A mention of the name Afflecks Palace and people in the North usually think of Manchester’s eclectic and much-loved hub of counterculture, not a DIY four-piece band.
But the city harbours a second Afflecks Palace, a group of the same name whose debut album, What Do You Mean It’s Not Raining?, shot into the charts in October, receiving just shy of one million streams on launch day and deemed “one of the albums of the year” by journalist John Robb.
Hailed the ‘Nu Madchester’, Afflecks Palace radiate the baggydelia Stone Roses buzz of the early 1990s, with kaleidoscopic, optimistic guitars juxtaposed with downbeat lyrical content.
I’ve kept in contact with the band since February 2020 when I attended their inaugural gig at Manchester’s Band on The Wall on a rainy Wednesday evening. Despite only having released one EP at the time, the show was a sell-out, much to the surprise of frontman, singer and producer, J Fender.
He says: “For that show, I actually booked the venue and when I did, it felt like a stadium. But on the night, there were people travelling from all over the country to see us. Realistically, I couldn’t enjoy it because I was spinning so many plates. I didn’t enjoy it until halfway through the set until we played Smiles and I could hear the crowd singing through the song. I actually thought there was a latency in the monitors and then I realised, that’s the crowd singing.”
Since their “organic formation” from a jamming session between Fender and guitarist Dan Stapleton, the four-piece (completed by friends-of-friends, Pete Darling and Pete Redshaw) have kept in close contact with their growing fan base via their WhatsApp fan groups.
“What we try to do is encourage our fans to all listen to the same song/EP at the same time,” says Fender. “These streaming platforms will pick up on the huge spike in streams and will begin putting us on playlists.”
Since then, Afflecks Palace have played a sell-out show at Manchester’s Gorilla as part of their debut tour.
A jack of all trades, Fender co-writes and produces Afflecks’ music, alongside Pastel and Ava Carlyle, through his own record label Spirit of Spike Island.
“The record label side of things was to facilitate the release of our records,” explains Fender. “No one else wanted to put them out, so we needed a conduit to be able to take our music to market.
“A lot of people think it’s just a Stone Roses reference and, yeah, it is, but it’s more about the sentiment of that era. It’s a reference to a moment in time that was encapsulated by people not caring about what others thought and we wanted to take that ethos and blend it into our label.”
The Spirit of Spike Island enabled the release of the band’s debut album back in mid-October, receiving positive press from fanzines, music journalists, and coverage on the likes of Radio 6 and Radio X.
“I felt that it was a really strong album,” Fender says. “I still think it will be the best album released this year, best debut album released this year especially. It’s still overwhelming to receive praise from the press and people who listen to music, and first and foremost, our fans, they’ve got a good ear.”
He continues: “At some point, the mainstream press will catch up with what we’re doing. There’s a lot of really good music ready to come out, give it 18 months and I think we’ll see a change in the way people receive our music.”
Speaking to Northern Soul, music journalist John Robb says: “In a sense, Afflecks Palace should not work at all as they are so immersed in the 1989 Madchester glory days, which is fine and fun, but they have transcended this with an unexpected songwriting talent and timeless brilliant songs and melodies cut through era and time.
“In short, if you have that special factor X skill and irrepressible energy of the now then you will make sense in any pop period and sound startlingly fresh.”
With 2022 set to see Afflecks Palace grace the iconic Glasgow venue King Tut’s, and begin the festival circuit at the Bearded Theory Festival, it seems that the psychedelic and colourful aura that encapsulated ‘Madchester’ is alive and kicking some 30 years on.