By Josh Ong
Now I should probably preface this article by stating that I’ve been a fan of the Courteeners for quite some time now. I’ve been fortunate to have seen them play around the country and have lost track of the amount of times I’ve seen them live. I could happily sit here and praise the band’s whole discography and easily write a whole dissertation on how St Jude remains a timeless insight into pure, unadulterated Mancunian adolescence but, quite frankly, there’s not enough paper in the world.
Nevertheless, the band are currently on a new tour around the U.K, despite their new album, which they promise is going to be a new ‘groove-based’ direction, releasing next year. From this, it was easy to see why some fans questioned the purpose of the tour upon announcement. With supposedly no new material to differentiate this from previous tours, why does this one exist? This never once crossed my mind. What still amazes me about the band is that, despite their debut album being released over a century ago, their music is still enticing new fans in every single day. Therefore, any opportunity to give those new fans a taste of what the band can do live, is always going to be welcome, in my books at least.
Despite them taking the show to mostly arenas around the U.K, which normally house thousands, they also decided to take the show to the O2 Academy in Bristol, a considerably smaller venue in comparison. As mentioned before, I’ve seen them quite a few times across different venues, small and large, indoor and outdoor, and I have always believed that the indoor gigs, with the exception of a few special outliers, are always superior; the connection to the crowd is always far superior as the sound of everyone singing the lyrics back bounce off every wall straight back into your ears. The energy that an excited indoor crowd emanates only helps any band elevate their own energy to blow the roof off of the place, something which is literally impossible in an outdoor gig.
The first support act of Zuzu was a refreshing sound in the still male dominated market of Indie music. Whilst there has been a steep rise in female-membered bands, such as Wolf Alice and Hinds, it’s still quite the boys club across the board. I had not heard of Zuzu beforehand, but was impressed with their work and will be investigating more of them following the gig. However, what happened next, to say the least, was quite remarkable. The second, and I mean the second, that Zuzu left the stage, chants for the second support act, Gerry Cinnamon, rose up from the dark and took over the entire venue. Similar to Zuzu, I had not heard to Gerry prior to the show, but unlike Zuzu, I’m fairly sure I was totally alone in not knowing them this time. It’s rare you ever see a support act with such a dedicated and loud following, and I was blown away by the response of the crowd to simply the idea of him coming onto the stage. The chants for Gerry continued until he took stage and proceeded to carry on during just about every gap that the crowd could find. I had no idea what to expect, but what I was more than pleasantly surprised to say the least. What I was not expecting was a kind of Scottish-punk Ed Sheeran; an easy rival to the ginger popstar’s ability to create chant-along ballads, but aimed more at the bucket hat, dark fruits, pyro types, as opposed to fourty year old mothers of three (That’s where the resemblance finishes). Within the first song, he had the whole venue bouncing. Cinnamon commanded the stage feeding off of the reverberation of energy that the crowd created from the small venue. He arguably ticked every box in being the perfect support act; not only did he introduce people, such as myself, to new music, but he fulfilled the role of building momentum within the crowd, making them more eager for the main act to come along. Gerry was utterly superb, do go and check out his stuff.
After seeing them live every tour since the Falcon tour, the opening of the gig was no surprise, kicking it all off with Are You In Love With A Notion?, a track they have opened almost every single show with since their album, ANNA, my personal favourite of theirs, was released in 2013. To this day, the track remains one of the greatest opening tracks on any album of all time in my opinion. Nevertheless, the set list continued along a fairly recognisable and predictable path, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The band had prepared a carefully chosen set list containing material from across their timeline with more modern songs such as Modern Love and The 17th being brought out alongside the likes of old-school fan favourites Acrylic and Smiths Disco. Furthermore, the band brought out a few surprise picks such as Van Der Graaff, a track they have not played live across the last few tours. As an added bonus, the band played three tracks from their upcoming album, all of which sported different, but all equally enticing tones. As per the script, the band finished with their greatest hits of Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long?, both of which set an already enlivened crowd alight.
I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of seeing the Courteeners live. There’s just something about the energy that their live experience creates that prevents it from getting old. Perhaps it’s their music that activates an internalised sense of youth that some have grown out of touch with, or perhaps the enthusiasm that frontman Liam Fray brings to the stage that keeps the crowd bouncing alongside him; I’d like to think it’s a combination of both. It’s difficult to put into words how formative this band were across my teenage years and how their ability to still impress me after seeing them around 16 times live is continually astounding. Yet, it baffles me how they remain one of ‘those bands’ who never quite made it to the mainstream but possess a loyal hometown following, alongside pockets of devoted fans spread out across the nation. Almost everyone in Manchester knows of them, but if you asked anyone outside of the city to name the top Mancunian bands, I’d bet my left arm that Courteeners wouldn’t make most of their lists. Whilst this may seem like a negative thing, I’ve never seen an issue with it. The band have successfully persevered across the last 10 years in producing incredible albums and pleasing fans in both studios and shows and that’s what really matters. There’s no doubt that their later albums are not quite as phenomenal as their first three, but are there really artists out there who have consistently produced multiple albums of extraordinary quality? Nevertheless, in my books, they remain one of the greatest bands to have come out of Manchester in modern history and I will happily continue to see them until they’re wrung completely dry.
If you’ve made it this far, see you at Heaton Park.
God bless the band.