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This year’s Swn line-up was its best yet, but as with all great city festivals this means you miss out on seeing everyone you want to. With programming clashes, distant venues and the obligatory game of street dodgeball with Booze Britain’s finest your best option was to pick a venue and stick with it. We figured this out on Sunday and opted for Chapter Arts.

Thurdsay and Friday saw the likes of Charlotte Church, Django Django, Gallows, Pulled Apart By Horses, Astroid Boys, Bo Ningen, Stealing Sheep, The Cribs and The Naturals. But for those confined to the weekend shift (like us), it was all about PINS, John Grant, Tall Ships, Errors, The Blackout, Dry The River and Peace. Sadly there was a monster clash on the Saturday night, in the 9-10pm slot, between John Grant, Tall Ships, Errors, The Blackout and more.

Playing a 6.30pm set at O’Neills was Manchester all-girl group PINS. The sassy four piece belted their way through a cool and compelling set of sexy, C86 style rock – with sniffs of Blondie and Warpaint and some Courtney Love confidence. They play a generous set to an appreciative audience and leave us wanting more.

Escaping from the bustle of the city centre and its charms, we headed to the Reardon Smith lecture Theatre, at the Uni, to see John Grant play a rare one off gig in the UK as he prepares to unveil his new album, ‘Pale Green Ghosts’. Striding on stage to a full on Mexican wave from the notably older audience, John Grant asks: ‘what the fuck is going on?’ We can’t answer that so let him get on with his set. The set features some old favourites, including the heartbreaking ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’, the soaring ballad about an ice-cream shop, ‘Marz’, and of the tear jerker, ‘It’s Easier’, but it’s also laden with new numbers, created during Grant’s recent stay in Iceland. Clearly inspired by his temporary surrounds, he penned a song called ‘Glacier’, but its the blinding ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’ – designed as a duet with Sinead O’Connor, which really hits the spot; followed by another tongue in cheek number called ‘Greatest Motherfucker’. Another impeccable gig by this open and endearing songwriter.

Sunday started off with a rousing set of folk-infused indie from Northampton’s My First Tooth. Like John Grant, they too are just finishing an album and they showcased some of this material at this short but sweet gig. It left you somewhat excited to hear the new album, large sounding songs with layer on layer of instrument and vocals building into a powerful crescendo. But it’s the older, better known numbers which get the biggest reaction – songs such as ‘Orchards’ and ‘Sleet and Snow’, despite singer Ross bungling a few lines.

Next up was Golden Fable – who provided the overall highlight of the festival, in the shape of a cover of Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’. The duo, one tall male guitarist and one beautiful elfin lady, with what must be a classically trained voice, standing face to face creating a crystal clear guitar vocal mix – something rarely seen on stage. They continued to play a couple more original numbers in this style, which made for a dreamy set, before plugging in and recruiting a drummer for a much more obvious indie electro set, but maintaining the high-pitched, classic sounding vocals. It worked exceptionally well, with numbers such as ‘Be Alive’ proving the perfect mix of strings, drums, synth and vocals.

Headlining Chapter Arts on the Sunday was Dry The River. It was obvious this was the final Sunday slot. The crowd was a tad lethargic and the band, while relaxed, didn’t seem as energetic as they usually do. But it didn’t really matter, the songs are still singalong friendly belters which get lift everyone onto their toes (not just the band) – from the poignant ‘I was prepared to love you, and never expect anything of you’ in ‘Weights and Measures’ to the epic ‘I loved you in the best way possible’ of ‘No Rest’, you cannot help but be moved by these songs. But where frontman Pete Liddle’s vocals start to crack, it’s during the slower, acoustic songs which he really shines – the opening to ‘Bible Belt’ for example. A stunning number from a brilliant band.

Words: Laura Williams
Photo: Laura Palmer