearly worked magic and a near full capacity crowd thronged between the unsettling and claustrophobic upstairs gig venue upstairs (imagine watching a band in the corridor of the hotel in the Shining, but sweatier).
Things get off to a good start with each track seeming to add a calming space and cooling atmosphere that immediately put the crowd at ease and let them prepare to nestle into a set of silky synth-pop.
The biggest cheer of the evening permeated through the respectfully quiet crowd for the oddly uplifting drip-drop synths and cavernous echoing vocals of “Darkest Hour” as they emerged into a bright and purifying climax. Whereas elsewhere in the set the prickly Foals-like guitars of “Conversations” and the heart grasping beauty of “Her Ghost” with its irresistible “I forgave you” moments soothed by lead singer Fiona Jane offered the glimpses of greatness many were here for.
But glimpses they were. Regrettably much of their sound felt too comfortable, losing its edge in a mire of rehashed ideas indebted to the Dream Pop sonic explorations chartered relentlessly by Memory House, The XX, Beach house and number of copy-cat artists.
For anyone who had actually turned up for mistaken Radio 4-like early morning er, thrills, they may not have been so disappointed after all. Safe, broadcastable and familiar, Woman’s Hour, entertaining enough, but ultimately a tried and tested format that it’d be difficult to muster strong feelings about either way.
* Presenter of Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 – get with the programme…
WORDS: THOM WILLIAMS