Review and Images by Jonathan Taylor
After a string of headline slots on the summer festival circuit, the mammoth concert at Heaton Park in Manchester this summer and the much anticipated release of their sixth studio album, ‘More. Again. Forever’ due for release on the 17th January 2020, The Courteeners finish the year in style with another huge homecoming concert at Manchester Arena.
The venue is packed with a joyous crowd that are all eager for a night of celebratory music. As the lights dim ‘What’s The Story, Morning Glory’ by Oasis plays through the speakers. As the track draws to a close the crowd erupts as Liam Fray and his comrades take to the stage. The set opens with ‘Are You In Love With The Notion’ from the bands 2012 studio album ‘Anna’. Pockets of the crowd are instantly illuminated from the light of crackling flares and colourful smoke bellows around the arena. Half full plastic pint glasses are launched in every direction and the arena erupts into a wave of wonderful celebratory chaos. ‘Cavorting’ is up next and the scenes of mayhem continue with youngsters up on each other’s shoulders and with arms aloft they chant every word back to the stage.
The set continues with ‘No One Will Ever Replace Us’, ‘Summer’ and ‘Bide Your time’, before which Fray asks the crowd to turn on their mobile phone torchlights and the arena is lit with an impressive display of light. Fan favourite ‘The Opener’ taken from the studio album ‘Falcon’ tells the story of how the Mancunian’s have travelled the world but their heart will always belong to the City they grew up in. The lyric, “I was made for this place and I was made for you” couldn’t be more relevant as The Courteeners entertain the euphoric crowd on home soil.
Alongside the classics from the back catalogue, ‘Small Bones’, fan favourite ‘Fallowfield Hillbilly’ and ‘Lose Control’, we are given a glimpse of what is to come in terms of new material with ‘Heart Attack’ and the 5 minutes of spoken word of ‘More. Again. Forever’. They both demonstrate a fresh direction for the band and are refreshing additions to the set list.
One of the evening’s highlights comes when The Courteeners are joined on stage by a string section. The orchestra invigorates tracks that have not been heard in live performances of late, with the likes of ‘You Over Did It Doll’, ‘Please Don’t’ and ‘That Kiss’ getting an airing. New track ‘Better Man’ is a wonderful moment with the orchestra and an absolutely stunning rendition of ‘17th’, arguably the stand out track on their 5th studio album ‘Mapping The Rendezvous’, brings the first chapter of the night to a close.
Fray returns to the stage with keyboard player Elina Lin for the acoustic slice of the set, which is no doubt a welcomed breather for the now sweat and lager soaked crowd. The Courteeners frontman delivers a beautifully tender vocal performance in another new track ‘Hanging Off Your Cloud’, which wets the appetite and is another carrot dangled for the upcoming new material. An impromptu version of ‘Live Forever’ by Oasis has the whole of the arena in full voice, before which Liam explains to the crowd that this was the first song he learnt on the guitar. With equal vocal support from the audience the rendition of B side ‘Smiths Disco’ sees the crowd yet again in fine voice.
Daniel Moores, Michael Campbell, Joseph Cross and Elina Lin return to the stage for the final musical straight of the evening. ‘Beautiful Head’ from the 2014 studio album ‘Concrete Love’ gets a rare outing which is followed by ‘Modern Love’. The last two songs of the set are no secret. The entire evening builds up to this moment and the whole crowd knows how the musical journey ends. That is what makes the night so incredibly special. As the keyboard of the penultimate track ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ begins, the crowd launches into an absolute frenzy of euphoric musical hysteria. The whole of the arena bounces tirelessly in unison, plastic pints glasses yet again are launched like missiles and the final flares that have been smuggled into the venue come into play and fill the arena with vibrant bursts of colour. Strangers are unified and sing along to every word together like an anthem from the terraces. It truly is a wonderful site to behold and demonstrates perfectly the power of music and it’s capability to transcend a sense of unity and togetherness. The evening draws to a close with the most iconic of the bands tracks, ‘What Took You So Long?’
The Courteeners are a band who until of late have been shunned by mainstream radio and media, which seems incomprehensible given the strength of their back catalogue and the fact that their sixth studio album is due for release in the new year. After nights like tonight though, that fades away into insignificance. As Liam Fray stated before the final track of the night, The Courteeners are a band for the people and they would not be playing such stages without them. Regardless of media attention and air time, it is so apparent that the people absolutely, wholeheartedly love this band and what they represent. Their lives are musically enriched for the better and gives them the opportunity for evenings of musical escapism like tonight. Just perfect. God bless the band.