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Weekend Intermission – Live – MF Tomlinson (supporting Torres) at the Pink Room, Yes, Manchester, 12th February

Weekend Intermission is our regular feature where we look at an artist or band not from the Nordic countries, just to mix things up a bit. We’ve shifted it into midweek this time to cover a gig in Manchester by the UK domiciled Aussie M F Tomlinson, supporting the US’ own Southern Belle, Torres.

MF Tomlinson

It isn’t often you get to meet the artist at all these days, and even less so even before the gig starts.

There was a technical issue with my ticket but just like that MF Tomlinson appeared like Superman out of nowhere to sort it out. He’d just driven up from London, a six-hour journey, and was still carrying his gear. I’m surprised he made it that quickly given the state of Britain’s motorways and their 50mph limits for road works that don’t seem to exist.

I don’t know how you can make a knackering journey like that and then appear onstage 15 minutes later as if you’ve just come out of a Thai massage.

MF, a product of Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the laid back lifestyle I imagine goes with it, is a charming type and he easily transfers that charm on stage. His singing voice is quite different to his conversational one and can vary between high tenor and bass; it’s very effective and sets him aside immediately from many other male singer-songwriters.

He is, like Torres, the artist he was supporting (and a wise choice on her part I would say, having seen some hopelessly lopsided support artists recently), something of a natural story teller; in his case a chronicler of the humdrum and the absurd and how they often exist in tandem.

He holds an audience easily, with the élan of a seasoned stand-up comedian and knows when and how to deliver the humorous aside without it dying on him. “My father told me that you can tune a piano but you can’t tuna fish.”

And he mixes styles wonderfully. There is never a dull moment as he acts out his various roles with exaggerated facial expressions and physical movements without ever pushing that particular envelope too far and making a parody of himself.

His songs, some of them Stars & Stripes-washed with an Aussie version of Americana, suit the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar but he uses an electric one instead, which confirms a more down to earth approach to his songwriting while his deft use of numerous pedals channeled through that guitar permit him to replicate the string sections on his recorded songs.

The range of songs in his short set was impressive, varying between the disarming nature of the desolate, guitar-plucking, brass and woodwind backed (on the album) ballad ‘Winter time blues’ with its unexpected hard rock guitar extended bridge,to the “end of the world song” as he put it, ‘End of the road’, one that could have ensured that Ralph McTell wasn’t a one hit wonder, to an abridged version of the powerful album title track, ‘We are still wild horses’, which runs to 21 minutes in the recorded version; a mini symphony.

I’ll make a couple of predictions about Mr Tomlinson.

  • He’ll be back here soon, and he won’t be supporting anyone else
  • Add a band and he will be dynamite live.

There’s big future ahead of him. And I don’t mean surfing.


It’s five years at least since I last saw Torres, at the Soup Kitchen. (If you don’t know Manchester she was playing there, not waiting in line for a charity meal). After that experience she must have thought she was performing in a pristine pink heaven, here tonight.

On that previous occasion she was pushing her third album, ‘Three Futures’ and I’ll never forget the rendition of ‘Concrete Ganesha’ which brought the show to a conclusion. It is one of the finest performances, if not the finest, I’ve ever seen in a small venue. And it’s still her best song.

This time she is promoting her sixth album ‘What an enormous room’, released only a week or so ago. I can’t remember her being particularly chatty at SK, or just plain ‘Soup’ as it is now known. She might simply have been worrying if she could get out before it fell down on her head or burst into flames.

Back with a different band, mainly female as is increasingly the way it is, this time Mackenzie Scott was super chatty. The reason for it is clear and she was more than happy to share it with us. That reason is lurve.

Since her last visit she’s identified, chased, nailed and married the lady who became her wife and she wants the world to know about it. And the world, at least that part of it in the venue tonight, was super happy for her. It was quite a touching moment actually. That relationship seems to have shaped many of her songs on the new album.

She shared with us that ‘What an enormous room’ is about the mind and how to use it, and one of her new songs was more psychy in nature than I’d usually associate with her; it could have been the Polyphonic Spree up there at once stage.

Her chattiness was as much a part of the show as the music. She is an inveterate story teller when she gets going, even more so than MF Tomlinson, and some stories were longer than the songs she was introducing.

She regaled us with one about being brought up by her adoptive parents as a Baptist, and how she couldn’t have become a nun as once intended because she realised there were no lesbian nuns. (Perhaps things are different now). Another explained the song ‘Three Futures’ and the choices she faced in her personal life while new song ‘I got the fear’ concerns ridding herself of depression so that anxiety could take hold instead.

She tells these stories in a refreshingly disarming way. I wish more artists would follow her lead and a writing collaboration with MF Tomlinson might benefit both of them.

I had to leave early and caught a little more than half the 15-song set but I did manage to hear ‘Don’t go puttin’ wishes in my head’, one of her more poppy songs with strong melodies and one that the audience had been anticipating too, judging from their reaction.

Mackenzie and her band performed it, and everything else I heard, with the panache we’ve come to expect of her and with all of her attendant restrained theatricality but on the night I thought they’d got the sound mix wrong.

Perhaps Yes has a new sound system since I was last there but her vocal in particular was too loud and when she reached the high and explosive notes it was like a dentist’s high speed drill wielded by Swans or My Bloody Valentine. In the case of ‘Don’t go puttin’…those lovely melodies were sucked into a vortex of noise.  

None of this of course detracts from her justifiable status as a top indie rock performer and I was a little surprised at the meagerness of the crowd. It isn’t as if she is an infrequent visitor to Manc-hattan. It was a freezing cold Monday night, one for staying in around the telly, but the remedy was here, awash with pink.

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