In 1983, the last time the Red Guitars performed in Manchester, they played at The Haçienda.
Throughout the decades since the band’s anticlimactic dissolution and the talismanic venue’s 1997 closure, it’s the group who have seemed the less likely candidate for resurrection. Against all odds, though, while The Haçienda exists only as the shell of an apartment block or the ghost of a nostalgia act invoked by cultural commentators of a certain age, crammed onto a narrow stage tonight at Northern Quarter mainstay, Night & Day, it’s the Red Guitars who – in the phraseology of Smash Hits – are back! Back!! BACK!!! Still more improbably, the group formerly known as Carnage In Poland, and noted for wearing their political hearts on their picture sleeves, have been lured back to life by Steve Homer, chief executive of music promoters, A.E.G.
The crowd, straggling in the bloke stance, their shirts neatly untucked and clutching their plastic pints, coalesce as the band takes to the stage, clustering around vocalist Jeremy Kidd, his lyrics on a Kindle taped to his microphone stand. Initially at least, he has the bemused air of William Hartnell, wandering in from his living room, perhaps during the commercial break in a particularly good episode of Brookside. The limited stage size dictates that he’s closely flanked by lead guitarist, Hallam Lewis, in the loud shirt of a Soho bon viveur, and bassist Lou Duffy-Howard, full of rhythmic fizz.
After teasing the audience with a snatch of their debut single Good Technology, resolving from a background of white noise like a radio tuning in to a displaced transmission of the John Peel show on medium wave, they open instead with their less astringent fourth single, built around the kind of highlife guitar figures introduced to these Northern isles by the Bhundu Boys, and popularised by Paul Simon’s Graceland LP a good two years after their integration by the Guitars themselves.
What’s immediately apparent is how unnoticeable is their near 40-year hiatus. Duffy-Howard and Lewis in particular take an almost telepathic delight in playing off one another. Their enthusiasm radiates into the throng, provoking outbursts of introspective skanking as jackets are removed and shirts are further loosened. On stage, even Kidd essays a bout or two of what he self-effacingly describes as “dad dancing”, loosening up sufficiently in the process to advise us that, rather than telling him to “break a leg”, showbiz well-wisher, Johnny (Marr, presumably – the Guitars supported The Smiths on an early tour) had sent him on his way with a wry “break a hip”.
The set, befitting its banner as the Slow To Fade tour, is made up from the singles, B-sides and album tracks from the LP of that name, recorded by the group’s initial line-up. What’s striking, given this self-imposed limitation on the material, is how few longueurs there are. Played live, the likes of Cloak And Dagger reveal themselves as hewn from the same avant-pop sensibilities that Orange Juice mined; the kind of songs that would sulk at the back of the charts, the collars on their metaphorical jackets turned up.
The stark triptych that make up the band’s first three singles, however, stand even further apart from all that; skeletal, sparse and politically charged, even after so many years in pop have revolved, Good Technology, Fact and Steeltown – the last an angry lament for the Consett foundries – still sound like nothing else on earth. It’s a line from the LP’s title track, though, that points the way out of their long silence and into a possible future: “I’ve been doing nothing, now it’s time to try.”
Long may the Red Guitars break through the interference.