• Charlotte Hardman

Neck Deep Hit HMV Manchester

Whenever the proportion of those sporting dyed hair, piercings and band t-shirts floating around Manchester city centre noticeably increases, it is a sure sign that something big is happening in our dreary northern city. If you happened to follow this procession on the afternoon of August the 22nd , you would have ended up at the HMV store in the Arndale shopping centre, and the reason for this increased alternative youth presence would have at once become clear. Wrexham based pop punkers Neck Deep were in town (as evidenced by the rail of their t-shirts, posters promoting their latest album and the faint humming of said album playing over the shop’s speakers as you approached).

The initial response to the album had been largely very positive indeed, however there had been some dissonant comments floating around online about the band’s apparent move towards a more poppy sound rather than the heavier, grittier punk based sound of their early days. However, if people were truly irked by this shift in sound, there was very little evidence of it around that afternoon.

The set was short but spine-tinglingly beautiful. Beginning with an acoustic version of the opener from ‘The Peace and the Panic’, ‘Motion Sickness’, Neck Deep proved that their upbeat pop punk spirit wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The absence of a full band made no difference to the bouncy, uplifting nature of the song, which is testament to the talent of both guitarists to maintain the tone and infectiously bouncy rhythms that are supplied on the record by the fullness of the bass and swooping hooks of the guitars. The atmosphere was buoyed by the crowd, who sang every word with a bubbling energy, smiles tugging at the corner of everyone’s mouths without conscious thought as they shouted gleefully ‘Better jump, better run, better go. Better jump, RUN!’ Following ‘Motion Sickness’ was the track that Ben christened as the band’s ‘halfway single’ that had debuted barely a week earlier, ‘In Bloom’, which highlighted beyond doubt Ben Barlow’s true calibre as a vocalist, as he hit every soaring high note to the delight of the singing, swaying crowd. The song that had divided fans online brought them together in person, as the voices of the crowd rose to meet Ben’s with the melodic upswing into the final chorus. Nothing could have prepared either myself nor the band for the feverish excitement that bubbled up from the audience as Ben began to introduce the penultimate song of the set, the band’s biggest single which saw them break out of the underground and into the spotlight of not just the UK pop punk scene, but the world stage of alternative music- ‘Gold Steps’. Praised by Ben as ‘probably the most tattooed Neck Deep song’, the achingly familiar chorus that speaks of overcoming your struggles and rising above the demons that try to drag you down which are etched into the minds of pop punk fans the world over was given a softer touch when overlaid with the raw, stripped back acoustic guitar, which gave rise to the surprisingly tuneful chorus of voices that filled the store, in a poignant moment that moved many people around me to the point of tears!

Neck Deep rounded out this most intimate of live sessions with one of the duo of singles which was released along with the announcement of this new record, and a personal favourite, ‘Where Do We Go When We Go’, a landmark track in the journey of this band, who have become a staple of the pop punk scene over the past couple of years, as they write their way towards maturity and develop as artists as well as people. ‘Where Do We Go When We Go’, which was the working title for the album in its infancy, was fuelled by the combined experiences of both frontman Ben and bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans, who both tragically lost their fathers while the band were on tour, and its lyrics pose the question of what happens after we leave this life, if anything, and demonstrates the growing emotional maturity of Neck Deep as a whole as they move into this new era of the band’s history.

So for anyone still saying Neck Deep have ‘gone soft’ with this new record, let me tell you that those who shared in this intimate experience can strongly attest to the contrary. They are still the same old Neck Deep at heart, but they have been moulded and shaped by the experiences they have shared as a quintet as well as those they have experienced alone over the past few years since their furious upward trajectory towards stardom began. This record contains the very heart and soul of Neck Deep, as they begin to truly explore larger questions beyond simply what lies outside of your deadbeat hometown. Because when any van or floor can become your bed, when any country welcomes you with open arms and the world itself becomes your home, surely the natural question to be asking is- where next?