Returning to Warrington’s Victoria Park on 4th & 5th September, the North West’s largest indie festival – Neighbourhood Weekender brought indie anthems and lad culture by the bucketload this weekend.
Located ideally between Liverpool and Manchester, you may expect a festival of Neighbourhood’s scale to offer somewhat of a stepping stone for upcoming headliners. Take the likes of Wolf Alice for example – surely a name worthy of a main stage slot at a 25,000 capacity indie-focussed line up, right? Apparently not.
Here, it feels almost like a step backwards. Names like James, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott and Shed Seven take up several of the weekend’s best spots, and sure! there’s demand for nostalgia here, but is it the best way to help engage and build the artists of our futures? Doubt it.
Anyway - out with the old and in with the new, Zuzu’s early afternoon set at The Big Top on Saturday was exactly the kind of excitement we should be nurturing. Gracing the stage with an air of charming nonchalance, her proudly Scouse vocals paired with driving indie-pop beats felt like a glimpse at a future star.
The Magic Gang made the step up to main stage shortly after, doing a pretty decent job at maintaining the attention of a fidgety crowd. Smashing through fan faves ‘Take Back The Track’, ‘What Have You Got To Lose’ and ‘How Can I Compete’, the YALA! outfit remain as loveable as ever. It may be somewhat of a rarity to find them on stages of said size; but if their Neighbourhood performance was anything to go by, perhaps they should be playing them much more often.
Fresh off the back of her mixtape release, Baby Queen’s addictive, no-nonsense pop brought in a strong crowd on the smallest of the weekend’s three stages. Overcoming illness (not COVID, we’re assured) - the newcomer brought bounding energy to The Viola Beach Stage with the anthemic choruses of ‘Want Me’ and ‘American Dream’.
“Who the fuck are James?!” ask Easy Life, complete with horn section as they close The Big Top stage on Saturday evening. Offering a much needed alternative to the headliners over on the main stage, the Leicester risers’ longest festival set to date was a masterclass in alt-pop. Brimming with down to earth and excitable charisma, album favourites including ‘Sunday’, ‘Temporary Love’ and ‘Skeletons’ alone act as proof that our future headliners are out there and ready to step up when the opportunity comes. An undoubted highlight of the weekend, Easy Life have got it all.
Another highlight came from Scotland’s Dylan Fraser who opened The Big Top on Sunday with his first ever festival performance. Pairing stirring electronic beats with soaring guitars, the newcomer’s candid and conversational alt-pop showcased an artist destined for monumental things.
Chess Club star Alfie Templeman followed suit on The Big Top, packing out the tent and opening up the pits pre-3pm. The blissful psych-grooves of ’Happiness In Liquid Form’ and ‘Everybody’s Gonna Love Somebody’ set the tone for a blissful set from a future headliner - should he ever ditch the mid-set Nirvana cover which just feels a little bit too out of place.
Lauran Hibberd’s no-nonsense alt-pop saw one of the biggest crowds of the weekend over at The Viola Beach Stage. Thrashing through angst-pop anthems including ‘Bleugh’ and ‘How Am I Still Alive?’, Hibberd looked genuinely delighted to be doing what she does best. A name for The Big Top next year? You bet.
Rowdy would be the best word for Sports Team’s early evening slot. They may be somewhat of a love / hate band, but it was all love in The Big Top as Alex Rice prowled the stage with the frontman persona of a main stage headliner. With fans on shoulders and pits aplenty, it felt only fitting for a set loaded with ‘Came Crew’, ‘M1’ and ‘Fishing’ to end with Rice surfing amongst his adoring fans.
Busier again grew The Big Top as Inhaler followed Sports Team. As you’d expect from the band of Bono’s son, their set was tight as can be. Euphoric indie-rock with singalong choruses in the masses, but with something just a little bit missing. Soulless would be harsh, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt for the Irish outfit to add a hint more of their own personas into their performance. ‘Cheer Up Baby’ felt like a main stage anthem, but there’s some work to be done before that time comes.
Now, if you’re going to do a weekend of classic indie - The Wombats should always play an essential part. Taking up the penultimate main stage slot of the weekend, the Liverpool lads proved exactly how they’ve lasted amongst a scene of ‘landfill indie’. Opening with the mammoth ‘Moving To New York’, it took no time at all for flares to spread their way across the crowd. Combining new album tracks ‘If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming with You’ and ‘Method to the Madness’ with the tracks which have shaped the music tastes of many of us twenty-somethings, Murph & co pulled off the ultimate festival performance and seemingly had the time of their lives in doing so.
Catfish and the Bottlemen. Where to start? Headlining Sunday’s events amongst rumours of a split, there was all the potential for the most thrilling of shows. What did we get instead? A lack-lustred hour of set-filling guitar solos and pauses with the odd excitable moment thrown in.
Even with adoring fans in their masses, there’s no passion amongst the band; no mid-set conversation, no acknowledgement of the many building rumours - nothing. Almost as if they just did not want to be there. Sure, nostalgic fan-favourites like ‘Kathleen’, ‘Pacifier’ and ‘Soundcheck’ stirred up a smile on the face of McCann, but very little more.
Don’t get me wrong, Catfish are in no means a ‘bad’ band - there’s all the components of a quality main stage set there; if a rowdy singalong indie-rock show is what you’re into, but this did not feel triumphant, or even addictive. It felt like a wasted opportunity for a career-defining slot for somebody who may have given it their all, and in wake of the events of the past two years Catfish’s nonchalance became borderline irritating. If Sunday showed all of the passion left amongst the band, perhaps it really is time for them to call it a day.