Sunday 15 December 2019

Courteeners - Manchester Arena - 14th December 2019

Courteeners rounded off 2019 at Manchester Arena on Saturday night with a career-spanning set that also revealed new songs from their More Again Forever album due out next month and a cover of one of Manchester's best loved songs.

The ongoing success of Courteeners is a big two fingers up to their detractors. Derided as lad rock, when there's a much more even split gender-wise to their fan base than that label would suggest and told they're only big up North when they sold out Olympia in London a couple of weeks back, it has been achieved organically, growing from their debut St Jude to the cusp of their sixth album, getting bigger with each record they release.

They come on to Oasis's (What's The Story) Morning Glory, the crowd bouncing before they've even set foot on stage and chanting for front man Liam like some form of religious mantra. They crash into Are You In Love With A Notion? and the arena is on its feet, where it remains for the rest of the set as the likes of Cavorting and Small Bones delight the sold-out crowd. Flares are lit in the standing area where there's a swaying mass of bodies moving together in their hundreds and the atmosphere feels electric, a celebration and a release.

At times the crowd threaten to drown out the band and at points Liam gives in and lets the audience take over like on Bide Your Time and that's testament to the way Courteeners have managed to lock into the psyche of a generation of music fans in a way few others have succeeded in doing. Songs about love and lost love are littered with cultural references, whether it be places as in Fallowfield Hillbilly and Smiths Disco or in the joy of returning home to Manchester after being on tour in places like Doncaster and LA on The Opener, that provide the hook to draw people in, a band singing about their lives and troubles and coming together as a release.

The set jumps around their career, heavily leaning on St Jude, the songs from which still get the biggest response, and there's five songs from the new album, three each from Concrete Love, Falcon and Mapping The Rendezvous, two from Anna, the much requested non-album single That Kiss and the much-loved b-side Smiths Disco. The new songs might have split opinion on the Courteeners fan groups, but with the band reportedly having scrapped an album's worth of material, they do show that their intention is not to stand still or simply try and replicate past glories. It's a tricky line to navigate. Liam thanks us for allowing them to play "a five and a half minute spoken word piece" that is More Again Forever's title track and risks losing the momentum after a particularly glorious Lose Control, but it gives us time to draw back and go again.

It's the prelude to a five-song mini-set that's accompanied by a string section and in which old favourites You Overdid It Doll and That Kiss are reintroduced into the set and then a three-song acoustic section which features the pick of the new songs Hanging Off Your Cloud, Smiths Disco and Liam's take on Live Forever, as song he describes as being the first he ever learned. He tells himself not to fuck it up and delivers a rendition without the other Liam's snarl but one that captures perfectly the message of the song.

They finish with a trio of Modern Love, Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long that makes you feel like you're witnessing something special, the love in the room, from floor to stage and back again is so powerful because they will have themselves been down on that floor witnessing their own heroes like Oasis and James (whose single Tomorrow still has a snippet sitting in that finale to the night) and know what it means to people. They might not be able to see the whites of their fans' eyes any more but at the end Liam comes down to the barrier to shake hands, pose for selfies and show that the fans mean as much to the band as the band do to them. And that is the secret of their success against the odds.

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

They played Are You In Love With A Notion?, Cavorting, No One Will Ever Replace Us, Summer, Bide Your Time, The Opener, Small Bones, Heart Attack, Fallowfield Hillbilly, Heavy Jacket, Sycophant, Lose Control, More Again Forever, You Overdid It Doll, Please Don't, Better Man, That Kiss, The 17th, Hanging Off Your Cloud, Live Forever, Smiths Disco, Beautiful Head, Modern Love, Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long?

photos - Justin Godson

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