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.
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.
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.
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