Stephen Fretwell / The Stands - Band On The Wall - 19.3.03

When it comes to incestuous back slapping Manchester has always been up there with Camden and barely a week goes by without another "best band of the year" being hyped up before they implode a week later. With Stephen Fretwell it's completely different. Tonight in one of his rare shows with a full band the journo's and liggers are refused entry after nonchalantly turning up 5 minutes before the gig is due to start, while a sold out crowd of paying punters are waiting with baited breath to see the new messiah.

But before the main event it's the turn of the scouse band The Stands. Being hotly tipped to be the latest signing to Noel Gallaghers Sour Mash label could turn out to be a blessing or a curse after the Proud Mary fiasco, but there's something charming about the band that should see them through. It's the usual suspects of the Beatles and the Byrds that they've digested over the years, but they do so with style and panache and with a true understanding of the intricacies of each band that many of the Britpop bands simply didn't understand. "She Speaks Of All These Things" and "The Way She Does" just build from nugget melodies with the twin harmonies of Howie Payne and Luke Thompson. They're not going to be to everyone's tastes, but these guys are gonna be unavoidable in 12 months time.

Stephen Fretwell has previously been compared to everyone from Coldplay and David Gray, although don't let the latter put you off too much. It's hard to place Fretwell because his arrival was so unexpected, the burning embers of the Nu-Acoustic scene were just dying out and yet Fretwell is straddled between the traditions of singer songwriting with the pop sensibilities of countless chart topping bands. There's an immediate connection from the moment you hear a song such as "Emilie", in fact you can put your money on the fact that at least 50% of tonight's audience bought tickets after hearing that very song and the other 50% have followed his residency at the Roadhouse and then the Night & Day. With countless deals offered since last years ITC, Fretwell is still waiting for the right deal to come along and with his "8 Songs" EP selling out by word of mouth alone he's in an enviable position. Airing a selection of new songs tonight it takes time to adjust to the band set-up, but there's songs here to break the hardest of hearts and even the fact that he fails to play "New York" before we leave the venue can't dampen our enthusiasm.

Proving that the North always produces the greatest bands it can only be matter of time before Stephen Fretwell (Manchester via Scunthorpe) and Liverpool band The Stands are demanding frontcovers and playing to the the masses.

Alex McCann

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