The Charlatans | IST IST | LIINES.
Sunday 28th March 2021
If someone had told us that one day all gig venues would be closed, live music would be on hold, and the idea of meeting friends to watch our favourite bands would be a distant memory, would you have believed them? And yet here we are, just over a year into this new chapter of our lives and still watching gigs via live streams at home. Yet with the hope of venues re-opening and concerts returning, there was an air of excitement last weekend with live performances from The Charlatans, IST IST and LIINES at popular gig venue Gorilla in Manchester’s trendy Oxford Road area.
Tuning into this event hosted by The North Will Rise Again – a title which gives a nod to Louder Than War’s John Robb’s book – saw an immediate sense of optimism, and togetherness, as this weekend-long gig saw the cities of Liverpool and Manchester unite to provide two days of music in support of the Music Venue Trust and Liverpool Music House CIC. Andy Burnham introduced the Sunday gig with an emotive and positive speech, citing that the North will indeed rise again as the country looks set to reopen over the next few months, and those much-missed and highly anticipated music events could and should return to our venues, our streets and our cities very soon.
Gorilla was the venue hosting the Sunday night performances, and although a familiar place for many tuning in, it was strange to see for the first time a gig with no audience. The usual packed crowd, the sweaty bodies crammed into this small space and the eager faces at the front awaiting the bands to appear were absent, and yet the bands performed in exactly the same way as they would normally do, just to a camera instead. In fact, it certainly seemed as though the bands really gave it their all. The energy was palpable and as the sets unfolded, it was as if we were all there with them as they belted out their tunes from this much-loved and well-known tiny room under Manchester’s railway arches.
LIINES were the first of three artists to perform, and Zoe’s vocals were packed with the kind of raw energy that fans of the band are used to. Tonight was the first performance from new bassist Anna Donigan, and had you never seen the band before you would never have realised the band had a new member. Her playing was flawless and she really looked the part, dressed all in black along with her fellow bandmates. It was great to see an all-female band kick off the evening, especially as there has been much discussion in the media recently about the lack of representation from females within the industry. At the end of their set, while being interviewed by John Robb, the band discussed how great it felt to be performing at a proper venue after so much time away.
They played a mixture of familiar favourites such as On And On and Never There, as well as their latest single Sorry. The band have been firm favourites on the Manchester scene for a while now, and have been gathering momentum ever since they started out back in 2014. Having released their debut album through Reckless Yes in 2018, LIINES have been gathering interest from fans and critics alike. Fresh off their tour supporting Sleaford Mods and due to release their second album, the band were clearly on the up pre-Covid and watching them perform last Sunday was as if they had merely had to put things on pause, but were raring to come back with a bang just as soon as they were able to properly get out there again.
Performing each bass-driven track with a dark, brooding energy, we got a glimpse of the hypnotic way in which each song is played live. Certainly, it felt frustrating not being able to be in amongst the action and watching them in the flesh. Grab a ticket to see LIINES whenever they are able to play again as they are clearly a band with a lot more to come and a fantastic live band to behold.
IST IST were second to play, and again another well-renowned Manchester band on the up. Also formed in 2014, this post-punk outfit are no strangers on the indie gig circuit, having played at the Gorilla, Ritz and Deaf Institute to name but a few. The band have a very 80s influenced sound – almost New Order meets The Cure, but with a futuristic industrialist streak to them. They are dark, ominous and yet compelling at the same time. Watching them play each track effortlessly, from their early tracks to songs from their most recent album Architecture, it felt like nothing had changed. By the time we reached their interview with John Robb after their set, they discussed the fact that their album was released during the lockdown and yet they hadn’t been able to tour it – something now rescheduled to the autumn/winter of this year.
At the end of the sets by these grassroots bands it was clear that both were simply itching to pick up where they left off prior to the pandemic, and yet perhaps more so. The atmosphere and energy they were able to create was palpable and the addition of the interviews at the end of their sets confirmed this. It was exciting to watch and be a part of, and having followed social media comments from bands, fans and critics throughout the gig, there was a real sense of togetherness and anticipation. Being able to engage with others virtually made it feel as though we were all as one in that room with music playing, albeit that in reality we were watching from home.
When headliners The Charlatans took to the stage, any sense of it being strange to watch a gig at home had melted away and to any fan of the band having seen them perform before, it was as familiar as it was enjoyable to watch. As they played a string of their well-known and much loved hits such as early tracks Then and Can’t Get Out Of Bed, it felt like we were there with them. I could almost see myself and my friends on the barrier dancing and singing away and that was replaced with social media interactions about the songs and the promise of going to see them properly whenever that was possible.
Lesser-known and infrequently played album tracks such as The Blind Stagger from Us And Us Only and more recent single Plastic Machinery from Different Days were played, and, unusually, One to Another closed the evening, instead of the usual Sproston Green. Afterwards. Burgess explained that it didn’t feel right playing it without a live audience, but that just left us wanting to see them again. As enjoyable as last Sunday was, nothing beats a real gig, in a real venue, with real people.
The North Will Rise Again was a brilliantly organised, well-executed evening, showcasing three fantastic Manchester bands all as passionate about their own performances as the venue in which they played and the fans tuning in. Having the interviews between each set gave a real insight into the highs and lows of lockdown for the bands. For LIINES this saw them gaining a new band member, for IST IST lockdown has seen them explore new concepts and songwriting, and The Charlatans are about to start work on new material.
Perhaps we will look back on this period of our lives with a renewed sense of appreciation for live music and this gig certainly showcased both the optimism and talent within Manchester right now.
Julia Grantham is a music writer for Louder Than War, Popped Music and Even The Stars, you can find her author profile here.