Now an established fixture in the Manchester gig-going calendar, Sounds of the City at Castlefield Bowl kicked off a series of city centre open air concerts in July with an eclectic bill, headlined by Richard Ashcroft, ex-frontman of The Verve.
First support was a bunch of Yorkshire lads with killer hooks and energy in spades. That The Sherlocks resemble The Jam and early U2 is no bad thing, and a dedicated throng of fans showed that they’re certainly doing something right. A few years back, I photographed Blossoms in the same arena, supporting James. I wouldn’t bet against these boys achieving the same level of success.
Next up was dub reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry, who strutted, skipped and jogged across the stage with the energy of a man half his age (he’s 81, you know). Some of the gathering crowd were left pretty bemused by the wee Jamaican pixie, but I think that’s always been part of his intention and charm.
For someone who followed Britpop from start to finish, somehow I always managed to miss The Verve and then Richard Ashcroft solo. I’ve no idea why – A Northern Soul was one of my favourite albums of the 90s. Well, I put that straight tonight, and Ashcroft didn’t disappoint. He was immense.
He prowled every inch of the stage like a caged cat, whipping the crowd up with a barely-controlled rage. Chris Martin has described Ashcroft as “the best singer in the world” and, on this evidence, it’s difficult to argue. In a set peppered with Verve classics (Sonnet, Lucky Man, The Drugs Don’t Work and Bitter Sweet Symphony all got an airing – the latter as an acoustic encore to finish the night), his voice was on top form. And it was the solo material that really showcased his pipes. A particular highlight was Science of Silence where he seemed to be channelling Joe Cocker – 60s Cocker rather than 80s Cocker – in an anthemic tour-de-force by the band. It was breathlessly good.
A beautiful rendition of A Song For Lovers had the couples in the crowd holding each other a little closer, and some new material from latest album These People more than held its own against the classic bangers. Opener Out Of My Body was like the best Eurovision song you’ve never heard (I mean that in a good way), and This Is How It Feels provided a proper lighter-in-the-air moment.
During the second number, Lee “Scratch” Perry shuffled on stage and stood next to Ashcroft as he sang, reaching across and placing an arm on his shoulder. Perry stood there for a few seconds, then exited the stage as quickly as he had appeared. Ashcroft explained afterwards that Perry sometimes does this, and that it is a great honour – a mark of respect from one musician to another. Richard Ashcroft earned it tonight.
By Chris Payne, Head Photographer