Tuesday 3 August 2021

A Concert For John (Peter Hook And The Light, LIINES, The Blinders, Cabbage, Dirty Laces, The Mysterines, Purple Heart Parade, Déjà Vega, Loose Articles, Scuttlers, Inland Taipan, Gardenback, Hey Bulldog, The Big Peach, La Mode) - Manchester Ritz - 1st August 2021

You'll know John Hall. If you're the type of person who likes to talk while the band are on, he'll have cast you a disbelieving stare across the room. If you're a real dickhead, like one man in Rawtenstall at a Liam Frost gig, I might have stood between the two of you at some point. If you love live music videos on You Tube, you'll have seen his wonderful Manc Music channel of films of songs recorded across Manchester's music venues, you'll probably be in one of them as he loves to show the audience reaction. If you've ever sat in the secret garden at the back of the Castle or the Rose And Monkey you'll definitely have met him. There isn't a bigger champion of new music in Manchester than John Hall. Many people might claim that title, bollocks that it is, as their own. But there's no I in John Hall, just a love of music, an extravagant flounce, a wicked laugh, a bag of pills and the biggest heart.

John isn't going to be with us much longer. I won't expand on that. But on Sunday night 1,000 or so people poured into the Ritz, many taking their first tentative steps back into the weird world we live in because it's for John. It was about music, but most importantly about love, community, people coming together and indulging in a shared passion. Many of us know the others through John, because of John - the heart and soul of our local scene. Every one of these bands that played, and the dozens more that would have dropped everything to be here, owe him the hugest debt of gratitude, not that he would accept any such recompense or acclaim.

La Mode open proceedings in the basement and threaten to steal the show for the rest of the day. Loud, direct and with a front woman in Millie with real star quality and a voice that threatens to rip the roof off the already scorching hot room, tracks like Johnny I Know, Dirt Dirt Baby and last year's long-awaited single Fake News are driven along by Calvin and Ollie's raw potent mix of guitar and drums take us on what Millie calls "a pure journey of rock and roll". They seem to have been around and about the Manchester scene for quite some time now - but they're not destined to remain in opening slots if there's any justice because they have a real fire and passion that sets the pulses racing even at one in the afternoon. 

The Big Peach are next up, a late addition to the bill as one of the secret acts were unable to perform at the last minute. Their sixties-influenced sound, tight rhythms and slick vocal harmonies might have been more suited to the intimacy of the basement than the cavernous main room at The Ritz, but they make the most of their opportunity to try and impress a crowd that's building even as early as half past one. They've already moved onto getting album two out in the world to follow on from their self-titled debut and the new songs show both a progression in the sound whilst remaining true to their influences and style.

Hey Bulldog are a real favourite of John's and it's not difficult to see why. The emotional tribute Rob pays at the end has him and some of us in tears. They're very much a musician's band, losing themselves in the wonderful sonic soundscapes they craft, very intuitive and flowing, whether it be on Al Lupo, on which they draft in Mike Denton from The Lucid Dream on keys, or their set finale No Future (Part II) which feels like it could go on forever and no one would mind. They throw in a couple of covers, asking Millie from La Mode to fulfil one of John's fantasies of his favourite bands coming together by joining them for a cover of Rory Gallagher's Bulldog Blues, as well as Neil Young's Hey Hey My My and displaying a mastery of their art as they do.

The Ritz is a huge stage for Gardenback, another of John's favourites, but they make the step up from the Northern Quarter to the main stage as if they've been playing here all their lives, filling up the space in a way bands often fail to manage when making such a big step up around Manchester. Go Native is a real standout track still among the newer ones, but there's a real consistency in quality across them and Neil, Jacob and Ellis look and sound like they've been playing together all their lives.

Back down in the basement there's a change in style and tempo for Inland Taipan. Aisling's vocal transfixes the room and as it weaves its way around a raging symphony of guitars, drums and violin that builds majestically each time. There's moments where the room is silenced, no mean feat with a crowd that doesn't know many of the artists in the basement, by the sheer compelling beauty of these pieces of music that feel both out of place among the other artists, but also an insight into the depth of the underground music scene around Manchester that John supports.

Scuttlers lay down their marker for the best-dressed band of the night and their set is generously packed full of new material that they'd planned to reveal at their own shows before lockdown struck. Their last single Sun's Gone In On Me, released during lockdown, is a sign of intent as is a new song called Cyanide to the extent that they look and feel at home up on stage. Their cover of Funky Town may well be on its way out given the standard of the new material, but here it helps draw people in, but with their own sold out shows coming up they still appear to be in position to kick on.

Loose Articles have the basement packed out and it's very clear why. They've progressed from being a glorious chaos into something much tighter and focused without losing any of the anger and energy. Adding Erin as a third vocalist has given the songs extra lift and edge whilst Natalie completely loses herself in the moment throughout the set. Snake and Lethal Weapon have grown legs since their limited EP release, while recent singles Buses, Up The Disco and Kick Like A Girl have a mosh pit form down the front and people singing back at them and they seem ready now to take on the world.

It feels like Déjà Vega were made for these stages, but it's not always been that way as they've worked their way through the venues and up the bills of the scene that John has been such an ardent supporter of. They are living proof of the power of word-of-mouth organic growth that happens outside the corridors of the industry. These days they're a mightily powerful live band; comparable to those that follow them later in the day. The likes of Mr Powder, Who We Are and Eyes Of Steel are blistering, obliterating anyone who dares to defy them. Jack is like a man possessed, lost in his performance, whilst Mike and Tom are almost oblivious to their front man yet are every much as indispensable to the band. They finish on The Test, with one of John's infamous Astral Elevator introductions of the band sampled into one of the song's many breakdowns. The call and response chant of "DEJA" "VEGA" echoes around the halls. With a fair wind they'll be headlining this room themselves one day.

One of John's phrases is that "eating's cheating" but with a full day we head out and unfortunately miss Yellow Brain in the basement and The Travelling Band in the main room.

Purple Heart Parade have been a long-time favourite of John's, probably going back further than any of the bands here except for the headliner and tonight they sound better than ever. With a line-up that seems fixed and focused, their dreamy soundscapes form the perfect backdrop for Pete's reverb-laden vocals to take you away in the clouds. A new song Always sits proudly alongside Sista Libra and Desolation Angel, whilst Red Rose County, the highlight of the set, is preceded by a beautiful dedication from Pete to John about coming from the same town and school and what is important in life.

The Mysterines are the first of the secret guests, the only band on the bill from out of town, but they're welcomed as one of our own, proof that the supposed rivalry between two great Northern conurbations is left on the football terraces. Theirs is the fullest no holds barred rock set of the night and even though Lia's voice occasionally got lost through no fault of her own in the muddy main stage sound their set is confirmation that they're about to become a very big deal. A new song called Danger is a real highlight towards the end of their well-received set.

Back down in the basement there's hardly room to move as a packed room welcomes Dirty Laces to the stage to continue their journey out of the city's Oasis-inspired crowd towards a huge psychedelic-inspired sound, no more so in evidence on their final song You that takes up about half of their half-hour set, twisting, turning, stopping and then heading off in a new direction. Charlie's voice sounds richer, more expressive than ever as he's grown into the front man role whilst his band go from strength to strength completing a remarkable transformation and development of one of the city's most interesting young bands.

Cabbage go back a long way with John. He's immortalised in the line "I wanna be as free as John Hall's lover" in the lyrics to their single Gibraltar Ape and Lee recalls the first introduction in the Castle beer garden where John met so many musicians. They play Dinner Lady unrehearsed on request for him too. The Ritz's bouncy floor gets a proper work out as they mix some of their best known early tracks - Uber Capitalist Death Trade, Fickle, Terrorist Synthesizer and a riotous finale of Necroflat In The Palace where they're joined by Leon The Pig Farmer who'd paid homage to John before Cabbage took to the stage - with tracks from their recent LP Amanita Pantherina as well as Joe rapping the ode to British railways A Network Betrayal. There's a real sense of love and energy in the room, transported from the sweaty little venues of town where Cabbage grew under John's watchful eye and lens.

We can't get in the packed downstairs sauna for The Goa Express so take a short breather before The Blinders' set. Robbed of the chance to tour their Fantasies Of A Stay At Home Psychopath and having stripped down their sound for their Lounge Lizard album that's coming out this week, they're ready to let rip at a volume that The Ritz's sound system struggles to contain. Fleshed out to a six-piece and with Tom and Charlie leading from the front, they blast through Gotta Get Through, Forty Days And Forty Nights and Lunatic With A Loaded Gun without even saying hello, feeding off the energy of the masses down in front of them. They move between albums at will, ICB Blues provoking the most furious mosh pit of their set as they cast aside the theatrics of the Johnny Dream Columbia era for something more rock and roll. They strip down to their Lounge Lizard set for Circle Song, a respite from the bouncing and the sound on the edge of distortion, but you sense that this set was something of a release for them in front of one of their biggest champions.

John and I first bonded properly on a drunken day / night out in December 2014. We'd watched Tom Hingley in the Ruby Lounge in the afternoon and were looking for a gig to go to in the evening but there wasn't much in the online gig guides. "There's a lesbian fanzine launch at Gullivers" he declared so we went and watched LIINES play to about six people and then headed off to a really shit mariachi band in the Roadhouse and an even worse Chinese somewhere in China Town. So much came out of that night; first and foremost a wonderful friendship with the band, but from the review of the evening opportunities opened up for them, not because of the review but because LIINES are fucking brilliant and deserve every success that they should get. But that memory is just one of many where John has been the catalyst, there at the start of a journey, taking people out of their comfort zone.

LIINES set is as visceral and thrilling as ever, with the added danger of the water now dripping from the ceiling of the boiling hot room threatening to take out the electrics and the hometown introduction of new bassist Anna who fits in as if she's always been there. Mixing new songs that had been introduced into the set prior to lockdown - opener Keep On Going and set-closer Not Afraid being particular standouts - and a brand new one Wait with old favourites from Stop-Start including a ferocious Cold and an ever-glorious Never There, still one of the modern classics from our city, they are a fitting headliner to the downstairs stage in so many ways.

Peter Hook performing a set of Joy Division classics is perhaps the most fitting way of closing the night. Anyone who knows John will have heard his stories of seeing Joy Division many times in their short too brief existence. Like John, Hooky clearly doesn't give a fuck about dividing opinions on himself - recalling his first time in the Ritz with Jimmy Savile spinning the discs and making a quip about him being there again tonight. 

The set - No Love Lost, Digital, Isolation, Disorder, She's Lost Control, Shadowplay, Novelty, Warsaw, Atmosphere, Dead Souls, Twenty Four Hours, Transmission, Love Will Tear Us Apart and Ceremony - reads like a roll call of songs that have defined everything in Manchester since. Love Will Tear Us Apart is of course one of the greatest songs ever written, and Atmosphere runs it close, acknowledged by young and old taking them from Hooky and making it our own. Whilst the market for tribute bands is polluting our musical landscape right now, there's more than place for this - a celebration of the music rather than trying to recreate a time and place that you simply can't because music is created in the moment, like life is lived in it.

There's a beautiful moment mid-set where Hooky dedicates John's favourite song Novelty to him and the crowd chant his name. It's an understated yet perfect tribute, like so much of what has gone before it on the day.

As the final bars of Ceremony echo around the hall, everyone says their goodbyes and heads off into the night at the end of a bittersweet day. There's the celebration of being able to do this again, the communal gathering of love for one man but at the same time the realisation of why we're here. With the day raising over £10,000 for the charity The John Hall Stage that is being set up to support the very same young musicians that played across the stages today and the next wave of them, a remarkable unique man will be leaving the same indelible stamp across the music scene of Manchester than he will on the hearts and minds of anyone who's had the immense fortune to be able to call him a friend.  Love you John.

Peter Hook And The Light's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

LIINES' official website can be found here.  They are also on TwitterFacebook and Soundcloud.  

The Blinders' website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Cabbage's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Dirty Laces' website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

The Mysterines are on Facebook and Twitter.

Purple Heart Parade are on Facebook and Twitter.

Déjà Vega are on Facebook and Twitter.

Loose Articles are on Facebook and Twitter.

Scuttlers are on Facebook and Twitter.

Inland Taipan are on Facebook and Twitter.

Gardenback are on Facebook and Twitter.

Hey Bulldog's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

The Big Peach are on Facebook and Twitter.

La Mode are on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 comment:

  1. A solid, endearing picture of a special event. Here's to the new JH Stage!