There was almost a chance of Manchester escaping its stereotype as it welcomed Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott to its increasingly popular Castlefield Bowl venue. The weather had been well above 25 degrees for the majority of the week and with MIF going on just down the road, there was barely a mention of football. It seems fitting that music should be dominating the atmosphere of the city as The Beautiful South duo arrive. Paul Heaton particularly has been at the epicenter of well-received independent music for decades. His prolific output with The Beautiful South, The Housemartins and his latest record with this band ensure that the Wirral-born songwriter is held in high regard, even in Manchester.
That stereotype I mentioned earlier perhaps came to prominence a little more when my tram was well over an hour late, meaning that I only caught the end of The Leisure Society‘s set. From what I did catch, they seemed pretty great. Sorta sarcastic and witty songwriting championed through gravely vocals and euphoric instrumentation which lends itself to a simple indie-folk structure, kind of ideal for the setting.
Next up were I Am Kloot, and I’d find it really hard to argue a case for them being anything more than utterly, utterly mediocre. It’s one thing for a band to play a set based on nostalgia when their songs are well-affirmed as huge. Yet I Am Kloot looked completely complacent throughout. Their set was something that you’d hope you were more likely to find humming below a loud Manchester pub rather than at a huge outdoor arena. Opener ‘One Man Brawl’ from their 2008 LP I Am Kloot Play Moolah Rouge set the tone pretty perfectly. Cliched, tired Manchester indie music templates with unambitious delivery. To be fair, their sound was pretty awful. Incredibly drum-heavy, whilst the keyboardist may as well not have been there. On the other hand, the drumming consisted almost entirely of crash cymbals and was horrible throughout. All I could think about as ‘Kloot crawled through an almost agonizing set was how it must have been about a year since I saw The Pixies completely tear apart the same venue to a deafeningly loud crowd, and how even Royal Blood, who I found pretty underwhelming, were still much more engaging than this.
Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott took the reigns about half an hour after I Am Kloot went off, and suddenly things changed. The setlist consisted mostly of Beautiful South and Housemartins ‘covers’, which was generous. Although their album under the current moniker is great, there’s no denying that the majority of spectators were there to hear the older tracks, and I think they only played about three songs from their new record. Housemartins numbers such as ‘Five Get Over Excited’ sounded somewhat dated, but in a kind of affectionate nostalgic sense. The utter genius of Beautiful South tracks such as ‘Old Red Eyes is Back’ and ‘Pretenders To The Throne’ are what really set Castlefield alight. If you could look past the pretty awful dad-dancing, Heaton and Abbott were showcasing some of the ’90s most underrated indie tracks, and making them sound fresh and relevant in 2015. The whole pre-planned double encore idea has always been lost on me, and as a result of it the atmosphere wasn’t what it could have been for the classic that is ‘Caravan of Love’ – that said, it was still pretty special.