Saturday 4 November 2017

Liam Fray / Carnival Club - Manchester Albert Hall - 3rd November 2017

As he came to the end of his three-week acoustic tour of the UK, Liam Fray played the first of three shows to an ecstatic response in the electric atmosphere of Manchester's becoming legendary Albert Hall venue. With a set comprising of songs from across the whole of The Courteeners' back catalogue, he often struggled to be heard over the deafening singing back from two thousand devotees crammed into every nook and cranny of this stunning building. Support came from one of the most exciting new bands in Manchester, Carnival Club, who looked perfectly at home up on the big stage.

This tour has seen Carnival Club play their biggest dates so far in their fledgling career, but on tonight's evidence they may find themselves back in here in their own right one day. Whilst they struggle initially with the sound, only having had a short soundcheck, powerful songs like You're So Hostile, Follow The Sun, next single Sin City and their set-closing House Of Cards reverberate around this building like they own the place. They're assured, confident and Kai and lead guitarist Eddie take to this big stage as if they've been playing it all their lives with all the rock star prowl and stagger even when they slow things down for an emotional Cecilia where Eddie takes the song by the scruff of the neck and leads it off into the distance. If this tour is an audition for them, then they've passed it with flying colours.

The last twice Liam has played in Manchester, with his band, was at Old Trafford in front of 50,000 people and at the re-opening of Manchester Arena following the May bomb attack, both huge shows for very different reasons. Tonight feels like an attempt to scale it back a bit, as much for Liam to get back close to his audience as it is for us to witness him in relatively intimate surroundings. Everyone in the place is on their feet from the very first note of How Come, almost drowned out by the repetitive chant of "Liam, Liam", and they stay that way until the end of What Took You So Long? after everyone refuses to leave the building before a second encore. It's on nights like this where Albert Hall truly comes into its own as a venue.

The set focuses heavily on St Jude, the album that made The Courteeners their name and the one that still, despite the band moving on musically, is the one that evokes the most passionate response. The likes of Acrylic, Bide Your Tim, No You Didn't No You Don't, Yesterday Today And Probably Tomorrow and Please Don't all feel like communal anthems, woven into the fabric of this city, or at least the parts that those gathered frequent rather than the soulless takeover that seems to be happening bit by bit. Smiths Disco is dedicated to Johnny, although it borrows from Stephen Fretwell's Scar, and is another pointer to the bits of town that Liam sings about and his people inhabit.

The second half of the set sees the introduction of a pianist and a string section and a focus on more recent material. Lose Control, the first song from their third album Anna released eighteen months after being dropped by Universal, clearly holds a special place in Liam's heart and the response it gets leaves him beaming from ear to ear. Small Bones and Are You In Love With A Notion? show that there's far more to this collection of songs from over the past ten years than the beer-fuelled testosterone-driven Northern bravado with which The Courteeners and their fan base are often dismissed by sneering London hacks unable to grasp the way they connect with people whose lives they probably have little understanding of. The 17th, in particular, with delicious strings accentuating the inherent beauty of the song, is testament to something well beyond the portrayal of its creator.

There's a lot of love in the room tonight and it's reciprocated. International is dedicated to those who are selfless and listen and later before The Rest Of The World Has Gone Home, Liam talks about the need for empathy all of the time and name checks everyone involved in putting on the tour. This evening is about unity, celebrating who we are and where we're from, getting a little bit drunk and singing along, as the whole room does lustily to their inevitable conclusion of Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long? You might, if it is your wont, dismiss the cultural significance of Liam and his band in this part of the world, but then that's your ignorance and no one else's.

Liam Fray played How Come, An Ex Is An Ex For A Reason, Acrylic, Hometown One, Bide Your Time, Finest Hour, No You Didn't No You Don't, Yesterday Today & Probably Tomorrow, Please Don't, Chipping Away, Lose Control, Van Der Graaff, Lullaby, Sunflower, International, Small Bones, Are You In Love With A Notion?, The 17th, Cross My Heart And Hope To Fly, The Rest Of The World Has Gone Home, Smiths Disco, Disco 2000, Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long?

Liam Fray is on Twitter. The Courteeners website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Carnival Club are on Facebook and Twitter.

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