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Rick Melling

Castle Hotel Gig Review

Rick Melling, Features Writer

I caught Halem serendipitously at Manchester's very own Night and Day at the eve of a frenetic night, what must have been a few weeks ago.

The Liverpool based electro-pop outfit touched my personal penchant for celestial synth and clean female vocals. Refreshed as ever to stumble across something new and good, I stayed and took stock. Needless to say, I spent the end of that night commiserating to a barmaid across town and had to be carried out by the security man at closing time.

"The only way you're getting me out of here," I said, "is if you carry me."

However I am not a very large man and he was only too happy to oblige. For a moment I felt weightless and unburdened before I was put down outside with the rest of the chairs and tables.

I've been there since, but I'm unsure as to whether the management like me.

Then I got sent to their next show, which had no less than four other acts on the list, and eclectically chosen at that.

The Castle Hotel in Manchester's Northern Quarter is a nice little dive which has ragged walls and an out of tune piano I've been told to stop playing quite a lot in the past. It stays open quite late and has an okay selection of beer on tap. I ordered a rum first.

Lucy Wentworth was first on the bill, but unfortunately we didn't catch her as I was indulging myself in a large Indian takeaway. As will be explained, this is also the nail of consumption on which the whole tale is bound to hang in my memory.

Of their last two tracks we actually managed to catch, Justhope seemed an appealingly melodic group with some pretty adroit dual-vocal passages and driven guitar licks.

Charming Glaswegian Robin Mckinven was next, and projected a stunningly adept range over a well-chosen set of covers and originals, including an acoustic rendition of Sia's "Chandelier" which hit all the high parts and blew me away. Nevertheless he said afterwards that he felt he didn't quite get it right.

Gunslinger Jake Mcrae was next, with a full outfit behind him, rocking out his Jamie T-esque vibes with quite a special stage presence. Confident and swaggering, "Uptown Funk" played to the tune of "Seven Nation Army" was an unprecedented standout.

I began to feel slightly bloated and leant against the wall. Spiced rum, gin and vegetable korma weren't that bad of a combination, were they?

Halem took to the stage. I stopped talking about my camera being a phallic symbol and leant against the wall again, though without putting it away.

I like this group, and have done since I first saw them. Their studio recordings carrying resemblances to the likes of Purity Ring, Polica and Braids, Halem are in good stylistic company. Go a little darker, a little more experimental, and I'd be talking forever about Portishead, Zero 7, and Lamb.

Their live shows tap the potential of the minimalist electronic setup - the keys, the drum machine, and the words. The holy trinity, if you will. Good things come in threes. This is often true of writing as well.

Halem put on a delicious set which was assured, stylish and went down well with the room. Having only been around for the best part of a year, I am surprised at just how far along they sound.

Tunes are electronically suffused, elegant numbers - hip, meandering variations on the synths balanced with drawn out, crystalline lyrical refrains. Shoegaze might also be a word I'd use, and I'm glad that it's a word in frequent circulation now, a happy tool in the kits of unimaginative hack reviewers inhabiting filthy, masturbating music halls everywhere from Edinburgh to Brighton.

This headline set was a captivating one, and it carried a dark glamour to it which had me wanting more.

However I had to call it a night at about 12, which is entirely unlike me. I felt like I was about to burst as I reclined in Dry Bar down the road.

My plus-one (and ex-girlfriend of 3 years) went down to Deansgate to meet a man who tortures mice for a living. Nauseous, I felt the glass bulge as I leant against the window of the last tram.

At home I then became violently ill, and started to have feverish, hallucinatory dreams about the band. In my imagination they were about to play another set imminently at another venue, but we were all waiting for food to come, and the waiters kept getting our orders wrong. There was a sick and sour sense of urgency about the whole thing which was all a little too real. I shivered in hot and cold flushes, waiting for imaginary meals to arrive that I didn't want, and thinking agitatedly about how nice the singer's hair was.