Almost 2 years ago I reflected on watching The Courteeners at Heaton Park in Manchester, my review (you can find it here) tried to express the overwhelming sense of pride I had watching the band that have defined my teenage years and beyond. I felt as if I had watched this band grow in front of my eyes. As part of that, I’ve spent countless nights in Manchester amongst Mancunians, in Mancunian rooms, beneath Lancastrian skies. It was those nights that were in my thoughts on Monday 22nd May. Ariana Grande is a far cry from the bands I have watched in the past, but what is identical throughout music is the expectation, the passion, the enjoyment and the love that oozes from the thrill of a live performance. On Saturday afternoon I arrived in Manchester with that same anticipation as ever, and this time the overwhelming sense of pride was rooted in once again being part of this community, once again being part of an unforgettable day.
Whilst The Courteeners are preparing to play to their biggest crowd ever, fellow Mancunian’s Cabbage open proceedings. They provide a unique musical take on the state of things, with Uber Capitalist Death Trade, their opening song, being indicative of their style. They are raw, and usually suited to a sweatbox stage, but their set is a sign that their festival slots over the summer have the potential to increase their reach. The stadium is far from packed but there are plenty people who’ve made the trip from the city centre early enough to catch them.
A band who know all about increasing their fan-base rapidly are Blossoms, they seem to have been the band of the hour for most of the past year. They will look at Old Trafford in aspiration, it is well within their sights to have their name at the top of the poster. Their new release, This Moment lacks the melodic pleasure of Charlemagne, but they have earned the right to experiment. The Charlatans took over Manchester’s Oldham Street on Friday with the launch of their new album Different Days, two songs from that album featured in their set. The LP has been received as their best work since their glory days, but those that would have rushed to get hold of it observed from afar. The youngest in the crowd are camped at the barrier, visibly less expressive on reception of Tim Burgess and co. As Sproston Green faded out, The Charlatans gaze at a full Old Trafford.
The time arrives, the moment of defiance that had been spoken of for the past week. The Courteeners’ warm-up shows in Halifax and Sheffield had featured tributes, and Ryan Williams’ poem had been shared around the country. It is that poem that opens their set, if you think you can beat us, you don’t know who we are. Liam Fray returns to the stage after the poem with Moores, Campbell and Cross. Are You In Love With A Notion lights up the stadium, “Good evening, Manchester!” Hello again, lads.
With that, Manchester is celebrating again, anxieties disappear into the evening skies. Bodies fall forward, smiling faces are 8 feet high on their mates’ shoulders to the sound of St Jude‘s Cavorting and Acrylic – remember those nights in front of a few hundred? They flit between albums, from 2016’s Mapping The Rendezvous to 2013’s ANNA, when a headline set at Castlefield Bowl felt like the pinnacle. When Fray dons his acoustic guitar after Small Bones and The 17th, one of the most memorable moments of their live career is about to occur. During the week, at one of the many moments of memorial in the city, a group of people broke out into a rendition of an iconic Mancunian track. It is Old Trafford’s turn to sing Don’t Look Back In Anger, the sound of 50,000 voices can be heard across the city. I have watched videos of the cover countless times since Saturday, and my eyes have blurred every time. Truthfully, it was only then, upon looking 360 degrees that I realised how vital it is that music stands tall in the most heartbreaking of situations.
Similarly iconic, Not Nineteen Forever rekindles ecstasy at Old Trafford, and What Took You So Long closes the evening. Fireworks shoot into the air and the band take a bow, they’ve managed to conquer Manchester time and again but never to this amount of adoring fans. They will undoubtedly wonder how it can ever be topped, they have fulfilled dream after dream and given so many like me so many nights to remember, but tonight they stood for everything that is great about Manchester and that is great about music.
In the words of Ryan Williams,
So, come at us again, and again if you must.
Time after time we’ll rise from the dust.
You’ll never prevail – not against us…
This is Manchester, our Manchester,
And the bees still buzz.
God bless the band, God bless the 22.