Monday 8 July 2024

James / Johnny Marr / Inspiral Carpets - Lytham Festival - 7th July 2024

James headed to the seaside on Sunday night with Orca 22 orchestra and the Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir in tow to headline the final night of Lytham Festival supported by Johnny Marr, Inspiral Carpets, The Magic Numbers and The Kairos.

A ticketing issue meant we didn't get inside until close to the end of The Magic Numbers' set so we missed The Kairos, who we'd heard so many good things about, and from outside they sounded great - big, confident anthemic songs that don't get lost on a big outdoor setting  The Magic Numbers set took heavily from their classic debut album, twenty years old next year, and was the perfect early evening set as the weather held off and the sun came out.

Once inside we encounter one of the best organised and laid-out open air shows we've been to with plenty of facilities and places to eat and drink rather than the poor choice often offered. Whilst Lytham is really five one-day open air gigs rather than a festival - there's no camping here so everyone is clean and well-presented, it has a really excellent atmosphere to it.

Inspiral Carpets are another perfect early evening band. With a catalogue of over twenty singles they pick and choose from them and can mix them around whilst still giving everyone something of what they want. The big hitters are present and correct of course - This Is How It Feels, She Comes In The Fall, Dragging Me Down, the Mark E Smith sampling I Want You and Saturn 5. Stephen Holt has never sounded better than he does right now leading them with new members Oscar Boon and Kev Clark more than playing their part in this version of the Inspirals' line-up. Butterfly, Commercial Rain and Find Out Why are nods to their garage band roots, whilst Two Worlds Collide is testament to how they evolved and created glorious indie pop way after the Madchester boat on which they sailed for a while had sunk at sea. 

Johnny Marr is next up mixing tracks from his successful solo career with classics from his time in The Smiths as well as side-project Electronic's "disco song from Manchester" Getting Away With It and a cover of The Passenger. Over the course of an hour he delivers a twelve-song greatest hits package that befits his status as one of the most iconic musicians of his generation. His solo stuff is strong and the selection from it he makes here is spot on, the urgency of Generate Generate, the raucous energy and quickfire lyrics of Easy Money in particular.

It is though, as you'd expect from such a large crowd, The Smiths songs that get the biggest reaction. The likes of Panic, This Charming Man, How Soon Is Now and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out rank amongst some of the finest and most recognisable to emerge from the UK. Johnny doesn't try to sing them like Morrissey, but puts his own take on the vocals and lays claim to his right to be able to perform these songs as much as his co-creator. Possibly the highlight though is a poignant Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want that connects across thousands of people enjoying the warm Lytham evening.

Johnny Marr played Armatopia, Panic, Generate! Generate!, Spirit Power And Soul, This Charming Man, Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want, Somewhere, How Soon Is Now?, Easy Money, The Passenger, Getting Away With It and There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.

"Are you on board the Magic Bus? It won't be like normal, it's going to go through all kinds of different phases" Tim asks the crowd after the track from their last but one album All The Colours Of You opens the headliners' set. With close to forty musicians on stage, conducted and arranged by Joe Duddell, this was never going to be an ordinary evening as James took this orchestral and choir project that had been so successful indoors in 2-5,000 capacity theatres to outdoor stages. Add in that the band's ethos means they would never simply chuck a few strings on their greatest hits and pass that off as an orchestral performance and you have the basis for something that's both spectacular and challenging and had the possibility to be lost in such a large crowd who might not be familiar with the band's deeper cuts.

There's plenty of them and they set their stall out early. Magic Bus is followed by Dust Motes, a tender fragile track from 2010's The Morning After and The Shining, a stand out track from 2001's Pleased To Meet You, two songs that demonstrate the more interesting and involved alter-ego to their hit-making output of the nineties. Tim's plagued by a few technical issues with his headset which leaves Jim and Saul to joke about who's not going to tell Tim's infamous penguin joke. They go further back to the 1980s for Medieval, a song accompanied by the band's images being transformed by AI into characters from the Middle Ages and back. As the orchestra stand for the outro, the choir and band chant its "we are sound, we are sound" refrain.

The slow unmistakeable opening bars of Laid are played slowed right down and acoustic, the first verse sung and then everything kicks in, Johnny Marr bounds on stage and the crowd start to move. It's followed by Tomorrow, another song re-energised by the orchestral treatment, subtlety replacing raw power as the expanded band's weapon of choice. All The Colours Of You's jagged pointed edges are perfect for the reimagined orchestral version and it segues gloriously into a slimmed down version of Many Faces which has the choir in full voice on the song's key message "there's only one human race, many faces, everybody belongs here" which feels somewhat fitting given recent events.

The Lake is introduced by Tim as a b-side and the best song they'll hear tonight. The arrangements complement the original studio version perfectly, accentuating the storytelling of the lyrics with a slow build that hangs in the air and creates a wonderful tension as the sun starts its descent. Hello is the bravest choice mid-set, so slight and fragile that it risks losing those in the audience unfamiliar with it as Tim and Chloe duet. Those around us stand though appreciatively and drink it in. Shadow Of A Giant is one of the stand out tracks from their recent number one Yummy and the orchestration lifts it another level as if it were crafted for moments like this. Someone's Got It In For Me is disrupted just as it gets going by an emergency in the crowd that thankfully seems not to be serious, and they restart from midway through.

A trio of the big hit singles follows and Tim's out in the audience, up on the barrier between the front section of general admission / VIP and the back to get closer to those further away and to bring them into the show. Say Something is sung back with gusto by thousands and Tim decides to stay out and crowd surf for Born Of Frustration risking it on a sea of hands, half of which appear to be shoving mobile phones in his face. Next up is Sometimes and he tells us he needs to be back on stage to concentrate on that one. It finishes in a singalong between crowd and choir to a backdrop of rain falling on the big screen, but it's one of the moments where the beauty of the arrangements really come to the fore. The racing beat of the original is replaced by strings, more delicate but also more poignant.

There's not been much from Yummy at this point, but the final song of what would have been the main set puts to bed any disappointment as they play Folks live for the very first time at a show. The orchestral arrangement of it adds poignancy to it, particularly as it builds, stops and then comes back in. This whole collaboration is about moments like this not simply regurgitating the old and familiar.

There's no time for them all to leave the stage and come back so the encore starts with Sit Down and thousands of festival goers singing back this stripped back anthem of solidarity that evokes such warmth and community however they play it. Beautiful Beaches is pared right down, the drum duet at the end replaced by one with lead violinist Andra and one of the choir pitching instrument against voice to haunting effect. They sign off with their unofficial theme tune Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) with Tim down on the barrier again before they take their bows and disappear into the cool night sky.

An outdoor orchestral show with such a challenging setlist is a risk, but one that you'd expect James to take and actively embrace confident in their ability to take most of the audience with them. There was a real sense of joy up on stage, Tim in particular totally in the moment, wandering the stage, encouraging one minute, standing in awe the next. It was a perfect way to sign off the 2023-24 round of orchestra shows.

James played Magic Bus, Dust Motes, The Shining, Medieval, Laid, Tomorrow, All The Colours Of You, Many Faces, The Lake, Hello, Shadow Of A Giant, Someone’s Got It In For Me, Say Something, Born Of Frustration, Sometimes, Folks, Sit Down, Beautiful Beaches and Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)

James tour at Stornoway Hebcelt Festival (July 19), Ludlow Castle (25), Scarborough Open Air Theatre (26), Kingston Prism (August 23, two shows), Powderham Castle Gone Wild Festival (24), Dublin Collins Barracks (26), Thessaloniki Earth Theatre (September 3), Athens Lycabettus Theatre (5), Brazil Rock In Rio (September 14), Denver Paramount Theatre (17), Vancouver Queen Elizabeth Theatre (20), Seattle Moore Theatre (21), Portland McMenamins Crystal Ballroom (22), San Francisco The Garfield (23), Los Angeles Orpheum Theatre (25/26), Austin Stubb's (29), Dallas Majestic Theatre (30), Houston Bayou Music Center (October 1), Atlanta The Eastern (3), New Orleans The Fillmore (4), Washington Warner Theatre (6), Brooklyn Paramount (8), Boston Orpheum (10), Philadelphia Franklin Music Hall (11), Montreal MTLEUS (13), Toronto History (14), Detroit Masonic Temple (15), Chicago Riviera (17) and Saint Paul Palace Theatre (18).

James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.  Some of the band - TimAndy and Dave - are also on Twitter.

We also run the One Of The Three James archive, the most detailed resource for information about the band, and the site also has a Facebook and Twitter page.

TimBoothLyricADay, whose posts often lead to Tim explaining his thought processes behind the lyrics, can be found on Twitter and Facebook

Johnny Marr's official website can be found here.  He is also on Facebook and Twitter. He coheadlines a US tour with James at the dates above from Denver to Saint Paul.

Inspiral Carpets official website is here. They are also on Twitter and Facebook.  

They play Carlisle Old Fire Station (July 18), Holmfirth Picturedrome (19), Castleton Devil's Arse (20), Edinburgh Liquid Rooms (August 8), Sunderland Fire Station (9), Alloa Town Hall (10), Swansea Patti Pavilion (15), Reading Sub 89 (16) and Beautiful Days Festival (17).

photos - Stewart Howie


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