The band Maruja at The White Hotel Salford
Credit: Julia Mason

LIVE: Maruja / Mount Palomar – The White Hotel, Salford, 12 and 13/04/2024

When the artist, the venue, the crowd and the location align, it creates an extraordinary experience.  Manchester’s jazz punks Maruja had already had quite a week before their two sold out shows at The White Hotel in Salford.  A Live Session for Deb Grant and Tom Ravenscroft of BBC Radio6Music from Madia Vale studios was followed by a sold out night at Underworld in Camden. By all accounts that was a raucous gig, with a couple of gig goers even turning up wearing the distinctive black eye make-up the band now wear. Imitation is indeed the best form of flattery.

And so to The White Hotel in Salford, a 15 minute walk from Manchester’s city centre. From outside the venue is difficult to see, located at the end of a dead end street it looks like a couple of garages. But step inside and you are transported into another world. This quirky venue with its sunken bar, unique toilets and intimate space provides a special atmosphere.  The White Hotel is the very epitome of independent music venues and we need to treasure these spaces such is the joy of the shared experiences they create.

The support for these three shows (including London) was Mount Palomar the DJ and producer from Belfast who collaborated with Maruja’s lead singer Harry Wilkinson on recent release ‘Embers’.  Mount Palomar played for an hour but throughout his set brought on various members of Maruja to join him.  What a superb idea and the crowd fully appreciated the collaborations, although hilariously time-keeping seemed to be issue as he had to shout a number of times to get the allocated musician onstage! It provided a thoroughly entertaining warm-up helping to build the anticipation for Maruja.

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Credit: Julia Mason

And so to Maruja, a band on the rise.  Their music captures one’s soul but nonetheless with a punk aesthetic.  DIY for now, but not for much longer I suspect.  The combination of Harry Wilkinson (lead vocals and guitar), Joe Carroll (alto saxophone and vocals), Matt Buonaccorsi (bass) and Jacob Hayes (drums) appears to hypnotise the crowd.  On the second night the crowd-surfing was endless, the atmosphere electrifying.  Joe only had to briefly motion the crowd to part and they immediately responded creating mosh pit after mosh pit.  Little encouragement was required.  Maruja’s music exudes both the calm and the storm, their songs created out of improvisations and it is exhilarating to see the crowd respond to the quiet as well as the loud.  With just one EP released to date, 2023’s Knocknarea, so many knew their songs. Wave after wave of momentum formed in the mosh pit, a heavy ball of motion. At times at one with the band, at times their own separate entity.  The set included ‘Thunder’ and ‘Kakistocracy’ from the first EP, as well are more recent tracks, the ferocious ‘Zeitgeist’, ‘One Hand Behind the Devil’ and current single ‘Invisible Man’. The shout of “Are We Ready Manny?” was hardly necessary – of course we were.  There was a particularly emotional moment when Harry took a moment to voice their support of Palestine, as they have done repeatedly at any opportunity.  However, on the second night, with the Palestinian flag flying in the background, he did not have the chance to finish as the crowd drowned him out with chants of “Free Free Palestine.” 

Credit: Julia Mason

After the chaos and carnage of the gig, Maruja chose to close the set with an instrumental from the new EP Connla’s Well out on Friday 26 April.  ‘Resisting Resistance’ is a quiet track and a crowd that had been whipped into a frenzy just moments earlier stood in silence as if hypnotized.  You could have heard a pin drop. The contrast was breath-taking and demonstrates the control this band has over its crowd as a result of their music.

I saw friends standing with their arms around each other towards the end.  I spoke to an 18 year old who was there with his brother and got the setlist.  He had been waiting to see them for a while now but had been too young.  There was a couple who flew from Belfast for the gig, not realising Mount Palomar was playing and were delighted. Another couple who had seen Maruja at Manchester Psych Fest and were impacted for days afterwards.  And the fan from Amsterdam who planned a holiday around in the UK around this gig.

Maruja continue their UK tour this week and their second EP Connla’s Well is released on 26 April.

For more information please check their facebook and instagram.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.