Concert For John
02 Ritz, Manchester
Sunday 1st August
John Hall and his partner Mark must have been pinching themselves when they saw the finale to this special night of bands and DJ’s that pulled themselves together to make an evening of quality music filled with love, unity and respect for a human being that has poured his life and soul into the music community. The beauty of the whole event is that John loves each and everyone in the lineup, big or small and that’s what matters most. I get myself prepared for an all dayer of mass proportions and surprises as I discover some shit hot talent nestled in amongst the cream of new and old music…
As I make my way past Home and Tony Wilson Place I look across at Gorilla, like a sister venue to the 1,500 capacity 02 Ritz and it’s rammed with people having Sunday lunch, presumably to prepare for the marathon day ahead which consists of eighteen live bands and five DJ’s of premium quality covering the void between sets. It’s like the pandemic has disappeared bar the Covid status checks as I get to the entrance. Face masks are a choice and I have my spare just in case it gets a bit mental and I get paranoid. I’m an early bird as I’m trying to cram in every band into the review (which I try, so apologies to whoever I miss) and I deck down to the Basement Stage for first band of the day La Mode.
A brave move to start the whole day by siblings Millie and Calvin who don’t look one bit nervous. It starts off quite empty yet when the band crank up on stage the place becomes rammed to capacity. Where the fuck has everyone come from? They provide us with a tight set of raucous punk with Millie bigging up the crowd with her Karen O crossed with Courtney Love vibes and her wild animation. A new band to me that got my attention as ones to keep an eye on.
The Big Peach are the first band to play the main stage and although they’re not my thing I can see why John likes them being the hippy he is and it’s his night and only my lowly opinion. They are in this sixties time warp with the tunes and the dress sense, all flower power, paisley, and erm waistcoats… Jangly pop guitars that remind me of the Merseybeat scene in more ways than one. A nostalgia trip for those bygone days.
Back downstairs meanwhile Hey Bulldog pull off a sweaty set of grunge punk that gets the audience into a lather. Tight drums, some great guitaring, a guest slot from Millie (La Mode) who yet again sets it alight with a raunchy rock blues number and an almost in tears speech from one of the band when he speaks about how John Hall has touched his life, before another guest appears to play keyboards on the wobbly set up that makes you think John is underneath it fiddling around with the legs for a laugh!
Gardenback pull off a great set of quirky low fi indie post punk straight outta Oldham. No nonsense tunes that sound great on the big stage. These lads are full of ambition with their quirky tunes that give us a blast of how fresh bands should sound. Which John obviously recognises when he’s studying the underground that bubble underneath in our tiny venues.
Inland Taipan are a strange band I’ve never seen before yet I’m hooked completely with their surreal sound that gives me vibes of 4AD stuff like The Cocteau Twins and Lush. A real change in the mood of the whole day as they wash over with a bliss that’s mesmerising and strange. The voilin is haunting and just adds to the whole sound resonating from the tiny stage. I was told to watch the guitar playing by the enigmatic singer. A complicated way of wrenching sound out of a tool she knows well how to use. Compelling stuff.
Fellow Middletonians Scuttlers are next up on the main stage. The Nolan brothers strut their stuff in their matching suits and bling and give us a set where they air quite a few new tunes which can be unsettling for the newcomer, yet they pull it off in their own fashion. They have songwriting ideas that are going for the jugular of the mainstream. Nothing groundbreaking or new but a proper indie romp that will propel them to the big slots with the likes of Blossom and Courteeners. Is that a bad thing? Not in my book. Too many bands are trying to be different. Scuttlers are just being Scuttlers. Doing what they love and looking for that big day at Heaton Park in the very near future.
I’m gonna need a fuckin’ Stannah stairlift in a few years after this gig. I’ve already had some leaflets through the door, the cheeky bastards! Loose Articles are absolute quality. Think a band of punk as fuck boisterous post Riot Grrll meets New Facts Emerge Fall era and you’ve hit the nail on the head! A solid set of repetitive tight as fuck tunes that speed up out of nowhere and grab your attention. They are on their own and don’t give a fuck. Surprise of the event so far for me. John knows talent when he finds it, putting me to shame sometimes! Best music I’ve heard for ages!
The main stage welcomes the arrival of the phenomenal Deja Vega. A favourite of John’s who has travelled fuckin’ everywhere to watch this trio of psych rock mammoths grow in stature. I’ve reviewed them quite a lot so I handed this over to our man Iain Key to get some words from his outlook:
“By 16:15 I’ve seen a couple of bands and the size of their crowd in the Ritz is growing. The atmosphere is friendly and everyone is in good spirits. I’m getting used to how ‘normal’ it feels being back in a proper venue, no social distancing and losing track of how many people I was bumping into who I’ve not seen for some time. There were bands I definitely wanted to see on the bill and a few that I was unfamiliar with, Deja Vega being on the latter list. The next 30 mins are like an epiphany (well it was Sunday) and I can honestly say, other than the legendary Peter Hook, this was the best set I saw all day. Deja Vega’s performance felt like a step up from the acts that had been on already. The trio turn things up to 11, with frontman Jack demanding your attention as bassist Mike looks out into the crowd, smiling, clearly knowing this is something special. Drummer Tom underpins it all with hypnotic rhythms that defy you to stand still. With the light show washing over the crowd they play a set, the majority I found out later, is from their celebrated 2019 self titled debut album. Deja Vega sit in the middle-ground of rock and indie where Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine also exist, with extended instrumental workouts leaving you breathless, ears ringing and wanting more.”
I couldn’t put that better myself. The amount of people coming up to me after the set asking “Who the fuck were they?” Job done. A load more converts to pray to the church of one of the best live bands you’ll witness at the moment. Ear shredding stuff especially when they blow you away with the psych fuckery of The Test that could go on for hours!
Yellowbrain take to the stage and thank fuck there’s no smoke machine. Anyone who knows this band will know why! It’s Afghan Sand Gang! They’ve changed their name but not the tunes. A solid set that always thrilled if you caught them supporting Cabbage or The Blinders in the past. Still as excellent as ever with their moody dark set that captures the whole industrial side of Manchester. Always a live favourite to ones in the know and a pleasure to see them back in a sweaty room.
Now here is where it gets tricky. I miss most of The Travelling Band and Purple Heart Parade as I need to eat, so again apologies for missing a few bands. I’m human and diabetic! I get back for surprise guest two The Mysterines. They are beyond good. They command that stage like veterans and pile out a set that has newcomers to their sound in awe. Think close cousins to She Drew The Gun and you get the gist. A solid performance that has everyone hooked and a band that are already big festival contenders.
Next up in the sweatbox are Dirty Laces. I’ve always admired this band after seeing them as teenagers back in Northwich a few years back. They have an indie sound that appeals and some cracking tunes that just grip you. Indie anthems for the youth you say? Fuck that, They’ve gone mad! They’re stepping into massive stadium rock territory here. The indie is still there yet their sound is shifting into proportions you can compare to Led Zep and the huge stuff that could take America by storm. It’s the musicianship that show’s they’ve grown up during lockdown and are ready to take on the titans. A sweaty set of large ambitious rock tunes.
Cabbage arrive like they’ve never been away. Not ones to fuck around they open the set with a great piece of anarcho punk poetry from the excellent Leon The Pig Farmer who just gets better with every performance. The perfect gentleman that launches into quick fire poetry like no one else. I’ve already mentioned he’s nicked John Cooper Clarke’s crown. Am I wrong? You decide. Cabbage do an insane set of favourites including Uber Capitalist Death Trade, A Network Betrayal which sounds huge and a finale of Necroflat In The Palace which has the crowd going berserk. Being from Mossley they’ll never leave…
I need a break! I’m getting too old for this lark! The Blinders storm back with a set that cements them in the hearts of the youth who discovered them in the first place. I’m just an old bastard who tagged along and got dragged into the mayhem. A sterling set as usual with Forty Days & Forty Nights slamming the crowd with intensity. John must have been in his element, looking down on the mass crowd mayhem he was always involved in at Blinders gigs. I’ll never forget him at Gorilla a few years back acting like a teenager up near the front, not giving a fuck about age or barriers or nothing. Funny as fuck. My highlight was the airing of Black Glass off the last album which to me is a standout Doorsy psych classic that stunned everyone. The addition of Eoghan from Cabbage has given the band a proper ramped up sound even louder than they were. Astonishing noise.
I’m gutted I missed Goa Express and LIINES. Bit of miscommunication going on there… Anyway, Peter Hook & The Light end this celebration of John Hall with a set that Nigel Carr describes as “The closest you’ll get to seeing Joy Division live”. Just check that setlist out! The crowd go absolutely mental to every song. Close your eyes and it’s like your best ever dream. She’s Lost Control has everyone going berserk and old stuff like Warsaw was like robbing your dad’s record collection and finding some of those early Factory releases produced by Hannett. Transmission is a mass singalong and still my favourite Joy Division tune, yet when Love Will Tear Us Apart kicks in its absolute mayhem! I saw Bad Lieutenant do it once and it was shit… Closing with Ceremony was a masterstroke from Hooky here. I was in tears and not the only one. Fuckin’ brilliant. A big shout out must also go to all the DJ’s that covered the music void in between sets. Dave Haslam, Jason Boardman, Jeff O Toole, Astral Elevator and Eight Miles High. I find it hard reviewing DJ sets but you all sounded great as fuck!
If anyone deserves a send off like this it’s John Hall. His service to the Manchester music scene has been exemplary and we will all hold him in our hearts forever and remember this special occasion that touched almost 1,500 people in a venue I know John Loves. As I’m writing this I’ve heard some more awful news that he’s actually been given weeks to live and won’t be here much longer. The cancer was that advanced that treatment was never available with the horrible diagnosis, meaning John has had to fight this evil bastard like only he can. A gritty witty survivor to the end. “Shut the fuck up cancer!” A tragic bit of news, yet rejoice that you all got together to remember a fantastic party animal who has lived a life that a lot of people would be envious of. Bless John Hall and his loving partner Mark Brown and thanks to all the people who organised this…
The Louder Than War Show – John Hall Special is a full tribute to John that can be found here.
Words by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile is here