Interview: Gathering of Strangers

With the band forming when they were, essentially, strangers, the inception of Gathering of Strangers seems as though it was meant to happen. “We all moved to Manchester for uni about three years ago,” Conor Rabone explains, “and we got put into a band. We had to play a song, and after playing that we were like ‘this is kind of cool, why stop here?’ So we just tried to carry on.”

Since then there’s been no looking back, and with a career in music being the individual goal of all of the members anyway – meeting at BIMM – there’s a strong determination in Gathering of Strangers to succeed.

Having just stepped out of uni, however, into the unstable world of the music industry, you wouldn’t blame Gathering of Strangers for fearing the real world; the inevitable struggle of juggling day jobs with band commitments. They’re confident, though. “It’s never been a problem,” Tom Wingate clarifies. “When we were at uni, that was the second focus for us, after the band. We have our own rehearsal room space, so we never struggle to find a place and now that we’re all finished I think we’re all on the same wavelength. We just want to find jobs that we can revolve around the band, so we can practice at night, and make sure we’re not saying no to important gigs or whatever.”

And what of their adopted base in Manchester? Will they stick with it, now that uni isn’t keeping them there?

“Manchester’s definitely home now,” says Conor. “We all came knowing how great Manchester is for music, moving from other cities that maybe aren’t as good. You hear about Manchester when you’re living elsewhere, but when you actually get here you realise the community that the music brings. Right now we couldn’t be in a better place and we want to just continue to be here, and push the music as much as possible. The support is always unbelievable throughout the city. So why not?”

It’s clear how comfortable they feel in Manchester, and it’s true, the community’s a special one. As Tom echoes, “It’s exactly what you say, the whole band community in Manchester is so nice, it’s not like anyone’s trying to go against each other – everyone’s just trying to help. It never feels competitive. It feels like a community where all the bands are trying to push one another to succeed together.”

While the support is nice, and there’s a comfort in everyone trying to succeed, could it be that there are too many bands in a small community?

“Yeah, I guess there could be…” muses Tom. “It’s hard, but at the end of the day you’re doing it for yourself and you’ve gotta push to stand out in the crowd, as well”

Gathering of Strangers are making sure they don’t slip between the cracks and go unnoticed. And while it’s easy to get complacent in a scene where everything gets samey, it’s clear they’re not about to:

“There seems to be one certain scene in Manchester- the one that we’ve always been involved in – where everyone is kind of doing the same thing. And I think we got involved in that early on, we got our heads in that which was a bad thing. Now we’ve matured we’ve come to realise we don’t wanna be doing that and we’ve finally knuckled down on our sound, and the songs we want to write, rather than trying to accommodate to what’s going on in the scene.”

Readily admitting they perhaps fell victim to the scene when they were trying to get accepted, it seems that now Gathering of Strangers have found their place, they can truly flourish, something they perhaps needed time and space to do. “It sounds clichéd,” says Conor, “but we still don’t feel like we’ve properly found our sound. We’re constantly writing new music that sounds different to the song before…”

It’s something that bodes well for them, though – a distinct style but willingness to try different things. And it comes from an awareness of how not to do it.  As Conor explains: “As much as we’re musicians, we’re a crowd for a lot of other bands, so we know when a band sounds the same throughout. And in our heads, we’re like ‘well we definitely don’t want that’ so we push for our set to keep people interested throughout.”

While bored crowds aren’t ideal, this determination to bend genres, to keep it exciting, again seems to come from a determination to make music for themselves. “It’s never been about writing songs for a certain audience,” says Tom. “It’s just whatever we happen to write.”

And they’re aware of the drawbacks of this, that not sticking to one genre could mean losing one particular crowd, but, as Conor says, “We want to write the music that we want, and hopefully people will get on board with it.”

And they do.

Gathering of Strangers dominate big and small venues with the same unrelenting energy. They played Deaf Institute earlier this year, with fellow Manchester bands Satyr Play and Kashmere – a venue which they feel “took [them] up a notch” – but enjoy the intimacy of smaller Manchester venues like The Castle Hotel.

Speaking of taking things to the next level, though, Gathering of Strangers have landed themselves on the bill for British Sound Project with Franz Ferdinand and The Cribs. Are these the sort of bands they dream of sharing lineups with?

“There’s definitely an aspect of that. Franz is a huge one, saw them live last year and it was an amazing gig, but yeah, that’s the sort of gigs we want. We’ve done a lot of small shows in Manchester, and we want gigs that are going to make a difference, not just to us but to our music.”

And what about playing outside Manchester? “We haven’t strayed out of Manchester much. Our mindset for the past three years has just been trying to get Manchester on our side and win people over, and when we get that backing behind us we can start to go to different cities,” explains Conor. “We don’t want to rush it. We want to have a bit of a presence around us.”

And they’re getting there, building a hype with relentless gigging, and frequent releases. Though taking a break from festival season this year, a well-deserved rest after finishing uni, the band are riding the high of their latest release, ‘Nice Hair,’ with more in the pipeline. They’re clearly on the way to big things – keep an eye on Gathering of Strangers.

Melissa Svensen

Melissa Svensen

Melissa, 22. Editor. Student, music journalist, probably talking about Blur or Bowie