The Ritz, Manchester
Christmas time is here again which means local heroes returning home for a celebratory gig or two. Hooky was laying waste to the Academy last night with the New Order/Joy Division songbook. Across town, The Chameleons are doing their annual Xmas shindig. This year I’ve decided to spend Xmas at ACR’s place which tonight is the lovely Ritz ballroom. I make my way through the freezing fog and the leery, amateur boozers in Christmas jumpers outside, and inside….oh my god.. civilization. I find a thousand or so groovy folk in the lovely Ritz ballroom looking for A Certain Ratio. It’s pretty rammed, but there is room to dance..it will be needed.
A career spanning set is promised and ACR decide to start mid-period with industrial Jazz funk instrumental ‘Sounds Like Something Dirty’ which showcases Donald Johnson’s powerhouse drumming and Tony Quigley’s ace Sax before going right back to the early Factory days with ‘Do The Du’ which, make no mistake about it, is the ultimate crossover of Funk and Punk and influenced Talking Heads never mind LCD Soundsystem and legions of copyists. They play a lot from those early, atmospheric post-punk records including ‘Flight’, ‘And Then Again’ and a sublime ‘Rialto’. ‘Forced Laugh’ from ‘To Each’ is a real highlight. The great Denise Johnson, who they shared with Primal Scream, wasn’t the original vocalist on this of course but she nails it with a suitably spectral vocal and ACR sound like Martin Hannett is at the controls. The combined brass attack of Martin and Tony Quigley saws yer ears off. Brilliant. Martin Moscrop on guitar is, as ever a man sums up ACR in that he has to flit between being Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, Bruce Gilbert from Wire and Nile Rogers and does justice to all those styles. He also has a nice hat that I covet. Frontman Jez Kerr isn’t quite match fit due to a back problem, and has to sit down occasionally but other than that he looks alarmingly identical to records sleeves from 1980 and my rib cage has just about recovered from the bass.
This being a career spanning set, they also dip into their less celebrated post-Factory era (I guess their ‘Avalon’ in Roxy Music terms). Obviously ‘Won’t Stop Loving You’ their (almost) hit from when they were dabbling with Balearic Beats goes down a storm, but ’27 Forever’ from their long forgotten 1992 LP for Rob Gretton’s ‘Robs Records’ label emerges as perhaps a classic ACR hit that never was. ‘Be What you Wanna Be’ reminds us ACR probably should get a cut of Primal Scream’s royalty cheques for Screamadelica as well as Vanishing Point. The main set ends withs ‘Shack Up’ – their definitive cover of the Banbarra tune, adopted as a civic anthem that sits alongside Love Will Tear Us Apart, Wonderwall and Sit Down. It’s all celebratory, dance-able and wonderful.
The encore is perfect. A seldom played fan-favourite ‘The Fox’ from 1979, a brilliant ‘Knife Slits Water’ from their masterpiece Sextet with Donald Johnson stepping forward to deliver supercharged slap bass that sounds like someone pinging elastic bands into your ears, and ending as they always do with Si Firmo O Grido – a samba workout where they go full on cowbell and the whole room is moving. Martin and Donald have a drum-off which always seems rather unfair as Martin is primarily a guitarist/trumpet parper and Donald is one of the best drummers on the planet – I have to say Martin almost wins tonight.
A good turnout indeed – and yes Fat Alex was there
It made me think..
Notably the later stuff got the biggest reaction and the most dancefloor action, so while the critical consensus is with the influential early, post-punk stuff – those later ACR records like ‘Good Together’ and ‘Up in Downsville’ might be due a new lease of life when they get reissued next year.