REVIEW festival Withered Hand The 9th Annual Nottingham Pop All-dayer

Nottingham treated to a full day of fine indie-pop

So it’s that time of the year again, where some of the best indie indie-pop bands around at the moment descend on Nottingham’s The Maze for over 10 hours of delicious music. This year’s instalment sees Withered Hand headline, with the likes of Martha, Milky Wimpshake and Chorusgirl more than ably supporting.

It’s always surprising just quite how far The Maze actually is. When you’re rushing to make the first band, walking up Mansfield Road feels like one of those dreams where inexplicably, you can never make it to your destination, no matter how hard you try. But when you do make it, it’s more than worth it, with its fine selection of Castle Rock ales, welcoming atmosphere and friendly, music-loving clientele.

This writer’s first band of the day is London-based four-piece Chorusgirl. It transpires that later today, Chorusgirl are to have their debut BBC radio-play, something that they will be missing, but for good reason, of course. The song in question is the fuzzy pop of “Dream On, Baby Blue”, which could quite easily fit into any British new wave compilation, while its free-spiritedness delves into the American west coast psyche. Their half-hour set of jangly, superbly catchy indie-pop seems all too short, so it’s fortunate that they will be back in Nottingham on 5th December, supporting The Spook School.

Next up are Sweden’s The Electric Pop Group. They play with a certain early Stone Roses-indebted freedom, the jangly guitars soaring beautifully and owing more than a little to John Squire. There’s something extraordinarily beautiful about their music, uplifting in so many ways, yet swathed in layers of melancholy. One could possibly criticise a lack of progression between songs, but when you stumble across such a beautiful sound, I think you’re more than within your rights to stick with it.

Next up for Subba-Cultcha is long-term mainstay of the indie-pop scene, Pete Astor. In an era where the likes of Ultimate Painting and Proper Ornaments are doing exceedingly well, Astor’s laidback Byrds-inspired jangle is as important as ever. This Byrds influence comes across most prominently on “Mr. Music”, a four minute indie-pop jangler that captivates the sizeable crowd.

Now this writer takes a short break to stretch his legs, get some fresh air from the stiflingly hot backroom of The Maze, and watch Southampton thump Chelsea – a necessary ingredient for any Saturday I’m sure you’ll agree.

Upon my return, Milky Wimpshake are taking to the stage. Having recently released a new studio album, April’s ‘Encore, un Effort’, it was inevitable that Milky Wimpshake would play a set that focused heavily on the new tracks. But that’s no bad thing, as ‘Encore, un Effort’ sits comfortably in 2015’s top 10. The rugged socio-political discourse of “Le [sic] Révolution Politique” is a particular highlight, though it’s the superbly dance-y “My Girl In Brackets” that takes the spoils, the contrast between Pete Dale’s rough croon and Sophie Evans’ tuneful melancholy ever so effective.

Next up are Durham’s Martha, whose pop-punk edge adds another dynamic to the indie-pop fare on offer today. They’re the first band to really generate a reaction from the sold-out crowd – no doubt a pleasant mixture of Castle Rock ale and perfectly-crafted pop tunes. “Present, Tense” particularly excites, inciting a small, friendly moshpit. Martha are, quite frankly, bloody brilliant so it’s fortunate that they return to Nottingham’s JT Soar on 2nd November – certainly not one to be missed.

And finishing things off with a bang is Dan Willson, aka Withered Hand. The band’s orchestral sound provides a nice finish to a day that has otherwise been punctured with energetic indie-pop. Willson’s voices always threatens to verge on the Michael Stipe, no more so than on “Horseshoe”, the opening track on last year’s ‘New Gods’. Exiting to frenetic applause, it’s the perfect end to a great day.

So that brings another Pop all-dayer to a close, and what a good one it’s been. There’s never a bad band on, it’s a great venue (if a little on the warm side) and the people are lovely. I certainly can’t wait for next year’s.

(Photo of Martha by James Birtwhistle)

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