Dan Mangan + Steven Adams
YES Basement
8 Charles Street,

Music discovery takes many paths in the digital age.  Long gone are the monopoly of a few radio stations playing the same songs from the Top 40 over and over until they beat you into submission.  Great music has never been more accessible, though with so much out there it’s easy sometimes to get overwhelmed and miss some truly great artists.

Me and my missus first discovered Dan Mangan via the much missed Summer Sundae Weekender in Leicester.  As with so many festivals, the more established “big name” acts drew us in the first time, but we enjoyed the atmosphere so much and discovered so many great bands, plus compared with our other regular festival Glastonbury it was so easy – with our IBIS a short walk from the festival site, that we’d have gone back regardless of how many acts we recognised, and were never disappointed with the quality of acts.

Indeed in the rather excellent Real Ale tent, in the last year it was on, we saw Bastille play to about 4 people on the Thursday night, Clean Bandit to about 30 or 40 on the Saturday (They became one of my favourite bands at the time, but since signing to Atlantic they seem to have polished out what made me like them, but have gone on to huge commercial success) and Jake Bugg to about 100 on the Sunday, ok he’s not my cup of tea but that’s 3 pretty big names now, and that was just the beer tent!

Going through some of the bands we didn’t recognise on Spotify, Dan Mangan’s “Indie Queens are Waiting”  immediately jumped out to my missus, and all the tracks I flipped through seemed strong, so we put him on the “must see” list, and were rewarded with a superb set, sans “Indie Queens are Waiting”, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for his set.

Heading back to the hotel, talking about the artists we’d seen that day, who was standing outside the hotel but the man himself!

They say “don’t meet your heroes” artists have complex personalities, touring can take it’s toll on their good natures, but Dan was really down to earth and a really nice bloke.

That was back in 2012, and whilst his visibility in the UK hasn’t grown as much as Bastille or Clean Bandit, in his native Canada he’s gone from playing in coffee shops at the start of his career to become a Top 10 artist.

When tickets went on sale for his UK tour, it was a no-brainer, we had to be there!

The night started with Steven Adams.  It wasn’t a name I was familiar with, and a search on facebook revealed he has 234,000 likes, but I couldn’t find any of his music videos, just lots of pictures of some guy playing basketball.  Ah, wrong Steven Adams!

This Steven Adams is from Cambridge and was half of broken family band – a name I recognise but am not familiar with their music.

According to spotify, his most listened to song is “Kings of the back of the Bus”.  Fans of bands such as I am Kloot be sure to check it out…

Upon hearing this song I could tell he wasn’t just a support act to fill in a bit of time before the headliner, he could easily headline in his own right.  2 bands of this quality for £15 a pop?  Hey! Manchester (the promoters) with these bands you’re really spoiling us!

He didn’t play this particular song (perhaps because he didn’t have a full band) but that didn’t matter, his set was superb and already the trip from Manchester to Liverpool (Northern Rail might be owned by Deutsche Bahn, but their services are a long way from their parent company!) was well worth it and the ticket money well spent.

Despite the serious nature of his songs, his inter-song banter and stories were hilarious, his timing and observation would put some stand-up comedians to shame!

He told a story of how when he was on a an anti-brexit march, his son was sitting on his friend’s shoulders shouting “I want to leave the EU”.  It reminded me of my own son, when he was about 3, he was sitting on my knee watching an interview with Jeremy Corbyn.  He studied it for a while, took his thumb out his mouth and proclaimed “Cock!”.  Whether this was a deep-thinking, hard-hitting, scathing piece of political analysis from one so young or he spotted Big Ben in the background and couldn’t pronounce his “l’s” I’ll leave to you to decide.  Kids, eh!

It was revealed that Dan and Steven have been friends for a long time and collaborated on each other’s work, and one of the things I like about gigs like this is the atmosphere.  The audience are hardcore fans of the artists, totally engaged bar the odd bit of taking iPhone video as a keepsake, and when the artists are friends too, it just creates a really nice, friendly atmosphere.

Whilst Steven was largely solo, with a keyboardist I think he said was called “horse” but that could be my hearing, Dan played most of his set with a full band, aside from a few songs in the middle of his set.

Some of his songs were rockier than I remembered from the last time I saw him, it was a superbly uplifting set, even though some were darker subject matter, with his song about his grandad bringing my missus to tears.  Powerful stuff!

He got the audience to do the harmonies on “Sold” and it was a beautiful moment.

He finished his set by getting Steven on the stage, and coming out into the audience, perched on a swivel chair, with what looked like a big novelty hammer.  Thankfully our fears that he was going to do an impression of Timmy Mallet, proved unfounded, and it was a giant light – which proved rather handy for getting some photographs!

It was a nice touch, the venue is already quite intimate, but coming out to the middle of the audience, risking life and limb on a swivel-chair, brought it to a new level.

Through seeking permission to take photos at Dan Mangan, I also discovered the rather wonderful Laura Gibson who I saw in February, and through a guy I met there, I’m going to see Vera Sola soon.  Music discovery is a wonderful thing!

It was nice to see the merch stall busy – and Dan himself manning it, signing the merchandise.

I’m glad that artists tend to have vinyl these days.  At Laura Gibson I really wanted to support her, she’d come all the way from America to play to a room of around 80 people, all of whom want her back soon!  I knew if I bought a CD I’d never listen to it – because it’s so much easier listening on my Sonos via Spotify, and even when I own a CD it tends to sit in a cupboard. With a 5 year old running mayhem in the house, my record deck is safely up in the loft! but there is something nice and tactile about Vinyl, with large artwork, nice to hold and look at as much as to play, and in a couple of years when he’s hopefully grown out of the novelty of scratching records (not in a DJ way!) we’re in for some listening treats!

He didn’t play Indie Queens are Waiting tonight, so we thought the album it comes from “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” would be a good one to buy, we get a work of art, and hopefully it helps justify Dan coming back to the UK before too long!

Whilst waiting in the queue, our hearts sank as the last copy on the table went, but thankfully he still had another box of them!

A thoroughly great evening, a life affirming night that only great music and great people can make!

It was our first time at YES Manchester, but it ticked all the boxes.

Upstairs is a popular bar and eatery, with a good mix of hipsters, students and cool but unpretentious people, with a good buzz about it.

At the top of the stairs down to the music space downstairs is a sign:

I’d like to think it’s a nod to the fact that a lot of people upstairs probably believe that’s what goes on downstairs as they perhaps haven’t heard of the bands, and by reflecting their thoughts it spurs their curiosity into checking it out for themselves, but maybe they just thought it was a cool sign!

The music space downstairs is a good size for intimate gigs, with great sound, good lighting and a bar, pretty much everything you need for a music space!  The layout reminded me a lot of Soup Kitchen or Liverpool’s Shipping Forecast.

It was really easy to get to, literally 4 minutes walk from Oxford Road, and the staff were very friendly.  The bouncers on the door were selling us the virtues of the “banging chips” and pizza slices, rather than checking we weren’t wearing trainers!

All in all, a superb evening, even Northern Rail wasn’t too bad, and we look forward to the next time we catch Dan Mangan and Steven Adams (just not the basketball player, though I’m sure he’s a nice chap too!)


Words + Pictures: John W. King