Saturday 14 January 2023

Liam Fray / Rianne Downey - Manchester Ritz - 13th January 2023

To support the Greater Manchester Mayor's charity project A Bed Every Night that aims to help alleviate the homeless problem on the region's streets, Liam Fray headlined The Ritz with a one-off performance that included the whole of Courteeners' St Jude debut album as well as selected highlights from their back catalogue and a couple of covers. Support came from Glasgow's Rianne Downey.
There's something of the star quality about Rianne Downey. Her excited social media buzz about supporting Liam in such an iconic venue in a city that she calls her second home would suggest nerves, but if she had any she certainly doesn't betray them in an impressive half-hour performance accompanied by just a guitarist. She moves around the stage like she owns it and she's the headliner, drawing in an initially chatty audience and having them roaring in appreciation by the end. She looks and sounds made for stages of this size.

She engages with the audience, explaining the meaning behind her songs without overdoing it. New single Hard, out next Friday, feels like a singalong anthem in the making. Home is an ode to her home town Glasgow and everything she loves about it, but it could be about anyone's home town, such is the way her songs connect. She throws in a cover of Sit Down, and as possibly one of the harshest judges of such things around, we're impressed by the way she makes it her own and her love of the song is very much evident as fifteen hundred people join in, albeit thrown by when she uses the song's original second verse. She finishes with Alright and leaves with another new set of fans.

Before Liam Fray takes to the stage, he's introduced by Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester for those who've lived under a rock for the past few years, although he's almost drowned out by chants of "fuck the Tories." He's preaching to the converted here of course as he talks about supporting striking essential services and the low value that our government places on them. He tells us about the charity which is helping over six hundred people a night have a roof over their head, before introducing the man he describes as the "greatest front man of your generation",

It's a bold claim, but one that most of the fifteen hundred crowd wouldn't disagree with. It's noticeable that tonight's crowd at least isn't the football-style crowd for which their dissenters often look down their noses at Courteeeners for. There's a healthy gender and age mix, little sign of any aggression and once Liam starts to play the fifteen hundred join together as one.

The first half of the set covers the majority of St Jude, which is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year and which has been reissued on a number of formats, which Liam jokes about at a couple of points. He moves between electric and acoustic guitar, which provides a better balance and gives the songs more energy than a simple acoustic performance. The songs are sung back with a gusto and volume that often threatens to drown him out - while many of this crowd would have still been at primary school when the record emerged in April 2008, they've adopted it as their anthem, their growing up album, and whilst the band may have moved on musically, it'll probably always be their key touch point and connection.

The biggest hitters from the record are saved for the end of course and before that we get a sneak preview of a new song Lie Back And Think Of England which would suggest Liam's lyrical content is moving more political, referencing A&E queues and societal injustices. He's joined by keyboard player Elina for the second half of the set which includes tracks from albums ranging from St Jude's follow-up Falcon (Cross My Heart And Hope To Fly) through to their last record 2020's More Again Forever (Hanging Off Your Cloud) as well as much-loved b-side Smiths Disco and a surprise cover of Madness's It Must Be Love. The main set ends with a stripped-down version of Pulp's Disco 2000 seamlessly merging into Not Nineteen Forever.

The inevitable encore features two tracks from St Jude - its final single No You Didn't, No You Don't and the traditional Courteeners' set-ender What Took You So Long which finishes with Liam conducting the audience's "woah woah" chant that's been heard for most of the evening before the show and between songs. Liam's genuinely taken aback by the strength of the response even after all these years of adulation in this city. He references the support at one point from venues such as Night And Day, Dry Bar and Briton's Protection through to seven Apollos and the Arena and it's a reminder of how grassroots venues really do provide the start point for all the great artists that emerge from our city. It'll be time of new music soon, once the huge Heaton Park show is past in the summer, but tonight was very much about celebrating a landmark album as well as raising money for an extremely important cause.

Liam Fray played Aftershow, Kimberley, Acrylic, Bide Your Time, How Come, Please Don't, Kings Of The New Road, Lie Back And Think Of England, Fallowfield Hillbilly, Yesterday Today And Probably Tomorrow, The Rest Of The World Has Gone Home, Hanging Off Your Cloud, Cross My Heart And Hope To Fly, The 17th, It Must Be Love, Sunflower, Smiths Disco, Disco 2000, Not Nineteen Forever, No You Didn't And No You Don't 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.

Rianne Downey is on Facebook and Twitter

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