Born in Doncaster but bred in Manchester, The Blinders played to a small crowd at an exclusive event in their favourite city – and I was lucky enough to go.
The White Hotel is a name I don’t often hear in indie and alternative rock circles, which is a shame. Overshadowed by Strangeways Prison and behind an industrial estate, an unassuming garage conceals a gritty and aesthetic music venue. The inside is plastered like an old farmhouse; a broken chair hangs from the ceiling; at the foot of the room, a wall-mounted crucifix watches over the bar. When I was younger, this is how I imagined gritty urban music venues would look.
It was the perfect setting for a night of aggressive alternative rock.
Yasmin Coe opened the night as the only support with a melancholy mix of indie and the twinkly chorused guitar of 80s Brit-pop. It was a conscious and good choice on the part of the event organisers to bring on an artist who kept the initial vibes at a calm threshold. Though, one song halfway through her set grabbed me – a brooding rock track that combined the best elements of Yasmin’s more relaxed tracks, yet punctuated by a sense of angst I hadn’t expected but really should have at such a gig. Cool.
Willy Wonka introduced the headline set. Pure Imagination was accompanied by red neon in a tonal oxymoron. Behind me, faces illuminated in crimson excitement reached all the way to the back and beyond. Old and young, the biggest fans of The Blinders had flocked to Manchester for this intimate moment.
From behind a curtain, the band squeezed their way around the drum kit, grabbed guitars and faced the crowd. The set was explosive from start to finish. Beginning with ‘Et Tu’, ‘Brutus’ and ‘Brakelights’, the first half of the set was drenched in that angry red glow, matching the band’s energy. Shouty slap-back vocals and crunchy guitars mixed with wailing rusty lead guitar and energetic punk drums. The dark, groovy bass maintained a steady rhythm throughout the set, merging the whole thing into one extended performance.
In the rare moments of quiet, vocalist Tom Haywood spoke only briefly, submerged in smoke and purple light like something out of a Nirvana music video.
In a recent addition to the line-up, Joe Bell – frontman of Avalanche Party – took up lead guitar duties. For the entire duration of the show, he exuded intimidation, glaring at us as he gradually swept a piercing stare across the crowd, in spite of the energy of the music.
To say the show was ‘intense’ doesn’t really do it justice.
Afterwards, we headed to The Rose & Monkey in Manchester’s Northern Quarter for a drink, and the band happened to walk in. I met Tom who, between chatting to the bar staff and his surrounding friends, kindly granted me a question about their show. I wanted to know why The Blinders, who had previously sold-out a headline at The O2 Ritz, among various other accomplishments, had decided to come back with a much smaller and more exclusive event.
Tom explained that, with new music on the horizon, the band wanted to test it out with an audience they trusted. Having only played a few sets in summer, and after a year-long break, The Blinders are easing back into it, pouring more time into their songwriting and wanting to bring the new album in with a bang.
One of my favourite things about music is how you can go from watching these cool people ripping some of the most rock ‘n’ roll music in the modern scene, taking it in their stride as they sweat and strike red carpet identities, to hanging out with friends and family, laughing and joking and chatting to small-time people like me in a public bar that I could stumble into on any evening of the week. It’s a humbling reminder that we are all very much in this together, and that style is not a substitute for substance, as The Blinders have both.