Declan McKenna has taken the indie world by storm recently. After just returning from 2 months touring America, we caught up with him on his biggest tour to date, playing a sold-out show at Manchester Academy. 

whenyoung, who have recently supported the likes of The Vaccines and Dream Wife, opened the night. The Irish trio certainly aren’t new to Manchester, with playing a support slot for Dream Wife only two weeks ago, they will be back again in a few weeks for a headline gig in the city. They won over the crowd with their dream-pop songs and dress up fashion attire. 

I must admit whenyoung very much feel like one of those bands who sound way better live, although they are produced by ex-Maccabee’s member Felix White’s YALA! Records (who is a favourite of mine!) The guitar and drums are somewhat underpowered on the records, but live they sound like a whole different band. With her poise and general aura, singer Aoife Power makes a great front woman, and bassist. Watch out for whenyoung because they are onto something big and it won’t be long before they are playing their own shows in venues this big. 

Next up were Superfood, a band whose style has noticeably changed in recent years. I last saw Superfood about three years ago in a tiny venue and wow! how much they have grown as a band since then. Admittedly I hadn’t listened to their new stuff much prior to the gig, but since seeing them again their songs haven’t been out of my head. Feeling slightly confused as to whether they have lost members along the way, and where this new style and stroke of confidence has come from, it has to be said that they were real crowd pleasers and sounded massive. 

Crowds were now compact and pressed up against the barriers as the venue was filling. Young fans were singing back the lyrics, whilst giving off chants of “Superfood, Superfooood”, before the band ended on their self-titled track ‘Superfood’. Everyone was having fun, Superfood set up the energy perfectly ahead of Declan McKenna, but the fun had only just begun! 

The Academy, which is the biggest of four academy venues in the city located just seconds apart, was now flooded with excited fans. After each 80’s singalong tune that was played in between bands, the fans screamed in anticipation that Declan McKenna was about to take stage. After what felt like a long time, the wait was over and the whole band came bounding on to huge screams of excitement. 

It’s not hard to believe that Declan McKenna is still a teenager, his fun stage presence and energy is the evidence, but when it comes to talent anybody would be shocked to hear his age. His songs provide well thought out lyrics, often about topics like politics, sexism, homophobia and social issues. Talent is obviously something that comes naturally to Declan, he was first discovered aged 16 where he won a competition to perform at Glastonbury, since then it’s been an unstoppable journey for the singer songwriter. Releasing his debut album last year, Declan McKenna’s indie pop songs are a massive hit with the younger crowd, but could they also help to educate and inspire a generation? I think so. 

This gig was very much a partition of young’uns to the front and adults at the back, I immersed myself somewhere in the middle to experience it from both sides of the audience. After opening with new single ‘Make Me Your Queen’ and letting off confetti canons, everyone in the room was fired up and ready for the gig. The second song was ‘Brazil’, which is one of the first singles Declan released, and still a fan favourite. He was prepared wearing a “knock off Brazil shirt from JD or something” as he put it, but I thought it was a great incentive. The t-shirt, which was worn at his first Glastonbury Festival appearance came accompanied with black jeans, odd socks and doc martens with blue glitter on his face. Although not evident in the lyrics, it’s said that ‘Brazil’ is a response to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which was held in Brazil. Declan saw issues within the corruption surrounding hosting the World Cup in Brazil, as it destroyed local communities, an incredibly brave and mature song for anyone at the start of their career, let alone someone as young as McKenna. 

As album tracks were played, the fans were still as energetic replicating Declan’s energy on stage. Swapping between guitars regularly, his yellow glittery guitar made an appearance whilst constantly jumping around with it. ‘Why Do You Feel So Down?’ and ‘Paracetamol’ were played back to back like the album track listing. This saw the crowd sitting on each other’s shoulders, (a quick headcount of 34!) with everyone singing back the lyrics. The song was extended, and everyone went wild with applause once it was over. 

Playing a reinvented quick version of old song ‘Basic’ it wasn’t long after it started when Declan stopped the song to react to something happening in the crowd. “Woah, don’t fight – I don’t care what it’s over, you don’t come to my gig to fight, you come to my gig to dance and if you don’t want to then get fucking out” Well said Dec! The song starts up perfectly again with the crowd going even more wild than before. “Sorry that song’s usually over in two minutes!”. 

Humongous’ is played before another fan favourite ‘Isombard’, which is widely known for being featured on the FIFA 17 soundtrack. Much to the irony of Declan slagging off FIFA in his song ‘Brazil’. It’s a big thing for ‘unknown’ bands or artists to make it onto the FIFA soundtrack, so it’s something you can’t turn down really regardless of the current state of the organisation and their morals… 

Anyway, back to the gig! “Well if you can’t walk then ruuuuun” is being sung by pretty much everyone in the room. Throughout the gig Declan was engaging with his band, playing next to each of them proving they all have great relationships with one another. He eventually took the time to introduce the other four members of the band, whilst allowing them the time to do quick solos. An epic light show finally ends, Declan McKenna and the band depart the stage and people start to leave. 

But of course, that’s not it! Coming back onstage after a quick break, Dec said “we couldn’t leave you like that”, and rightly so. They used the time to play a new song, which had a more mature sound than the debut album. A long pause in anticipation, before going into ‘Listen To Your Friends’. The song starts off slow, but when the drum comes in the singalongs and shoulder sitting starts. The song ends on a nice reminder and poetic message that the world is truly a mess. The crowd were eagerly repeating the words back to the stage and it was quite a beautiful thing to see, so many young people talking passionately about everyday issues. This was also the last song, so I will leave you with this: 

“Look online
Do ten minutes of research and in turn find
The problem is poor kids who want holidays in term time
The problem is poor kids who can’t afford the train fare
So we up the train fare and charge them for not paying the train fare
The problem is welfare
And the problem is free healthcare
‘Cause it’s unfair and if it’s gone it’s welfare
The problem is drugs
The problem is free love and free hugs
So stay in fear
Do some drugs and stay here
Well I said go on then!
But God bless the weatherman
Who has gone out of business since the psychoactive substance ban
The gateway has sent him back
From bulk-buying NOS to selling crack
The problem rose and a rich man suggested it
Over his lunchtime snack
So we ban the produce and it’s a bit of a nuisance really” 

At just nineteen years old, Declan McKenna doesn’t need to prove it to anyone that he’s in this for the long hall, he sure has the energy, confidence and talent to succeed. He knows what he’s doing, and what he’s doing is really important. His songs portray subtle messages, which I hope can help to inspire a generation who otherwise are not listened to. 

Words and photography by Abbie Jennings for When The Horn Blows

Article can be read in full HERE

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