In some ways the timing couldn't have been worse.

It was February last year, just weeks before the pandemic hit, that up-and-coming Manchester band Affleck's Palace played their first proper gig at a sold-out Band on the Wall.

Yet, in other ways, the timing was perfect.

The months since could well prove to have been the making of the band, who are taking the local music scene by storm but whose lead singer was, just a couple of years ago, driving tower cranes on building sites.

The four-piece, who have been dubbed as 'Nu Madchester' and who claim to be channeling the 'spirit of Spike Island', have seen their popularity and the buzz around them grow during a long year of lockdowns.

They have had thousands of online streams each month, and vinyl copies of their two EPs have sold out, as have tickets for a nationwide tour planned for this Autumn, whilst major radio stations have begun spinning their tracks ahead of the release of their debut album.


And, they say they are now proudly flying the flag for the city's music heritage as they look to make their big breakthrough.

The group say this has all been done 'organically' and 'from the ground up' without big industry support.

In fact the formation of the band itself was just as organic, coming about following a jamming session between frontman, singer, co-songwriter and producer James Fender (his real name, not a stage name) and guitarist Dan Stapleton.

"We'd been playing in cover bands for years really, just dossing around. It was for fun really" James, known as J, tells the Manchester Evening News .

We met through friends, friends of friends, and at gigs. And to be honest we never had any aspirations to form an original band.

"The guitarist and I were just jamming for a laugh.

"He played me the riff to one of our songs, Forever Young, and I said it was exceptional and I really wanted to write a song around it.

"His partner was pregnant and I thought it would be amazing if he could have a tune to play to his daughter in later life and say 'I wrote that.'

"So I went away and wrote the rest of the tune around his riff.

"We put it out on my label and didn't have any ambition to go beyond that, but when we did there was a massive reaction.

J at the band's first gig at Band on the Wall last February

"We didn't have any radio people on board, didn't have PR people on board, but we put it out and we had people from all over the world getting in touch saying they loved it.

"Which was quite overwhelming really. So we felt compelled to do more."

Bassist Pete Darling and drummer Pete Redshaw were recruited and they recorded three more songs written by J and Dan.

Forever Young was released in September 2019 on music producer J's own label, Spirit of Spike Island - which started out life as an online clothing store selling Madchester era t-shirts - before he branched it out to help get Affleck's Palace off the ground.

A run of 300 vinyls for their first EP, Hello. Is Anyone Awake?, released in January last year, sold out within a week.

They also sold out Band on the Wall on a Tuesday night in February for their first proper gig together with again people traveling from across the country.

"That was our first gig and already people were singing the words back at us" said J, who was born in Leeds but has lived in Manchester for many years and is now every inch a Mancunian, along with his bandmates.

Since then they have had radio play on Radio 1 and BBC6 Music.

They have also recorded their debut album, titled What Do You Mean It's Not Raining, after securing PRS Music Foundation funding, which is due to be released late this summer.

The first single from it, This City is Burning Alive, was released in May this year.

And, Covid-permitting, they are due to hit the road for a UK tour this Autumn with several dates with support from label mates and fellow Manc band Pastel, including London, Birmingham, Glasgow, with a big hometown show at Gorilla in Manchester already sold out.

They also have a show at Manchester Academy 2, which will be their biggest to date, pencilled in for Saturday, January 14 next year.

"This is a complete reversal of how I thought the industry worked," says J.

"Afflecks Palace started out without any support, from the press, without support from radio - it was a grassroots, organic, engagement of people desperate for good guitar music that was a bit brave and it was quite overwhelming to see how people were digesting what we were putting out, and wanting more."

It was quite a step-change for J, who just a few years ago was working on building sites.

After a stint studying music production at Manchester University whilst living in south Manchester, he ended up taking a job driving tower cranes.

He took his licence in Norfolk before working for a Sheffield-based company at sites across the country.

However, he says it left him desperately bored and made him even more determined to follow his dream of working in music.

"I've always been into music, I just didn't at first have the opportunity to do music full time.

"I would be doing music at the weekend but then I would be up the crane pulling levers Monday to Friday.

"That was alright, I didn't mind being up there. I would be up from 7 till 7.

"Sometimes it's super busy depending on what part of the job you're doing, if it's the start when all the materials are coming in it's super busy.

"But if it's the end you're just f*****g sat there.

"I ended up trying to learn Portuguese whilst I was up there because I was so f*****g bored.

Leo Stanley
Leo Stanley who ran the Identity shop in Affleck's Palace which inspired the band's name

"But then the music thing took over and I started doing some producing, session work as guitarist stuff like that.

"The Afflecks Palace is now getting to the point where it could be a provider of income for us all to do it full time, which would be amazing."

Of course, the first thing that jumps out about the band is the name – formerly the name of the alternative indoor market on Oldham Street in the Northern Quarter, whose entrance is adorned with music posters and has for decades been an alternative mecca.


It's that ethos that inspired the choice of name, J says

"We're really into the Stone Roses and the music of that era.

"I feel it was one of the last influential, cultural, counter-culture moments, where British music had a real sea change.

Affleck's Palace pictured in 1985 when it was threatened with closure

"We really like the fashion of that era. It was stylised but it wasn't too contrived.

"It was more about having fun with your friends.

"There was a shop run by Leo Stanley, he used to run a shop called Identity in Afflecks Palace.

"And he basically kitted everyone out from the Madchester area. He was the one providing flares and baggy clothes for everyone.

"And I just thought it was such an integral part of that moment in time.

"It has almost been forgotten how important the style was, and I just thought it would be really nice to have Afflecks Palace as the band name because not only does it sound cool and resonates with people from the area, its a nod to the huge role it played in developing that British counter-cultural moment.

"It was just a hive of activity and I think it takes people back to a halcyon time."

The attempt to re-connect with what is now seen as a golden era for the city's music and cultural influence seems to have struck a chord with fans.

The local music Facebook page Manchester Lemon has described them as 'the birth of Nu Madchester,' whilst esteemed local music writer, and Stone Roses biographer, John Robb said with their own brand of 'dreamy northern psychedelia' they had 'revisited classic Manc baggydelia for the 21st century.'

He also predicted they 'could well be shifting 40 000 tickets for Heaton park within 12 months.'

However, J says they are anything but a tribute band.

He describes the band's sound as indie guitar music that takes inspiration from The Smiths and Factory Records band The Durutti Column as well as The Stone Roses. But he also says there are elements of hardcore and post-hardcore.

"It's got more of an edge or aggression to it I think" J says, "And I think people will see that when the album comes out."

Harking back to Madchester has been as quite cliche and un-cool by some in the city's music scene, who say we now need to look forward.

However, J saYS he believes taking influence from some of the great bands the city has produced is nothing to be sniffed at.

"I think there's always going to be snipers, whatever you do" he said.

"You can do something completely original and people won't get it.

"They'll say 'that's s**t, that's just noise is that.

"Then you can take a flavour and influences and make them your own and people say 'oh that just sounds like X, Y and Z.

"So I think you've got to have thick skin when you're putting music out.

"The only reason you should be doing music for is your own self-fulfilment, but Joe Bloggs on the street saying 'you've ripped this' means nothing to me really.

"You'll never please all of the people all of the time.

"So I am prepared for people to say 'oh he wears a bucket hat' or 'he's taken influence from this or that' but that's life and you've got to say I'm not really doing it for you, I'm doing it for my own cathartic reasons.

"Ultimately, people need to appreciate how fortunate Manchester is to have such an incredible musical heritage.

"There's no other city in the world with a heritage like that.

"It's something Manchester should be proud of, and if bands take influence from that then so be it.

"And, if people don't like it, no ones holding a gun to your head, don't listen to it and go and listen to a Stone Roses record."

However, J says he believes the band has so far had 'very few haters' and that their growing fanbase is proof there is an appetite for music inspired by that era.

"What we're doing is exciting and unique.

"There are newish indie bands right now who are mediocre. Their songs do nothing for me.

"I think that's why there's a massive lull in guitar music right now.

"And I think there is the appetite for a great guitar band to come through and re-set the balance."