Anna McLuckie

-NIGHT & DAY CAFE, MANCHESTER-

As I make my way to the venue in the relative warmth of a freak 21 degree Manchester evening, coming straight after a run of cold nights, I’m not entirely sure if I’m off to see a solo artist with the surname Allum, or a group of people who are all allumni of a place called Annabel.

Upon arrival, about 10 minutes before the first act is due on stage, Night & Day is looking quite empty. Nonetheless, I get a drink from the bar, take a seat with a view of the stage and wait for this evening’s entertainment to begin.

It’s not long before opening act Anna McLuckie climbs onto the stage and takes her position next to her instrument of choice, the electric harp. Though from Edinburgh, McLuckie is now studying in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music. She’s joined on stage by Ruby Grace Moore on cello and George Burrage on violin, they begin with ‘Clara’. I catch myself briefly mesmerised by the repeating four note melody towards the end of the song. As they move onto the next track, ‘Little Man On The Moon’, the music initially remains intricate and calming, but when the tempo and volume are ratcheted up the contrast is a little jarring in this setup. I expect the transition is smoother under normal circumstances, as a drummer and bassist are missing from the band’s usual lineup tonight.

Looking around, there are faces throughout the length of the room, but almost all seated. The limited number of standing spectators all appear to be members of the other bands scheduled to perform tonight. During the final song of the set, someone orders a coffee at the bar and from where I am the sound of the coffee machine can be heard above the volume of the music. Upon hearing it, it occurs to me that this performance may be more appropriate for a trendy café. Oh, wait, this is Night & Day Café. The set is pleasant, I don’t have any further criticisms to make, but it didn’t really capture my imagination.

Vinyl Staircase

A quick changeover and next up we have Vinyl Staircase. Frontman Mike Thorpe drawls the opening lyrics to a song called ‘Wonderwall’, which I understand is a song originally by Oasis, before the 4-piece quickly break into something altogether more tuneful. As they move onto their second track, ‘Cherry’, they start to give off the impression of a polished indie-pop band that with the right luck could well cross into the mainstream, albeit one with just enough grit to hold my attention.

It’s certainly a contrast to the opening act, but the move to a more upbeat tempo has not encouraged many more people onto their feet. Some have made their way closer, but the majority remain seated in a still fairly sparsely populated venue. It is Vinyl Staircase’s sixth song that I found myself enjoying the most, a song in which they repeatedly shout the words “Oh No!”. I have been completely unable to find out what it is though, it does not appear to be one of their six currently released tracks. That is also the case for the song they followed it up with, but I at least know that one is called ‘On The Radio’, thanks to a quip about the irony of not having recorded it yet, so it has not yet been played on the radio. “It will be one day” was added, and I’m inclined to agree, it ticks all the boxes for airplay.

After their 30 minutes on stage, Vinyl Staircase depart and so does half the room. I sit patiently at the side of the venue and, thankfully, most of those who left return, having inhaled some nicotine on the street. I’m not sure if it’s just me, or maybe the relaxing influence of the opening act, but as the clock ticks past 10PM and tonight’s headline act are still setting up I’m already starting to think about my bed. As though I’d maybe become a little obsessed with the time, I note that as the final perfomance of the night begins, it is now 10:13PM.

Annabel Allum

Opening with 2016 single ‘Tricks’, two of the musicians on stage are creating a very stormy atmosphere. When the third band member brings the drums to the party it’s like a switch has been flipped and it drives the song forward. It’s not long until my earlier conundrum is solved. Annabel Allum is indeed the name of our singer and guitarist this evening, introducing herself to the crowd, she comments, “We’ve only got one of these. I mean one of today. So I think we should enjoy it.”

The crowd have now mostly got to their feet and as the set progresses songs are warmly received, but there’s very little audience movement to speak of. Following a rendition of ‘Picture On Picture’, we’re informed the next song “is a new one about not having a sofa”. Simply called ‘Sofa Song’, I can’t help noticing how much it sounds like it could be from the Courtney Barnett playbook, the singing style seems suddenly a lot more rambling and almost lazy – not that that’s a criticism as it suits the song, it’s just an outlier in this set.

The tracks keep coming, with the powerful ‘Shreds’ exclaiming “we don’t fight fair” (we’re informed before it starts that it was inspired by being told to leave a girls toilet in a nightclub, after being mistaken for a boy) followed by ‘Rich Backgrounds’ with its very pleasing chorus melody. I cannot fault the effort of the performance in the face of what is a fairly sedate crowd. ‘Mouse In His Mouth’ is next, which runs straight into latest single ‘Fear Naught’, my favourite song of the set, though admittedly that’s the only one I had been familiar with before the night began.

Three more songs are still to come, ‘Beat The Birds’, ‘Rascal’ and ‘Em(ily)’. During the last of those Allum and her bass player for the evening go forehead to forehead as the song reaches its climax, she’d already given the back of her drummer’s head a kiss earlier in the set too.

I enjoyed the performance, but it’s not one I expect will live long in the memory. There is no doubt that the seeds of a remarkable live show are present though, and if they continue to be nurtured then there’s no reason they can’t spring up and grow to feed a much larger crowd.

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Adam Smith

There is nothing I'd rather be doing with my evenings than watching excellently crafted live music. In fact, there isn't much I'd rather be doing than watching half-decent live music. Having too often seen excellent bands fail to garner the attention I believe they deserve, I'm here to spread the good word of the under-appreciated musical performer. I encourage everyone who is reading this to do the same.