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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.