You need a good reason to head to the heart of Trafford Park on a Friday evening in the cold, pouring rain, while relying on the Metrolink to the rather desolate Pomona station. Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees and abundance.
Trafford Park was, believe it or not, one of the first industrial estates in the world. It acted as a hub for both the River Mersey going to the south, the River Irwell to the north and the Manchester Ship Canal. Couple that with the rail links and in its hay-day well over 50,000 workers congregated on the site with over 10 million people living within a 50-mile radius. Ford located a factory on the site, Manchester’s first aerodrome was built there and, right up to this day, it’s moved with the times to cater for service industries, food producers and small retailers.
Moved with the times. Key phrase. Victoria Warehouse, which opened back in 2012, is a prime example of that. It was until recently the home of the immensely successful, if at times in the news for the wrong reasons, Warehouse Project and also hosted the BBC 6 Music Festival earlier this year.
Tonight, it’s hosting the first night of a whisky-themed two-day music festival. An odd sounding concept on the face of it but one that nonetheless sounds quite fun: that’s what you keep telling yourself, anyway, as you try not to get into an internal rant about how festivals have descended into having to have some sort of marketable theme around them to entice sponsors. There are whisky tastings in ‘The Whisky Hotel’ and a rather strange but varied line-up including Gomez, British Sea Power, Admiral Fallow, Emily Barker and Dodgy. It also includes the likes of local celebrities Tim Burgess, I Am Kloot and Badly Drawn Boy.
Emily Barker is on incredibly early – 5pm. We missed her, annoyingly. Why so early? She’s hugely acclaimed in her own right, she’s young and massively talented. But come to think of it, on walking around Victoria Warehouse and seeing the 40-something men with their Mod-inspired haircuts, expensive coats and rude, condescending nature to female bar staff (while having the cheek to ask for pictures of them), you begin to wonder. But keep an open mind, you remind yourself. Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees and abundance. Keep that positive image in mind. It’ll be worthwhile being here in the end. Don’t succumb to potential Emily Thornberry-esque snobbery here.
The acclaimed Glasgow-based Admiral Fallow arrive on the main stage. But they don’t suit the rather big space; come to think of it, this really doesn’t seem the place for folk/indie pop at all. The warehouse nature of the venue and the gentle but largely uninterested hum of everyone talking over them means they come across as rather lost and a bit tepid. By the end you feel largely uninterested too. A shame. Yet it doesn’t seem their fault. They should be in more suitable surroundings.
A DJ from XFM Manchester comes on before each act and does a spiel. “Use the hashtag You Dram, We Jam for your tweets! We’ve got people here from as far as Liverpool!” People begin to boo. Perhaps they’re still echoing the rivalry caused by the building of the Manchester Ship Canal, which allowed Manchester’s industry to bypass Liverpool’s ports. In fact, how apt that the booing is taking place here! At Trafford Park! You can’t be bothered with this nonsense, not tonight. You Dram, We Jam.
On comes Tim Burgess, with his mushroom cut dyed blond hair. He begins by reciting some poetry from his lyrics stand. Everyone applauds him but it’s vacuous nonsense. You zone out. He plods on, the crowd lapping it up. But you’re not and you begin to wonder who’s in the wrong. It sounds dilatory. An acoustic cover of The Only One I Know follows and you lose the will to live; the couples to the left and right can’t get enough of it, though.
By the time British Sea Power come on, you’re ready to go home. Machineries Of Joy sounds superb, though; they go back to the beginning with The Spirit Of St Louis and then reach right back to the more current again with Waving Flags. But even then you’re thinking, “Why are you here? You’re better than here.” Most people don’t seem to be appreciating it.
The crowd, the line-up – Dodgy for goodness sake and the clamouring for all these Manchester acts that have existed for years and have become such a comfort blanket that most here can’t move on – the marketing. Whisky Sessions. Most of the whisky here you can buy at your local Bargain Booze. It just becomes depressing. No-one wanting to move on. Stick with the music from years ago. Boo scousers. Have a Gallagher brothers swagger and treat bar staff like shit. Hashtag You Dram, We Jam. Get lost. Moving with the times but also failing disastrously as well.
To the right at the back of the main stage, there’s a large screen showing advertisements for various whiskies. One of them has someone pouring it down their throat. Drink aware. A track by Amadou & Mariam comes on through the PA system. It’s the most interesting thing played all evening. Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees and abundance. Back into the rain, to stand on a platform waiting for a tram back to Piccadilly.