Back for its fifth outing on a drizzly Saturday in late May (well it is Manchester and it is a British bank holiday) comes the Gigantic All Dayer: a rollicking celebration of indie favourites from the 80s and 90s. Combine a clutch of bands, DJ sets courtesy of Pop Will Eat Itself’s Crabbi, ample real ale, and plenty of ageing indie kids eager to rediscover their youth and you have the perfect opportunity to step back to a more carefree time, if only for a day.
Placed early on the bill but filling the venue immediately, are electro-rock favourites Jesus Jones; Mike Edwards as lithe and energetic as ever, snappy in fitted shirt, instantly energizing the crowd with the collection of hits we’ve all been waiting for. Having released sixth album Passages in 2018, the band have been touring extensively – they played Brazil earlier this month – and are clearly energized by the enthusiastic early afternoon crowd.
“International Bright Young Thing” “Real Real Real”, “Who? Where? Why?”, and 1990’s “Right Here, Right Now”; the latter, an apposite choice for those of us Brits who are suffering from Brexit malaise and a sense of trepidation at what the future may bring. A song inspired by events across Eastern Europe in the late 80s and influenced by the band’s experiences whilst touring in Ceausescu’s Romania in 1989, it can’t help but feel like a warning to us all – thirty years later and the message of those optimistic youths still strikes a powerful chord.
Gigantic favourite Jim Bob, resplendent in sparkling jacket and red sunglasses to match his patent Doc Martens is here to rattle out Carter hits; accompanied solely by acoustic guitar and ready wit. The crowd love him and readily recite back a litany of quick-fire droll lyrics from the band’s back catalogue, echoing exuberantly: ‘in a bar Johnny drinks, Johnny drinks, Johnnie Walker’ as he launches into “Prince in a Pauper’s Grave”. We hear an amusing (and probably apocryphal) tale of band rivalries between Carter and The Bluetones, from back in the day when such stories shifted copies of NME and Melody Maker off the shelves; and as one we joyously chorus back the words to the band’s 1992 anthem to the outsider: ‘The gypsies, the travelers and the thieves, the good, the bad, the average and unique, the grebos the crusties and the goths and the only living boy in New Cross’.
Next up, John Peel protégés, The Bluetones, with Mark Morriss rocking his own brand of devastating geography teacher chic. Having reformed in 2015 after a four year hiatus, the band have toured extensively as well as the continuation of Morriss’ solo outings. You only have to listen to them belt out such beloved indie-pop classics as “Bluetonic”, “Cut Some Rug”, and “Marblehead Johnson” to be reminded what a enchanting band The Bluetones are, providing confidently skillful musicians, incredibly catchy tunes, shrewdly self-deprecating lyrics and Morriss’ charismatic, ready wit. The latter’s onstage banter as ever charms his crowd, self-effacing asides lampoon the band’s heritage as being relegated to Heart FM radio fodder, as he mock-laments the releases that ‘no one’ bought. “Solomon Bites the Worm” and “Never Going Nowhere” are joyful reminders of a time when alternative indie-pop entered the mainstream and ruled the air waves, and the set comes to a powerful close with “If”, a wonderful sing-along crowd pleaser from second album Return to the Last Chance Saloon.
So, on to festival circuit favourites, The Wonder Stuff, with a new line up to join Miles and Erica and tie in with recording their next album: bringing back sorely-missed and much-loved Malc Treece on guitar with Pete Howard on drums and Mark Gemini Thwaite on bass. The anticipation in the room, fueled by beer and excitement, is clear and when Miles Hunt arrives, suited in 1940s style high-waisted trousers and natty braces, the room erupts with a roar. It feels unbelievable that it’s thirty years since Hup but this is a set of crowd-pleasing hits rather than an album outing and the band tap into the crowd’s energy perfectly, as “Mission Drive” commences the set. This is one of those special performances – the symbiotic relationship between band and audience causing the momentum to build with each song.We know every word, we anticipate the next track, stage and audience full of smiles, the atmosphere elated. ‘Donation’ sounds particularly vehement and scathing tonight and the crowd sings along to every word as ‘Ruby Horse’ leads into ‘A Wish Away’ and ‘Unbearable’, followed by a rambunctious outing of ‘Give Give Give..’ The superb set comes to a close as always with a fiery and powerful foot-stomping outing of ‘Ten Trenches Deep’; fast and furious, Erica’s violin scratching staccato sounds as the crowd stamp and clap their approval.
Tonight’s final act – I hesitate to say headliner, as in a sense all performers today bring equal weight to the bill – gives us Echo & The Bunnymen. Following Miles Hunt’s post-punk outfit was always going to be a big task for Ian McCulloch, hardly the most Echo & The BunnEchloquacious of frontmen. It takes a while (and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from the crew) for the band to appear and by this point the euphoric energy created by The Stuffies has dissipated somewhat, making me wonder at the prescience of the billing order. But Mac is in good form tonight, reassuring the crowd that he is in a ‘fantastically good mood’. There is a lot of rather incoherent mumbling and at times it feels as though we are watching a technical display of musicianship rather than a festival performance but nothing can deny the beauty of hearing these songs live – as fresh now as they were thirty, even forty, years ago. The crowd adore “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and “The Cutter”, and when Mac announces ‘this is the best song ever written’, we are treated to a tender rendition of “Killing Moon”, the band illuminated by a cerulean glow, dreamlike and Gothic; a perfect finale to a day which has united us once more in a shared love of what must surely matter most – the power that music holds to captivate and bring us joy.