Manchester, so much to answer for. Most of it pretty good to be fair. Tonight may have been an Ian Brown gig in name but with a expanded supporting bill and ‘homecoming’ tag, it was set up as a celebration of the city’s musical heritage. All of which means that the local, partisan crowd are here for that unique mix of indie and dance, with an awful lot of bravado thrown in. The Whip are obviously keenly aware of this history and show no desire to divert from its path. Mixing – yes – indie and dance they’re not bad but hardly more than diverting. In fact you can come across exactly the same sound in the Hacienda tent, the only difference is that it’s coming from records played by middle aged men who occaisionally wave their arms in the air.
Talking of which, genuine Manc music royalty are in attendence in the form of New Order. Unfortuantly, Messers Hook, Sumner and Morris are very much seperate entities these days, with Hook here to DJ while the other two now make up part of Bad Lieutenant. Plundering the archives with ‘Ceremony’ as early as the second song this is most definitely not an excercise in exponging the past – half of the set is made up of genuine classics. Even given that, it’s still an uphill struggle as Sumner huffs and puffs his way through it all and shouts unintelligable exaltations to the crowd. Whatever the circumstances, though, ‘Temptation’ will always shine and they finish on a high.
UNKLE are the outsiders here today, at least geographically. They come armed with a full set up of live band and rotating vocalists but crucially not that many tunes and the attention of the masses soon begins to fade. Far more fun are A Certain Ratio on the Hacienda stage, who may not be the youngest bucks on show but certainly whip up a funky storm, although it’s nothing compared to when Hook plays ‘Born Slippy’ later on.
Despite the rather haphazard nature of the day’s events, the stage should be set for Ian Brown to absolutely storm it. He was, after all, part of one of the city’s most seminal bands and is still viewed as a grade one hero in these parts. When he opens with ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ it does seem as though the event, the night and the atmosphere will override his patchy solo career and iffy live reputation and, just perhaps, this could be the night when he recaptures something of that old magic – especially on the back of his best record since that Stone Roses’ debut. What follows, though, is depressingly familiar.
For all his comments on the magic of the occasion, Brown injects very little of his own into the show. He’s still an awkward front man at best, either jogging on the spot or jabbing at imaginary opponents with his tambourine. Nothing that happens on stage tonight suggests that this is anything other than just another gig for him. The set is almost universally drawn from his solo catalogue and, while it does have its moments, the crowd are hardly exploding with delight. Much of the reason lies, not with the material or Brown’s excellent band, but with the man himself. He has always had a wavering relationship with concept of melody but tonight is unavoidably awful, seeing him bellow his way through the more subtle numbers and go off the scale on the louder ones. Even his wheezing harmonica on ‘Dolphins Were Monkeys’ comes as light relief.
The encore provides the only other Roses tune of the night, ‘Fool’s Gold’ which – despite the non-appearance of a backstage-lurking Mani – is still able to escape the mire and once more drag people to their feet. He follows it by once again murdering on of his better solo songs, ‘Stelify’, and then leaving us be. Not a unmitigated disaster on the scale of the final Roses Reading Festival gig, this was still a long, long, long way from the days of Spike Island. Tonight offered Ian Brown the chance to add another chapter to his own history book but he blew it big time.