Billed as a New Music Conference and Showcase, Manchester’s OFF THE RECORD is a collaboration between Sound City, Louder Than War and the team behind Kendal calling and bluedot festival. Off The Record’s daytime schedule consists of a series of panels covering aspects of the music industry inclined towards new musicians and bands, plus students. Many of the panels reflect that, although the Q&A with MPs Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham, hosted by DJ and author Dave Haslam, seems more one for the grown-ups. The Labour Party’s Greater Manchester and Mersey Region metro mayoral candidates respectively, insist that their decades-long friendship will ensure, should both win next May, and that the pair will work together for the best interests of the north. “We’ve both become disillusioned with Westminster,” says Burnham, to a delegate passionate he should stay in the shadow cabinet, and went so far as to say, “the North West is the country’s capital of music. It’s London versus the North West.” Slightly tongue in cheek maybe, but there is a hint of truth in those words.

Rotherham speaks of how Liverpool “can’t just look back and squeeze more out of The Beatles’ legacy,” and wanting to focus on the very obvious problem of “real estate becoming expensive, forcing venues out of city centres,” something we’ve become familiar with in Liverpool but is also experienced by cities across the country. “Music venues acted as a catalyst to make areas more desirable,” he says, leading to closures and land sold off for larger profit. How to stop that happening isn’t discussed much today, and we must remember that metro mayors won’t be awash with piles of cash to hand out, although Rotherham says he is passionate about finding cheap rehearsal spaces and venues for new bands. It’s interesting that Burnham wants the North West music industry to give him and Rotherham a list of five things to tackle, speaking of “using soft skills to open doors,” and to “get everyone from different levels around the table.” But what all this means in practical and real terms isn’t terribly clear.

After the panels are over, Off The Record promises us we’re sure to discover our “new favourite band” within the six venues in Manchester’s Northern Quarter hosting over 30 artists from around the UK, chosen by music journalists, radio presenters and other tastemakers. Soup Kitchen, Gullivers, The Castle, Aatma, Night & Day Café and The Ruby Lounge have bands playing concurrently throughout the evening, meaning we have to make our picks selectively.

Our first stop is Soup Kitchen, but the venue seems to be doomed tonight. First band on, FREAK, get stuck on the motorway so they miss their slot, although, troopers that they are, they play later on in the evening. Next, London-Liverpool soul and jazz singer XAMVOLO plays to a disappointingly sparse and chatty crowd at Night & Day. He’s a class act, but it’s like casting pearls before swine with an early evening audience like this. XamVolo doesn’t disappoint, though. His new track Money Store is a standout, along with favourite Down. Quality.

Next up in the Soup Kitchen are ACRE TARN, a two-piece electronic outfit. Singer Anna supplies sweet and clear emotive vocals on the first song, Tornados. The venue then experiences technical problems, Anna gamely telling us a series of “it was a dark and gloomy night” stories with admirable humour. Sadly we have to slope off before she finishes to check out THE ORIELLES back at the Night & Day. Boomeranging between venues in the relentless rain and dark in November is a very different way of spending a Friday evening of live music, that’s for sure, but The Orielles cheer us up considerably. Over the past year they’ve developed into a tight and confident trio, playing cute, tuneful songs of surf-garage goodness. Guitarist Henry bends and dips and swirls, while singer Esme coolly plays bass, oblivious to her bandmate’s antics, drummer Sidonie supporting at the back. The Orielles make everyone in the room happy tonight.

We return to Soup Kitchen and hope for the best with SALTWATER SUN. They are competent enough, but have all the hallmarks of a band following faithfully all the instructions on how to put a band together, dutifully ticking each and every box, but there’s something old before their time about them. The mature sound doesn’t quite suit us, so we say hello to the Night & Day once again, where blues singer and guitarist JOHN J PRESLEY, despite his big voice, struggles to make himself heard. It’s his real name, in case you’re wondering. Once the hubbub subsides, the onstage duo seize their moment, and head into an ominous overture which ironically refers to “when the rains come down.” Presley’s vocal sounds as if it’s been coaxed straight out of a Sergio Leone film score, such that we half expect a bandolier-wearing Clint Eastwood to strut on stage and pick up a bass. Having soaked up a healthy dose of Presley’s set, we leave Night & Day feeling as though there was something uncannily cinematic about the whole experience.

To our disappointment, it’s one-in-one-out at Castle for CARO and the crowd don’t seem the type to budge, so we head back to Soup Kitchen, where we find STRONG ASIAN MOTHERS setting up. It could be the various patterned sheets dotted about the stage, or the golden charms hanging from mic and synth stands, but from the off there’s a real sense of expectancy hanging over the growing crowd. Without a guitar in sight, we can’t help but wonder how they’ll keep so much electronic gear in check. The answer? A 60-second blast through Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls: probably the coolest line check of the night. The crowd are instantly onside, warming to co-lead vocalist Amer’s confident theatrics and the band’s pleasantly natural chat between songs. Standout tracks Out Of Love and Stay Down receive deserved applause, and as the set comes to a close it’s no wonder the crowd are begging the villainous stage manager to let them play one more. It’s a sublime performance; the electro-pop-funk sound coming as a bit of a wildcard, as far as our evening’s concerned. Definitely ones to watch, if you’re after Prides with a bit more aggression and a hint of the East.

Feeling invigorated, we head to Gulliver’s to track down HER’S, championed by Sound City’s own Dave Pichilingi. On arrival we’re confused, as the Liverpool outfit are nowhere to be found, so instead we’re front row for THE PEARL HARTS. The south London pair get straight down to it, post-grainy feedback, of course. The set opener, The Chief, is given a hero’s welcome, and before long the band have torn through a ballsy set, with both attitude and sound reminiscent of the incendiary Deap Vally. Vocalist Kirsty somehow turns it up a notch for final tracks Hit The Bottle and Blackblood, as drummer Sara makes an attempt on the venue’s foundations, even from upstairs. Unbeknownst to us, The Pearl Harts see us to the end of our night in Manchester, and we can’t help but feel that a) they were a bit good and that b) we were a bit lucky to catch them.

Discover your new favourite band? Turns out our favourites anyway, The Orielles and Strong Asian Mothers, were ours, tonight. Maybe, just maybe, Off The Record confirmed something we already knew.

Cath Bore and Will Lloyd

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