Jailed Cells – Is It The End For Mobile Phones At Gigs?

Phones At A GigIt’s nothing new that people like to take photos and videos at gigs to remind them of the good times they’ve had. Often it’s simply an “I was there” willy wave but for some bands it’s a way of getting far cheaper publicity, promo shots and footage they can use to get themselves out to a wider audience. But is all that about to change? It’s been a rising trend in recent months, but as the debate has now reached these shores, it’s interesting to look at the increase in mobile phone bans at gigs.

Chris Rock and Jack White are proponents of the Yondr system for their shows in the UK this year. For those unaware, this sees punters give their phones over on the door to pouch-toting staff who gleefully pop your device in a lockable sleeve. Said sheath will only unlock after the show unless you take your device to a designated “phone zone” during the show. Obviously these artists are doing this to protect their material as well as everyone else’s experience but is this really the right way to go about ensuring a show is as enjoyable as possible?

I’ve posted a fair amount on Twitter about gig etiquette over the years; I’ve asked people to pipe down at acoustic shows a few times, much to their displeasure, for the crowd and the artists’ benefit and I’ve been stuck behind people who insist on filming pretty much a whole gig on their clapped out Nokia so they can be the first to put their fuzz-o-vision on YouTube afterwards. But really, locking a person’s phone away? I’m in no way a human rights activist but has it really come to this, that people need their phone to be physically prohibited for them to enjoy an outing? On the flip side, those protesting the ban by saying ‘what if there’s an emergency’ need to remember the early 90s when there weren’t any mobiles to take to gigs. And let’s face it, how many ACTUAL emergencies do you get on your mobile anyway? It’s like when people drop their phone down the khazi and go straight on Facebook to tell EVERYONE they can reach them on there if they need to. Anyone ever bothered? Nope. But I digress…

Yondr sleeve

The Yondr ‘solution’

I go to a fair few gigs by myself and I review them too. During the show I’ll take notes on my phone, always out of anyone’s line of distraction and always with brightness down to its lowest setting. No offence promoters, but if you start deciding I can’t take my phone in with me, and you want me to keep that much info in my brain after 39 years of muddlement, my reviews probably won’t be that thorough. I guess I could take a pen and notebook in but presumably ‘sharp’ objects would be frowned upon too. Also, in an age where we’re trying to reduce “drink culture” in the UK, is removing a slightly less harmful distraction between bands really going to help? Again, if you’re flying solo at a gig, what do you do with yourself in the 30-40 minutes in between sets other than a quick check of Twitter here, a move on Words With Friends there; probably better for you in the long run than a couple of extra pints.

So what is the solution? As ever it appears to be education. Schools and parents need to teach people from an early age that technology is a tool to take advantage of but also to respect. Encourage people to look up from their screens, and enjoy life through their own eyes and consider those around them, just like you would if puffing on an e-snout or dropping your litter in the street; there are much wider issues here around respect, dignity and common decency than just locking away a mobile for a couple of hours at a time. It might be slightly rose-tinted, but before the current boom, this worked for those who carried ‘compact’ cameras to shows with them; in typically British fashion a sign stage left or right simply stating “No Flash Photography” would be enough to put off even the most ardent of proto-David Baileys out of respect for the artists and fellow concert-goers.

To be fair, the current Yondr phase seems to mainly involve American acts and comedy ones at that and I’d say that theatre audiences in the UK are largely well-behaved when it comes to not recording shows. I saw staff at The Lowry Theatre tap a front row patron on the shoulder to remind them of the rules at a recent Bruce Dickinson spoken word show and that acted as enough of a deterrent to stop others following suit, but for how long will this be enough? And what about Smartwatches? I can do all my texting through that if I I like, do I need to take that off too? What if someone simply states they don’t have a mobile phone upon their person, will searches now class an iPhone in the same contraband category as booze and weaponry?

Needless to say, there are plenty of questions left unanswered around this topic, and we probably won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. If I’ve got one thing to say to artists and gig promoters though, it’s to maybe focus on the real issues around rip off ticket resellers and snide merch hawkers before targeting actual fans who have paid with their hard-earned cash to do, within reason, whatever they see fit to do once they enter a live arena.

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Patch Madripoor RIP

PatchI don’t like having to do this but sometimes words are the only way, and if they can offer just a crumb of comfort to others then it’s worth it.

In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t known Patch for a great deal of time, just a few years, but as a central part of the gig family, and due to his proximity to Manchester over those years, we’d often catch up at shows here or in Huddersfield, Leeds, London… anywhere that our shared love of live music would take us. The last time I saw Patch was in the notorious Wetherspoon in Wolverhampton on a quiet Sunday morning less than a month ago. I gave him a hug after another raucous gig, knowing full well I’d see him right down the front at the next one. Now I know that won’t happen, which seems brutally unfair, and wrong in so, so many ways.

Patch was a fixture. Just like Eddie at an Iron Maiden show, you’d struggle to get a gig featuring Patch’s favourite bands without him front and centre. Constantly singing the praises of bands like The Idol Dead and Dirt Box Disco long before many of the rest of us cottoned on, Patch was passionate to the point of buying the ticket and t-shirt for you to make sure you went along too. It was his passion for rock and roll that helped persuade me and many others to head that little bit further afield to gigs that normally would’ve been 50-50, always buying tickets first and asking questions later.

With Belinda perpetually waiting for doors to open, you’d normally find Patch in The Parish bar or in a boozer nearby with that sly grin on his face; we’d joke to Belinda that we’d babysit him for her, knowing full well he was more than capable of looking after himself whether we liked it or not. Okay, so maybe we had to bundle him into a taxi under protestation in between Marsden and Huddersfield or hurry him along down the road with the lad complaining his legs wouldn’t take him any faster, but he’d always be there, through hell or high water, if nothing else to select the 14 items of merch he had to get at each show.

In fact, Patch often was THE show, no more so than at his surprise secret Birthday gig at The Parish this year. So many people travelled from all over the country for it, honouring a true driving spirit of our little family in the only way we knew how – music, laughter and enough beer to see us through into the wee small hours. We even called ourselves the Parish Patch Kids in his honour and wondered how on Earth a couple of weeks before, he hadn’t seen his name in proverbial lights on the posters dotted around the venue advertising upcoming shows. It’s hard to imagine the place without him now, in fact many venues won’t be the same without him in the queue an hour before doors, getting his merch stash safely stowed by the unlucky vendor of the night or exchanging war stories with bands and fans alike, tales that you could timeline simply by his shall we say ‘extensive’ t-shirt collection.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There will never be a satisfactory justification for why something like this could happen, and I wish Belinda and his family all the love and support in the world. Sometimes though all we can do, as hard as it may seem, especially so soon after someone’s passing is to celebrate all that they believed in so that a person’s existence is never truly gone. When my brother passed away, it was pretty clear we could all “Be More Paul”, living life with more humour and to take things less seriously than before. To honour Patch it feels right that we should all be just as passionate for the underdog, keep on putting that extra effort in, and if we’re able to, spend our time and money travelling to support those who add that additional bit of pleasure to our lives. It won’t bring him back, but he’ll sure as hell be living on with all of us in spirit.

Rest in peace mate. You’ll get another hug off me one day.

Patch

Grassroots Music Venues Are Fighting To Stay Alive – It’s Time To Help Save Them

It’s estimated that 35% of grassroots music venues have closed between 2007 and 2015 and after recent news of yet another live music locale under threat of being shut down, it’s time to take a look at how the UK’s gig scene is being endangered and to explore how new bands can get a break in 2017. Here are the stories of some legendary spots and their struggles to survive.

The Roadhouse

The Roiadhouse

This one still tugs at my heart strings to this day. Another iconic venue, another site of many a legendary gig, including Ginger Wildheart’s stunning show a couple of years back, now sits derelict.

The Roadhouse played host to a number of massive bands over the years and in a “before they were famous” roll-call, Elbow, Coldplay, The White Stripes and Muse have all trodden these particular boards. But in 2015, the 200-capacity basement venue closed its doors, allegedly to make way for a restaurant run by Aumbry’s Mary-Ellen McTague. This never materialised, and despite other bars such as Jimmy’s and Sugar Rays springing up along Newton Street and increasing footfall, the venue remains boarded up and padlocked. The Roadhouse’s closure differs from the others on this list as it’s not necessarily down to development (owner Kate Mountain simply wanted to pursue new ventures), but it’s an absolute travesty that this venue hasn’t been snapped up to help out Manchester’s up and coming talent, although that might have something to do with the £46,000 a year lease that the landlord has placed on it. Hopefully there’s life in this particular old dog yet.

 

Sound Control

Sound Control

Not yet down and out, but on its way, former music shop Sound Control is set to be flattened to make way for yet more student accommodation. The three floor venue feels like it’s been around forever but has only been hosting gigs and club nights for the past eight years. Even so, in this time The 1975, Rita Ora, Helmet, Wu-Tang Clan and Manc sweethearts du jour Blossoms have all played there, showing the variety of talent the place can attract. Located on New Wakefield Street, it’s a great place for a gig venue with plenty of pre- and post-show eating and drinking establishments nearby, and as you’d expect with its moniker, the sound in the place has always been spot on. With three different size rooms it can host all manner of events and all-day festivals and being slap bang next to Oxford Road train station and a short trot from St Peter’s Square tram stop, it’s handy too, especially compared to the Academy whose distance often creates a mad dash for the last public transport home.

Fortunately the owners of Sound Control are vowing to press on with plans to relocate to a bigger and better venue, but you can’t help feel it just won’t be quite the same.

 

The Star And Garter

Star And Garter

One of the more protracted of all of these tales is that of The Star And Garter. Nestled behind Piccadilly Station in Manchester, The S&G is a traditional boozer built in the early 1800s and moved brick by brick down the road to make way for the expansion of the train station a few years after opening. The Grade II listed building has been the venue for the iconic Smiths Disco for a quarter of a century but recent plans to expand the station even further have seen Network Rail bid for the pub in order to knock it down and make room for additional platforms and a new viaduct. The venue’s owner has pretty much described the offer as derisory, especially considering the pub has living quarters and its own parking. Even more importantly, the place is a very convenient venue and one stacked with history that really shouldn’t just be bulldozed.

The area that The Star And Garter sits in isn’t exactly salubrious but recent events have seen the nearby Mayfield Depot re-open and proves the area has potential. If redevelopment could happen around the pub, it’d certainly suit travellers, boozers, foodies and gig goers and make the district a lot more up-market than it is currently, which can only be a good thing for that part of the City Centre.

 

The Fleece

The Fleece

Proving that struggles to keep live music venues open aren’t just isolated to the North West, Bristol has seen similar issues in recent years. The Fleece (formerly The Fleece & Firkin when I was much, much younger) has been in operation for 35 years and has seen bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, Ash, Erasure and even Oasis set foot on its stage over the years. It’s another decent-sized venue (capacity is around the 450 mark) that gives young bands a decent shot at playing to a sizable crowd, but in 2014 it was threatened with closure due to the submission of plans to build flats opposite which would no doubt bring noise abatement orders shortly thereafter. After gaining support from Bristol’s mayor, as well as 30,000 signatures through an online petition, a compromise was reached; the flats would still be built but permission was only granted subject to noise insulation being installed on the apartments to ensure any threats to The Fleece are minimised.

An important test case, it’s good to see that sanity can prevail in these situations. After all, what use is a massive surge in accommodation without a decent amount of amenities such as pubs, shops and venues nearby to encourage people to move there?

 

The Thekla

The Thekla

Most recently, HMS Thekla, again in Bristol has come under threat of extinction. As a kid growing up in the South West, there was little more exciting than going to a gig, but what was more exciting was going to a gig on a boat. Yes, that’s right, The Thekla is a floating funhouse originally brought to Bristol in 1983 to showcase music, comedy, plays and poetry.

The former cargo ship helped put Portishead, Roni Size and Massive Attack on the map and features artwork from Banksy over its bulkheads, but this month it’s seen its future threatened, again by property development with nearby Redcliffe Wharf set to be turned into “affordable housing, offices and leisure space”.

Hopefully Bristol City Council will take the same stance as with The Fleece and save this unique venue from closure, because if it doesn’t it would be a sad, sad day for the West Country’s music scene.

 

So, what can we do about this issue? I’m not naïve enough to think that progress doesn’t need to happen, otherwise we wouldn’t have moved from wooden clubs to fire to the wheel, to skyscrapers and back down again to Donald Trump. But progress should mean that there is something better for all of us as a result and quite simply that’s not the case with many of these venues that have now gone or are under threat. Instead, we’re left with more students in cities with less to entertain them, bands with nowhere to play and eyesore derelict buildings that encourage graffiti and public urination against their doors.

Night & Day Café in Manchester, no stranger to noise complaints previously could soon be challenged by its next door neighbour Dry Bar being converted to a hotel, and as much as the odd new venue does open to pick up some of the slack, they’re not large enough in number to offer a stage to everyone who needs a creative outlet. Time will tell, especially for The Thekla, but hopefully we won’t be left in a decade’s time with only a slew of faceless sports halls and bland world-renowned acts churning out the same old turgid nonsense.

Don’t Stop Loving The Music.

You can follow The Thekla on Twitter to hear the latest on their case, or search for the hashtag #savethekla

Peace, Love, Death Metal – How Live Music Can Live On

EODM - Jesse Hughes

Eagles Of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes @ The Ritz, Manchester, 7th November 2015

It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with what’s happened in Paris. And when I say ‘come to terms’ I don’t think it will ever be the case that I’ll feel in any way accepting of the tragedy that has unfolded.

I can’t help but think about the fact that I’d been at exactly the same gig only six days previously. Eagles Of Death Metal were playing the Ritz in Manchester, and it was sold out to the tune of 1500 fans in attendance. As similarities go, it all still feels a little bit too close to home.

The show itself was one of the most enjoyable I’d ever seen in over 20 years of gig-going. I’d never seen EODM live before and I really wasn’t prepared for how much pure fun they brought to the live arena. Frontman Jesse Hughes in particular was instantly likeable and endlessly funny, the embodiment of hip-swaying, tache-curling boogie for a good two hours of incredible rock and roll.

The show culminated in a light-hearted duel between Hughes and guitarist Dave Catching that saw the frontman emerge from the Ritz’s balconies to throw down riffs at his partner in crime. The crowd lapped it up too, kids, adults, skinheads and folk on the hairier side of the spectrum all cheering each comedic battle with grins as wide as the stage.

Then only six days later, the Bataclan in Paris sees the most awful tragedy that live music has ever had to witness. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things which band was involved, but there’s something about the fact that it was such a good-time group like EODM and their fans that were caught up in all this that makes it seem all the more awful. I haven’t been able to listen to any EODM songs since, quickly skipping tracks if anything’s been coming up on shuffle. I’m not trying to ignore what’s happened, it just doesn’t seem right at the moment to try to get enjoyment from their music.

But life does go on. On Saturday I was fortunate enough to go over to Huddersfield to see Eureka Machines and Tropical Contact play at The Parish. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, despite having seen both bands loads of times before. I knew that in attendance would be all the like-minded folk I see at so many gigs across the country and that if any combination of bands and crowd were going to help each other get over what had happened the night before it was these.

What ensued was every bit the group therapy that was required. From staff at the venue through to the bands, punters, even other people milling around in the pub out front, there was a good time vibe in that leaky room that simply would not be quelled by recent world events. Even when an obviously emotional Chris Catalyst (the Eureka Machines frontman) took to his mic to pay tribute to his friend who had died at the Bataclan (EODM’s merch man Nick Alexander) it wasn’t with a sense of revenge or anger, it was to encourage and enlighten, ensuring that the show went on and that expression didn’t die along with all of those who lost their lives in the French capital. Needless to say, that outpouring provided some of the biggest bouncing of the night as we all joined together in thanks that we were able to enjoy live music, freely and without fear of judgement or censure.

I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, as far as I’m concerned, killing innocent people anywhere in the world is wrong, tragic and heartbreaking. What I will say is that I hope live music somehow comes out of this stronger. It’s always been a place where people from all different backgrounds and of all shapes and sizes can come and forget all of their troubles for a couple of hours, united in a shared joy and euphoria that’s difficult to match and without these little pockets of escapism, the world would be a far, far poorer place.

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy 2 – 18th April 2015

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy

Therapy? – Hopefully going nowhere.

To get it out of the way up front, Therapy? are my favourite band. I’ve been listening to them on record and bouncing around to them in various states of inebriation live for over 20 years now, whether at Donington, at home in Bristol, at Uni in Sheffield or most recently in Manchester, but as with any band or review, I’ll always call a spade a spade and be brutally honest about any live performance or record.

Many bands that have been around as long as Therapy? will have a hardcore of fans who blindly go along with all that it is put before them but with this particular bunch you’re always challenged. After being at the forefront of the mid-90s rock resurgence, the band made albums that were raw, catchy, bleak and drug-addled with one simple consistency; fight. Therapy? wouldn’t lie down. They wouldn’t compromise. And they’ve certainly never been in the business of bowing to commercial pressures.

So here we are in 2015. Therapy? have recently released album number 12, Disquiet and they’re all set to lay waste to Manchester’s Academy 2 on a sunny Spring evening. Before tonight’s gig, I’m asked in the pub who I’m off to see and my reply is met with the usual “Christ, are they still going?” The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’ and by not realising that, you’ve been missing out on some of the most brilliant music and consistently enjoyable live shows in modern rock.

The venue isn’t sold out tonight as it was for last year’s 20th anniversary Troublegum show, but the crowd is healthy and ready for the first live outing of tracks from T?‘s latest opus. Meeting that need with a snarling ‘Still Hurts’, Therapy? hit the ground running; frontman Andy Cairns is as wide-eyed and psychotically brilliant as ever whilst Michael McKeegan pogoes around, showing no less enthusiasm than the very first time he set foot on stage. The Manc-pleasing ‘Isolation’ is up next followed by Troublegum partner in crime ‘Die Laughing’ and despite many in attendance having heard these songs countless times, every word is still belted back joyously at a grinning Cairns. Even tracks like ‘Vulgar Display Of Powder’ and ‘Idiot Cousin’ are surprisingly well-known despite only being a month or so old, proving that T? can still drive a hook into your long-term memory after only a couple of listens.

With so many tracks to choose between from their long career, there were always going to be some major omissions (namely everything from 1998 to 2012), but Therapy? can’t get away with ignoring their classics and they simply have too many of them these days. ‘A Moment Of Clarity’ gets more harrowingly beautiful with every listen, raising goosebumps throughout a captivating six minutes, whilst ‘Turn’, ‘Stories’ and ‘Nausea’ are anthemic to the ears of the adoring pit.

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy

Andy Cairns – Evil Elvis on top.

If Therapy? were to have a theme tune it’d be a toss-up between ‘Screamager’ and ‘Teethgrinder’ as both songs encapsulate what the band have always stood for; the former being the catchiest thing since a particularly hook-loving sea bass whilst the latter will forever stand as a proclamation of the dawning of a new era of heavy music, both danceable yet angular and twisted. So by pairing the two together in the live setting, Therapy? nail a euphoric high you’d struggle to get from sticking a skag jabber directly into your eyeball.

After such a crescendo you’d be disappointed to see on paper the set closing with ‘Deathstimate’ and ‘Diane’ but this comedown simply doesn’t materialise. ‘Deathstimate’ is monolithic in riff whilst allowing a chance for us to cool down and ‘Diane’ is given such a powerfully upbeat reworking compared to the version on Infernal Love that you’d almost be forgiven for glossing over the subject matter.

It only takes a short break for T? to re-emerge and hammer into a violent ‘Knives’, a rare outing for ‘Skinning Pit’ and the familiar ‘Potato Junkie’ and ‘Nowhere’. All four sound as fresh as they did two decades earlier and screaming about Irish novelists having carnal relations with your siblings has never been more fun.

What we’ve had tonight are 22 songs of brilliance, variety, passion and integrity. I’ve yet to find a band who can equal such consistency and I challenge you to find a show packed with more quality than tonight. Quite simply, Therapy? ooze excellence and long may it continue.

Hawk Eyes + God Damn + Bad Grammar @ Sound Control, Manchester – 18th February 2015

Hawk Eyes @ Sound Control, Manchester

Hawk Eyes – everything’s lovely, thanks for asking.

Seven pounds

As far as gig reviews go, this one’s pretty fucking straightforward. I went to Sound Control tonight and saw three shit hot British bands for seven pounds. Time of my life. About 30-40 people did the same.

To find out why more didn’t join in, I had a think about what else seven pounds can get you.

A cheap cocktail
That’s right kids, modern day culture dictates that one shot of cheap rum combined with two of your favourite fruit juice, tossed rapidly over the shoulder of your favourite low slung-jeaned, tattooed bar-keep can be garnered for the cost of two proper man pints. So when the A-board outside indicates a special offer, you’re all over it like a tramp on chips. Sadly you’re going to end up with teeth furrier than an Angora-fancying Dracula so if I were you I’d steer well clear of such sugary malevolence.

A baby
I’m no expert but from seeing work emails flying about over the years it appears seven pounds is some sort of reputable figure for a miniature human. Yes they scream (horns up) but little scientific evidence has discovered much else they’re good at. If you fancy getting one for yourself, I’ve heard rapid intercourse or too many seven pound cocktails can help. You can have that one on me.

A peak time ticket to work
It’s important to get a job, don’t get me wrong, but for those who aren’t aware, cheaper tickets are available. The next time you wrench your flipper from your pocket, have a think about a season ticket, freeing up funds for something far less banal.

So, you could get a crap drink, a lifetime of never seeing your friends or a rocky ride on a four mile rattler.

Tonight, I chose Hawk Eyes (riffs, stories, Yorkshire) plus God Damn (riffs, all of the hair, deafness) and Bad Grammar (riffs, guitar issues, humility).

I know where I’d rather have been, time to have a think about where you were.

Feed The Rhino + Night Verses + Baby Godzilla @ Sound Control Manchester – 20th October 2014

Baby Godzilla @ Sound Control

Baby Godzilla – On top of the world.

Monday nights haven’t seen the best of turn outs at Manchester gigs in recent weeks, but all that’s about to change with the massive throng piling into the Sound Control basement for tonight’s openers Baby Godzilla.

I’ve been to all but one of Baby Godzilla‘s Manchester shows as well as their chaotic and rammed Camden Rocks performance that saw even Ginger Wildheart peering in through the window like Tiny Tim left out in the cold, but tonight they take it next level.

The usual suspects get the usual BG treatment, with the bar, the rafters and the balcony all clambered upon with gusto, but to carry off a show that actually features damn good songs alongside all the chaos is another thing entirely. Screeching out ‘Powerboat Disaster’, ‘Whorepaedo’ and ‘The Three Legged Race.ist’ whilst riding a battered Marshall around the room can’t be easy, but the big early doors crowd lap it up and help out on lead vocals as and when required. Baby Godzilla: destroying bigger venues near you soon.

Night Verses have got their work cut out after such carnage but carry off their main support slot well. The band play a soulful and intense brand of post-hardcore that grabs the attention of casual onlookers as well as die-hard fans with vocalist Douglas Robinson in particular living every beat of every song.

The band aren’t scared to throw in some ambient atmospherics and guitar effects either, and both serve to really enhance their sound. An intimate affair in a very different way to BG, Night Verses prove they’re worthy of a second look.

Feed The Rhino are on their third album now and have left some time since The Sorrow And The Sound‘s release before hitting the road. And it’s worked. Tonight there are a lot of FTR fanatics about, all screaming along to whatever they throw out, whether old or new. There’s also a huge mix of people here, with older guys in Download shirts mixing it up in the pit with kids in Guns N’ Roses shirts who are young enough to be Axl’s grandchildren. All are flailing wildly, yet good naturedly, as the Rhino blast through an opening salvo of ‘Behind The Pride’ and ‘Deny And Offend’ from their latest opus.

‘Left For Ruins’ and a thermonuclear ‘The Burning Sons’ get things absolutely riotous and by the time ‘Finish The Game’ and ‘Tides’ rear their horns, stagedivers are jumping on top of crowdsurfers who are themselves writhing on top of other crowdsurfers. It’s pleasing to see that Sound Control’s side of stage security keeps a watchful eye on proceedings rather than ham-fistedly wading in as many others would, preferring instead to let the crowd (helped by FTR frontman Lee Tobin’s safety advice) keep each other on the straight and narrow amidst the chaos.

‘Flood The System’ brings a close to the hour-long set, and even though you get a lot of ‘we love you guys’ shtick at metal shows these days, tonight Tobin seems genuinely taken aback by the reaction as well as the turnout. Manchester, for a dingy Monday, you’ve done yourselves proud. Feed The Rhino, Night Verses, Baby Godzilla; thank you very much for the ammunition.

Alice In Chains + Ghost + Walking Papers @ Manchester Academy – 11th November 2013

Alice In Chains @ Manchester Academy

The devil put brontosaurus-sized riffs here.

It’s Academy WeatherTM in Manchester tonight, with the long walk down Oxford Road punctuated by the usual splashes right up the trouser from the odd loose paving stone. Despite the increasingly wet nether regions, however, the prospect of yet another killer live bill is preventing spirits from being dampened as we head towards a night with Alice In Chains, Ghost and Walking Papers.

The Academy is moderately busy as roadies ready the stage for Walking Papers, the latest band featuring former Guns N’ Roses four-stringer Duff McKagan. Purveyors of a decent brand of blues-tinged rock and roll, the group are obviously experienced and talented and get some heads nodding, but singer Jeff Angell appears disappointed with both the turnout and the reaction. In reality, he should be grateful, and let’s be honest here, that so many have rocked up at 7pm on a cold Monday evening solely to see what Duff McKagan’s been up to lately.

It’s a shame that Angell is initially a touch downbeat, since Walking Papers play some great stuff, with McKagan himself in outstanding form. Former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin is full of stick-twirling showmanship and Benjamin Anderson bangs the holy hell out of his keyboard to raucous effect and eventually Angell joins in by hopping into the crowd to give high fives, his charm offensive receiving some worthy adulation. Overall, Walking Papers’ set is full of hip swaying goodness that will hopefully see some Euro festival slots next year.

Ghost @ Manchester Academy

Preaching to the unconverted.

And so to Ghost. This is the venue I first experienced them in a couple of years previously and since then they’ve released an album of the year candidate, but the band are still greeted with more static than a TV aerial pointing directly into a hippo’s undercarriage. I really don’t know what it is about the Swedish ghouls, whether people are just in awe of the spectacle, if a support slot with Alice In Chains is misjudged or if the typically reserved British public simply don’t know what to do with themselves, but if a pounding ‘Per Aspera ad Inferi’ and a groove-riddled ‘Stand By Him’ don’t get feet jiggling I don’t know what will.

I just pray to Lucifer that Papa and the gang finally tour these shores on their own headline outing so the brethren can get well and truly involved. Tonight, it’s only after a spine-tingling ‘Year Zero’ that the audience really acknowledges the grandeur of their music and despite a clap-a-long ‘Ritual’ and faux-encore ‘Monstrance Clock’, Ghost remain on the very cusp of awkward UK audience acceptance.

If there is an unsold ticket for tonight then you’re going to struggle to find it as people almost stack on top of each other to witness the return of Alice In Chains. Latest release The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is arguably a career best album from the grunge godfathers and after two records with vocalist William DuVall, the band are playing with an intensity and drive that belies the fact they’re in their 27th year.

Opening up with ‘Again’, the crowd are instantly in awe and as ‘Check My Brain’ and a euphoric ‘Them Bones’ are banged out, the love in the room is almost tangible. ‘Hollow’ and ‘Voices’ from the band’s latest opus are heavier live than on record and the groovy sludge is powerfully accompanied by DuVall and Jerry Cantrell’s amazing harmonies. ‘Man In The Box’ will be the standard bearer for many AIC fans and tonight it feels as fresh as it did when doing the rounds on MTV in its heyday, whilst ‘We Die Young’, ‘Grind’ and ‘Got Me Wrong’ are all greeted like the bride at a wedding, with doe-eyed fans worshipping at the feet of such classic songs.

Closing the main set with the grace and elegance of ‘Nutshell’ and a balls-out ‘Would?’, no-one in attendance wants this night to ever end. Returning to the stage for an encore of ‘Down In A Hole’, ‘It Ain’t Like That’ and of course ‘Rooster’, Alice In Chains not only sound good tonight, they look amazing, happy and proud to be playing to such adoration, which includes numerous ‘Jerry, Jerry’ chants throughout the night.

It’s almost as if the ghost of Layne Staley is watching over the band, content that not only does DuVall more than do justice to early AIC classics, but he’s also helped the band carry on to even bigger and better things. Sean Kinney’s drum kit may bear the initials ‘LSMS’ in memory of Staley and former bassist Mike Starr but this is no memorial to the once-great, this is a celebration of what came before just as much as it is the here and now.

A superb bill, an emotional night and a set rammed so full of classics you’re going to struggle to listen to any other band’s records for the rest of the year. Simply stunning stuff.

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz – 27th September 2013

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz

You still love us – damn right.

I’ve banged on ad nauseam on this blog about how the Manic Street Preachers were the first band I ever saw at a proper gig. This was way back at Bristol Anson Rooms, days before my 15th birthday. I was drinking my first ever pint in the form of finest Foster’s beer and on the left of the stage was an enigmatic songwriter called Richey James.

Fast forward 19 years and as I sit supping my latest beer of choice, I’m giddy with excitement at seeing the Welshmen again. Myself and the Manics have a bit of an odd relationship in that they, along with Terrorvision, Therapy? and The Wildhearts were my favourite bands of the mid 90s but soon after Everything Must Go I almost disowned them. Their previous long-player, The Holy Bible had been my all-time (at age 15, natch) favourite album, and was on constant rotation, sat alone in my gigantic five-CD super changer Sony hi-fi. To me, there wasn’t a need for any other album ever again, as the record not only marked the zenith of the MSP‘s songwriting powers it also paid poignant tribute to Richey James who went missing in February 1995.

And then came the aforementioned Everything Must Go. The Manics had already moved away from the punky Welsh Guns N’ Roses of Generation Terrorists and the catchy-as-hell pop rock of Gold Against The Soul, but I wasn’t prepared in my immaturity for the laid back textures and orchestral arrangements of EMG. I gave them every chance to please me, travelling over to Newport to see them on tour, but I just couldn’t get over how they’d moved on from The Holy Bible and myself and the Manics parted.

In 2007 I began hearing good things about Send Away The Tigers and so I picked up the album. Pleasantly surprised, I stuck with the band again until this very year when it was announced the group would be playing some smaller gigs to promote latest CD Rewind The Film.

And so here we are. On arriving at the 1500-capacity Ritz, I can’t quite believe the buzz in the building. The gig had sold out in mere hours and this feels like a celebration, almost a homecoming due to the excitement that’s palpable in the room. Hitting the stage just after 9pm, I don’t think I’ve heard a roaring welcome like the Manics receive for quite some time. Even the band themselves seem a little taken aback but it doesn’t stop them from launching into an absolutely spot on ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ as pretty much everyone in the crowd sings along to every word with passion, joy and beauty, encouraging the Manics to bask in the adoration.

The first test for me comes in second song ‘Ready For Drowning’. Taken from one of the MSP albums I’d avoided, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, I fully admit I had no idea whether I’d enjoy these songs in a live environment. But it’s at this point I realise this isn’t about me; this is about the power of music and the ability of chords, phrases and expression to form a collective passion, and that’s exactly what the song does. It’s mesmerising to see the juxtaposition of the gangly, grinning. Nicky Wire, the suited James Dean Bradfield and the ever precise Sean Moore back on stage together, and this ensures that even brand new songs such as ‘Show Me The Wonder’ are greeted like old friends. ‘Rewind The Film’ has the power to be a new live classic and Bradfield really excels in conveying the emotion of the song as if he’s singing it individually to each and every one of us.

And then something odd happens. I hadn’t been expecting anything from Gold Against The Soul, as I’d heard the band hadn’t played anything from that record thus far on tour, but after a short intro, the opening notes of ‘Sleepflower’ ring out and the whole place goes batshit crazy. It feels like people are bouncing off the walls, there’s that much energy in the room, and not content with trying to finish us off with one sonic eargasm, the Manics then launch into a mid-set ‘You Love Us’ that has men who should know better jumping around like speed-fuelled llamas.

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz

James Dean Bradfield – Everlasting

An acoustic interlude from Bradfield takes little of the energy away from the set, with ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ in particular a song you can just stand there in awe of and revel in its emotive core. Teasing the crowd with snippets of songs created by Manchester’s finest (‘Fool’s Gold’, ‘Waterfall’, ‘This Charming Man’) the Manics switch between playful and spell-binding effortlessly. After an outstanding acoustic ‘The Everlasting’ and ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’, the Manics launch into an absolutely electric ‘Revol’ charged with the spirit of Richey James to whom Wire dedicates the track. ‘Tsunami’, ’30-Year War’ and ‘Kevin Carter’ keep the crowd jumping and the honorary choir yelling and just when we all think things can’t get better, ‘Motown Junk’ slaps us squarely in the face, making us realise just why the whole evening has been such a success; songs new and old stand successfully shoulder to shoulder with one another. There are no eras anymore, each song is a brilliant piece of craftsmanship in its own right, and you wouldn’t be able to tell on this night that some have been written 21 years apart.

An absolutely majestic ‘Design For Life’ brings things to a pleasurable crescendo that should be deemed nigh-on illegal and you cannot spot a sullen face or heart anywhere in the Ritz. This has been one of those ‘were you there’ experiences that I along with 1500 others will be talking about for years to come. Gig of the year? Let’s just say other bands are going to have to pull out something special over these next three months to top it.

Danzig + Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy – 19th June 2013

Danzig @ Manchester Academy

Glenn Danzig – Evil Elvis Lives

This may be controversial to some, but personally, I can’t really blame artists for exploiting their more popular back catalogue in the live arena; after all, if it’s not something the fans want to see, they wouldn’t pay for it. So as yet another anniversary tour rolls into Manchester, I’m intrigued and hopeful of witnessing something fun and just a little bit special.

This time around it’s the turn of Glenn Danzig, bringing his namesake band out on the road to celebrate 25 years of darkness, and combining it with a mini-set of Misfits songs with guitarist Doyle.

I must admit that after recent gig-going exploits I was wary of another 90s nostalgia fest, but upon reaching the Academy it’s pretty clear that organisationally at least things are already looking better than the Megadeth debacle.

Even more promisingly, Danzig has chosen to get Sheffield’s finest rock and rollers, Black Spiders to open for him. Prepping for the release of second record ‘This Savage Land’ via a Pledge Music campaign, the ‘Spiders grasp the opportunity to play to such a big crowd firmly and shake it around until its ears are pricked up like a horny hyena.

Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy

Black Spiders – Proving a rock is a fat lot of use without a roll.

‘Kiss Tried To Kill Me’ sounds as monumental as ever and ‘Stay Down’ with its magnificent ‘Fuck You Black Spiders’ interlude is both brilliantly funny and raucous. New track ‘Creatures’ is already shaping up to be a live pleasure, whilst ‘Just Like A Woman’ sticks around in your head just as much as it did on that very first listen. Maybe this isn’t quite your typical Black Spiders crowd but they’re intelligent enough to know a good thing when they hear it, showing a decent amount of appreciation for the gurning sluggers.

As the length of time between support and headliner approaches the 45 minute mark, thoughts of Dave Mustaine’s diva-like behaviour creep into the mind, but the wait is soon forgotten when the room blackens and the Academy goes crazy to ‘SkinCarver’.

Chugging through classic Danzig fare such as ‘Hammer of the Gods’ and ‘Devil’s Plaything’, the now 57-year-old frontman is showing no sign of slowing down, prowling the stage with horns aloft and basking in the adulation he receives.

The fans are always going to lap this stuff up, but the fact that the band are such talented individuals really helps matters. Prong‘s Tommy Victor effortlessly shreds through the set, whilst Type O Negative‘s Johnny Kelly is always a percussive beast. As ‘Dirty Black Summer’ and ‘How The Gods Kill’ round off part one of the set, Danzig prove that they can still hang with anyone on the live circuit, even those half their age.

I was never really a huge Misfits fan, simply because their heyday was a little before my time, but I grew up listening to bands influenced by them and it’s only now I really appreciate why. As Glenn introduces his ‘man monster’, Doyle stomps onto the stage, ripped and ready for action. Hammering out power chords with his taped up fingers, a furious ‘Death Comes Ripping’ kicks things off, followed by ‘Vampira’ and the glorious slice of punk that is ‘I Turned Into A Martian’.

Without relenting, ‘Astro Zombies’ keeps things going at warp speed, followed by the classic pairing of ‘Skulls’ and ‘ Last Caress’ leaving few in the Academy without a smile on their sweaty faces.

The first encore pairs ‘Soul On Fire’ with defining Danzig breakthrough hit ‘Mother’ which invokes an absolutely glorious sing-along, and despite a slight strop from Glenn at one of the many concert filmers, he finishes things off brilliantly with ‘She Rides’ and an inimitable ‘Die, Die My Darling’ which belies its 29-year age.

On this joyously triumphant night, Evil Elvis reminds everyone just how many great songs he’s written over the years and simultaneously shows some of his old school contemporaries just how to put on a show. Absolutely stunning.