There was huge disappointment for me, almost 5 years ago – Manchester’s own Julie Ann Campbell, aka LoneLady, withdrew from a support slot for Chris Cunningham due to illness. Her superb debut album ‘Nerve Up’, released on Warp in 2010, had piqued my interest enough to leave me wanting more. It’s been a long wait.

Digital culture connoisseurs Future Everything are our hosts tonight, as part of their annual multi-media festival. Despite the prominence of her label, LoneLady has remained somewhat aloof until last November, when she surfaced with single ‘Groove It Out’ – a track that made significant waves, enough to fill this venue to capacity.

So, I descend the stairs and it’s nice to see her standing there, to be honest. She’s looking sharp in a high collared stripy shirt and dark suit jacket. Her new album is out in a few weeks and so it’s safe to assume that much of tonight’s setlist will be unfamiliar to most. She starts with a new one – layering largely un-distorted guitar over a baseline that’s designed to get you moving. A live drummer plays along with an additional drum loop, creating a rich sound, full of depth. Her vocal ties it all together – she spouts words in a stop-start, economic fashion, using few notes in her voice, unless ascending higher up the scale during the chorus. The lyrics merit further investigation.

The crowd appear to have arranged themselves from front to back, according to age. The younger ones, with interesting haircuts, flop their fringes under Julie’s nose as they dance about, while the older ones nurse their drinks by the bar, craning their necks to get a glimpse of something, as they sway from side to side.

The second single from her new album may be the reason for this choice of venue? ‘Bunkerpop’ crackles with 80’s cool, like a stripped down Prince tune with extra bass. Post-punk is a genre that she’d regularly been associated with, but she’s moved away from that now. A brief rise in octave during the bridge is followed by a cacophony of light synths and delicate, rapid fingerpicking. It’s relentless and full of great ideas, all of which have been moulded together with great skill. Fittingly, The word ‘Groove’ scrolls repeatedly on the wall behind her, as well as images of moody winter skies and what looks like the Miles Platting gasworks.

I wish I could continue to compliment the performance, but issues with the drum machine’s timing and the keyboard’s volume during her first album’s title track create a bit of a mess at times. Although, admirably, she soldiers on regardless. The intro to ‘Groove It Out’ briefly puts her back on track and sparks spontaneous applause when widely recognised – this is the undoubted highlight of the evening. She’s enjoying it too, singing with a happy smile on her face throughout. The reaction afterwards is possibly the loudest I’ve ever heard in this room.

We’re exposed to 4 other new tunes – the one that contains the word ‘Ice’ (and may be about the weather) stood out. It pauses abruptly and what follows is an interesting compliment to what came before. Is that one or two tunes? Not sure yet. But I like it a lot. Otherwise, unfamiliarity seems to have flattened the atmosphere a little. She ends with the title track of the new album ‘Hinterland’, which apparently refers to the outskirts of the city from where she came. I can very much see myself growing into this tune as well.

I can’t say this was a memorable performance, apart from the hit single, but I’m still very eager to get my hands on the new album when it’s released on March 23rd. Tonight, as of 5 years ago, I find myself a little disappointed. Likewise, the opportunity for the crowd to call the band back for more was not taken. Generally, I think there is a feeling of sympathy for what could have been. No harm done. I guess they can put this one down to experience.

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Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.