Sounds From The Other City

January 19, 2012

A chat with… Grey Lantern and Drowned in Manchester

Along with the veteran promoters that are curating stages at this years festival, we’re proud to have some new hands on board, too. Drowned In Sound is one of the biggest music review websites in the world, and they’ve recently re-started the Manchester arm of promoting side, getting Simon Jay Catling (among others) to help out. Simon himself is also involved with putting on shows under the Grey Lantern name with (among others) Ben Blackburn. We had a chat with the two to see what information we could eek out of them before the big line-up announcement next week.

Hello to you both. Simon: you’re here representing Drowned in Sound. For all those who’ve been fortunate enough to have not wasted their early teenage years on the sites forum, could you give us a bit of information about what DiS is an what it represents and that.

Simon: DiS began back in 2000 and was started up by editor-in-chief Sean Adams; it’s gone from being the ramblings of just one man in his bedroom to one of the heaviest trafficking music websites in UK as well as having success as a record label and live promotions team. The wonderful souls who make up our online community have successfully driven the likes of Editors’ Tom Smith and Bloc Party to distraction, whilst Brian May once called us “the filthiest scum of the earth” which we can only take as a heartily ringing endorsement. Ultimately though we’re just a bunch of folks – both staff and forum users – who love our music and’ll write ourselves to embarrassment to get others into it.

And Ben: you’ve got the job of doing the same for Grey Lantern.

Ben: Indeed I will be! I joined the Grey Lantern team last year, and in that time it has gone from strength to strength. After being founded by Simon and Chris – following an earlier incarnation taking place at the rather humble Bay Horse – 2011 saw us three bearded fellows host the likes of Air Cav, Then Thickens, Dignan Porch, Cloud Boat, Ghosting Season and Human Hair across several venues in Manchester. As we enter 2012, we plan to continue our development of Grey Lantern’s philosophy of showcasing the best local talent, while also providing a stepping stone for some of the country’s finest breaking acts. Watch out for a particularly special show in April, featuring our first international booking, too!

You’re sharing upstairs at The Black Lion. What can we expect from the venue?

S: The first time I saw the venue I got so excited I promptly began drinking in it as t’were already SFTOC and forgot to do my Christmas shopping as a result. The lack of presents my family received last year – and my consequent banishing from the Catling household – has done little to diminish that anticipation. It was taken over by new owners last year and they’ve had Future Artists upstairs showing films so we know it’s a great creative space. We’ll be bringing down some of our pals down in force – Video Is The Only Constant will be provide a unique backdrop for each of our acts upstairs, and downstairs we’ve John & Natalie from Work Them and Sam from Pop Deviant, among others, spinning tunes all day.It’d be nice to think that it’s going to turn out like a bit of a central gathering hub for the lower Chapel Street part of the festival site much like Islington Mill and Pint Pot have been for the upper part over the past few years.

B: Simon has pretty much hit the nail on the head with what we believe we can achieve in such a fantastic venue. Having the two floors will certainly mean we can create a real hive of activity on the day, and possibly even deafen a few brave souls who choose not to stray from our continuous stream of music both upstairs and downstairs! With the Black Lion not involved with SFTOC last year, it’s really exciting to know we’re working with somewhat of a blank canvas, and we hope to re-establish it as one of the festival’s key venues.

For the other 364 days of the year, what do you two get upto?

S: Both being North Easterners we tend to spend most of our time together discussing some of the region’s more popular bus routes, struggling – 11 years on – to get over the passing of the hugely loved fictional TV character, Geoff from Byker Grove, and planning ahead of our summer holidays in the luxurious tourist hotspot that is Whitley Bay. On the heart wrenching moments we’re apart from each other I can normally be found writing for any of number of sites and publications including the NME, The Quietus and – surprisingly – Drowned In Sound where I’m Manchester’s local columnist. I also worked as panel co-ordinator and press officer as part of a small team that set up Manchester Music Seminars – we held our first event last October at Umbro on Dale Street, managing to sell-out and having a smashing day of it if the feedback we’ve gained was anything to go by. Other than that – as Ben’s pointed out – I do rather a lot as Grey Lantern as well, but am probably happiest when drunkenly extolling the virtues of Withington to anyone who’ll – and even some who won’t – listen. I’m also a former shepherd. Say, Ben, what do you do?

B: Simon’s not joking about our nostalgia fueled conversations – I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve found myself talking about that Philippe Albert chip. However Geordie talk aside, I first began my foray into music by co-founding the music blog Crack In The Road, which has led to further roles at LostLostLost, The 405, and Generator’s ‘Tipping Point’ Feature. Along with my journalistic ventures, I also run online PR for several acts on the mega cool local label Everybody’s Stalking Recordings, and I’ve recently joined the fantastic team at Loomer Agency to help with booking for a couple of acts on their roster. I had the good fortune of working with Simon, albeit in a minor way, on the inaugural Manchester Music Seminars by running their social media on the day, primarily through live tweeting. Fitting these roles around my current undergraduate degree has been challenging at times, however I’m also looking for new opportunities to further my experience in the industry.

What was the first year that you came to the festival? Got any good memories from the day?

S: First year I came to the festival would be 2010 and I remember getting my already teetering mind blown by Chrome Hoof at the Mill; it was just a really great day in general however – I think my two favourite aspects of SFTOC are that it brings promoters together who otherwise are competing in our gloriously vibrant and busy local live calendar and sees them work together; and secondly it’s great bringing the music scene down to Chapel Street as opposed to the usual venues in the city centre. It’s comfortably my favourite festival in the area and I’m genuinely delighted that DiS are going to be involved in it.

B: My first experience of SFTOC would be 2011, so it’s an incredible feeling for me knowing that only a year on I’ve been given the opportunity to actually contribute to this wonderful festival. I remember arriving last year to collect my pass from the Mill, and I was immediately absorbed by the air of musical activity that was whirring on around me. There are certain city-based festivals which can leave you feeling like they were created simply for the sake of it, however SFTOC has a genuine sense of collective ambition and pride that is reflected in the diverse and highly talented line up that each and every local promoter brings to the festival. I also agree with Simon that it’s great to see the spotlight shed on a different part of the city and the equally fantastic venues it can boast about.

Got plans to go to any other festivals this summer?

S: I’d like to go back to Green Man this year as my first experience of it in 2011 was wonderful – I’d love to get abroad a bit more this year too, Sonar p’raps? Who knows, I tend to burn pretty badly, and my ginger beard clashes horribly with that. These are the important things to keep in mind when booking a foreign festival.
B: Last year provided my first Glastonbury experience, so needless to say summer 2012 has a lot to live up to! As Glasto isn’t on this year (otherwise I’d be heading straight back), I’d like to make it to several smaller festivals this summer. End of The Road is a must in my eyes, and Green Man certainly sounds like an exciting possibility after what Simon has told me about it. I’d like to return to Hove Festival in Norway, as it’s one of the few festivals I’ve ever been to where the campsite doesn’t resemble a refugee camp.

Find us a video of your favourite song at the moment.

S: We’re both pretty obsessed with London-based producer and musician Halls at the minute. He’s just released a new EP, ‘Fragile’ on boutique label The Sounds Of Sweet Nothing and it’s really disarmingly emotive collection of tracks, here be ‘I Am Not What You Want.’ At the time of publishing we may have more news on him…

Grey Lantern, Drowned in Manchester and Pop Deviant will all be at The Black Lion for this years festival.