Blackthorn Farm, Stockport
25th-27th July 2014
Nestled on a farm towards the back of Etherow Park in Stockport, South Manchester, Blackthorn Festival seems to work as a microcosm of your traditional festival experience. Dave Beech attended this year’s festival for Louder Than War and his review of King Kartel from day one can be found below, with a longer review of days two to follow.
There are stages (two), boutique food stalls (plenty) and of course, tents at Blackthorn Festival. Like many smaller festivals, there is a definite feel of family orientation, something which may well dissipate as the weekend revellers arrive on Saturday. For us however, this is no hedonistic weekend of lost inhibitions, more, as each day is interspersed with work commitments in one form or another, making that inevitable first cold beer each evening just that little bit sweeter. As a result we arrive on site around 9pm on the Friday, in a bid to get the lay of the land and to catch one of Manchester’s most promising young bands, King Kartel over on the Main Stage.
Situated in an appropriated barn tucked away in a far corner of the festival, the main stage makes for an eclectic ‘venue’, with tiered hay-bales providing a bucolic seating-option for those who don’t want to stand. Which at this point seems to be almost all those in attendance. Fortunately, however, after a slight delay and a mispronunciation of the band’s name from an announcer, the band takes to the stage and, spurred by their infectious indie, the crowd thickens out slightly directly in front.
Opening with the uplifting ‘Shine On Me’ it’s clear that the band have come on leaps and bounds since the days of ‘How’d He Ever Pull That?’, something that becomes more and more evident as their set progresses. What’s more evident, is the fact that the band definitely have an appeal to them, as more and more people throng around the barn’s perimeter. “I’m not gonna say much, ’cause nae fucker will understand me” half-jokes singer Hugh McCreesh. True to his word, the Irishman says very little, but he does say enough so that we catch the names of newer tracks such as ‘Run’, ‘Superficial’ and ‘Gunslinger’, the latter of which perfectly exemplifies the maturing process the band have undergone; their trademarked jangly indie seguing into something more fleshed out and fully realised. It comes off sounding somewhere in between early Fratellis and The Libertines, right down to the backing harmonies perpetuated throughout the song.
Whilst the latter half of their set does rest heavily on newer materials (“You’ll have to bear with us, we’ve only played this one twice”), it features a welcome inclusion of early EP track and fan-favourite ‘Stone Cold Killer’, which causes a woman in the crowd to dance fantastically out of time, carrying on even when the track stops, whilst latest EP track ‘Not Done Fighting’ has new life breathed into it in a live environment. The final track of the evening comes, after much mimed watch-tapping, from stage right in the form of ‘Attack Dog’. Built around bluesy chord progressions, it’s a great track to close with, despite it being a new one, and we end the first night at Blackthorn amateurishly early whilst making a mental note to thank our hangover-free selves the following morning.
One thing that is evident from tonight, is not the fact that not even smaller, independent festivals can escape daisy-chain bands, nor is it the imposing figure or Manchester’s Mr. Peeps who stands silently at the entrance. It’s the fact that King Kartel are a band with buckets of promise, something which really seems to have been brought to fruition in their latest tracks through a maturity not as evident in their earlier material. It’s these tracks which ultimately will unlock a wealth of opportunities for the band, and as such they need to get them recorded, sharpish.
Dave Beech is an aspiring music journalist based out of Manchester. He writes and edits for a number of different websites and the links to his work can be found over at his blog as well as his Louder Than War author archive. He also tweets as @Dave__beech.