Star Shaped Festival 2019 – Manchester Ritz, O2 Academy

star19

“For Manchester is the place where people do things… ‘Don’t talk about what you are going to do, do it.’ That is the Manchester habit. And in the past through the manifestation of this quality the word Manchester became a synonym for energy and freedom and the right to do and to think without shackles.”

(Edward Abbott Parry)

Energy.

Freedom.

Unshackled.

Oh Manchester, it is true…you do things differently, for you a table is for dancing on, you have the best record collections and, after the evidence presented to me within the confines of the Ritz yesterday, you know how to have a good time.

The Star Shaped gang had a nigh on impossible mission when it came to putting together a festival line-up that would top what had gone before in 2017 and 2018 in particular.  The return of Sleeper, headline sets from The Bluetones, Shaun William Ryder and his Black Grape gaggle, Ocean bloody Colour bloody Scene, the high kicks and high art of My Life Story, an “undressed” Salad, Echobelly, The Supernaturals…are you getting an idea of how difficult it would be to deliver something that just came close to those spectacular highs?

I have news for you.

They have done it.

Here is how.

They have Chris Helme confirming, yet again, that he is the most under-rated singer in the country.  A voice so rich and warm, so soulful and bold that it makes most other voices sound reedy by comparison.  Sat on a stool with only a guitar for company he runs through the high points of The Seahorses catalogue, some of his solo work and manages to include a cover version of both “Ooh La La” by The Faces and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor.

Sorry you missed it?

You should be.

It was fab.

With a career high new album available right now Salad returned to the line-up fully dressed…that means Marijne and Paul, of course, but it also means the presence of Charley Stone and, if you know anything about “indie” music then you know that is very exciting news indeed.

It is difficult to write about Salad because they are impossible to categorise.

They are wilfully, defiantly, very definitely…Salad.

There are no other bands like them.

There certainly isn’t another front person in the world who is anything like Marijne.

She is a force of nature.

A great voice, sure.

Presence, absolutely.

Charisma, undoubtedly.

She is, simply, a star.

It would be an act of supreme foolishness to miss their set should be attending of the other dates on the Festival tour.

Last year Andrew Montgomery made an appearance at the Glasgow leg of the Star Shaped Festival.

I cried.

Great big, fat, tears of unbridled joy.

It was one of the most special moments I have ever experienced.

I felt, instantly, reconnected to the songs from Geneva and, in some strange way, connected to Montgomery.

I was, it was, emotional.

This year he is back but with the rest of Geneva in tow…save for Stuart who lives in California.

Their set confirms that they were, are, a band who deserve to be much better known, that they wrote some of the best songs of the era, that they possess a warmth and a kindness, an understanding of what it is to be, that elevates them above many of their supposed peers and that, in Montgomery, they have someone who is possessed of a voice that soars, swirls, swoops, sparkles, shines and shimmers like God’s own personal choir.

I have a funny feeling that by the time the Festival winds its way to London that Geneva will have grown stronger, Montgomery ever more confident and the mood amongst people who love them will have shifted from adoration to obsession.

Yes, they really were that good.

After that not a single person would have been upset had the venue closed.

But at a Star Shaped event there is no such thing as…good enough.  There is ALWAYS one more trump card to trump the previous top trump.

And so…Space.

I don’t know what to tell you.

During their set I tweeted this;

“…may well be the best live and in Britain.”

They are, simply, astonishing.

They are mavericks, eccentrics, wild cards…demons and angels.

At times the power, the fury, the pace and the volume at which they play there songs about pterodactyls and Tom Jones genuinely takes your breath away.  More an once Tommy ends up in the crowd…whipping the crowd into a frenzy, twisting melons in ways that Shaun Ryder and his gang could only have dreamed of under the influence of the heaviest of drugs.

“Why aren’t these guys massive?” I turn and ask a chap standing by me near the back of t venue.

“I dunno…too weird?  Too unpredictable?” he suggests.

He may well be right although I don’t know how it is possible fora band to ever be “too weird” and the one thing I really want from a band is a of unpredictability.

Dodgy are next and they are here to give us their “Homegrown” album in its entirety as a way to celebrate its 25th anniversary.  That means that the first track in their set is “Staying Out for the Summer” and that, in turn, means that EVERY single person in the room loses the minds and forgets about every problem in their lives.  Not a single person isn’t roaring every word back at the stage, not a single pair of hands is doing anything other than thrusting towards Heaven.

It’s fan-bloody-tastic.

The rest of the set is a reminder of just how great Dodgy are.

Tunes.

Melodies.

Riffs.

Catchy choruses.

Nigel doing a grand job of convincing people that he might just be the nicest man in music with his between song calling out of racism, invitations to be nicer to one another and…talking sense.

Good music

Good people.

At the end of all of this it was going to take something spectacular to bring things to a satisfying end.

The wrong band with the wrong set and the whole magnificent thing would be tainted.

Give thanks and praises then for Cast.

If I can be blunt…they delivered one banger after another.

Seriously.

There was no audience.

There were simply hundreds and hundreds of backing singers.

It was like a Britpop Community Choir.

Pop hymns like “Flying”, “Free Me”, “Sandstorm”, “Fine Time” and “Alright” transformed the Ritz into a cathedral…songs of praise for the last genuinely transformative moment in British popular culture.

Cast know more about writing great songs than most.

Melody makers.

When they do play “Alright” I find myself locked into a mass embrace with the bodies and limbs of people who, just moments earlier, were strangers to me and to each other.  What must it be like to have that ability?  To walk onto a stage in front of a few thousand strangers and, within seconds, wash away their worries, cares and differences and, instantly, bind them together.  I’ll never know…but I bet John Power has the answer.

There is the real joy of Star Shaped.

It isn’t a nostalgia festival.

Several of the bands today have released new music in the last twelve months, others have new music in the pipeline, none have agreed to appear for any reason other than they want to play live…this is a festival that celebrates the past, of course, but it is also a starting point for future endeavours, for new music and for the thrill of great songs played by great people.

Then there are the people who make it…the Star Shaped gang who spend hours, days, weeks, months, planning, plotting, negotiating, arranging and sorting a festival that attempts to get as close to the people as possible and to bring as broad a range of the music that they love as is possible; seven bands, four cities, nine hours a time, DJ sets, after-show parties.  You have to take your hat off to that sort of work and love.

What a day.

What a day.

Viva Star Shaped.

Long live Britpop!