Cherry Ghost


 Since fate conspired against me last year and made me miss Bolton’s Cherry Ghost playing a couple of Christmas-time concerts at Hallé St. Peter’s, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make up for it tonight at Band on the Wall. Billed as a ‘festive special’, hopefully a seasonal show in Manchester will remain a band tradition in the coming years, and my curiosity is sparked as I ponder what the evening may have in store.

As I make my way over to the Northern Quarter, where here in the Northern Hemisphere today is winter solstice, there are a couple of reasons that I’m unconvinced that a popular-music gig such as tonight will set me up with Christmas spirit for the week ahead. First off, the unseasonably mild air feels more early-October than winter wonderland, and secondly band songwriter Simon Aldred has previously described his work as “miserable northern music”, which doesn’t bring to mind the season of joy and goodwill.

Surely Aldred’s description of his music was said with his tongue firmly in his cheek, though, because across three albums the songs of Cherry Ghost are literate and widescreen sketches of stories both romantic and nostalgic, just like tonight’s first song ‘Drinking for Two’, from latest LP Herd Runners. Aldred, on acoustic guitar and vocals, is joined on stage by Ben Parsons on keyboards, before the evening’s three-piece line-up is completed on next number, the title song, with the arrival of Grenville Harrop on drums.

Every note of the guitar and keyboards reaches my ears with perfect clarity, and Harrop’s drum work sounds wonderfully crisp, with no bass guitar to smear the beats and blur the cymbal crashes. Add Aldred’s rich, honeyed vocal tones and eloquent words to the mix, and it’s already obvious so early in the set that tonight is going to be an aural pleasure.

The three mic stands are wrapped in red fairy lights, matching the lit-up colour of Band on the Wall’s Dizzy Gillespie logo that provides the backdrop to the stage. The room seems cosy and, yes, festive, with the feel of a family gathering, as Aldred acknowledges relatives in the audience. There is good banter with a crowd that’s in celebratory mood, as a bloke jokingly shouts out “your brother is here too!” Perhaps with the merry atmosphere in mind, Aldred’s wit is cheerily received as he asks whether we’ve been Christmas shopping today or whether we were just too busy getting pissed.


Cherry Ghost

‘Thirst for Romance’, from the album of the same name, is introduced by Aldred as “one we all know”,  and the performance of the song reminds me of the enthusiastic gig reports I’d give to friends as a teenager the day after, when I’d exclaim that the band sounded better than on the album. There is surely no playback system anywhere that could make a recording reach the heights of the live-in-the-venue sound, at least when the band is tuned in to the room as sweetly as it seems to be tonight.

The band is spoiling us by serving a Christmas platter that offers selections from various sources, be it a guitar version of ‘All I Want’ from Aldred’s side-project synth-pop record Invasion of Love or humorous Cherry Ghost b-side ‘Bad Crowd’, a song Aldred wrote about a friend of his. The band’s first-ever single ‘Mathematics’ is slowed down in a live setting, with many audience members joyously joining in with the lovelorn, cinematic words. Aldred jokes at the song’s conclusion that the singing was beautiful “and you weren’t bad either”.

The announcement that the end of the show is nigh once the band has played Cherry Ghost’s most famous song ‘People Help the People’ is greeted with good-natured boos and hisses that set off our three musicians laughing. The encore includes two classy choices of traditional Christmas song in the form of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and ‘Silent Night’ as the room’s mirrorball is used for the first time in the evening to ramp up the festive feel. After finishing with ‘Clear Skies Ever Closer’, a request from a lady at the front, I’m kicking myself and wondering why on Earth I had waited until now before catching this band live. Here’s hoping Aldred and co will be my (Cherry) Ghost of Christmas Future for many years to come.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.