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

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This Is Manchester – We Do Things Differently Here

I’ve just walked through Manchester Piccadilly Station and there’s a sombre mood hanging over us all this morning, armed police at each entrance and on every concourse reminding us of the seriousness of what’s happened.

Exactly two weeks ago, I was at Manchester Arena seeing Iron Maiden. After the gig I remember being herded down long concrete corridors for what seemed an age as everyone shuffled along with Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life ringing out from the Arena speakers. I can only imagine how different a scene it was last night.

When the news came through last night we all thought, maybe hoped, that it was a false alarm. A blown speaker or some balloons popping alongside other social media reports of stampedes. It’s only upon waking this morning that the full horror is apparent.

After the Bataclan I raised a defiant middle finger in support of live music. I may have been horribly nervous going back into a crowded public event but I did what we all have to do again now, put our faith in those who protect us and in the vast majority of the human race. A lot will be asked again about how these acts can keep happening, how people’s minds work but there’s important things to remember, Live music will win. Manchester will win. Terror won’t.

At this truth we have arrived, God damn it’s great to be alive.

Greater Manchester Police has established an emergency telephone number in response to the attack. It is: 0161 856 9400.

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.

Megadeth @ Manchester Academy – 5th June 2013

Dave Mustaine

Dave Mustaine: Mega-disappointment.

On 19th March 1995, a certain 16 year old got only his second live experience of one of the thrash scene’s ‘Big Four’. The venue was Newport Centre. The band was Megadeth, and on that night, the band’s lead singer, Dave Mustaine, was a fiery ball of ginger-tousled bile.

Fast forward 18 years (and eight albums) and that same kid is getting a little bit excited about seeing that same band again after all this time. Older, wiser, and maybe a little more drunk, it was time for me to get to Manchester Academy to witness a legend reborn.

Having missed metalcore marauders Bleed From Within when they’d recently played in Manchester, I head down to the Academy around 20 minutes after the 8pm doors opening time to make sure I catch them, but it soon becomes apparent that I haven’t got a hope in hell. I knew the gig had sold out, so that’s nearly 2,500 denim and leather-clad booze hounds to get into the venue, but I’ve been to sold out Academy shows before and I’ve never seen queues that stretch back past The Manchester Museum, especially when the doors were open. Walking down to the Academy itself to check stage times, I notice the key problem; the doors aren’t open at all.

Now, for those of you not in the know, Dave Mustaine can be, shall we say, ‘temperamental’. He’s thrown his musical toys out of his pram a fair few times over the years and this has added a sense of danger (or more recently frustration) to Megadeth‘s live shows during their 30-year career. It’s unfortunately no surprise then that despite the support act being due on stage at 8.25pm, there won’t be anyone in there to see them.

Popping to perennial favourite pre-gig watering hole Big Hands, I strike up conversation with fellow fans who are equally unsurprised that the night is already looking like a bit of shambles. More worrying though, Megadeth are due on stage at 9.15pm, and as the time approaches the queue is still taking an eternity to get into the venue. As I finally shuffle on in, the bars are already heaving, the main hall looks suspiciously over capacity and the heat is stifling. But this doesn’t prevent a raucous welcome when ‘Prince of Darkness’ heralds the band onstage only five minutes late.

The crowd’s enthusiasm is easy to spot when even ‘Trust’ from the much maligned ‘Cryptic Writings’ album is so well-received, but it’s ‘Hanger 18’ which really gets things going. ‘Kingmaker’ from the band’s latest CD, ‘Super Collider’ doesn’t sound completely out of place alongside such a legendary thrash anthem and another ‘…Writings’ track, ‘She-wolf’, also seems familiar to most.

As Dave announces the band are going to celebrate defining album ‘Countdown To Extinction”s recent 20th anniversary by playing material from that record, the crowd roar shakes the venue. The album’s title track and ‘Architecture Of Aggression are still killer, polished mainstream thrash classics, but then, suddenly…silence.

The stage is dark, the band have departed, and only six songs in, the audience are left stunned. After five minutes, guitarist Chris Broderick emerges to tell us that the band are ‘fixing some shit’, but after ten minutes I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to be phoning up for a refund the following morning. Then, after a full 15 minutes of hanging about, the band return, and we’re told by Mustaine that they had to ‘send the guy on the spotlight packing.’ Apparently Dave was concerned that we couldn’t see the band due to the lighting guy being a little ‘off’. Twisted logic there, we can see even less of you when you storm off in a huff over a minor, unapparent to everyone bar yourself issue and then come back out acting like a dick.

Mustaine then proceeds to identify an ‘Eminem wannabe’ in the crowd flipping him off and orders security to escort him out. Ironically if he’d bothered being on stage for the previous 15 minutes he would’ve seen a lot more fans giving him the bird, and you’d think he’d be used to it after all these years anyway.

Anyway, when we do finally get some music again, it’s in the shape of ‘Sweating Bullets’, ‘Ashes In Your Mouth’ and ‘Dawn Patrol’, with the triumvirate reminding us once again what a great band this used to be, making it even more sad to see such static performances of incredible songs.

‘A Tout Le Monde’ feels a little rushed tonight, losing some of its majesty in the process and although ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ recovers the set a bit, a rendition of new album title track ‘Super Collider’ manages to somehow sound worse than it does on record. There’s just something nagging away that the songs aren’t played with enough honesty to really get you to connect with them, instead it all feels like a band going through the motions.

The sound is admittedly its usual Academy 1 muffled self with the guitars muted and drums too high in the mix, but even so, Mustaine doesn’t help matters, refusing to name check the city he’s in once, or mention that the show is a sell-out. Two easily achieved and cliched pops admittedly, but fans love that kind of stuff and just saying we’re ‘beautiful’ repeatedly doesn’t really cut it. Instead, you’re left wondering if Mustaine actually knows or cares where he is. The backdrop videos playing throughout smack of paranoia and insecurity as they force the lyrics of the newer tracks down the audience’s throats, whilst the only positivity from the band comes from long-suffering bassist Dave Ellefson who does his best cheerleading act. Unfortunately a few fist pumps can’t hide a largely by-the-numbers, cliched performance.

There’s even a bass solo for crying out loud. A piece of understandable padding at a festival show, but unforgivable when we’ve already lost 15 minutes due to the aforementioned hissy fit.

After a highly insincere apology to the earlier Eminem wannabe who appears to have snuck back in, ‘Symphony of Destruction’, ‘Peace Sells’ and Holy Wars’ are always going to be lapped up despite what goes before. To be fair, they do still sound great and deserve the warm reception they receive, but the set’s close is a little too late in the day to just throw in the big guns and hope everyone goes home happy.

The overall song selection tonight, despite the ‘Cryptic Writings’ tracks seems overly safe, and played with skill rather than true passion. It seems that Mustaine is largely oblivious to the slew of top quality bands around in 2013, and for that matter bands who easily match live what they are doing on record, and the show feels somewhat dated because of this. Someone really needs to sit him down and have a quiet word, telling him that it’s no longer okay to charge £30 a ticket, create an organisational mess and hope the fans will still turn out in their droves; Megadeth are really going to struggle to stay relevant if that type of form is anything to go by.

I hate to say it, but this night smacks of a band that could well be on their countdown to extinction.

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge, Manchester – 31st May 2013

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge

Andy Cairns – Going nowhere anytime soon.

When I talk to people about Therapy?, the reactions vary wildly. Those of a similar age to me remember their bigger hits and maybe the odd Top Of The Pops performance, whilst others seem genuinely surprised they’ve released any records in the past 10 years. Fortunately, the band have had a loyal, hardcore set of fans throughout their career and it’s these people who make sure they keep plugging away and churning out quality records and astonishing live shows.

Following last year’s tour in support of the magnificent ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’, the Therapy? apparently had a large enough window in their schedule to try something a bit different, sending frontman Andy Cairns out around the country by himself to play Therapy? classics both new and old as well as trialing some new material for the first time in public.

This wasn’t the first time the members of Therapy? have dabbled in acoustic songs; back in 1995, the B-Sides to the ‘Diane’ single featured some great arrangements of both ‘Troublegum’ and ‘Infernal Love’-era tracks. Even so, it’s not often that Andy performs live by himself, so the announcement of a solo acoustic tour during this mid-album period was exciting if a little rare.

Catching the tour on a sunny Friday evening in Manchester probably helps to set an enthusiastic mood, but the like-minded souls in attendance at The Ruby Lounge would still be grinning ear to ear if it was snowing outside and all the beer had been stolen by booze weasels.

On entering the venue a fluffy-sideburned wingman/long time guitar tech for both Therapy? and The Wildhearts, Stevie Firth, is manning the merch stand, flogging signed Cairns CDs recorded specifically as tour mementos. There aren’t many bands out there who would go to such an effort, and it’s these little things that lend the night a great relaxed vibe.

Support on the tour is being handled by local outfits in each town and it’s pleasing to see decent crowds for both Greg Larkin‘s incredible dexterity and Exit Ten‘s enjoyable, catchy set.

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge

Andy Cairns hears there’s a party at Lake Cove.

After a short break, a happy and chatty Andy Cairns takes to the stage and launches into an incredible ‘Die Laughing’. I’ve heard the song hundreds of times on record and at probably every Therapy? show I’ve attended, but acoustically it takes on a whole new dimension.

Cairns rattles through numerous singles, each being met with utter joy by an appreciative mob. ‘Lonely Crying Only’, ‘Nowhere’, the oft-forgotten ‘Opal Mantra’ ( I may have optimistically requested ‘Auto Surgery’ at this point), ‘Loose’ and of course the band’s biggest hit to date ‘Screamager’ all put smiles on faces and springs in steps and it’s a wonder that a mini mosh doesn’t break out instantaneously.

Even sinister short sharp shocks such as ‘Knives’ work brilliantly either solo or with Stevie as he takes to the stage later on, whilst a frantic ‘Our Love Must Die’, live favourite ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’ and old school classics ‘Meat Abstract’ and ‘Potato Junkie’ get a more enthusiastic response than I’ve seen at some fully plugged-in shows by other bands.

Both Cairns and Firth help set the tone with between-song anecdotes and banter, whether it’s Stevie professing his undying love for Taco Bell or Cairns giving small insights into how certain songs came about, both are brilliantly natural and genuine entertainers, taking the time to respond to the crowd as well as keeping the momentum going.

Perhaps the main beauty of this show is the way the audience participation works. Most in attendance are singing along to each and every classic, but Cairns is loud enough to cover a couple of over-enthusiastic duff notes from the crowd, whilst also encouraging maximum volume for ‘Church of NOISE’ and the chorus of ‘Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing’. The favour is dutifully returned when, during a stunning ‘Diane’ (Therapy?‘s outstanding Hüsker Dü cover) the crowd watch on respectfully to ensure full impact.

You probably wouldn’t be able to get a better crowd in such a notoriously tough-to-please city, and it’s testament to Cairns and his songwriting ability that a good couple of hundred have turned out tonight to witness this one-off event.

The highlight of the night oddly comes during the kind-of-new-song ‘Lost In Care’. A recognisable track (since parts of it were extracted to create ‘The Buzzing’ from Therapy?‘s last record), this stripped down, haunting take on mental illness is hugely powerful and you can’t help but feel privileged to have experienced it at such an intimate venue.

As the show ends, this acoustic jaunt through the Therapy? back catalogue has proven to be a triumphantly special and unique event that immediately makes me want to do it all over again. Here’s hoping…

The Wildhearts + Eureka Machines + Baby Godzilla @ Manchester Academy – 5th April 2013

The Wildhearts @ Manchester Academy

Greetings From Hitsville

In the past two years, I’ve seen Ginger Wildheart live six times. I’ve watched him perform everywhere, from a tiny acoustic show in Ashton-under-Lyne and a support slot with The Darkness all the way up to his celebratory London birthday show where he even supported himself (does that make it seven times?) and a raucous couple of nights in larger Manchester venues. But when it was announced that The Wildhearts would be hitting the road to perform the nailed-on classic Earth Vs The Wildhearts album in full to celebrate its 20th anniversary, I felt a) very, very old and b) so excited I could actually have a bit of a cry.

To make me even more giddy with joy, Ginger and co once again proved how in touch with the fans they were by delivering some amazing value for money, announcing that both Eureka Machines and Baby Godzilla would feature on the bill.

Baby Godzilla @ Manchester Academy

Cutting their Baby teeth in Manchester Academy

I’d seen Baby Godzilla playing with Ginger in the tiny Club Academy, on a night where they completely blew second support act The Guns off the stage. The Welsh crew didn’t stand a chance following the ‘Zillas, as both Matt and Jonny took the show into the crowd, literally, and threw themselves around like demented wildebeest. So, faced with the daunting prospect of the near 2,500 capacity Academy 1, what would the band do? Exactly what they do best. It takes about 15 seconds for the band to lob guitars and mic stands into the crowd and perform most of their punky hardcore psychoblues set WITH the people.

Many stand on, enthralled (if a little scared) as the band tear through a storming clutch of songs, and lets be honest here, these boys know how to write a tune. Tracks such as Powerboat Disaster and A Good Idea Realised are not just mental slabs of rock and roll, they’re quality tracks which can spur any size crowd into having a good time. One thing’s for sure, Baby Godzilla aren’t a gimmicky, comedy band, they’re a quality group laying down some awe-inspiring sounds and they’ve only got bigger and better things in their future. And to the 10 year old kid handed a ‘Zilla guitar mid-set; yes, this lot will be your favourite band for years to come.

Eureka Machines @ Manchester Academy

A Eureka moment.

Following Baby Godzilla is never an easy task, but if anyone’s up to it, it’s Ginger-collaborator Chris Catalyst and his Eureka Machines. Another band who put on a great show no matter the venue, EM gurn and dance their way through catchy tune after catchy tune, their hardcore and loyal fan base loving every minute of their hugely enjoyable set. It might be an all too brief appearance for many (full tour coming soon, kids) but EM still pick out the best tracks from their three albums, so there’s something for everyone. Champion The Underdog is a great pop rock opener whilst Pop Star is brilliantly written, funny, and an absolute joy live. This Is The Story Of My Life and Affluenza get the crowd bopping like they’ve been close personal friends with the band for years, and None Of The Above and Zero Hero close things off magnificently, setting the scene perfectly for what is to follow. EM are another band at the peak of their powers, having as they do three albums worth of ridiculously good songs up their black sleeves, and it’s a shame they can’t play the whole ruddy lot.

After a short wait, the sense of anticipation is absolutely crazy. The crowd ranges from eight year olds to octogenarians, fans new and old all in attendance with one common goal; dancing like absolute lunatics to an album seen more as a life-changing moment in time than a simple shiny disc purchase. As Ginger, CJ, Random and Ritch take to the stage, you can’t spot a miserable British mug for miles; this isn’t a gig, this is a lock in with all your mates in the best sound-systemed pub in the world.

I probably don’t need to run through every song here, as you can guess what the band play (hint: check the Earth Vs… tracklisting for details), but if there is a better live opening salvo than Greetings From Shitsville, TV Tan and Everlone, I’ll eat my not inconsideable collection of headwear. My Baby Is A Headfuck rocks the crowd from front to back, and even though I’ve heard Suckerpunch so many times live over the years, the two decade-old song sounds even better once again, losing none of its whirling punkish attitude.

As for the encores, there had been talk pre-gig of the fans being able to pick the songs, and this does ring true as long-standing roadies Dunc and Stevie wield giant boards plastered with various songs from the entire Wildhearts back catalogue, with the louder cheer signifying which would be played.

Trickier than it sounds, the crowd seem genuinely pained to pick between Caffeine Bomb and Sick Of Drugs, but one thing this scheme does lend itself to is the opportunity to hear some songs that haven’t been played that much over the years. TV EP track Dangerlust beats Naivety Play to the punch, whilst a close call sees Geordie In Wonderland edge out Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes and a similarly tight decision ensures 29 x The Pain gets heard over usual show-closer I Wanna Go Where The People Go.

As the band exit the stage for the final time, the shared joy in the venue is truly palpable. The Wildhearts seem just as proud as the audience in being part of such an astoundingly happy night, where songs that have meant so much to so many for so many years get the airing they deserve. Some might see anniversary tours as a faddy, cynical cash-in, but if anyone would begrudge us of this amazing night, they need to grow a new soul. Magical stuff.

Adventures In Competitive Eating – Part One: The Meateasy

The Southern Eleven Meateasy Sandwich

Meatgeddon had arrived.

I must admit that I was rather late to the Man Vs Food party. Three series had been and gone before I became absorbed by Adam Richman’s never-ending trawl around America’s finest food havens, but once I watched one episode, I couldn’t stop. I was fascinated, not only by the randomness of some of the dishes he consumed but also the amazing challenges he tried to overcome week after week.

Over the years, the only food-related challenges I’ve taken part in have been low-key unofficial ones, such as seeing who could put Pizza Hut out of business by eating as much pizza as possible in their lunchtime all-you-can-eat buffet deal. I did 20 slices in 45 mins and was pretty sure I had cheese poisoning afterwards. I also like a good meatfest at Bem Brasil where you are brought a selection of barbecued meats on skewers until you place your red card on the table, thus admitting defeat.

I’m not very good with attempting short challenges such as trying to nail as many Jaffa Cakes or Ferrero Roches in a minute as is humanly possible, but I know I can eat relatively quickly and that I can eat a lot so when one challenge rocked up, I couldn’t possibly say no.

The mammoth task in question was at Southern Eleven in Manchester. Their creation, the Meateasy, is one messy monster sandwich featured a kilo of meat including three quarter pounders topped with melted cheese, Texas BBQ sausages, pulled pork, more pork, plus lettuce, onions, tomatoes and gherkins, all encased in a foot-long ciabatta loaf. And of course that wouldn’t be enough of a challenge by itself, so alongside it was a bowl of parmesan-topped skinny (!) fries and a small saucepan of coleslaw.

The challenge is simple: take this bad boy down to Chinatown inside 45 minutes and it’s free, plus you receive a winner’s certificate. Fail, and it costs £25.99 and your dignity. Don’t forget too, there’s no leaving the table throughout the task.

My strategy had to begin early; should I eat normally during the day or starve myself ahead of the gargantuan sanger? I chose to eat normally but didn’t snack, instead I made sure I nailed plenty of water throughout the day. When it came to crunch time, I chose a Brewdog Tactical Nuclear Penguin as a nerve-calmer, rather than get gacked up on a pint, and then a glass of Pinot Grigio for the challenge itself.

When the four boards were brought out for my three friends and I, it looked terrifying but do-able. Once the stopwatch had been started I went straight for the meat, knowing that the sheer amount of protein could cause me issues if I didn’t meet the meat head-on right there and then. I finished the carnivorous cavalcade in around nine minutes, moving swiftly onto the fries.

It was here that the challenge really began. I knew I had to still take down the ciabatta. I knew as well I had to annihilate the tomato, something which I hate, and never, ever eat, let alone in a challenge situation. Suddenly, the texture of the gherkins wasn’t making me feel too good. As hard as I tried to hide the tomato in a bready coleslaw sandwich, it kept popping out to tease me with its gooey nonsense.

Halfway through I pretty much only had coleslaw, lettuce and bread remaining but each mouthful became such a chore. I’m no Olympic athlete but I believe this may be called “The Wall”. The lettuce eventually went. The top of the ciabatta was next to bite the dust, followed by about half the coleslaw as I desperately attempted to mix up the dry foods with the more moist.

There were about ten minutes left when all I had in front of me was three quarters of the bottom half of the loaf and half a third of a pan of coleslaw. Combining the two, I knew I had to go for it. But I couldn’t. Lifting the makeshift sandwich to my mouth I couldn’t physically fit it in. One last bite eventually went down, but I knew that I was done. I kept on trying until the final whistle but on this occasion, food won.

Could I have done anything differently? I don’t think so. The meat simply HAD to go, and go quickly. The fries were good, but the salad selection was a tad slippery. At the end of the day though, it was just the creaminess of the coleslaw after all of that other stodge that I simply could not take. A valiant effort but ultimately not good enough.

Is any of this big or clever? Probably not. I certainly don’t feel too clever today. But I am quite competitive. I definitely don’t like losing. So, despite the pain and agony of such a narrow defeat, will I be game again for another silly challenge like this? Let’s just say I don’t think I’m retiring from the sport just yet.

Ginger @ Club Academy, Manchester – 2nd June 2012

Ginger, Random and Victoria

Ginger and friends creating their own purple haze.

As jubilee bunting fluttered in the gales and litter became mashed up underfoot on the rainy streets of Manchester, it could only mean one thing; we were into summer festival warm-up season and what better way to get started than by popping down to the Student Union to check out erstwhile Wildheart and certified Geordie legend, Ginger.

Seemingly forever in a cycle of touring and recording, I was as excited as ever to see the flame-haired one tear up the stage, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years from Ginger and Wildhearts gigs, it’s that you should get down early to catch some hidden gem support acts, and this night was no different.

Baby Godzilla @ Club Academy, Manchester.

Baby Godzilla: chomping up the competition.

Kicking off proceedings were Baby Godzilla, taking the show quite literally to the crowd in a ferocious display of thrashy punky hardcore. These guys are obviously unhinged in a very, very good way and they’re surely going to be tearing up bigger venues in the not too distant future. Get them out with someone like Feed The Rhino and crazy times cannot fail to be far behind. Following the ‘zilla were South Wales mob The Guns who did a great job of encouraging the masses to get involved with some decent riffs and growing hooks. Again, a tasty little prospect, and it’s always great to see some hard-working bands being given an opportunity by some of the genre’s older hands.

Both support slots were suitably successful at warming us all up, but time still seemed to fly by, probably due to the excitement of the arrival of the main man. The guy who had spent the earlier part of the night checking out both supports from the side of stage sound booth, showing his love and appreciation for all things ‘music’; Sir Ginger of Wildheart.

Accompanied by Chris Catalyst, ‘Random’ Jon Poole, Victoria Liedtke, Denzel and Rich Jones, Ginger stormed the stage and blasted straight into the yet-to-be-released-on-a-physical-shiny-disc-of-joy ‘Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’ from the forthcoming Pledge Music triple album, 555%. Amazingly, the song was treated like an old friend and got the show off to an energetic start.

A bouncy Girls Are Better Than Boys and Mazel Tov Cocktail made sure the momentum stayed high and when Anyway But Maybe arrived, the crowd were as deafening as the riffs. Sonic Shake reminded everyone how much they wanted another Silver Ginger 5 record, whilst Taste Aversion and Confusion showed a huge amount of promise as future live favourites despite, again, being taken from Ginger’s future 555% release.

I’m always a sucker for You Took The Sunshine From New York which saw the band as harmonious as ever, and by slotting Do The Channel Bop into the encore, the smiles across the room were growing by the second.

Rounding things off with Inglorious (despite requests for yet another newie, Westward Ho!) the crowd took one last opportunity to go suitably apeshit, at THAT classic, timeless riff.

Ginger

Ginger: Going solo.

I saw Ginger at Ashton’s Witchwood last year on his acoustic tour, as well as at the back-end of 2011 at Moho Live and in all honesty, the shows just get better and better. The band seemed even tighter than ever, and Ginger has always been a pro at connecting with the crowd, as proven by the banter on his Grievous Acoustic Behaviour CD and as witnessed by anyone who’s been to see him live.

This time out, Ginger seemed even more engaging, laughing and joking throughout the show and happily responding to questions and other heckles. He seems to be a refreshingly down to earth guy, even broaching the question as to why he hadn’t played in his hometown on this tour, firmly blaming clueless promoters who don’t know a good thing when they see one. After this show, I can honestly say that their loss was our gain.

The rest of the band also kept the crowd going with excitable performances, beer provision (thanks for the Stella, Chris!) and suitably madcap antics (Random Jon) to make the show a brilliant all-round night.

Surprisingly though, the set list didn’t feature anything from P.H.U.Q. (still a favourite album of mine), and only one track from Earth Vs, but maybe that’s the point of these ‘solo’ shows; they really do prove what a weighty set of songwriting bollocks Ginger has outside of the band in which he first found fame.

He quite rightly throws a few (mainly later era) Wildhearts tunes into the set, but the majority of tracks that are hammered out are taken from Ginger’s equally impressive, and actually quite musically diverse solo/collaboration discography.

Overall, the night was a great success. A largely knobhead-free crowd (always a bonus), some energising support and a typically strident effort from Ginger’s entire band ensured that a bunch of people who were probably old enough to know better traipsed home in the rain sweaty and with a big grin on their suckerpunched faces.