Like most people I’ve been feeling very flat recently, just getting back into the routine of “normality” after 2 years of the pandemic and now the world’s going into a tailspin, so extracting myself from the house to make the journey to Manchester by public transport took some doing, but I’m so glad I made the effort.

I’ve seen Dan Mangan a few times and always loved his set, but I was particularly intrigued by his touring partner who was new to me – Núria Graham.

I hadn’t been to Four Low Studio before, and Google Maps seemed to struggle with where it was, guiding me up scary backstreets telling me to turn off along streets that didn’t exist, but in the end I managed to find it, and what a great place it is!

It’s in Deansgate Mews by the Odeon Cinema, with lots of cool bars, restaurants and even a sourdough bakery, with lots of twinkly lights.

The venue itself is quite basic, the stage for example is a bit of carpet, but yet has a great bohemian feel about it.  And let’s face it, when you’ve got artists as talented as these 2, you don’t need a fancy stage.

First up was Núria Graham, who hails from Catalonia and is described as “Really beautiful multi-instrumental stuff with a slightly jazz/blues edge” and I couldn’t put it better myself so I won’t try!

She is of Irish and Spanish descent and brings the best traditions of both cultures.

She has an incredible voice and puts in a mesmerising performance.  She’s often compared to PJ Harvey.

But of course there’s no need to take my word for it, I urge you to check out her full set from Primavera 2017 and consider that if anything she’s even better now.  Seriously… just watch it now!

Núria on vocals alternated between piano and microphone whilst the other 2 members of the band were fairly static in chairs, but this was a performance that didn’t need any gimmicks, showy dance routines or jumping around or fancy lights, Núria’s voice and the music was all that was required to transport you away from your problems, and remind you just how great live music can be.

If you weren’t there on Friday night then you missed out!  I’ll certainly be making a point of getting tickets when she next returns to the UK.

Her debut album First Tracks was released in 2013, followed by Bird Eyes in 2015, Does it ring a bell? in 2017, and Majorie in 2020, with a new album to be announced soon.

She recently released a single “Yes it’s me, The Goldfish” which is likely to be the first from the forthcoming album which is being produced by Núria herself, full of dreamy and subtle orchestral arrangements and “Yes It’s Me, The Goldfish!” represents the first character of the various narrators of ‘Cyclamen’ – a journey through existential questions, dialogues with nature, dreams and premonitory visions. The bluesy piano and a rusty classical guitar give way to pensive drums, building to a melodic explosion of sax and flutes. The song tells the story of a goldfish that swims inside a fish tank, looking at the future through the glass and anticipating what’s coming. Finally the goldfish realises that it can get all the answers it has been looking for within the space around it.

After a hard week at work, discovering Núria Graham was just the tonic I needed, and could have gone home walking on air after her set on it’s own!

But of course the evening wasn’t over and next-up it was Dan Mangan – and if you’ve ever seen him live, you’ll know he always puts on a great show.

His set followed the pattern of 5 songs with the band, 1 solo, another 5 with the band, and then for the encore he comes out into the crowd, turns off all the venue lighting other than a light he brings with him, and all the audience join in on the harmonies – which creates a magical atmosphere.

Something that really struck a chord with me was when he was talking about the increasing cost of touring.  It was a good turnout, I did a rough headcount of about 90, but when you consider flights, hotels and so on, even though most of the audience seemed to be buying Merch, it must be tough making an international tour break-even.

Like he said, there are probably lots of people in Manchester who would enjoy his show, but they aren’t aware of him because traditional media with decent reach tend to focus on established artists, and it’s getting harder and harder to get noticed on social media.

He’s right of course, you can’t like an artist you haven’t heard, and when enough people hear an artist a percentage of them will like them, but with so many artists competing for limited prime media spots, and dwindling attention-spans due to the likes of TikTok, how can artists expand their fan-base to cover the ever increasing costs of touring.

You could feel the love in the room, if Dan gets priced out of visiting the UK in future there will be a lot of people who will be very disappointed.

I’ve still not really adjusted back into socialising post-pandemic (indeed I wasn’t very good before the pandemic!) but a guy from Melbourne started speaking to me.  He was on holiday in Chester with his wife, and his son had messaged him to tell him to go and see Dan Mangan.

He had a listen and loved what he heard, but was disappointed he already had a prior engagement when he played Chester.  But thanks to the compact nature of the UK, he realised he could get to Manchester easily, and there he was, and his enthusiasm was infectious.

And that’s the answer!

People rarely message a friend and say “hey, you’ve gotta check out this artist”.  I get nervous when I post a blog, for the inevitable “they’re shite” comments, that you get from complete strangers who think their opinion is the only one that matters (though I don’t mind it from friends so much).

I’ve got a friend who like me, loves Skating Polly, Beach Bunny, Kaelan Mikla, and Krakow Loves Adana.  But he also loves The Darkness and The Eurovision Song Contest, which I hate, and a couple of bands I’ve said he should check-out he’s said “nah, not really my cup of tea”.  But it’s no reason to not tell him about the next great band I hear, there are no universally liked or disliked bands.

Big media isn’t going to change anytime soon, smaller media will always have limited reach – too many blogs, too little interest, but if 90 of us tell a friend about Dan Mangan, he could have 180 on the next visit to Manchester.  Carry on like that, and in 18 years he could have 11 million trying to fit in the venue – which may be a little bit of a squeeze, but we’ll budge up 🙂

Seriously though, never under-estimate the power of recruiting a new fan or two, even if it means going out on a limb.

Dan came over from Vancouver, Núria from Catalonia, if they can go to all that expense and effort, it’s the very least we owe them.

And it’s important, because with all that’s going on in the word, we all need these little nuggets of gold we call gigs.

When I bought tickets for Beach Bunny in early 2020 they were playing at a small pub which wasn’t even sold out.  After postponements, the gig finally took place on Saturday night at O2 Ritz, capacity 1,500 and it was sold out.  It’s not that their songs have got better, indeed a lot of what they played was the early material, it’s simply because someone has spent a lot of money on TikTok promotion, so lots more people know who they are now.

If as many people knew Dan Mangan and Núria Graham then I’ve every confidence they would be selling out 1,500 capacity venues without breaking a sweat.

Let’s spread the word!