1) THE WEATHER: GOOD DAY SUNSHINE
No more jokes
The "grey, dreary, gloomy city that is Manchester" (as Michael Stipe described it from onstage) basked in nothing but sunshine throughout the weekend of the three-day Move festival, postcard-perfect weather amplified by nature's night-time light shows of multi-colored sunsets and a luminescent full moon. The mood was suitably upbeat in turn; Britain so rarely gets such ideal festival weather that only a true cynic (or Manchester's own Morrissey) could be anything but buoyant in the circumstances. Curiously, of the acts I saw, only non-Mancunians David Gahan and the R.E.M. commented on the beautiful conditions. The Manchester artists themselves simply got on with enjoying themselves. Perhaps they were trying to fool us visitors into believing their city always basks in such sunshine, but there were several indications that that's hardly the case. For one, the thousands of tomato-red Englishmen whose skin was clearly unfamiliar with such exposure to the sun. For another, the Pavilion (where we had VIP seats) where, perhaps fearful that it was all an illusion, the heating was kept on throughout the weekend
2) ORIGINAL BAGGIES: INSPIRAL CARPETS
There were a handful of artists on the bill associated with the heyday of Madchester. Former Stone Roses guitarist John Squire played on Sunday, but sadly solo. The Charlatans topped Saturday's line-up, but they're not strictly a Manchester band. PureEssence, impressive though they were Saturday afternoon, only came on the scene in the mid-nineties. It was left to the Inspiral Carpets then, to demonstrate all that was best about baggy: floppy haircuts, bright clothes, sing-along pop songs, cool-as-fuck imagery, quietly subversive social lyrics, and that insouciant Mancunian swagger that is encapsulated in THE GROOVE.
The recently reformed band, in original line-up, no longer has quite such floppy hair or colorful clothes, but the other attributes are all still very much present and accounted for. Coming on stage to a repeated sample of "Inspiral Carpets, bigger bunch of wankers in the world," (add 'self-deprecating humor' to that former list), they rattled through a star-studded set which, as with their Brixton Academy show in April (read a longer review here), suggests that they may have been the best singles band to have come out of Manchester since The Smiths. If you doubt that claim, try this partial list: 'Commercial Rain,' 'Joe,' 'This Is How It Feels', 'She Comes In The Fall,' ' Saturn V,' 'I Want You' and 'Dragging Me Down.' '8.15 Train to Manchester' was a superb slice of garage rock, and 'Witness' came from nowhere whether these were new songs, non-album tracks to which I'd not been exposed, or covers I couldn't tell you, but I did recognize the new single 'Come Back Tomorrow,' which owes a bigger debt to sixties Manchester pop stars The Hollies every time I hear it. All that, and they were even able to deliver the theme song for the festival, their twelve year old single 'Move.' (Though the refrain 'Move' should not to be confused with the incessant crowd mooing that cheerfully plays into the group's cow obsession.)
I wouldn't go so far as to say that the Inspiral Carpets were the peoples' band at Move, but there was a cheerfully hedonistic air surrounding their performance such as you usually only find at family reunions, weddings - and at the festival/festive return of hometown heroes. Judging by the number of finely-aged cow/cool t-shirts (and one very impressive home-made flag) doing the rounds, I'm not the only one thrilled by their return.
3) GET OFF YOUR ARSE: DAVID GAHAN
The Depeche Mode front man, who like his song-writing band mate Martin Gore recently released a solo album, has always been a rocker at heart. You want proof? Check the tattoos; check the former drug habit; check the session-muso band. And check the endless screamed exhortations (juxtaposed among his traditionally fey vocal deliveries) to "come on", to "get off your arses," to "show your hands." Tiresome though I find this demand for audience participation, it worked; by the end of the show, he had most of the 10,000 strong crowd singing along. His choice of material clearly helped; he quickly abandoned the dreary numbers from his Paper Monsters album, and focused instead on those Depeche Mode hits that best lend themselves to a hard rock arrangement: 'Question of Time', ' Walking in My Shoes', 'Personal Jesus,' 'I Feel You,' and 'Never Let Me Down Again,' the lyrics of which may or not, in retrospect, have drug connotations. Into the middle of these he threw 'Bottle Living', by far and away the best and most Mode-like song from Paper Monsters. I'd fully anticipated him having a harder time with this crowd, but Gahan's determination to gain rock credibility won out. Credit the weather, that people seemed up for everything and anything in the sunshine. But don't discredit Gahan's work ethic.
4) JUST WHEN YOU THINK THINGS ARE OVER: THE CHARLATANS
You've been knocking around for almost 15 years. You're a major band but you're not a MAJOR band. You get critical respect but you don't get media adulation. Your front man is about to release a solo album. What better way to squash rumors you're on the verge of breaking up than to perform a weekend of festival dates including the prestigious Saturday night headlining slot in your nearest major city and use the opportunity to air several new songs? 'Feel The Pressure,' 'I Grew For You' and 'Try Again Today', interspersed among a 90-minute set, suggest that the creative well from which the Charlatans draw continues to run deep, while the older songs including 'The Only One I Know, 'Can't Even Be Bothered,' 'Just When You're Thinking Things Over,' 'A Man Needs To Be Told' - and 'Tellin' Stories' demonstrated just how deep that well is to begin with. The band members are beginning to show their personal ages a little, filling out in all the familiar places for those pushing 40, but they're no less skimpy when it comes to delivery. The video close-ups of Jon Brookes, in particular, may have helped show the crowd at large what some of us have long known: The Charlatans have one of the hardest-working drummers in show business.
Mark Collins' guitar amp packed up mid-set, and the band struggled to keep the crowd amused while it was being fixed, causing vocalist Tim Burgess to announce "I bet you won't see this with R.E.M. tomorrow." True, we didn't. But nor did I see anyone wearing a t-shirt like the one which read "Tim Burgess you're such a hunk, come over here and fill me with your spunk."
5) KEVIN BAGNALL: THE ORIGINAL 'BAGGY'
He was three years above me at school. He was trumpet player in Apocalypse for the two years the band actually counted. He left just before it all went pear-shaped. He moved to Manchester 13 years ago. I haven't seen him since. He found me through the iJamming! site a couple of years ago and we had lunch together last Sunday. Kevin who was understandably nicknamed Baggy when he landed in Madchester and answers to nothing else these days was looking good; in fact, hipper than in the band days. We talked about the good times, the bad and all the bits in between. Like the time we wound up the crowd at Port Talbot (that's in Wales) with our cockney accents and one of them poured a pint of beer over our front man, Jeff Carrigan, in the bar afterwards. The night before, we'd played St. Austell (is that in Cornwall?) which Kevin insists was our best gig ever, to the point he swears that a group of Jam fans (you hardly think we filled the room on our own do you?) preferred talking with us than watching Weller and co run through their headlining set. He also reminded me we played down the road at the Manchester Apollo, which would have been when the Yoof TV crew from Channel 4 were following us around, setting us up for an almighty fall, and we were subjected to classic Fawlty Towers behavior: hotel maids entering our rooms despite the Do Not Enter signs and hovering round our beds at nine in the morning. (Beds? We used to dream of having beds!) Somewhere during that year, which would have been 1982, we also played Bridlington Spa with The Jam; I took a drive out there with the wife and the kid on Friday afternoon hoping to show them the venue. We got waylaid by fun fair rides instead. As was right. Time moves on and you should always enjoy the present. You're allowed to look back on the past with some nostalgia though. Kevin still has a full-on Sarf Landan accent, which he says has never been a problem in Manchester, a city he loves far more than the one he was born in. It was a delight to see him.
6) TURNING MADONNA DOWN: BADLY DRAWN BOY
The truly local hero of the weekend was not the Charlatans, nor the Inspiral Carpets, nor John Squire. It was Damon Gough, a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy, who had to travel all of one mile from his Chorlton home to play the prestigious pre-R.E.M. slot on Sunday night. I saw Gough's New York debut at the Knitting Factory a couple of years back and hated it, but I've since come to realize he was deliberately deconstructing the hype, ensuring he wasn't awarded the same "future of rock'n'roll" status as wore down his hero Bruce Springsteen for a few mid-seventies years. Sunday afternoon, playing without a band, still swearing like a trooper and cheerfully insulting elements of the crowd as he made up songs on the spot and threw in a couple of unlikely covers, he occasionally let the mood slip but was still every inch a star. There were a handful of new songs from his forthcoming album with Andy Votel, one about seeing The Boss at the same cricket field last May ('Life Turned Upside Down'), another called 'This Is That New Song', and a third, politically correct number entitled 'Don't Ask Me, I'm Just the President,' with the non-rhyming non-sequitor (as if that's anything new for him) "No man should play God/Big Brother should end"). But these all paled next to the delivery of the intensely personal and emotional 'You Were Right', which he dedicated to girlfriend Clare, standing at the side of the stage. In other performers' hands, this would have seemed tacky, but with Gough, it just rendered the performance yet more beautiful, especially the lines about always wanting her for a wife, never having the guts to ask out right, preferring instead to hide the request in a song. Naturally, the woman alongside me started crying, but then they always do when you mention marriage.
7) PISSED UP BRITS
I grew up in the UK. I was a piss-head myself in my formative years. I come back here often enough that it shouldnt surprise me. But it still does. The Brits get drunk like its their last day on earth every day they can. Offer them a sunny rock festival and an all-day beer tent and you're lucky if they haven't fallen into a coma by tea-time. Which several of them did at Move.
The boozing was hardly restricted to Old Trafford. I'd (thankfully) forgotten what a major city like Manchester looks like at 2.30 in the morning when the late-bars and clubs empty and everyone pours onto the streets at the same time. (Here's a hint for the non-Brits: it's truly frightening.) And Sunday afternoon around the gay bars on the delightfully European Canal Street showed that it's hardly just the bulldog beer boys who take their tops off and order a lager when the sun comes out. I don't think I've seen more golden pints and pink skin in one city in one weekend in my life.
It's all good clean fun up to a point. That point is when someone goes over the top and insists on involving you in their drunken euphoria. When it's a cheerfully out-of-it girl slapping your bum and begging to get on your shoulders, it's bearable; when it's a bloke with a badly bleeding head running round, bumping into and hugging everyone in sight during the Charlatans' set, it becomes a real pain. A couple of people were sufficiently annoyed by bleeding head's intrusions that, after several minutes, they told him to f**k off. Bad idea. Turned out they were dealing with the living personification of Trainspotting's Begby (sp?): Bleeding head went psycho and started cracking skulls. No one wanted a part of it and an enormous hole opened up in the crowd, which only offered him a wider number of people to alternately hug and thump. The Charlatans were playing 'Love Is The Key' somewhere round that time
8) ANIMAL pt. 1: FASHION
When I visited Beverley in April, I was thrilled to find that among the familiar high street chain stores, antique shops and coffee houses, a local young entrepreneur had dared to open a surfing-street style clothing store, Tea Tree Bay. (It's on Toll Gavel, if you're looking.) I was even more thrilled that amongst the Quicksilver and Rusty clothes I can get in the States, he was selling a brand new British brand, Animal. Instantly impressed by the cut and the colours, I picked up three items in rapid succession. I wore one of them to Old Trafford on Saturday, where I quickly realized I've not been alone in seizing good British street fashion when I see it. In fact, the variations on that blue-and-white theme may just have been the most popular clothing expression of the whole weekend. (Barring R.E.M. and Cool-as-Fuck t-shirts of course.) Sadly, some c**t threw a full pint of beer over the crowd during the Charlatans' set and the back of my predominantly white shirt is now indelibly stained. I'll call it a souvenir and I'll be back to Tea Tree for more before my stay is over.
9) ALL BACK TO YOURS: THE HACIENDA
Walking round Manchester Sunday afternoon, I sensed my way toward the former Hacienda, site not just of British rave culture's birth, but of my Tube-presenting nadir, interviewing Morrissey while the band was still playing and we couldn't hear each other speak. It wasn't that hard to find the place: its busy being converted into (no-doubt expensive) apartments, with the suggestion 'Now that the party's over
you can come home. It's a shame to see the building converted from its former glory, but you can't blame the developers for seizing the opportunity. (After all, it wasn't they who closed the building down.) Of course, should you find yourself buying one of these yuppie flats and living somewhere near the DJ booth or the dance floor, you can expect your mates to insist you throw regular house parties in every sense of the word.
10) ANIMAL pt 2: R.E.M.
I've made no great secret of the fact that Reveal comes twelfth in my list of R.E.M.'s top twelve studio albums. Nor did 'The Final Straw' particularly sway me when it showed up on the band's web site a few months back; I found it a little tired and overly familiar. The two other unreleased songs the band are currently performing, on the other hand, are absolutely exhilarating. 'Bad Day,' if Mojo magazine is to be believed, is drawn from the same original song as 'It's The End of The World', though it's a little more restrained and the lyrics seem surprisingly au courant ("We are sick of being jerked around
and we all fall down."). 'Animal' is more reminiscent of the band's best warped arena rockers, exuding a chaotic exuberance and a slew of great lyrics, including "Kiss me, fuck me, what's the big deal," and the line that Stipe was wearing across his shirt all Sunday night, "I'm vibrating at the speed of light." If this is where R.E.M.'s going with album 13, I'll place my order now.
These new songs were the highlights of a 100-minute set that barely steered clear of the 'Greatest Hits' package the group are set to release later this year. There was nothing at all prior to 1985's 'Fall On Me', and hardly a single obscurity (though the songs from Reveal would be unfamiliar to most Americans, ha-ha). New drummer Bill Rieflin was surprisingly restrained for someone formerly in Ministry, but the band was clearly firing on all cylinders. As somebody has mentioned to me since, there are only a few groups in the world who can truly rise to the festival occasion and R.E.M., indisputably, are one of them. Much is this is down to Stipe, whose crowd-pleasing personality I could never have predicted back in the old days. Walking the vast wings, jumping into the photographer's pit, playing God with the weather, lounging on the grand piano, he's the rock star whose sense of irony and humor keeps him (and ourselves) grounded. I particularly loved his introduction to 'Losing My Religion,' "This song is yours, we're happy to cover it for you."
My only previous experience seeing R.E.M. outdoors in Britain was their ill-fated Milton Keynes bowl appearance on June 21 1985, where it pissed down with rain for around six hours straight and the group, deep in their dour Fables mood, dodged bottles of piss for 45 minutes as they waxed lyrical about 'Wendell Gee' and 'Driver 8.' That was also the one and only time I've ever seen them be anything less than brilliant. Sunday night was thrilling, then, for a number of reasons - not least to sense just how enormously popular they remain in the UK precisely 20 years after they first came to the country's shores.
The crowd was not alone in its appreciation. As the band concluded with 'The One I Love' and 'It's The End of the World' the sun finally went down for the day and a full moon arose in its place on the other side of the horizon. It was that kind of weekend: seamless.