Review and Photography by John Bentley

FFS, Albert Hall, Manchester, 25-08-15

‘Collaborations Don’t Work’ is a promotional single from the new album by F.F.S, the band that is a collaboration of British indie rockers Franz Ferdinand and US quirky alternative-popsters Sparks. Well do collaborations work in this case? Clearly a lot of people think so as their gig at Manchester’s Albert Hall is sold out tonight and expectations are high.

Slug, Albert Hall, Manchester, 25-08-15

Support band, Slug, is the brainchild of Sunderland’s Ian Black, an important name in the indie music scene in the North East, who has regularly worked with the Brewis brothers of Field Music. Indeed the Brewis Brothers assisted him on Slug’s new album, ‘Ripe’. The five-piece touring band are dressed as sailors, apart from Black, who wears a smart suit, while singing and playing guitar. The music has prog-art tendencies and the sound might be recognisable to fans of Field Music. Tongue-in-cheek, Black tells us that we can dance to new single ‘Running To Get Past Your Heart’. He announces that the album is now available, but with some embarrassment (and lack of commercial acumen) he says they have not brought any copies to sell. The band gets well deserved applause from the audience after they finish with a rousing finale, in which Black and the drummer swap instruments for a bit of an instrumental wig-out.

FFS, Albert Hall, Manchester, 25-08-15

F.F.S hit the stage to cheers and launch into Johnny Delusional, the first track from their new album. It sounds pretty good and sets the pattern for the evening, with vocal duties split between the two frontmen, Russell Mael of Sparks and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand. The two can sing in harmony or sing their own parts, sometimes using a call and response routine, as on the opening song. This works exceptionally well. The pair also execute some nimble footwork around the stage and the whole show is brilliantly choreographed.

But with only one album to F.F.S’s credit, how will the band get through a whole gig? The answer is very simple. They perform the new F.F.S album, but with well-known ‘hits’ from their respective bands dropped-in at regular intervals. So first up, after three F.F.S songs, is Franz Ferdinand’s stomping ‘Do You Want To’, followed after a few more F.F.S songs by Sparks’s ‘The Number One Song In Heaven’.

FFS, Albert Hall, Manchester, 25-08-15

This provides another big moment of the evening.  Since the inception of Sparks, Ron Mael has always been the grim-reaper-like figure sat dispassionately at the keyboard, fixing the audience with a chilling stare. So it’s a real treat when, mid-song, the normally inanimate Ron rises from his keyboard and comes to the front of the stage. He sits bolt-upright on the front of the floor, then rises and bursts into a short bout of robot-like dancing to massive cheers. As Ron dances, the band members all bash-out a beat on drums at the back of the stage. Finishing his dance his stands upright again, straightens his tie and returns to his keyboard. A moment of pure gold. He did his little dance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival and, since thousands of people will have seen the festival performance on TV, it looks like this will be an expected high-spot of all the tour dates.

These band hits are exceptionally well received throughout the evening in the packed hall. However, when F.F..S get to play Spark’s ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’, the whole place goes absolutely nuts. As the opening piano notes emerge from stern-faced Ron, there are wild cheers and clapping. The band play a brilliant and forceful version, true to the original, with Russell Mael beautifully hitting the high notes. The song finishes and the applause seems to go on forever. Russell looks truly overwhelmed by the reception and seems speechless. Franz Ferdinand’s hit songs also get a big reception, particularly ‘Take Me Out’, which proves to be F.F.S’ ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough’ moment.

FFS, Albert Hall, Manchester, 25-08-15

F.F.S have worked out some clever ways to end the evening too. With both Russell and Alex having profusely thanked the enthusiastic Manchester audience for a great reception, F.F.S tell us all to ‘Piss Off’, or at least they finish with the F.F.S album song of that title. They seem to be having great fun, with Russell careering round hollering “Piss Off”. There is thunderous clapping and foot stamping to get FFS back for an encore. They give us three more album songs, wittily concluding their collaborative performance with ‘Collaborations Don’t Work’, during which Russell, Alex and other band members trade vocal insults and body language, before ‘making-up’ at the end with a group hug, that even Ron joins in (with a smile briefly appearing across his face).

So F.F.S deliver a tour de force gig in Manchester tonight and prove that collaborations certainly can work. This is a brilliant, arty, well-oiled and synchronised act, delivering great songs from both their joint album and their individual bands. It’s so seamless that it’s difficult to tell which original band hits came from which band and there really seem to be no ego problems between the members.

FFS (Ron Mael), Albert Hall, Manchester, 25-08-15

F.F.S Setlist: Johnny Delusional; The Man Without A Tan; Police Encounters; Do You Want To; The Power Couple; Little Guy From The Suburbs; Save Me from Myself; Things I Won’t Get; So Desu Ne; The Number One Song in Heaven; Michael; This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us; Dictator’s Son; Take Me Out; Piss Off. Encore: When Do I Get to Sing “My Way”; Call Girl; Collaborations Don’t Work.

3 Responses to “F.F.S + Slug at The Albert Hall, Manchester, UK – 25th August 2015”

  1. Ken Harrison Says:

    Great stuff John, wish I was there to experience this one.

  2. Tony p Says:

    My first ever gig was in 74 at the Free trade Hall Manchester which ironically is directly opposite the Albert Hall..
    Where 41 years later we came to see Sparks again. This gig was probably the best I have ever been to, from the venue itself to the Collaboration of these two bands. It was as if it was one band that had been together for years. The sound in the venue was superb and It was quite bizarre to See an audience ranging from University students to 60 somethings engrossed and mesmerised by FFS.

  3. john bentley Says:

    Thanks, Ken and thanks Tony for the memory of the famous Free Trade Hall. As you say, FFS was a rather special evening all round.

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