If you want to have a good time

For the second year in succession, the Saturday immediately following my birthday was spent in the wonderful surroundings of Splendour – Nottingham’s immensely likeable one-day festival.

It knows its audience and books acts accordingly, so a largely lower end middle-aged crowd were able to enjoy a clutch of acts they loved in their more youthful days plus a couple of relatively newer stars kept their kids entertained.

Unfortunately with each passing birthday I get more into the upper middle-aged bracket and was delighted to see The Specials added to this year’s bill as they continue to mark their 40th anniversary with a very long jaunt.

Getting there wasn’t without its hiccups as regular Tony was forced to cry off in the morning with illness, and a torrential downpour on the way saw me and Gill head for shelter while it passed over.

But on arrival we found the site looking resplendent in the sunshine and that’s how it stayed for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

With Manic Street Preachers, Rag n Bone Man, All Saints and Ash filling out the bill across two stages it was little surprise the event sold out, but this contributed to a slightly less welcoming environment than the two previous Splendours we’ve been to.

The site struggled to cope with the 25,000 strong crowd and there was no policing of the `No camping chairs or blankets beyond this point’ notices, so large swathes of available land were taken up by commune-sized gatherings where a couple of people looked after 20 chairs, two or three play tents and numerous blankets and cool boxes.

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Grinchy comments aside, the music was pretty good once again with Ash overcoming the handicap of sounding like someone had thrown a duvet over their PA to rattle through some corking greatest hits tunes like Burn Baby Burn and, of course, Girl From Mars.

We could only see 20 minutes of Roland Gift before heading for The Specials but still had time to hear him add that marvellous warble to Johnny Come Home and Suspicious Minds – both major hits for his band, Fine Young Cannibals.

The Specials are very much elder statesman these days and in the hot sun they seemed to be a tad more reggaefied that ska-ed up, but ending their set with a clutch of songs that included Too Much Too Young, Gangsters, Nite Klub and Monkey Man exempts them from criticism.

Most fun of the day were All Saints who have been a surprise on the comeback trail and reminded us just how good they were back in the day when they were the Spice Girls it was OK to like.

I have to admit for having a great fondness for their singles album and from the opening of I Know Where It’s At to the closing notes of Never Ever they were great value.

Their dance routines were a bit clumpy and they could have done with ditching the choreography and just strutting around the stage but, hey, what do I know. As the owner of two left feet I’m not exactly Kevin from Grimsby.

Get on the good Foot

More often than not these days gigs involve venues of a certain size. Too often for my liking, arena-sized venues, as even bang average acts seem to have made the step up to arenas seemingly without trace.

So it was good to be back in a basement watching up and coming bands for a fiver on a Saturday night rather than sitting at the back of some oversized hangar.

The rituals haven’t changed. Band A sets up, there’s a short set, a flurry of activity getting band B on as equipment changes, and so on. Plus there’s always the need for an extra four-way socket.

On Saturday it was the third band of the four on the bill that really caught the eye – and ear. Liverpool’s Nine Foot Brian made light of this being really early in their gigging career by delivering a punchy six-song set that indicated they are heading for bigger venues and headlining status.

It’s not the easiest thing in the world to shine when you’re not top of the bill, but this three-piece made it look as if they were born to it.

With two deeply personal and affecting songs in Forget Who He Was and When I Was Young in the middle making an effective counterpoint to the pop/rock dynamics of the other four tunes they moved smoothly through their set before an appreciative audience.

They put me in mind of the more melodic Biffy Clyro moments and all those really good British alternative rock bands that were around in the late nineties and through the turn of the century.

That shouldn’t make them sound dated, though. Their classic guitar, drums and bass combination doesn’t need the quirks of fashion to sound this good.

By the time they closed with 1991 I was beginning to suspect I won’t be watching them in venues as small as the Jacaranda basement too much longer, which is a pity – although not for them.

 

A Ritz cracker

Hey, guess what? I’ve been to see Terrorvision again. Like my birthday and Christmas, it’s an annual event.

Still, I love them dearly.

This time it was at The Ritz in Manchester and they were doing the ever-popular anniversary of an album tour thing that so many bands do now. Me and regular Tony rocked up like we always do on these occasions.

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Playing all of How to Make Friends… in order meant that Oblivion was the third song of the night which felt odd, but it’s not like they struggle for set closers.

I won’t go on about how good they were because they’re always good as I have said on this blog before.

Suffice to say I laughed a lot when Tony Wright said after the first few songs without a break `Sorry we haven’t done the introductions yet, but I’m sure we’ll get all your names later’.

An oldie but a goodie.

Not quite the Magic Number

There was a time when this Gods of Rap line-up would have been the hottest ticket of the year.

De La Soul, Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan plus Gang Starr’s DJ Premier – then what’s not to like?

Well, what’s not to like in 1993?

In 2019 it wasn’t quite the winning combination of Daisy Age enlightenment, political rabble rousing and mystical weirdness it could have been.

It’s fair to say it got better as it went on and during the Wu-Tang’s set they touched the heights of greatness, it’s just a pity there was a certain unevenness about the whole evening.

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I didn’t catch all of De La Soul’s set and much of what I did see was from behind a big queue of people waiting to get down the stairs and on to the floor so maybe I’m judging what seemed to be a largely listless performance a little harshly.

But compared to the zing and playfulness of what I still consider to be one of the best five hip-hop albums I own in 3 Feet High and Rising, then it was disappointing to say the least.

I settled in next to Matt and Dave who I had last been to a gig with to see N*E*R*D and the arena had filled up considerably by the time a re-tooled Public Enemy took the stage – and with Chuck D leading from the front, as ever, we were treated to a clutch of classics the power of which has barely been dulled by age.

Sadly, the line-up didn’t include Flavor Flav which meant a little too much earnestness at times and too little levity.

Anyway on to the main event.

Wu-Tang Clan were very good indeed, featuring an almost complete roll call of members and crushing some absolute standards like Protect Ya Neck and Bring Da Ruckus. There was even a bizarre cover of The Beatles Come Together, albeit with bespoke lyrics.

A word also for the crowd. In arenas it’s often soulless and dull waiting for the bands and, frequently, during them as well.

Not here. This was an engaged, boisterous audience out to appreciate some hip-hop heroes.

 

 

A little piece of History

Now here’s a thing.

I was never a massive fan of The Verve. Haven’t been a fan of Richard Ashcroft solo. And once the initial rush around Urban Hymns had died down I wasn’t that big a fan of the album apart from the singles.

But yet there I was at a gig on the day that Bitter Sweet Symphony was released and all because my good friend Paul wouldn’t let up!

As I remember, this gig took place in the Manchester Academy 1 and I’ve seen tickets with that printed on it, so I presume it was originally scheduled for the smaller hall down the road but got shifted once the hype around their live return began to grow.

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They had always seemed on the periphery up to this point. Promising but never quite delivering. But Paul never stopped believing and was determined a few of us would trek up to Manchester – getting our tickets early, hence the Student Union billing.

Paul is one of the great characters in my gig-going story even if I haven’t mentioned him so far. My favourite moments with him include sharing a beer with Kings of Convenience and their delight that we came from Widnes – ‘Like the Belle & Sebastian song!’ exclaimed Erland in reference to Stars of Track & Field.

Paul also frequently turned up at gigs with a gift for the band. Not especially something they would want, just something he felt they would like!

Anyway, it was clear something was in the air on this occasion as there was a real fervour awaiting the band when they appeared on stage  – quite out of kilter with what I considered to be their importance.

Clearly, for the next 12 months at least, they were something special and the aforementioned Bitter Sweet Symphony is a killer song even if it does borrow its hook, but I tired of Ashcroft’s rock messiah shtick pretty quickly.

The gig doesn’t really hold any lasting memories other than being the right place at the right time – and sometimes that’s all there is to it.

 

You say you want The Revolution…

Back in the mists of time, I saw what I still consider to be the best show I’ve ever been to – Prince at Wembley Arena in 1986 at the height of his formidable powers.

When he sadly passed away a couple of years ago I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t see him again and I had long since given up on seeing his amazing sidemen and women.

And yet – to paraphrase Morrissey’s greeting to Noel Gallagher when the latter called to see him in LA – here they were.

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Ignore the ticket as there was no support, but this was still two hours of prime-time Prince and the Revolution action which stand up to two hours of anyone else’s prime-time from the last 40 years in my opinion.

I’d never been to Shepherd’s Bush Empire but Gill and I found it easily enough in the afternoon and there were already fans waiting outside presumably for the soundcheck to finish.

Purple Rain t-shirts abounded and one woman was even wearing a beret – I’ll leave you to guess the colour.

By the time the show came around I was more excited than I’d been at a gig for a long time.

The stage set and lighting were fairly simple and there was nothing to suggest the absence of the Purple maestro which was a good tactic to be honest as it wasn’t meant to be a tribute show,

When another vocalist was required, the man chosen to fill those tiny, six inch-heeled shoes was Stokely Williams – a hugely experienced session singer and Minnesota native. Fair play to him as well. He didn’t attempt to be Prince-lite, he was just himself and very good too.

The setlist was a stormer as you can imagine and only when Wendy Melvoin introduced her colleagues, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, Brown Mark and Bobby Z, did we get to hear the name Prince.

It was massively emotional to hear these songs again, particularly Take Me With U, Mountains and Kiss which have always been amongst my favourites records of all time, plus they did Baby I’m A Star as an encore – a B-side originally but still better than most would have in their arsenal.

If they come back, don’t miss them.

 

 

 

 

 

Circle of Strife

I’d like to say this gig was the most momentous thing that happened on May 1st 1997.

However, elsewhere, the country was making a seismic shift even as The Charlatans were hitting the Royal Court stage.

The date of the gig was also the same as that year’s General Election which saw Tony Blair sweep in with a landslide victory and end 18 years of Tory rule.

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I’d worked for the Labour Party in the previous General Election, stood as a Labour candidate for our local council and remained a party member, so later in the evening I celebrated royally with our newly-elected MP.

It was a wonderful night as every Tory defeat was cheered to the echo and the beer flowed into the early hours.

It’s also the reason I remember the day with some affection, as opposed to this gig.

Not that I’ve got anything against The Charlatans. Quite the opposite in fact. Great band, solid career, clutch of marvellous tunes that grace any set list.

However, on this occasion I had given my money to someone else to get tickets and while I was running my Beaver colony (long story) they stuck their head round the church hall door and said ‘we’re going now, here’s your ticket, see you there…’ or words to that effect.

‘Cheers,’  I replied, pocketing the ticket and got back to the kids who were, by now, climbing the curtains after being left unsupervised for all of 30 seconds.

I next looked at the ticket when I presented it at the door and the security guy motioned to the stairs.

Now, at this time, I hated sitting at gigs and when I got to my seat the two lads I was going with were nowhere to be seen. Turns out they had bought stalls tickets before taking my money and on returning to the theatre found there were only circle seats left.

So I sat with a face on waiting for the band and cheered up only when they started playing.

Now I didn’t realise the ramifications this would have until several years later when a student on work experience with the newspaper I worked for said she recognised me.

‘You were sat next to me at The Charlatans and looked in a really bad mood,’ she said.

Coincidence or what!?

 

Parr for the course

I post this for no other reason than it’s very close to the 20th anniversary of the show.

If I was clever and forward thinking I would arrange tickets in date order and do all the blog posts on the anniversary of said gig.

But I’m not, so this is a rare moment of cosmic alignment.

As regular readers will know I’ve seen Terrorvision many times and will be seeing them again in a matter of months when they celebrate the 25th birthday of their truly great How to Make Friends…album.

And around this time I was seeing them almost every three or four months before they disbanded and had a career hiatus.

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The Parr Hall is a splendid venue and should do more gigs really. It’s probably best known now for hosting The Stones Roses comeback show, but I’ve seen some belters there including a blistering Wildhearts concert that was truly everything I could ever want from a live show.

Now here’s a little story I’ve got to tell

I suppose this one is a bit of a cheat.

When you can’t find tickets for other gigs which have much more interesting stories but you do turn one up for the same artist, can you legitimately tell the better tales?

You can if it’s your blog!

So, anyway…

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There I was unpacking a crate when what should fall out but this gem from 20 years ago – the wonderful Beastie Boys at Manchester Arena.

In the interests of completeness the special guests mentioned were Bentley Rhythm Ace and the Jungle Brothers – how exciting is that?

The Beastie Boys were playing in the round and occupied a stage in the centre of the hall with me and regular Tony having great seats to see them at reasonably close quarters.

They were fantastic, coming off the success of Hello Nasty which had been released the previous year, and threw everything but the kitchen sink into a performance that was like seeing three mates clamber on stage and create a riot from some instruments they found.

And, talking of riots, here’s where I get to digress.

Rewinding some 12 years I had been lucky enough to get tickets for the Beasties’ show at Brixton Academy courtesy of my friend Martin where they were supporting Run DMC and also for the Royal Court in Liverpool where they would headline.

Brixton was extraordinary. One of those gigs where you can’t believe you were really there. At one point I was stood next to Mick Jones from The Clash and his incredibly cool-looking posse.

Even approaching the venue was staggeringly exciting as the Tube station was packed with fans wearing stolen car badges on chains as popularised by the three bad brothers we now knew so well.

The Beasties had all the props that characterised their early frat-boy style with dancing girls in cages and a giant, hydraulic penis supplementing their set drawn from Licensed to Ill.

I returned North full of tales of just how good they had been but, all the while, a media storm was brewing around these ‘bad boys of rap’ and their alleged abusive behaviour.

By the time the Liverpool gig came round they were most definitely public enemy numbers one, two and three and the mood in the Royal Court fully reflected this.

Many in the audience seemed to only be there to ‘get’ the Beasties and as soon as they stepped on stage they were met with a barrage of bottles and cans.

After a couple of songs they declared that if it continued they would be off which only served to provoke a further fusillade from the stalls.

But what really tipped the balance was when one can got belted back by Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horowitz and hit a girl which sent the crowd into full-on riot mode.

They had been on stage for just over 10 minutes.

Next thing, there was tear gas in the air and the police were already on the scene as we tried to get out before anyone in our group got seriously hurt.

If I hadn’t seen them already I would have been massively disappointed but the events of the night just seemed to add another Pistols-esque layer to their notoriety and allowed me to say for all these years after – I was there.

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.

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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.