21 December 2006: The Wildhearts – ‘Christmas Vs The Wildhearts’ – Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton, England, UK

21 December 2006:  The Wildhearts - 'Christmas Vs The Wildhearts' - Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton, England, UK

This might be brief because I’m writing it two weeks after the show and am – almost unbelievably – still feeling the after-effects of too much festive cheer lately. Some might say this brevity is a good thing because my Wildhearts reviews are probably becoming quite tedious for all concerned by now.

A combination of dense fog, Wolverhampton ’s barmy one-way system and the box office being located in a pub instead of inside the Hall itself meant that I missed a good chunk of the God Damn Whores, one of the support acts for the night. From what I did manage to see, Jon Poole and chums played a typically punky, rocky, bonkers set with all tracks taken from their recent album, ‘We Are The Lucky Thirteen’. (There are rumours that The Loyalties opened up proceedings but as I was probably on my fifth lap of the ring-road at that time I’m unable to confirm this)

Next up were Beat Union who reminded me of a cross between The Clash and The Jam which was a shame because I’ve never been a huge fan of either. Very ska, a bit punky, a bit of reggae……and possibly a bit of a strange choice to support The Wildhearts. They didn’t really rock my boat but, to be fair, they did put on a good show with lots of energy, enthusiasm and volume.

By now the Wulfrun was pretty much packed. It was nice to see that even after all these years The Wildhearts can still prove to be a popular draw, even if it was for a one-off Christmas special.

The start of the show was fantastic with 5 mostly golden-oldies; TV Tan, Caffeine Bomb, Vanilla Radio, Sick Of Drugs, and Nita Nitro. This was what I’d come to hear so I was absolutely loving it. New bassist, Scott Sorry, while looking a good 10 years’ younger than the rest of the band seemed to fit right in and played a blinder. Ritch Battersby on drums was being as tight and powerful as ever (having said that though, I do prefer a more raw, looser style for The Wildhearts, such as provided by Stidi). And Ginger and CJ just did what they always do, i.e. go a bit mental and pose respectively.

However, the next few songs – Everlone, Greetings From Shitsville, OCD – seemed to take some of the momentum out of the gig, possibly because they’re long numbers. It was at this point that I started looking around the stage (just a dull skyscraper scene for a backdrop, been used before I believe) and hoping for something else to excite me which was unusual. Maybe the pyrotechnics at Scarborough Castle had spoilt me and raised my expectations too high.

Either way, it was a relief when the opening bars of ‘My Baby Is A HeadF*ck’ were struck up, swiftly followed by the thrashy ‘Suckerpunch’. Back on track once again. To conclude the main set ‘Caprice’ was chugged out before Ginger and co left the stage promising to see us in a minute.

The encore began with Ginger on guitar accompanying the crowd who had started singing the old favourite, ‘Don’t Worry About Me’. This naturally segued into ‘Geordie In Wonderland’, again with Ginger leaving most of the vocals to the punters. The next number was a first, as far as I’m aware; ‘29x The Pain’ with Ginger still on guitar on his own but leaving the crowd to do the singing. It’s always nice to see the boys do something different but I don’t think playing one of their best, if not their best, song in this way was a creative turn worth making. Played properly with the full band this can be a show-stopper, make no mistake.

A new song (taken from their forthcoming album – woo-hoo!) followed which sounded as good as all of the rest before proceedings were closed off in flamboyant style with ‘Love U Til I Don’t’ and ‘I Wanna Go…’.

For me it was a great gig, slightly let down by a few songs halfway through. Regardless of this I’d still recommend that anyone with an ounce of musical taste in their body goes to see The Wildhearts or Ginger solo……but you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

Set-list; Tv Tan / Caffeine Bomb / Vanilla Radio / Sick Of Drugs / Nita Nitro / Everlone / Greetings From Shitsville / OCD / My Baby Is A Headf*Ck / Suckerpunch / Caprice / [Break] / Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me (With Audience Participation) / Geordie In Wonderland (With Audience Participation) / 29x The Pain (With Audience Participation) / New Song / Love U Til I Don’t / I Wanna Go Where The People Go

@Jimbob247247

09 December 2006: Levellers – Victoria Hall, Hanley, Stoke on Trent, England, UK

09 December 2006:  Levellers - Victoria Hall, Hanley, Stoke on Trent, England, UK

I missed the 3 Daft Monkeys. Again. I have got to start making an effort to get to the venue in time for the warm up act, as by all reports the 3 Daft Monkeys put on a storming set, which reportedly got the crowd rocking and ready for the Levellers.

I did in fact hear the end of the 3DM’s set and it sounded good, but I was too intent on buying my pint from the “bar with the overstretched bar staff”.

Victoria Hall looks new from the outside and the entrance area is very plush. However, once you get into the main hall it is like an old theatre, but with the stalls removed to leave a large standing area, plus seating on the upper two tiers.

Last time I was at this venue I could have walked in without a ticket, the security was so lax, but this time it was a lot more strict and I had to dig around for my ticket while desperately trying not to spill my pint.

After a short wait the lights went down, the intro began and the huge backdrop was lit up by the rotating spotlights. The band appeared, the crowd erupted and we were launched into “100 Years Of Solitude”.

Mark seemed to be quite angry during the first three or four songs and really punched out his vocals quite aggressively and the whole band seemed to be on fire. Perhaps it was because it was the penultimate night of the tour and Christmas is coming, but it could easily have been because they’d all spent the afternoon in the pub. I suspect the latter as later on in the set Mark pointed at someone in the crowd and said “I recognise you sir, from the Albion”, a pub just around the corner from the venue.

My trusty setlist recorder (camera) had rather selfishly broken down earlier in the day (so you will be spared any photo’s), so I don’t know the full setlist, but up next came “15 Years”, an excellent version of “Last Man Alive” and “The Road”, before “61 Minutes Of Pleading” slowed it down.

The crowd had quietened down a lot by the time the next song was played. This was a new song (“Inevitable”, I have since found out) which seemed OK, but didn’t exactly thrill me. However, it normally takes me a few listens to get to like anything and at least it shows that the Levellers are in the process of lovingly crafting a new album together.

“What A Beautiful Day” followed a track which is a crowd favourite and sure enough we were bouncing around again almost immediately.

I often get asked when I announce that I’ve got a Levellers ticket “Why are you going to see them again?” and the next track answered the question.

As well as each Levellers being a completely different experience to the last, often with a different set-list and each with a different feel, there’s the fact that you never know what’s going to happen next.

What happened next was that it was time for the Simon solo spot and tonight we were treated to a storming version of “Sell Out”. During which Simon started off with one guitar, powered through what sounded very much like a bitten booming, took his guitar off while still singing, now unaccompanied (helped along by a slightly out of time crowd), put a new guitar on and motored through to the end of the song as if nothing had happened. The crowd went wild and justifiable so. The rest of the band reappeared to Simon’s ringing applause and Mark thanked him with the words “That was Simon and his invisible bass guitar”.

I think it was “The Boatman” next, or at least Mark on drums for “Crags Of Sterling” and then “The Boatman”.

A painted face appeared on stage and Stephen Boakes appeared for the didgeridoo warm up to “One Way”. The unexpected happened next in that everything stopped, Boaksey appeared to give Mark a cuddle, Mark jokingly announced that they’d all been on tour for three months and turned gay, while Boaksey gave Jeremy a kiss behind his back and Simon and John protested fervently that they hadn’t.

Good, funny stuff.

“One Way” got the same rapturous crowd reaction that it does every time it’s played, before Simon took over vocal duties again for “Men-An-Tol”.

A slightly over paced, to my ears, “ Hope Street ” followed. This seemed to slow down dramatically after the first verse as if Matt had realised they were going way to fast and slowed it down. It then seemed to be too slow, but it was good to hear it for a change and I enjoyed it, before being blasted into the excellent “Forgotten Ground”.

By the time the first notes of “Liberty Song” were struck even the most reserved people in the audience had been dragged screaming to the dance floor. There were people dancing in the balconies, in the aisles and on the dance floor. I was quite worried at one point by someone doing what appeared to be a one-armed salute, but this just turned out to be the warm up for a full on version of what appeared to be the chicken dance, which everyone around seemed to be much happier with.

Jeremy always seems at his best during “Liberty Song”, thumping his bass and adding his, seemingly random, backing vocals as if his life depended on it. A superb end to the gig and people started to drift towards the exit.

Then the band returned to the stage. I think it was at this point that Mark walked on with his lit cigarette and asked the audience “Is this a non-smoking venue?”. The crowd cheered and the security men looked annoyed. They looked even more annoyed seconds later as Mark threw his lighted cigarette to the eager inhabitants of the mosh pit.

The worlds most moving anti-war song “Another Man’s Cause” followed and charged up the emotion of the crowd for a blistering “Battle Of The Beanfield”, which ended superbly with Simon picking out a load of harmonics from his fret board.

“The Riverflow” finished us off nicely with Jeremy screaming “faster” all the way through.

But then the crowd knew it was going to be the end, the band was applauded off the stage and the fans headed for the exits.

Only to come dashing back in again, as the hardcore had waited, clapped and stamped for “What You Know”.

The Levellers re-appeared for “fiddle time”. John was accompanied by Athena from 3 Daft Monkeys and Mark announced that there were three members of 3DM’s on stage for the encore, one with a tambourine (I think) and one with what seemed to be penny whistle.

For me this was the best track of the night and they went out on a very big high. The “fiddle off” had no clear winner and got to such speeds that you wondered when, not whether, they were going to catch fire. And the penny whistle added that certain something that really made a full on sound. Everyone was enjoying themselves and there was no better way to end the gig.

(Approximate) Setlist; 100 Years Of Solitude / 15 Years / Last Man Alive / The Road / 61 Minutes Of Pleading / Invisible / What A Beautiful Day / Sell Out (Simon Solo) / The Boatman / One Way / Men-An-Tol / Hope Street / Forgotten Ground / Carry Me / The Game / Liberty Song / [Break] / Another Man’s Cause / Battle Of The Beanfield / The Riverflow / [Break] / What You Know.

08 December 2006: Northside + The Reason – Academy 2, Liverpool, England, UK

Baggy Reborn

Live music is a funny thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And yet a good gig can become a legendary gig with the help of the right venue, the right sound system, the right people and the right time, and that is exactly what happened on December 8th in Liverpool.

For those too young to remember Northside, they shot to fame in the early nineties with iconic songs like Take 5, gained infamy when banned from the airwaves with the cult classic, Shall We Take A Trip, and were one of the major casualties of Factory Records’ demise. To put it in context, Northside were Manchester’s last great indie hope, with the Roses in the wilderness and Oasis years from success, Northside bridged the gap between the jangly, euphoric sounds of the Stone Roses and the substance friendly party anthems of the Happy Mondays. They mattered.

Over time, Northside slowly dwindled from the mind’s eye. Singer, Warren ‘Dermo’ Dermody first took a long globe-trotting sabbatical, then turned his hand to DJing and other solo projects, and the rest of the band went their separate ways too. In a way, the rebirth of Northside is yet another internet success story. A big fan of online forums, Dermo spent a fair bit of time online in 2005, just chatting about good music, but remembering his name, his fanbase slowly came alive again. Excitedly talking to him, they got to find out about the re-release of Northside’s classic album on CD, Chicken Rhythms, and his new band, Silent Partners. He also got widespread regional press when this writer interviewed him for a four page feature in Manchester’s celebrity glossy, ‘The Magazine’ late last year, and everything seemed in place for Silent Partners to storm into the big time.

Ever the first one to stun the masses, Dermo began 2006 with a weekly column on www.manchesterismusic.co.uk, telling fans all about his work with Silent Partners and championing new Manchester bands, and then, during the summer, dropped the bombshell… Northside were back. Picking their jaws up from the floor, the indie weekend warriors of yesteryear clamoured for tickets and dusted off their baggy apparel, barely believing that this was really happening.

And so, into the winter months. An intimate show at Manchester’s Fopp Records, recorded for Channel M, went down a storm, as did a gig at the Bliss Bar in Leigh, where the crowds were more than a little enthusiastic. But then, the acid test – the first gig away from Manchester. Whilst the Northside machine went into overdrive promoting the gig and organising coaches from Manchester for fans and friends, it was unclear as to how the 400 capacity Academy 2 would take to such an incredibly Mancunian enigma. Would the feel-good sounds sway the home crowd, or would the crowd prove too-cool-for-school and remain unperturbed? Time would tell, and fingers were duly crossed.

From the off, this night was always going to be make or break. In some cases, quite literally, as The Reason’s drummer, Gareth Rathbone, broke his fingers midweek, and somehow played on, despite heavy strapping and much pain. Likewise, the comfort blanket of the two coaches of Mancunian faithful very nearly presented a problem, too, when one of the coaches just didn’t turn up. In all the furore over travel arrangements, much of what the first two support acts, The Sures and Cosmic Daisy, presented passed us by. That said, from what was heard, both seemed to exude confidence and indie charm, and they had their own fans present on the day, which is always nice to see. Having not seen much of either set, it’d be unfair to comment too much, except to say that both bands had a unique look and sound, and we’re definitely expecting to hear more from them in the future.

The Reason

For the Manchester contingent, however, this was all about the double main event. Despite only having two previous gigs under their belt, The Reason are definitely Manchester’s hottest commodity. Live tickets sell like wildfire, every new track they release gets widespread praise and they’ve had a lot of local radio play to boot. This, of course, didn’t come easily. The band holed up in the rehearsal rooms together for a year prior to even announcing their name to the masses, wrote songs and got it right, and as such came out of the blocks already a force to be reckoned with. The crowds responded to their polished, indie-rock look, and several established Manchester bands began looking to them as the benchmark for success. Many of the travelling fans came for The Reason alone.

With this only their third gig (their first came headlining Manchester’s Academy 4, a plush new venue in the heart of the city, and the second supporting Tom Hingley and The Lovers at the same venue), and their first away from their home base… and with a drummer barely able to high five, let alone drum, The Reason faced a really, really tough task out there. When the time came for their set, as has already become tradition, the standing room became filled with a sea of people – as ever led by those who count themselves as the band’s biggest fans (including, we might add, several members of rival Manchester band The Vortex!), and the Liverpool contingent swiftly followed suit, no doubt wondering what to expect of this gang-like, swaggering Manc machine known as The Reason.

Kicking off with crowd pleaser Up All Night, it’s fair to say that The Reason had never sounded better. Having heard them belting their tunes out in the rehearsal room on many occasion, this is no understatement. The crowd quickly got into it, dancing, singing and pointing their fingers to the chorus, and for the first time The Reason had a crowd willing to truly interact. As such, they gave it all back and more, taking unscheduled breaks to joke with the crowd, turning the tunes up a notch and generally doing everything that bit better than ever before.

With previous The Reason live sets, the pace has been immense. Their songs have flown by in a blur of frenetic energy, immersing the crowd in their splendour, but wiping them out at the same time. This time, it was different. Maybe it was due to Gareth’s broken fingers – hence, maybe, they just couldn’t play at that same pace – but this gig saw the band play at their studio pace. Songs were delivered crisply, professionally, and personally – a side of themselves the band haven’t really been in touch with before. Undoubtedly, they were more relaxed up there than on previous gigs, but this more subtle pacing enabled the band to show what they can really do. On live masterpiece, Lifelines, guitarist James showed an incredible deftness in reworking the intro, and Sometimes saw singer Neil’s best ever vocal delivery. As ever, rhythm guitarist Dave was the professional rock of the band, and drummer Gareth was a credit to his profession as his soldiered on and never missed a beat. Even the normally subdued Nick Repton, who, as most bassists do, generally likes to pick an area of the stage, stand in it and make it his own was cavorting around the stage with a new breath of confidence.

New song, Reside, replaced the song that the band is best known for, You’re With Me, and, although a seemingly shocking decision, it was undoubtedly the right one. Whilst You’re With Me will always be a favourite amongst fans of the band, to show, already, that they have grown beyond that point and can replace one good song with one even better is an absolute triumph. It was a beautiful song of the Sometimes variety, but even better. The band finished with the storming Glitter Blues, and the crowd went ballistic. Playing with swagger, confidence and charisma, The Reason looked every inch the next big thing.

It’s amazing to watch a new band grow, and with every gig comes increased popularity, more fans and more frenzy, and The Reason should take heart from these early reactions. Equally, though, they should take stock of their own performances and ask themselves why things worked so well. In this case, a mildy slower pace lent the bad much greater credibility as a live act. It enabled each member to show off his individual talents, take his time, smile for the cameras and still look professional. It enabled the fans out front, new and old, to hear the songs for the growing classics that they are, and it enabled the band to come offstage just knowing that they had done an amazing job. Live music isn’t always about pace and power, and this showed just that. The band’s first two gigs have already gone down in local legend as history making, but this was even better. Whilst those gigs displayed the frenetic energy of a new band bursting out of the studio ready to set the world on fire, Liverpool displayed the tightness and class a record company looks for. This band, we promise you, are going to be huge.

Northside

As the crowd caught their breath, Northside readied themselves for a show that could prove make or break. Re-establishing yourself as a player on the music scene is never easy, and this band have more than a little experience of that rocky road. But, as the saying goes, you can always rely on your fans. Despite every crack in the wall and pitfall to be navigated, Northside’s fans always remained loyal till the end. Perhaps it was because they could truly associate with the band – young lads taking trips and making shapes. Maybe, too, it was because they were good, honest Manchester lads that made it good through hard work, but remained eternally faithful to their roots. Either way, there was an unbreakable connection. The band were loved, and Dermo and Co. could be forgiven for feeling a little hesitant prior to this tour as to whether that love still existed. Certainly, signs had been good following the re-release of Chicken Rhythms, but would these same fans come out to play in Liverpool on a rainy Friday night?

The answer, of course, was yes. Watching the venue fill up with thirty-somethings, all with their dancing shoes on, it was clear that this was going to be a special night from the off, and even as the band prepped their equipment, the standing area became flooded with people. It wasn’t a full house, but it didn’t need to be. The atmosphere was surreal. This was 1992 Manchester in 2006 Liverpool. Any locals who had come along for the ride became honorary Mancunians, gleefully joining in with the pre-gig chants of ‘Manchester, La La La’, and getting into that acid-house party spirit the region loves to embrace. When Dermo stormed on stage, replete with ‘Baggy’ clothes, tambourine and Parka, the mood was complete and the cheers went up.

The bit of breathing room afforded by a slightly smaller crowd enabled those in attendance to party like never before, and arms flailed, fingers were waved and people were carried on shoulders in an era-defying display of love that you had to see to believe. This could have been The Hacienda. Northside responded in kind, giving a set of cult classic that the fans lapped up, and everyone in the room felt 18 again, including the band. Opening tack, A Change Is On Its Way, whipped up a storm, and the frenzied audience responded to every second of the music. Pleasuredome and Who’s To Blame followed in blistering fashion, before Weight Of Air turned the whole thing up a notch yet again, with Dermo’s vocals ranging from bubbling whispers to powerful, engaging howls of triumph.

The band, of course, were as tight as can be, each playing to perfection and delivering perfect renditions of absolute classics. They were as happy to be back as the crowd were to be there. The standout performance, however, came from Mr Dermody. Engaging with the audience, he strutted, postured, laughed, deftly twirled his tambourine, danced and made shapes, and, in fact, looked like he hadn’t aged a year. For so many bands, reforming and touring is a mere nostalgia trip, but for Northside it was the real deal. They went out their with the intention of delivering, and they achieved so much more. They looked like a new band, yet held the crowd in the palms of their hands like past masters. They had the energy of teenagers juxtaposed with the experience of seasoned professionals, and they remembered, more than anything, their Manchester roots.

The roof was raised yet again with the onslaught of Funky Munky, one of Northside’s finest moments both in the past and on the night, and this was followed by a delicate, dreamlike performance of Wishful Thinking, yet another Chicken Rhythms classic. By song seven, Tour De World, it was clear that this was a special, legendary night in the making, and both song, singer and crowd were up to the challenge. The party atmosphere spread like a fever, and took hold of everybody. Feet were tapping, hands were in the air, and it just couldn’t get any better than this. Then it did. Dermo announced Cool Idea as, “A song about bank robbers”, then turned in the vocal performance of his life. It was fast, frenetic and powerful, yet still held that classic Northside feel, and the delivery was just perfection.

When My Rising Star hit, the room could barely take anymore. People were on shoulders, sweating, dancing and feeling utterly euphoric – so much so that one fan in particular managed to navigate the crowds, barriers and big speakers to jump onstage and take the microphone alongside Dermo, before thanking the band and making a triumphant exit. The song came to a delicious close, with the fans singing almost every word back to the band, and then Take 5 hit, only for Northside to be joined onstage by The Reason bassist Nick, brandishing a tambourine. The song, of course, was brilliant, taking everybody in the room back to their roots, and self-appointed dancer and crowd pleaser Nick took the sense of fun to the next level, strutting like Liam Gallagher demanding the crowd enjoyed the song. He didn’t need to – they were already swept away on Northside’s euphoric wave – but his presence truly enhanced the party feel.

By the time the triple encore of Moody Places, Yeah Man and Shall We Take A Trip hit, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the crowd would be pretty burned out. But you’d also be way off the mark. Rather than gearing down during the encore, everything was turned up yet another notch, and as Dermo sang, “Moody places and Jekyll faces”, the whole room was as one.

The gig, of course, was capped off with a classic performance of the still-relevant Shall We Take A Trip, and as Dermo sang, “Answers come in dreams”, it felt like both the dream and the answer were unfolding before your very eyes. The crowd, desperate for Northside not to leave, cheered loudly at the end of the set, shook hands with the band and left talking about one of the finest gigs they’ll ever see.

The Aftermath

So, what did we see? Well, let’s first look at what everybody was expecting – a feelgood Northside gig with support from The Reason that, whilst not life-affirming, would be a d**n good night out. And what did we get? Well, we got all of that, and a whole lot more. For many in the crowd, this was life-affirming. It was proof that their hazy teenage years were neither a dream, nor misspent, and it was proof that, as a live act, Northside can still both connect with the crowd and be the masters of their own material. We saw Manchester new and old in its finest forms, with The Reason playing the set of their lives, followed by Northside duly doing the same, and we saw two bands living the dream. This was as fine a gig as you’ll ever see, and, if you haven’t got tickets already, you really should try to catch one of their other pre-Christmas performances, which takes in King Tuts, Leeds cockpit and Islington, and ends in Manchester on December 17th.

This is not a revival, this is a rebirth.

© Matt Barnes, www.manchesterismusic.co.uk