All hung with jewels

Several years ago I wrote an impassioned email to a music entrepreneur of my acquaintance outlining why I thought the Bunnymen were wasting their legacy and that what they should be doing was staging epic set piece shows backed by strings to fully display the majesty of many of their songs.

I also suggested that he was the right man with the right connections to get them to do it.

He didn’t reply.

Probably because acting on ranting emails from over-emotional fans isn’t the best way to stay in business.

But anyway, years later the Bunnies seem to have come to the same conclusion and now appear to be treating their back catalogue with the reverence it deserves.

In the middle of a tour promoting an album where some of their songs have been creatively reimagined, they also dropped in at Warrington’s Parr Hall for what was effectively a short, sharp greatest hits and karaoke evening.


I’ve seen a lot of bands and very, very few ever pack the punch that the Bunnymen deliver when on their game.

This, thankfully, was one of those evenings when Ian McCulloch keeps much of his between-song asides brief and his in-song freestyling even briefer.

So what we got was faithfully delivered belters from start to finish.

The chiming intro to Rescue that never fails to thrill, a storming Never Stop, mass singalongs for Seven Seas, The Cutter and The Killing Moon, the power and atmospherics of Zimbo and Over The Wall, a very good new song in The Somnambulist and there you have the core of a set that in my opinion few bands can touch.

I’m grateful to still be able to see them in places like the Parr Hall and for less than £30, but, perversely, I still wish they were playing these songs to much bigger audiences and, more than likely, at higher prices.





There goes the…

If you can’t face the thought of toiling round fields for hours or days on end trying to see bands in far flung corners of the site, then a city centre festival is just the thing.

And Manchester’s Neighbourhood was indeed the aforementioned ‘just the thing’.

In the space of nine hours I managed to cram in complete sets by 11 bands, the vast majority of them new to me and, as well as being new, good too.

I’ll admit to being quite easy to please music wise but the success rate on the day was extremely high and is either a reflection on the current healthy state of indie music in this country, excellent curation by the festival organisers or a combination of both.

All the venues were in and around Oxford Road and meant that by some judicious selection you would have time to leave one, stroll to the next and get a drink in with a couple of minutes to spare.

I won’t go through all eleven in detail but these are the edited highlights.

In the basement of fairly swanky looking new bar/eatery/venue Yes, Asylums had a much bigger crowd than their ridiculously early time slot might have indicated but their set proved exactly why they were such a draw.

With a powerfully clean and angular indie-rock sound they blew me away, setting a ridiculously high standard for the rest of the day.

Essex boys BILK played upstairs in Revolution, were incredibly young and angry and could go on to be either the new Jam or the new Hard-Fi. Let’s hope it’s the former.

Another Sky took over Refuge and came across like a female-fronted Radiohead in one of their less obtuse moods. The closing song, Avalanche, was exceptional.

A new venue for me was The Bread Shed where Sea Girls played to a packed house and looked like stars already. I think I was the only one not singing every word. At home I played some of their stuff and didn’t like it as much as their live show had made me think I would, but that shouldn’t detract from their hugely crowd-pleasing appeal.

Just around the corner I watched whenyoung and Fuzzy Sun back to back in The Deaf Institute.

Irish three-piece – although now ensconced in London – whenyoung looked like 70s New Wave throwbacks but sounded modern and shiny and new with glistening indie melodies.

I can’t listen to Fuzzy Sun enough at the moment and their time on the Institute stage was the first time I’ve seen them live. Not disappointed at all.

If you like pop and soul with an 80s edge and added indie suss then these are the band for you.

A special mention for Declan Welsh and the Decadent West who played in what seemed the highly inappropriate venue for them of upstairs at Revolution where their left wing polemic was completely at odds with the glitter ball and cocktails of their surroundings.

They took no prisoners and somewhere, I’m sure, Joe Strummer was nodding approvingly.




Deer, not dear

With gig tickets for anyone with any kind of track record costing more than a starter home, it’s good to be able to report there’s still good value out there.

Nottingham’s Splendour event has, for a decade, provided a day’s worth of quality musical entertainment at a very reasonable rate.

Having sampled its delights a few years ago, it was good to go back this year and see that very little had changed.

It’s easy to get round, the crowds are comfortably managed and the setting in Wollaston Park with its herd of deer wandering around is lovely.

You won’t see anyone groundbreaking but there’s always a solid bill and at £49 it’s about half the price of rocking up at an arena for some overpriced flavour of the month.


Gill and I arrived after a detour of half an hour when sat nav took us into the middle of a Nottingham housing estate rather than the parkland we were expecting to find.

I didn’t have sat nav the last time we went and I found it without a hitch. Stupid modern technology!

Anyhoo. Having got our bearings we strolled in and, by the time we left several hours later, had been royally entertained.

Bjorn Again were hilarious with their good-natured take on Abba’s stellar back catalogue, Embrace provided an evening singalong even if their stagecraft was a little stilted, The Charlatans were as effortlessly cool as they have spent nearly 30 years being, and The Stranglers – for the second time in a matter of months – were very good indeed.

We saw others but you get the drift from the above list about who the day is likely to appeal to.

Not being interested in the day’s headliner – Paloma Faith if you must know – we turned to leave as The Stranglers finished and found ourselves walking off with England and Nottingham Forest legend Stuart Pearce – a well known punk devotee.


So long Rhymin’ Simon

In an earlier post I mentioned that I would be seeing Paul Simon one more time as he concluded his live music career with a farewell tour.

And this was it.

With a lot of performers you don’t really believe them when they announce a tour is going to be the last. It’s usually just a gimmick to boost ticket sales.

I saw Manilow’s One Last Time tour a couple of years ago, yet there he was again last weekend popping up in Manchester.

Gary Numan claimed he was retiring from live performance some time around 1981. Hasn’t stopped him touring relentlessly.

But Paul Simon’s announcement, you felt, would be the real deal. He doesn’t strike me as being a huckster showman wringing a few extra pay days out of his fans by baiting with them a ‘this might be the last time’ teaser.


So me, Gill and my mum took our seats  – which weren’t next to each other for some reason, and I think you can guess who was made to take the single – to watch a masterclass by as fine a songwriter as has ever picked up a guitar.

If you think the last statement is hyperbole, then the songs he left out of his set would be a greatest hits for practically any other artist.

Opening with America the signs weren’t great. His voice sounded a little strained and the band weren’t quite as locked in as you imagined they would be.

But it was a temporary blip.

For the next couple of hours we were treated to a career encapsulating collection of songs and plenty of lively chat – something we’ve not always been accustomed to hearing from New York’s lyric poet.

He even mentioned ‘the railway station where they put up a plaque’ just before singing Homeward Bound.

That’s right. Paul Simon giving Widnes its due.

He also did a pretty good impression of a Northern social club compere quietening the audience after the bingo and asking punters to ‘come on, give the lad a chance’. A reference to his early days working the club circuit as a young folkie.

And from those days he came a long, long way.

Find fault with a set containing Bridge over Troubled Water, You Can Call Me Al, Sound of Silence, The Boxer, Late in the Evening, Kodachrome, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard and Graceland amongst others and I’m not sure you can call yourself a music lover.

I was quite emotional when he finished and it’s hard to explain why although I think I wasn’t just contemplating his career and the beauty of so many of his compositions, but also that we were witnessing another chapter closing in the songbook of our lives.






Seattle do nicely

It’s a good thing I’d be happy to watch Pearl Jam any time anyone asked.

I’ve checked and I only own three albums from their 25-year plus career which doesn’t suggest a hardcore attachment.

But they’re so frighteningly good live that I’m very comfortable even though I don’t know threequarters of their set these days.

And on this occasion I was prepared to make a 14-hour round trip to see them having made almost exactly the same trip a month earlier only to be denied by a throat complaint – not mine, Eddie Vedder’s.

There we were in June, me and regular Tony, motoring down the M1 when his phone pings with a message from a mate saying the 02 show was cancelled. A quick Facebook check confirms the bad news, so we doubled back at the next junction and headed for home to await the rescheduled date.


And four weeks later we found ourselves walking past the hilarious Trump Baby balloon into the venue to see yet another performance that demonstrated the enduring prowess of this fine, fine band.

Having lost his voice previously that familiar plaintive Vedder warble was back in evidence as he and the band kept 20,000 people in the palms of their hands with one great song after another.

As well as the musicianship they clearly also care about the staging of their gigs. Where most bands playing this kind of venue have a very perfunctory filming arrangement for the big screens, Pearl Jam’s was shot in the kind of classy black and white that characterises quality concert film releases – all unusual angles and atmosphere.

They also had a lighting rig that altered its height and shape to create more intimate or widescreen framing of their songs as required.

The music is what it is. Timeless rock music. Rarely fashionable – although of course they had their moment – but never without a following. I suspect a lot of more fashionable bands would swap in a heartbeat.



Truly Olympian

I’ve never been to a gig before that was as good as this but which left me feeling a little sadder.

So far in 2018 this was the best show I’ve seen and I doubt I’ll see better in the next six months either.

There may well be more musically proficient performances, stronger back catalogues on display and more impressive stage productions but nothing to match the raw thrill of this full-on demonstration of what heart, soul, commitment and killer hooks can bring to the party.

Singer Richard Jobson said that on getting back together the Skids didn’t want to be part of the nostalgia trail and recorded a well received album to back it up – other bands take notes (cough Stone Roses cough).

They included two new songs in this set and neither felt out of place even if they didn’t have the familiarity of the classic post-punk and new wave hits the band is famous for.

Jobson looked fit and well with his idiosyncratic dance moves still very much in evidence, and he was joined on stage by founding member Bill Simpson and Big Country’s Bruce Watson in a five-piece band that did justice to their enduring legacy.


Mid-set he paid tribute to their truly great former guitarist Stuart Adamson who died in 2001 – and that’s where the story takes a turn towards the melancholy.

I had a great friend, Duncan, who loved the Skids. He also loved everything the band members did following the Skids. I went with him to see Big Country’s first Liverpool show which was also watched by members of U2 who I always thought owed Adamson and the Skids a huge debt – something borne out when The Edge delivered the eulogy at Adamson’s funeral.

Duncan and I were the only two in our year at school who travelled in from Runcorn. We also played for the same junior football team. We loved the same bands. We listened to the same records.

But while we were at school Duncan got ill and was ill for the next 20 or so years. Remarkably, he dealt with it incredibly well. His sense of humour never left him nor did his love of music.

With quite unfortunate timing the news of Stuart Adamson’s death came through when Duncan was slowly slipping away too at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. We talked but I didn’t tell him about his guitar hero’s demise.

He had their great anthem Into the Valley played at his funeral and I can’t think of anything else when I hear it.

He’d have loved this reunion and I went, partly, because of that fact. Gill was on one side of me at the barrier at the front and I wish Duncan had been on the other.




All the world’s a stage

These days it’s not often I get the chance to add a new type of venue to my gig-going list. Over the years I’ve seen bands pretty much everywhere and anywhere.

Fields, tents, halls, clubs, pubs, theatres and now a table tennis regional centre of excellence.

It doesn’t have the same ring to it as Live from Carnegie Hall or Live at Budokan, but Liverpool’s 90s hitmakers Space made the best of what was essentially just a big sports hall under a stand at the home of Widnes Vikings.

Maybe they just wanted to say they were doing a stadium tour.

Not that Space were the only reason for going. Support was provided by the estimable Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – the only avant-garde punk n roll band with backing dancers in existence.

Now I have to declare something of an interest in having known Pete for a very long time and in several musical incarnations, not least the brilliant Halfway to Eddies and Out 77.

His latest band are a stalwart of the Liverpool scene, a regular at Blackpool’s Rebellion punk festival, and feature songs in their set that reference conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, the Russian space programme and Liverpool’s Concert Square.

They are funny, clever, invigorating and always worth every penny of whatever admission they are charging on the night.

Space followed and were as mildly frustrating as I’d found their heyday to be – and for exactly the same reason. Unsurprising really.


They have got some decent tunes and enjoyed a brief run of chart success in the post-Britpop era but I always thought they tried to be a bit too clever when the basis of the songs always stood up well and didn’t need too much embellishment.

With front man Tommy Scott happy to engage with the audience and making several mid-song excursions into the crowd there was a buoyant atmosphere throughout and when they did call it a night they did so before outstaying their warm welcome.

Hit singles Female of the Species, Avenging Angels, Neighbourhood and my favourite from back in the day, Me and You Versus the World, were all duly aired but the highlight was the Spiders album track, Drop Dead, which thundered along with a big rolling groove that Primal Scream might have been happy to call their own.





Three is the magic number

There will always be a certain snobbishness about music. I’m afraid I can be as guilty of it as anyone else.

I try not to be, I really do. But sometimes you find yourself unable to contain your prejudices any longer and when someone tells you that Telegraph Road by Dire Straits is a top three song of all time, you can’t hold it in any longer.

I’ve been misguidedly snobbish in the past; sneering, incredibly, at both Abba and Steely Dan. How wrong was that?

And I’ve found there’s always been an element of condescension towards British rock music by the cooler end of the music media.

So how the scenesters viewed a triple-headlining tour of Terrorvision, Reef and The Wildhearts is anyone’s guess.

But I’ll take more than three hours of unfashionable rock over half an hour of what passes for the next big thing any day of the week.

Which is what I did.


I’ve seen all three on their own and been hugely entertained, so the chance to see them all on the same bill wasn’t to be passed up.

Strangely, Britpoppers Dodgy had been added as the opening act for some reason. They might have been contemporaries but shared nothing in terms of output.

So regular Tony and I gave them a miss and headed in for the night’s proper opener, The Wildhearts.

It was very weird seeing them at 6.30pm with the sun blazing outside, but the conditions were soon forgotten as they tore through the likes of TV Tan, Caffeine Bomb, Headf*ck and Everlone without a misstep along the way.

We were then joined by a gig-going companion from yesteryear in the shape of our friend Ste who now lives in London but was a regular back in the days when these three bands were top of our particular hit parade.

Unfortunately he arrived just in time for Reef who were the weakest of the trio on the night. There were still some great songs and stuff from the new album held up very well, but there was a little too much self indulgence and not enough rock and roll swagger about their set – at least until the closing stomper, Yer Old.

By the time Terrorvision came on we had been joined by two more of our wider late 90s circle in Fiona and Shellyanne, as if the scene had been transported back 20 years.

Terrorvision were everything they always are – punchy, funny, catchy as hell and over too soon.

As I approach seeing them for the 20th time I never find it any less entertaining than I did back in the day when me, Ste and Tony saw them at the Krazy House in Liverpool and thought the floor was going to collapse.


The Time of Our Lives

Many gigs you go to are not what you would call ‘fun’.

They can be intense, powerful, moving, uplifting and, sometimes, a little dull. But few bands, I’ve found, do fun well.

Sometimes you wonder if there’s actually any enjoyment from being up on stage such is the lack of interaction between performers and audience.


So, much like I’ll always turn out for Terrorvision, I feel the same about Green Day.

I know that my ticket price will guarantee me more than two hours of solid rock entertainment and a shedload of good tunes.

They aren’t perfect by any means and Billie-Joe has a tendency to overdo the call and response stuff, but weighing everything up they are always well in credit.


The last couple of times I’ve seen them has been at the Manchester Arena which is too big, really, even though they can sell all the seats.

We – by which I mean me and Gill – were about as far back as it is possible to go on this occasion facing the stage in the upper tier.

It’s not their fault they’ve outgrown provincial theatres but you know the experience would be more suited to a concentrated, packed out, 3,000-capacity venue than in a 18,000-seat barn.

That said, there’s no getting away from the fact that they literally come to play. No moodiness, no muttered asides – it’s full on from the word go.

This show differed from others I’ve seen only in that they had more songs to choose from.

The high watermark remains the stuff from American Idiot, but no matter what they pluck from their back catalogue you know they’ll play it with balls out commitment – and often you can’t ask for much more.







Oh Weller, weller, weller, uh

And I’m about to tell you more (see what I did there?)

I was discussing the other day whether there was anyone in the last 50 years who had been more popular or critically acclaimed as a solo artist than they had been as part of their original group.

The only one I could think of for certain off the top of my head was Michael Jackson who, for a while, was the non pareil of all pop performers so clearly better than he was with the Jackson 5.

I got to discussing it because of the recent Morrissey gig I went to and the reaction to the songs he recorded with The Smiths compared to his solo output.

And, equally, the same could apply to Paul Weller who I saw at the Echo Arena in Liverpool almost a decade ago.


I was a massive fan of The Jam although, shamefully, I never saw them live but regard their singles collection as being as close to a perfect greatest hits as you could have.

As a side note I think it was the NME that reviewed the first Pet Shop Boys’ greatest hits album by declaring that it was that rarest of things, a greatest hits collection where they are all hits and they’re all great.

So I probably wasn’t alone in the arena in hoping that a few Jam classics would be sprinkled throughout the set.

But what was hugely disappointing was that a large section of the audience seemed to only want to become engaged when he did a Jam song – and the same thing happened at a festival I saw him at.

Now Weller has a great solo back catalogue. He has never settled for a default mode knowing that his fans might like it. He’s always stretched himself and while I can’t say I’ve liked it all, there’s more than enough to make any Weller gig a solidly entertaining experience.

But all around me there were groups of people chatting away until the familiar opening chords to The Eton Rifles or That’s Entertainment sounded out.

And I wondered whether you would really spend the money just to see if he might do a couple of songs from a band who had split up a quarter of a century ago?

Now, of course, chat at gigs happens all the time so it might not seem so noticeable but then I was really taken aback.