Manchester, UK, The Ritz
21st December 2016
This looks like being my final gig, and final live review, of 2016, what better way to see out what’s been, at least musically, a damn fine year than at the Ritz, one of the longest standing live venues left in Manchester, to see a quartet of bands that should bring a bit of festive cheer to anyone’s heart. Tonight’s bill is one that is diverse with something for pretty much everyone, three of the bands originate from the Black Country, The Wonder Stuff, Bentley Rhythm Ace and Fuzzbox all emerged from that musical hotbed in the mid to late eighties, with the addition of a local newcomer to tonight’s bill in the form of The Lottery Winners.
The Lottery Winners are opening tonight, despite the ridiculously early start time for tonight’s show they have drawn a healthy crowd and have the difficult task of opening for three bands who all have established fan bases, impressively this doesn’t seem to deter them in the slightest. The Lottery Winners play anthemic indie rock that, despite the earliness of their set, encourages a strong vocal contribution from the enthusiastic crowd, they enjoy a seemingly effortless repartee with their audience and underneath their indie charms there is a deceptive amount of muscle underlying their sweet melodies.
After The Lottery Winners set some inevitable Christmas tunes add to the festive atmosphere that is building in The Ritz, these give way to some fine vintage indie tunes that hark back to the era when the rest of tonight’s line up was first around. The venue is filling up nicely and the bar is becoming increasingly busy, indicating that more than a few of the crowd for this mid week show have finally finished work for Xmas and are making the most of it, and as a result the noise levels are building. Whilst this is taking place the stage has transformed and the line of feather boa clad microphone stands that are on display indicates that the arrival of Fuzzbox is imminent.
The quintet that make up Fuzzbox are touring in support of their first new material since 2010, the glorious new fan funded single, Let’s Go Supernova, this single is one of my favourite releases of 2016, and whilst a lot poppier than the majority of the music I’ve enjoyed this year, there is something irresistible and joyous about it, a quality that can equally be applied to seeing Fuzzbox live. Tonight’ set is sadly going to be a lot shorter than the one I witnessed earlier this year at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge, but it is no less exuberant and effervescent, and we get treated to a set of their best known songs that are delivered with style and zeal.
Fuzzbox kick their set off with International Rescue, the infectious tones of one of their biggest hits hitches the atmosphere up a notch. From this point on it’s a headlong rush through songs that anyone around at the time would have had fond memories of, including their debut, Rules And Regulations, that brings some punk energy to the evening. The three new members of Fuzzbox fit into the band perfectly, bassist Sarit Black exudes rock ‘n roll cool, guitarist Meghan Burke is a blur of glitter and sequins and Hannah Layhe provides the driving and thunderous drumbeats, along with original members Maggie Dunne and Vix who maintain the spirit of the original line up.
During She the three latest recruits all take to the drums to create a perfect thunderstorm before they launch back into the more familiar material, their early singles, such as Love Is The Slug, manage to sound better than ever to my ears. I always find that Fuzzbox are one of those rare bands that can’t help but put a smile on your face, the mix of energy, joy and enthusiasm that they bring to a stage would be hard to resist on it’s own, but marry that with their mix of punk and pop, not pop punk, this is something very different to that genre, and you have an irresistible combination, tonight’s show is a reminder why Fuzzbox have been one of my favourite live acts of 2016.
Fuzzbox‘s all too brief appearance continues with a riotous run though of some of the better known singles, each of which has it’s own distinct character, but all the while maintaining that infectious and effervescent edge that is Fuzzbox‘s hallmark. The new single, Let’s Go Supernova, sounds even better live and its glam pop punk stomp fits perfectly alongside their established material. Tonight’s set has been bookended by their two biggest hits as they close with the bouncy upbeat charm of Pink Sunshine, hopefully Fuzzbox will be back on the road in 2017, and if you get the chance to then I’d seriously recommend catching the riot of colour and fun that is Fuzzbox live
After another bout of eighties indie tunes, played by resident DJ, and compere for the night, Steve Lamacq of BBC Radio 6, things head off into a completely different musical direction. Bentley Rhythm Ace are the self styled purveyors of “car boot disco techno”, the whole acid house and rave scenes passed me by, whilst it was going on I spent much of my time in a punk club a stones throw from the epicentre of that scene, Manchester’s legendary Hacienda venue, but having said that Bentley Rhythm Ace fit perfectly into tonight’s line up and they provide an eccentric and original take on that sound, and it’s one that successfully builds on the heady party atmosphere that is now almost tangible.
It’s been a long time since I last saw The Wonder Stuff, my last encounter with them was at the Cities In The Park festival that took place a few miles up the road in Manchester’s Heaton Park a quarter of a century ago. Their faithful following has turned up en masse for tonight’s headlining slot, the Ritz is at capacity, the bar is five deep and the Christmas celebrations appear to have reached their peak prior to The Wonder Stuff taking the stage. The perennial seasonal classic, Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade, gets an airing, and of course get’s a suitably rousing singalong from the increasingly festive crowd, prior to an incendiary introduction by Steve Lamacq.
The current incarnation of The Wonder Stuff now only features vocalist Miles Hunt from the original line up that produced their classic debut album, Eight Legged Groove Machine. It’s not long into the set before it seems that three decades have slipped away for the majority of those who’ve attended The Ritz tonight as The Wonder Stuff play with an energy and commitment that belies their years. Their set spans from their early classic singles through to the latest material, it’s a testament to the band that if you were unfamiliar with them that you’d have a hard time separating the two, and you can’t really ask for much more from a band that has this kind of longevity.
The Wonder Stuff are regularly drowned out by their fans raucous singing throughout the set and an enthusiastic, and slightly drunken, moshpit has formed which responds as you’d expect to tracks such as Unbearable, Radio Asskiss and Give Give Give Me More More More, Miles Hunt clearly hasn’t mellowed with age, when he speaks between songs it’s as profanity littered as ever. The Wonder Stuff include a rendition of The Jam‘s That’s Entertainment, which is testament to the punk influence on the indie scene of the mid to late eighties, prior to an inevitably crowd pleasing finale to their set before the sweaty crowd spill out into the chilly Manchester night
What came across at this show was that every band appeared to be loving the tour, the energy and enthusiasm that these bands displayed three decades ago is still present, and this was confirmed with snatched conversations with various band members and people involved with the tour, who all mixed happily with the crowd. Tonight’s show was a near perfect way to mark the end of this years live shows, and my first year of writing for The Punk Site, so I’d like to say a big thank you to all the bands, promotors and venues that have made my 2016 so memorable, and hopefully I’ll be back down the front in 2017.
Happy Christmas from The Punk Site
The Lottery Winners website can be found here
Let’s Go Supernova is available via iTunes and the Fuzzbox Pledge Music campaign is here
The Fuzzbox Official Facebook page can be located here
Bentley Rhythm Ace‘s Facebook page can be found here
The Wonder Stuff‘s official website can be found here
Photography is by Dean Unsworth, his Instagram account is located here,
You can click on any of Dean’s photos to view a slide show of the images