The UK’s leading psychedelic music and arts festival Manchester Psych Fest returned this year for its 9th and biggest event to date. After some problems with logistics last year, largely due to COVID-19 restrictions being in place, this years event had a lot of weight on its shoulders.
The day starts for me with Winsford’s Déjà Vega. The trio offer up a blend of jangly psychedelia with harder rock beats and have a cult following in Manchester that has seen them sell out the likes of Gorilla. They are rewarded for their efforts with the opening slot of the biggest stage, the Albert Hall. They are at such a high standard know fans flock down early to take them in. Their set contains songs such ‘Who We Are’ and ‘Mr Powder’ which see feet tapping and heads bobbing. They end with their anthem, ‘The Test’, which sees cowbells clanging and distortion galore fill the sacred space. They leave the stage to deafening applause and the promise of another set later on in the day at Deaf Institute.
Next up are female warriors Loose Articles, a punk edged four piece who open the main stage in the O2 Ritz. With a slight personnel change due to a heavily pregnant drummer (who watches from the crowd none the less) none of the anti is lost. Highlights include ‘Kick Like A Girl’ and ‘Buses’, both of which are so insanely catchy I’m still humming them hours later. The end of the set sees singer Natalie diving over the barriers to dance with the crowd and they happily oblige. They’re intense for so early in the day but just the breathe of fresh air this event needs.
Next it’s down to the Ritz basement for five 5 piece Post-Punk, dream pop tinged Duvet. One of the newest bands on the billing they have an energetic sound with wailing guitar riffs, punchy bass and drum combinations and a strong female vocal which pierces through all. They fill out the space with ease and look at home on the stage with a tight setup not allowing any mistakes, definitely one to watch.
Back upstairs it’s FEET, Coventry’s answer to The Rolling Stones and Blur rolled into one neat, five person package. They are a band that didn’t really grab me on record but live they are a completely different entity; a raw energy exudes the stage and the playfulness in their songs is captivating. The pure ‘frontman’ persona is rare now, but singer George has it in abundance and uses it unsparingly. A nice surprise for the day, one of the many things to love at a festival like this.
Down to the basement again, this time for October & The Eyes. Originally born in New Zealand, October now resides in East London and her band nods to acid rock, psychobilly and post-punk. Known for their blistering live performances, today is no exception and the sweat pours in the packed room. Highlights include ‘Jack Black Must Die’ with its religious monologue mid track which Mancunians will recognise in a beat and ‘Spiral’, one of the best post punk tracks of 2022. The darkness that envelopes their set is in stark contrast to many other bands on the billing, and it marks them as one of the best and shows they are more than worthy of the slot.
Over at the Albert Hall for the infamous Tinariwen, Africa’s Tuareg rock maestros. Their story begins back in 1963 and continues to present day, with them attracting ever more attention with every rotation. After the death of one of their founding members last year, their appearance is all the more appreciated. I don’t have the words to sum up their set as it’s an all-sensory experience, but their show at this time is a perfect reprieve from the previous intensity and allows aural revelation in a stunning setting.
I leave before the end of their set to catch half of The KVB, thankfully the only painful clash of the day from my perspective. They’re on at Canvas, a new venue which stepped in last minute to replace the suffering Gorilla. The now Manchester based duo are again at such a standard that every set is fantastic and catching tracks such as ‘Unité’ from their latest LP and classics such as ‘Never Enough’ along with the incredible visuals make for another full sensory experience. Always a pleasure, they were well worth the fast march across the city!
I stay in Canvas for The Lucid Dream, Carlisle’s psych pioneers who have a very loyal following in this city. They’ve been through reinventions with their sound and were even dubbed psych traitors, which they took in their stride and made into merch. It’s quite appropriate then the visuals in the background read Is This Psych? They positively glow today and anyone who had doubts only needs to watch this set. ‘Cold Killer’ is phenomenal and ‘Alone in Fear’ (which stand in stark contrast musically) is delivered with such finesse it’s hard not to fall for this band all over again. They have more than proved their worth to the doubters, one only wonders what will they do next?
I had back to the Ritz for my most anticipated band of the day, Warmduscher. The London based sextet are not property this year, partly because of the release of now critically acclaimed LP At the Hotspot. They open with personal favourite ‘Big Wilma’ and it only gets better from there on out. Fab favourites such as ‘Disco Peanuts’, ‘I Got Friends, ‘Whale City’ and new track ‘Twitchin’ in the Kitchen’ see a full-scale dance off erupt and the Ritz’ bouncy floor obliges happily. Without doubt one of the sweatiest gigs I have ever been at, the walls are dripping by the time they leave the stage but everyone agrees, that was incredible.
With a choice of headliners to suit different tastes I opt for The Coral, for nostalgia’s sake if nothing else and I’m not disappointed with my choice. Plucking from across their back catalogue the Liverpudlians pull out tracks such as ‘Spanish Main’, ‘Simon Diamond’ and ‘In The Rain’. The usual classics are present, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Dreamin’ of You’ and ‘In the Morning’. The set is delivered flawlessly and despite the passage of time, they sound as good as they ever did. A worthy headliner, if not necessarily for a psych fest…
I make the sacrifice to queue to get into Yes’ basement to see Japanese Television, a band I saw some time ago and was curious to see again. JTV don’t surf, but if they did, it would be on a swirling wave of reverb-drenched organ, garage-rock guitars, hypno-motorik bass and pounding, ritualistic drums. Japanese Television have a sound that is constantly growing, evolving and changing, they could never be accused of being boring. They use the oriental scale to blistering effect and keep the room full throughout, which is not easy to do after such a a long and intense day.
Finishing up, for me at least, is Scalping. The Bristolians offer a scorching live set that can only be described as being pummelled by a wall of noise, which at the same time embraces you warmly. It’s impossible to stand still with this on and the crowd obliges by letting go and dancing with wild abandon. A perfect end to the day.
After last year’s problems many wondered if Manchester Psych Fest had had its day, after the day I’ve had I’d say the king is not dead – long may it reign!