Dec 12th 2011
The Stone Roses reformation is the big story of the year but what of more recent Manchester bands. Fergal Kinney reports on the Courteeners three sold out nights at Manchester Apollo
An elderly steward outside the Apollo explains to me that with all the fuss and activity around tonight’s gig he thought Adele was on. Typical of whenever the Courteeners return to Manchester, there is a notable throb of excitement and anticipation pulsating around the venue. This isn’t a homecoming as such ”â the band have only played a few summer dates since the sold out MEN Arena show last Christmas ”â and in that lies the anticipation, much of the audience are waiting to see what the Courteeners have been up to in 2011. The rumour mill has been relatively quiet regarding album number three; there is some idea that it is recorded but nobody knows quite what to expect from Fray, Cuppello, Campbell and Conan.
No technological wizardry or giant mock spaceships adorn the Apollo stage tonight, merely a red velvet curtain provides the backdrop for the festivities, a distinct look of class and minimalism that often escapes bands after they’ve gained success. Ardwick’s Apollo theatre is steeped in history and as Manchester’s premier venue it is the perfect place for the band’s return.
The band takes to the stage to a tongue-in-cheek airing of Thin Lizzy’s ”ËBoys Are Back in Town’ over the PA system, though within seconds this is drowned out by the colossal roar of the ever giving Manchester audience. ”ËThe Opener’, first song off their second album and self professed love letter to Manchester, begins the proceedings and you can barely hear Liam Fray’s voice over the crowd. The energy is raised by frantic early singles ”ËAcrylic’ and ”ËCavorting’, and the reaction is continuously ecstatic. At a time when many profess the guitar band to be in decline, tonight is a sweat soaked reminder of why rock’n’roll and guitar bands matter now more than ever in these dark and cynical times. Whilst the Courteeners are genetically engrained in the North West, the love for the band seen tonight isn’t confined to the region as certain journalists would have you believe.
This is the kind of band that people up and down the country see over and over again, the kind of band that gets kids tuned into Morrissey or the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s for the first time. The Courteeners have drawn a wide range of ages to the Apollo, some of whom will have experienced many of the Courteeners’ predecessors and influences first-hand whilst for many this is their first gig.
Twenty minutes into the set, the new material is delivered. ”ËSave Rosemary in Time’ (a herb-based pun that Elvis Costello would tip his hat to) is a fast-paced, angular piece somewhere between The Strokes and We Are Scientists that wastes no time in charging to the instantly memorable future-singalong chorus. Notably, the song features more guitar solos and riffing than probably their entire first album put together. The Middleton four-piece appear unusually cautious when debuting these songs, and with next track ”ËLose Control’ things start to get interesting. ”ËNext year this will be fucking massive’ declares Fray as the intro to ”ËLose Control’ fills the room; a beat-driven dance number that one expects will live up to Fray’s prophecy. It’s the kind of song the Courteeners have only ever really hinted at on their eclectic last record, and though its distinctive croon of a chorus marks it out as trademark Courteeners it is a boldly different direction. ”ËWelcome to the Rave’, easily the best received new track of the night, follows this vein and seems very much a single-in-waiting.
Fray confesses his nerves over debuting third album tracks and, with this out the way, the familiar confidence and stride returns to the fore. Single ”ËYou Overdid It Doll’ gets everyone from the stage to the back doors on their feet, and the Apollo is tore up by the sharp punk snarl of ”ËFallowfield Hillbilly’. Towards the end of the set, Liam plays a few tracks acoustically with just the aide of live keyboardist Adam Payne and 3000 voices. Another new track is played here, ”ËWhy Are You Still With Him?’; the kind of kitchen sink portrait Fray is known for, telling the tale of a loveless relationship where ”Ëwhen it rains it fucking pours’. The band return and the set climaxes on hits ”ËNot Nineteen Forever’ and ”ËWhat Took You So Long’, inciting a frenzy of exasperated delight through the medium of pogo-ing and breathlessly shouting back every word. As the last notes ring through the old Apollo theatre, the refrain from ”ËWhat Took You So Long’ is still being furiously chanted, this continues long after the band leave the stage. Tonight the band let the songs do the talking and the energy and the passion that the songs were communicate with was reciprocated gleefully by the packed out audience.
Like the most interesting of success stories, the Courteeners have never really had the NME, Radio 1 or the mainstream press on their side, but what they evoked in their audience tonight most bands would swap their NME Cool List places and radio pluggers for in a heartbeat.