As I headed into the sold out basement at Jimmy’s for the third edition of Zena’s semi-regular night She, I was struck by how fast this young night was growing.
Zena are a Manchester based events promotion company who focus their energy on promoting women in music. Securing some impressive headliners in the past, namely hip hop songstress Lay Full Stop, I was excited to see the talent gracing the stage this rainy Tuesday.
First on were dream pop 5 piece and BIMM undergrads Sequin Sally. A sneaky peek at the setlist and I’ll admit I was going in a skeptic after seeing song titles like ‘Pretty Girls’. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the originality of the lyrical content, delving into subjects like sexual orientation with radio-ready pop hooks.
The melodies were catchy for the most part but tended to meander a little too much; they would probably a hit for fans of Kate Nash and Zero 7, and there were some tasteful breakdowns à la Jamie XX. The band had a pleasant stage presence and front woman Sally Isaacs seemed genuine in her enthusiasm for a night promoting women; her ‘Support Your Local Girl Gang’ jumper gets a big thumbs up from us.
Next up were Leeds lovelies Loux, who were my personal favourites of the night. It’s worth mentioning that Loux have recently begun promoting their own fast growing night Loux’s Room at Oporto in Leeds. While it’s not strictly a night for women in music, the line-ups are still refreshingly diverse.
Loux strike a great balance between upbeat pop instrumentation and sombre, restrained vocals. Jordan’s voice is just as good live as on record, which is no mean feat when attempting the vocal acrobatics required of her. With a charmingly unassuming stage presence she catches you off guard bursting into diva-esque vocals not unlike those of Beth Ditto. The opening track ‘Lungs’ is, I’m sure, destined for some serious national radio play.
An honourable mention too for guitarist Christopher Milnes whose chunky guitar lines and pedal board wizardry in ‘Met Me Halfway’ provides some serious and well placed sass. All in all, a tight and interesting band.
Headlining the night was Polo. Although their biography may describe them as “Alternative Pop” there’s no two ways about it: their music could easily come on in Tiger Tiger at 1am. And there’s no shame in that, but they might be better off just embracing their obvious Top 40 sound. Some velvety synth sounds seemed inspired by the likes ofalt-j but these were largely unappreciated by the ardent and depressingly young swarm of fans that seemed to materialize from thin air once Polo came on stage.
Polo have stage presence for days. Kat Mchugh owns the stage with the swagger and self assurance of someone much older and doesn’t apologise for her slightly cold-ridden voice. The crowd love it and chant for an encore before they even leave the stage. Polo could well be headed for bigger and better things, and they kept the audience in the palm of their hand the entire time, but honestly they weren’t my cup of tea.
She is a night designed to allow female musicians the time and space to perform that they deserve, but don’t necessarily get elsewhere. However, the biggest testament to this night’s success is that the crowd is just as diverse as one at any other thriving gig night, regardless of the performers’ gender.
Words and images by Ada Empey