A Certain Ratio
33 1/3 Anniversary Concerts
Manchester Band On The Wall
11 & 12 Nov 2011
All photos by Alex Staszko
ACR have now been going since 1978 & some of their earliest gigs were at The Manchester Band On The Wall -now a beautiful plush venue with ace lights and a brilliant sound system, unlike back in the day. For two nights they return for their 33 1/3rd anniversary, an idea nicked from guitarist Martin Moscrops mate ’cause he didn’t want to celebrate his 30th birthday.
It’s a quite fitting event for a band that have released numerous albums.
If you’re unfamiliar with ACR their music takes in lo-fi, industrial funk, jazz, techno, soul and pop. Their music was always ahead of its time, and that elusive hit always evaded them despite releasing some highly commercial music (A&M records tried to turn them into a pop band at one point). Their Factory releases are now highly sought after.
The two gigs attract a slightly older audience, (but still with a fair smattering of youngsters who weren’t born when the band formed) but fuck do they know how to dance, the first night, packed to the rafters had 99% of the audience freaking out like their lives depended on it, the second night’s audience were a little more subdued and the gig suffered from that slightly, despite the band being a little tighter.
Rather than have a support act they have original DJ Hewan Clarke playing a soul & funk set. They’ve decided to play 2 sets sandwiching a Q&A session, some questions submitted on the bands website and some by the audience on the night.
The band start with first single ‘All Night Party’ sung by original singer Simon Topping with the addition of original guitarist Peter Terrell, and only singer/bass player Jez Kerr & Martin Moscrop on stage- certain audience members who aren’t old enough to remember, wonder what’s going on! They’re then joined by drummer Donald Johnson to play ‘Du The Du’. The band then revert to the more familiar line up completed by Liam Mullen (keyboards) & Tony Quigley (sax).
The set is in chronological order, which in the Q&A they reckon doesn’t work too well, but it seems great to me and the dancing throng getting down to ‘Shack Up’ (their version more familiar than the original by Banbarra, also given an airing on the 2nd night by Greg Wilson) sung soulfully by final current member Denise Johnson. There’s much instrument swapping as Moscrop also plays trumpet and drums, Quigley, Keyboards & Donald Johnson-Bass. The first set ends with the Latin funk workout of ‘Si Firmi O Grido’, cut short tonight, but with the addition of Andy Connell on keyboards (who left the band to form Swing Out Sister). Tonight’s guests are so secret, a passing Bruce Mitchell (Durutti Column’s drummer) heckles Andy Connell as to what his drinking buddy is doing here!
There are more tunes from Greg Wilson before the Q&A session, which unfortunately a good few members of the audience weren’t prepared to listen to, especially on the second night. If you’d have listened you would have seen Martin Moscrop’s gig diary that tells us they once got paid ÃÂ£13 for a gig in the same venue! All the members talk about joining the band and the now missed Manchester Music Collective, who once helped the likes of ACR, The Fall & Joy Division get gigs in the early days.
After a few more tunes on the wheels of steel, ACR are back on stage to power their way through the dancier element of their back catalogue starting with both sides of ace Factory single, ‘Wild Party’, funky as hell! Everyone’s well into it now as they do ‘The Big E’- their biggest nearly hit on A&M. ‘Good Together’, ‘Be What You Wanna Be’ & ‘Wonder Y’ are all jammed up Kraftwerk-esque electro & soulful vocals and it’s stunning stuff!
‘Turn Me On’ shows Denise Johnsons voice at its soulful best, and is quite stunning on the second night and ends in a great jam. The set ends with ‘Down Down Down’ and ‘I Feel Light’ from their current ‘Mind Made Up’ album. Encore time is another version of ‘Shack Up’ which dances the crowd into a frenzy again; second encore is another version of ‘Si Firmi O Grido’, back to its familiar 7 minute version with Moscrop and Johnson swapping drums and bass twice during the song and much Latin percussion from the rest of the band.
ACR do still seem to be a secret outside of Manchester, mind you there were Canadians, Australians and a fair splattering of Southerners in the audience on the first night. They’re always have been great to watch live and if they come anywhere near you I urge you to go. The last studio album ‘Mind Made Up’ is also worth checking out & for the unfamiliar people to the band, check out the compilations, ‘Early’ (Soul Jazz) and ‘The Old And The New’ (Factory). Some of The Factory Records back catalogue has been lovingly reissued by LTM Records, who are also worth checking out.