Gig Review by Rob Johnson with Photography by Frank Ralph

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First off, a word about the venue. This is my second trip to Leeds’ First Direct Arena and apart from the overzealous security checks at the entrance, it is by far my favourite big venue. The curved, amphitheatre style lay out ensures that there isn’t a bad view in the house and the sharp drop between the seating and standing areas results in an intimate setting for those who choose to stand (as I did).

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Secondly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the support band. Sheffield heroes Milburn were playing their last show of 2016 and were the perfect act to get the party started. The Leeds audience responded accordingly. Look out for their third album dropping next year.

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To the main event then. The Courteeners. Manchester’s sons are often dismissed in the music press, presumably because of some kind of London centric snobbishness aimed at the North of England. The Courteeners and their army of fans care not for such an attitude. One of the reasons the band are so popular is that they know their audience. Whether it be recruiting Milburn to join them in Yorkshire or coming out to the fevered howl of Oasis’ ‘Morning Glory’, they know how to raise excitement to fever pitch.

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A storming rendition of ‘Are You In Love With a Notion?’ kicks things off and the crowd go ballistic. Pint pots are thrown, strangers are hugged and an army of men and women crowd forward to try and catch a glimpse of Liam Fray and co.

New songs ‘Modern Love’ and particularly ‘The Dilettante’ slot in seamlessly alongside old favourites like ‘Fallowfield Hillbilly’ but it is those classic early singles that really inspire the big sing alongs.

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Mid way through the set the band leave the stage and Liam Fray treats us to a few acoustic numbers. ‘Cross My Heart and Hope to Fly’ merges into a rapturously received cover of Pulp’s ‘Common People’ before ‘No You Didn’t, No You Don’t’ and ‘Please Don’t’ are sang back at Fray by everyone in the crowd.

There is a moment during ‘No You Didn’t, No You Don’t’ that I realize the key of the bands enduring appeal. I’ve travelled from Doncaster to watch a band from Manchester play a show in Leeds. But when Fray sings about ‘this city of mine’ it feels like he is singing for all of our cities. Petty rivalries are forgotten for this artist.

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The rest of the band return for the insistent ‘Acrylic’ and from there the audience can barely catch their breath as the Manchester legends run through ‘Here Come The Young Men’ and ‘Not Nineteen Forever’.

The fans know what is coming last but when ‘What You Took You So Long?’ finally begins, the crowd react as though they are hearing this song live for the first time. Perhaps some of them are, but the slavish devotion this band inspires suggests most are returning punters.

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During the course of the night Liam dedicates a song to the crew who ‘work harder than everyone on stage’. He gives a shout out to Michael and Emma, the couple who are having their wedding reception at the gig (indeed, they get their own disco ball from the ceiling during ‘Take Over The World’). Finally, Fray notes that he was told when they started The Courteeners that they would struggle in London, struggle in Liverpool and really struggle in Leeds. As he so succinctly puts ‘it doesn’t f***ing look a struggle to me’.

As they leave the stage, everyone in attendance knows they have witnessed something special. God bless the band…

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