It sounds odd to say that the last time I was at Old Granada Studios, it was to buy a leather jacket. Slightly more music focused but still strange, the time before that was to do a few shifts at the Oasis ‘Chasing The Sun’ exhibit. The former television powerhouse, located just off Quay Street in Manchester City Centre, is home to all manner of events following its refurbishment and redevelopment, with some of the most exciting coming from Low Four Studio. Low Four is an Ultra High Definition IPTV music platform, hosting live sessions from all manner of acts whilst also acting as a recording studio to nurture Greater Manchester’s most promising new artists.
In the past year, the studio has featured live sessions from the likes of Weaves and Everything Everything, whilst most recently hosting a number of special preview sessions intended to promote the upcoming Stay Fresh Fest II all-dayer at Manchester’s Deaf Institute, featuring the likes of Seize The Chair and Patty Hearst.
With the nurturing of local talent number one on their mission statement, Low Four has recently been home to Manchester’s own Dutch Uncles – the quartet using its state of the art equipment for the recording of their latest album ‘Big Balloon’. Where it was once used to record Halle Orchestra musicians performing soundtracks for TV staples such as Brideshead Revisited and Sherlock Holmes, the studio is now being put to better use and its confines have potentially produced one of Dutch Uncles finest efforts to date.
Last night saw Dutch Uncles return to Low Four and the very studio they recorded Big Balloon, treating a small studio audience to a few songs from their fifth album, whilst also using the occasion as a right royal knees up in celebration of the album’s release.
Title track ‘Big Balloon’ was this album’s initial offering from Dutch Uncles, released at the tail end of last year to signify that Big Balloon was well and truly incoming. It was also the initial offering last night in the studio, with frontman Duncan Wallis shedding his band jacket (love the matching outfits, by the way) almost instantly and jumping straight into his quirky, jerking dance movements to the sounds of Robin Richard’s chunky bass tone. The band have gone on record to say that they’ve rediscovered the potency of electric guitars on this new record, and Peter Broadhead certainly puts his to good use on Big Balloon.
The new record has been on regular rotation round these parts for a good month now, with each new listen leading to the discovery of a new favourite (it also lead to an unintentional Vince McMahon-esque walk down the street the first time I heard ‘Combo Box’). After following up the first track quick-sharp with the frantic ‘Baskin’, the band moved onto the sultry, shimmering ‘Streetlight’ – the last single to be released prior to the album’s release; an undeniable hit and definitely a personal favourite.
It’s interesting to hear that ‘Same Plane Dream’, with its darker, jarring verses, was one of the earlier cuts leading into the recording of the album, having an impression on how Big Balloon would eventually turn out (even being in the running for the original album title). This came just prior to one of the album’s biggest hits, the incredibly infectious ‘Oh Yeah’. It proved difficult not to mimic the moves of frontman Duncan whilst they ran through this (helped along by the Asahi beers on offer in the ‘green room’), with the audience getting fully stuck into the groove.
Taking a slight break from their new album but still keeping things running with their 80’s influences, Dutch Uncles then dove into a cover of ‘Stay’ by Glaswegian art-poppers The Blue Nile – from their ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ album, released in 1984. Definitely very much in the vibe of their most recent releases, this cover wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the b-side of a single release, with that soft, vocal style against a full-on 80’s synth attack.
During ‘Flexxin’, the broadcasts last song of the evening, guitarist Peter came into the crowd for an exceedingly humourous clap-along during the pulsating final closing stages of the song. Flexxin bled directly into the tinkling piano of ‘Dressage’, and I don’t know how long they’ve been playing it like this, but I loved how Duncan drunkenly controlled the keys as they teetered and verged, almost tumbling over themselves, before going fully into the mayhem of THAT riff. A pretty mental run through, drummer Andy Proudfoot hammered at some pace during its manic closing stretch.
With the cameras switched off and the audience near enough begging for more, the lads returned for a run through of the incredible ‘Fester’, from 2013’s ‘Out Of Touch In The Wild’. Having asked the crowd what they’d like to hear more of, we’re reliably informed that Fester is the only other song their newest charge on extra percussion/keys had rehearsed. Rehearsals have clearly been going well, and this old favourite was a perfect send off.