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30th May 2023

Neighbourhood Weekender: Pulp, Self Esteem and CMAT triumph!

Neighbourhood Weekender is back in Warrington’s Victoria Park, hosting a legendary set from recently reunited Pulp, and standout sets from CMAT, Picture Parlour, Self Esteem and Sugababes
Neighbourhood Weekender: Pulp, Self Esteem and CMAT triumph!
Photo: SJM Concerts

Neighbourhood Weekender returned to Victoria Park, Warrington with a massive line-up including headline sets from Paul Heaton & Rianne Downey and recently reformed icons Pulp. They headed up a gloriously sunny weekend, which also included performances from the likes of Sugababes, Rachel Chinouriri, CMAT, The Big Moon, The Kooks, and Self Esteem across three stages.


Arriving in the afternoon on Saturday, Scouting for Girls’ ‘Elvis Ain’t Dead’ resounded across the field from the Main Stage. For a band that often find themselves lumped in with the lazy label of indie landfill, Scouting for Girls attracted a sizeable crowd, all keen to sing and dance along under the sun. Predictably, they finished with their signature song ‘She’s So Lovely’ as the cider began to flow and sunscreen applied.


Sugababes followed on the main stage, off the back of a successful tour last year that saw the three-piece group back in their original formation of Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan, and Siobhan Donaghy and the release of their long-awaited The Lost Tapes. The girl group have no shortage of hits, but I couldn’t help but feel some of their early 2000s tunes could be lost on a primarily teenage crowd but I was soon proven wrong. Opening with ‘Freak Like Me’ from their 2002 sophomore Angels with Dirty Faces, Sugababes performed an expertly choreographed set, only to be rivalled by Self Esteem the following evening. ‘Hole in the Head’, ‘Push the Button’, and my personal favourite followed before they closed their vibrant set with ‘Round Round’ – this was not merely a nostalgia trip, a rejuvenated Sugababes clearly enjoy performing with one another.

Photo: Hannah Grae – Sarah Taylor @ The Mancunion

On my way to grab a bite to eat, I stumbled upon pop-punk starlet Hannah Grae on the Viola Beach stage, whose infectious stage presence and Olivia Rodrigo-esque vocals caught my eyes and ears. The 20-year-old Welsh singer and her equally talented band had riffs for days and certainly imbued the festival with the rock atmosphere it had been lacking.


Next up on the Viola Beach stage was Rachel Chinouriri, whose dreamy indie-pop provided the perfect soundtrack to the scorching afternoon. Between songs, Rachel seemed at ease on stage providing personal anecdotes and explaining the stories behind her songs. Her final song, the jubilant ‘All I Ever Asked’ proved a hit with her growing audience, as she encouraged a back and forth with the crowd, asking them to sing its refrain.

Photo: Rachel Chinouriri – Sarah Taylor @ The Mancunion

Second on the bill for the Main Stage were The Kooks, the mid-2000s indie chart-toppers. When frontman Luke Pritchard entered the stage her joked “Don’t worry – we’re not going to play too many new ones!” It’s true that The Kooks’ 2006 debut Inside In/Inside Out remains their most popular record, with hits like ‘Ooh La’, ‘Naive’, and ‘Jackie Big Tits’ soundtracking many a British coming-of-age movie over the years. Whether it’s the rolling drums of ‘Eddie’s Gun’ or the gentle acoustic ‘Seaside’, their tunes still hold up. Finishing on ‘Naive’, Pritchard tells the crowd “Be safe, lairy, and joyful!” before it’s instantly recognisable riff sends the crowd into frenzy. 

Photo: The Kooks – Sarah Taylor @ The Mancunion

The Wombats headlined The Big Top. In a set relying mainly upon their latest record Fix Yourself, Not the World, The Wombats played to a heaving bucket-hatted and mosh pit- ready audience who lapped up old favourites and newer material equally. Highlights included ‘Kill the Director’, ‘Greek Tragedy’, and ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’, with their massive choruses virtually designed for merry festival-goers. 


Arriving on Sunday, the first act on the Main Stage was none other than The Bootleg Beatles, who played a career-spanning hour-long tribute to their namesake. Impressive musicianship, costume changes, and even facial prosthetics helped them (almost) replicate the band. There are few tribute acts that could get a steady crowd moving so early on the final day of a festival but as soon as the jangly opening notes of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ spun through Victoria Park, it marked the beginning of what was to be a glorious day.

Photo: CMAT @ SJM Concerts

At The Big Top, CMAT put on one of the best performances of the weekend. Hobbling onstage in a headscarf and oversized shades, she threw sweets into the crowd and joked about being a “granny” before launching into ‘I Don’t Really Care For You’. Her rapport with both her band and audience was tangible, as she danced a semi-improvised Strictly-esque routine with a bandmate and encouraged an audience-wide side-step during ‘I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!’ in true country fashion. Despite her early 2.40pm performance, she had many fans in the crowd who donned their cowboy hats and boots.


Later The Big Moon lit up The Big Top with their euphoric indie-rock tunes. All incredibly talented musicians, the four-piece recently put on a spectacular show at BBC Radio 6 Music Festival in March, encompassing flute-playing and a local choir into their performance. It would’ve been impossible to incorporate these elements into a succinct festival set, but The Big Moon still manage to put on a show, whittling down their three album discography into pure bangers and ending with an exhilarating rendition of ‘Your Light’.


I was lucky to catch London-based up and comers Picture Parlour on the Viola Beach stage. The band have been generating a buzz with a recent performance at Brixton’s Windmill venue prompting a complimentary Instagram post from queen Courtney Love. Lead singer Katherine Parlour oozes charisma in an open collar yellow shirt and two-tone hair. Her vocals lie somewhere between the croon of Alex Turner and the growl of PJ Harvey. Swashbuckling set-closer ‘Moon Tonic’ with its soaring riffs courtesy of Ella Risi allow the band to end things on a high. Picture Parlour don’t even have a streamable release out yet, but with the reputation they’ve cultivated for their live shows so far, they won’t be playing to small crowds for much longer!

Photo: Picture Parlour @ SJM Concerts

Rotherham’s finest, Rebecca Lucy Taylor aka Self Esteem played the Main Stage in the evening. Her Mercury-nominated Prioritise Pleasure and recent live show ‘I Tour This All the Time’ have cemented the singer as one of the UK’s great pop innovators. Self Esteem ascends from a staircase in the middle of her stage to the anthemic ‘Prioritise Pleasure’, which transitions into ‘Fucking Wizardry’. ‘Mother’ and ‘You Forever’ get the audience dancing with their insatiable hooks and seamless choreography, embodying the joyful festival atmosphere. Self Esteem is a natural performer – she smears lipstick around her face, and at the end of the empowering ‘I’m Fine’, she and her backing dancers snarl and bark like dogs because “there is nothing that terrifies a man more than a woman that appears completely deranged.” The tear-inducing ‘I Do This All the Time’, a confessional and motivational spoken-word piece brings Self Esteem’s performance to a close as anticipation builds for fellow Sheffielders and Sunday headliners Pulp.


Soon came the moment everyone had been waiting for. The flourish of red velvet curtains and a projection reading ‘This is what we do for an encore’ indicated the countdown to Pulp had begun. An equally self-indulgent and self-aware projection on the screens either side of the stage bore messages like ‘An encore happens when the audience want more’, ‘This is real’, and ‘This is a night you will remember for the rest of your life.’


Pulp begin their set with a trilogy of tracks from their Mercury Prize-winning Different Class (1996): the sleazy and sinister ‘I Spy’, the floor-filling ‘Disco 2000’, and the forlorn ‘Something Changed’, the latter of which is dedicated to the late, great Steve Mackey, long-time member and bassist of Pulp who died earlier this year. Jarvis Cocker is as lean and lithe as ever, throwing shapes, twisting his hips and jumping down the staircase that sits in the centre of the stage. In his trademark thick rimmed glasses and a brown velvet suit, he transports the audience back to 1996.

Photo: Pulp @ SJM Concerts

Before ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ Cocker acknowledges that Victoria Park was also the location of V96, the festival headlined and organised by the band that later became the now defunct V Fest. Pulp perform in a slightly altered line-up: keyboardist Candida Doyle, drummer Nick Banks, and guitarist Mark Webber are present, but additional instrumentation comes from Andrew McKinney on bass, Emma Smith on guitar and violin, and Adam Betts on percussion, all members of Cocker’s eclectic side-project JARV IS…


The set is heavy on tracks from Different Class but the criminally underrated ‘Pink Glove’ and ‘Like a Friend’ get some well-deserved airtime, with the former containing one of the most momentous bridges and the latter being a masterclass in Cocker’s often heartfelt songwriting. The undeniable naughtiness of a song like ‘Babies’ contrasted with the pomp and splendour of ‘This is Hardcore’, preceded by a stunning string prelude (‘End of the Line Remix’) is testament to Pulp’s artistry. The band endured a slow rise to success from their 1983 debut It to their 1994 breakthrough His n Hers, and their cynical and sexually charged magnum opus This is Hardcore in 1998. They are the underdogs, which is why their reunion tour feels even more rewarding.


‘Like a Friend’ begins the encore, with a solo Jarvis singing its opening bars before the change of pace, flourish of the curtains and reintroduction of the band. It is followed by the stripped-back standout ‘Underwear’ and of course the legendary ‘Common People’ – there really is no better feeling than singing along to Pulp with 20,000 people standing in a field.

Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor

Head Music Editor @ The Mancunion. Freelance Music and Culture Writer @ DIY, The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, etc. Alt-rock connoisseur and Britpop aficionado. Twitter: @tayl0rsarah LinkedIn:

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