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NORTH COUNTRY BOYS
:: The Charlatans :: Aaron Wright And The Aprils :: The Watchers ::
13 March 2011 / The Deaf Institute / Manchester
By Adam Wheeldon

After a staggering 21 years together during which there has been 11 studio albums, countless top 40 hits and a series of unfortunate incidents along the way, The Charlatans have certainly had an eventful lifespan and now find themselves at an enviable stage in any band's career where they have little left to prove but seemingly have so much still to offer. Constantly evolving and having survived the trends that have befallen many of their peers since the so-called 'Madchester' era, tonight sees the band stripped back to vocalist Tim Burgess and guitarist Mark Collins for an intimate acoustic-based retrospective of their career to showcase how they have contributed to the identity of British music over the past 20 years. With a sold-out hometown crowd here to witness this special event, it appears their appeal is still very much ongoing.

The Deaf Institute is running a little behind tonight, with doors supposed to be opening at 7:30, an orderly queue has been formed on the stairs leading up to the venue in anticipation of this unique event. The late start only serves to benefit The Watchers and audience alike as they find themselves performing to a near capacity crowd and those inside are treated to a passionate performance from a band who have a very bright future ahead of them.



Offering waves of swirling, psychedelic guitar moments and layers of rumbling bass-driven rock, they deliver an impressive mix which sounds raucous and introspective in equal measure and is captivating throughout. Looking increasingly confident on stage and genuinely pleased to be performing in the beautiful surroundings of the Deaf Institute, the vocals are warm and emotive and the guitarist crashes around on stage with fervent energy throughout that adds to the epic nature of the music. The Watchers certainly appear to have won over a few more followers judging by the warm response they receive tonight, and with Tim Burgess a confirmed fan, their profile should get a well deserved boost following this high profile support slot and superb performance.



A change of pace from 23 year old Scottish singer-songwriter Aaron Wright and his backing band The Aprils, whose blend of inoffensive upbeat pop certainly add a more laid back feel to the evening. Despite being blessed with a strong, powerful voice, the music appears to lack that cutting edge to really make him stand out. Offering sweet acoustic melodies with a harmonica playing a prominent part, Wright is a confident performer who is ably supported by a strong rhythm section. Despite some nice harmonious moments, there is little to distinguish him from his peers but he's certainly not in the Blunt category just yet.

As Tim Burgess and Mark Collins emerge onstage to a huge ovation from a packed out venue, there is a sense that the opportunity of witnessing an artist perform their material in such a raw and intimate way will always be a special moment that will reaffirm just how vibrant and essential that artist is. Tonight is one of those moments. The Charlatans will forever be associated with the 'Madchester' scene and 'The Only One I Know' as their signature tune. However, they also have an almighty back catalogue which has taken in a variety of different styles over the years and led to a number of classic British anthems. As Tim and Mark strip back the likes of 'Impossible', 'Here Comes The Soulsaver' and 'Just When I'm Thinkin' Things Over', they reveal them in a form that showcases the quality of their song writing to great effect that still sound so fresh and appealing many years later. Tim paces the stage throughout, mic in hand and looking slightly uneasy at performing their hits in this unconventional fashion, but the passion and warm delivery of his vocals is unnerved. The songs are sung back to him with perfect precision from a hometown crowd who have remained loyal throughout as 'A Man Needs To Be Told' and 'O Vanity' add to the many sing-along moments.



It is the powerful version of 'The Only One I Know' that provides the most moving moment of the evening as the trademark organ sound of the original is replaced by some slow paced strumming and understated, quiet vocals that turns it into a haunting, mournful version of their best known anthem and is an incredible re-working. The evening then takes on another special turn when Mark plugs his guitar in and they recruit a drummer to give 'Blackened Blue Eyes' a country rock feel while set closer 'North Country Boy' is full of raucous riffs which get the heads bopping and feet tapping to signal another memorable moment in a performance full of special memories. Keeping with the electric feel they come back to encore with another fine version of 'One To Another', and traditional set closer 'Sproston Green' receives another dramatic interpretation with Tim adopting an acoustic to calmly strum away while Mark provides subtle electric riffs before being drawn out into a swirling jam that is poignant and moving. They have put a lot of energy into making what would have already been a special performance and turned it into a truly memorable one. The Charlatans will always have a loyal following from a passionate hometown crowd, tonight they have repaid that loyalty in a unique and passionate way.


Resources:
The Charlatans
Aaron Wright And The Aprils
The Watchers

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