There was some unjustified concern over this gig and had been so since it was announced late last year. A band that for all the cult following that I touched on in Wednesday’s preview, spent a long time on Manchester’s toilet circuit and the more cautious fans would have doubted their decision to play at the city’s biggest outdoor venue. But the thing was, as with all big gigs, there was an air of anticipation around the city during the afternoon and you just knew that providing no disasters occurred it was going to fall into place. It fell into place in such a sense that it was reward for the hard work of everyone surrounding The Courteeners, “it’s your day”, Liam said during their set.
Something that is also synonymous with these big outdoor summer gigs is the festival type atmosphere. The journey to Heaton Park was one taken with 25,000 others and this atmosphere was rapidly becoming one of celebration and of entire trust that the band so many of them have followed so regularly were going to pull it off. Plus, getting served Red Stripe on draught was also a big positive; it was going to be one of them days.
Blossoms got the teatime slot, a period for which the vast majority will have not had an interest in being at Heaton Park for, but it was a sign of big things to come. Bipolar Sunshine (Adio Marchant, formerly of Kid British) followed them, as thousands bopped through the gates after being searched 3 times, segregated by gender, fine-tooth comb searched by sniffer dogs, doing 12 consecutive double back-flips all before you’d even got your ticket scanned (it really was much more ‘secure’ than necessary – at least not allowing flares in worked though?). Peace were next and it’d be entirely justifiable to say they smashed it, with the pressure on for a band who’ve only recently persuaded the masses, they should be incredibly pleased with their shift. Adding “Champagne Supernova” to the setlist was a master-stroke too and in that moment the countdown that had started 7 months ago was into its’ final hour.
The end of Peace’s set prompted a surge to the bar and then to the stage, and as Bipolar Sunshine was trying to make his way back whilst stopping for photos (very nice guy) the nigh-on 25,000 squeezed and weaved as close as possible. Then “Morning Glory” came on, and a visibly stunned band met their fate. I’m not often lost for words, but the sheer magnitude of the occasion tingled right up the spines of the sell-out crowd and energised them in preparation for The Courteeners to dive into the rip-roaring “Are You In Love With A Notion?”. “Cavorting” followed, an anthem that defined their early years, “Push Yourself” from their return with ANNA in 2013 and “How Good It Was” from last summer. “Please Don’t” is always a highlight, it featured earlier than often with “Summer” to separate the heavier songs that were finalised with an unbelievably good rendition of “Fallowfield Hillbilly”. The band paused for a few words at several points, and for all their self-praise their appreciation for those that’ve watched them grow and grown with them in adversity has always been evident.
The mood was mellowed down with “Small Bones” from Concrete Love which was run out with melodic perfection. Then a personal first, acoustic “Acrylic” followed by the faultless “Yesterday, Today and Probably Tomorrow”, observed in a manner that must have struck a chord with everyone in Heaton Park, and aside from the chaotic scenes some songs were responsible for, if there’s one moment which can define the event it was turning round with my back to the stage seeing thousands of smiling faces, nothing else has that effect.
Again, from a personal point of view, I’d like to reiterate something I’ve said a few times before in that this band have sound-tracked my life since I first listened to them before I’d even hit my teenage years and turning 20 this year, it is no understatement to be able to say they’ve grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and taken me through some of the best and worst times that you can have as a young lad. Seeing them play at regular intervals throughout my life since 2006 cemented the fact that they’ll always be the band that I grew up with. There’s a lot to be said for music from years back, but a band growing with you is special. Not at all to say yesterday marked the end, but it was definitely an opportunity to recognise the impact I could never have been able to stop them having on me, even if I’d wanted to.
The encore started with “Aftershow”, an early bird, and lead into “Here Come The Young Men” during which the collective love for the whole event is celebrated with an outburst of passion throughout the crowd. “Beautiful Head” featured, for the third time in the week before previously not being able to squeeze into the setlist. There’s not any way you could put into words the last 10 minutes of the gig, “Not Nineteen Forever” and “What Took You So Long?” were magnificent, they exploded and asserted themselves to the thousands that threw away any feeling other than absolute unrivalled celebration. If you know, you know.
Then the band grabbed one another and took a thoroughly-deserved bow to Heaton Park, and that was that. Nobody really moved anywhere for a while, and when smiling faces did start to move towards the gates and back into town they were given a few moments to recollect the set, the day, the band as a whole. You sort of lose that hunger to see them again for half an hour, then “Bide Your Time” comes on in 42s and you can’t believe it’s finished.
Thanks for everything lads, can we do it again soon?