John Grant


It’s not often that support bands appeal so accurately to the main act’s crowd, but many have made the extra effort to get in early tonight to see John Grant. It’s easy to see why he appeals to Elbow fans, as his songs have a certain depth to them; whether it’s the slow paced opener ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ or the more beat-driven ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, they all combine his poetic delivery and rich vocal tones perfectly. His deadpan sense of humour shines through on songs like ‘Global Warming’, about a selfish idiot who only has his own self interests at heart, and the classic ‘Queen Of Denmark’. His vocals are astounding, with his powerful yet deep voice resonating around the cavernous arena, all backed by soaringly beautiful melodies, with a witty and dark sense of humour in the lyrics. A brief but brilliant set.

Let’s face it, Elbow are pretty much national treasures in the realms of Manchester’s musical legacies, such is the high regard and love many people have for this band. It’s not all one-way traffic either, as Elbow profess their love for this city within every album, and at various intervals throughout each live gig. Frontman Guy Garvey has always maintained a great rapport with the audience, with each interval feeling like a two-way conversation between audience and band. They’d managed to retain that intimate gig experience at the Arena in previous years, but now after twenty years and with a greatest hits-style set on the cards, could they still retain a freshness to these much loved tunes, and renew that intimate audience and band feel once again?

Starting off with ‘Starlings’, with its trumpet blasts interspersing the gentle vocals and guitars, the audience sing along to every word, as video screens flicker into life in the background. Elbow have brought a huge light show along for these big gigs, with cubes of light descending and rising up again into the rafters, radiant beams which seem to put the band in a virtual cage, and the effervescent mirrorballs, casting bright stars all around the arena. We’re treated to Elbow classics such as the soaring ‘Fugitive Motel’ and ‘The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver’, with every song preceded by some words from the master of ceremonies, Guy Garvey. Whether it’s an introduction to his family gathered in one of the boxes, an insight into the writing of the song, or just checking we’re still all ok, he seems to revel in the audience participation scattered throughout the set.


Guy begins a story regarding some kids assembled outside his house one day who were annoying him: “Is the next one ‘Lippy Kids’?” one audience member blurts out. “You’ve ruined it now,” Guy jokes, as he finishes off the introduction and the gentle piano notes of ‘Lippy Kids’ kick in. It’s another sing-a-long moment, not just on the whistling bits, but with an almightily loud shout for its catchy chorus of “build a rocket boys”; no matter how many times you’ve heard it live, or anticipate its predictable inclusion in the set, it’s still an absolute belter of a song. Although you could’ve placed bets on the songs making the setlist tonight, they still manage to throw in some which may have fallen off the radar in recent years, so welcome back into the fold ‘Any Day Now’ from 2001’s Asleep In The Back, and the ever poignant ‘Leaders Of The Free World’, which sounds as if it was written yesterday.

More audience participation ensues for the full on attack of ‘Grounds For Divorce’, probably the most ferocious and loudest song in the set so far, and the poetic charm of ‘Station Approach’, wearing its love for Manchester firmly on its sleeve. John Grant returns to the stage and joins in for ‘Kindling (Fickle Flame)’ from 2017’s Little Fictions album, with their harmonised vocals adding to its majestic yet delicate tones. Like a communal gathering of some sacred Mancunian religion, Elbow have the Arena crowd wrapped in the palm of their hand. It’s audience participation, taken to a whole new level.

Before the start of the final epic closing anthem, Guy asks the upper section of the arena to sing one note, the middle section get another one to sing, then the standing masses get female and male parts assigned to them respectively: the result is the most amazing chord sung by the entire arena (even if not everyone had the voice of an angel, especially that drunken buffoon behind me!) Then it was straight into their crowd pleasing anthem, ‘One Day Like This’, which even though you’ve heard it live countless times before, never fails to be anything but an utterly genius piece of music. Proof if any were ever needed, that whilst they may be filling stadiums, they still remain capable of creating the most intimate of atmospheres, anchored by a vast array of quality tunes from over twenty years. Another great homecoming gig from Bury’s finest.

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From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.