Castlefield Bowl, Manchester
For my sixtieth birthday, Nile Rodgers and Chic kindly arranged to play a special concert at Castlefield Bowl, Central Manchester.
The evening began in a bar watching the last ten minutes of Germany v South Korea. Dinner was the early tasting menu at WOOD, run by the 2015 Masterchef winner. Exquisite is too inadequate a descriptor for the heavenly flavours that caressed my tongue. I even indulged in the wine flight, a rarity for me.
It was a casual stroll down to the venue, baking in sunshine, not a wisp of wind, sunglasses essential. The vapour trails high in the sky were rainbow coloured.
Nile was excited. He looked relaxed and extremely healthy. Even before he strapped on his guitar, he came out stage front to join in the singalong to Bill Withers’ Lovely Day. The band were resplendent in white: drums, bass, two keyboards, trumpet and sax. All of them high class musicians. The lady vocalists dressed in elegant orange gowns. The sound balance and quality in the bowl shaped, open air arena was perfect. They opened with the one-two knockout punches of Dance, Dance, Dance and Everybody Dance. As soon as the bass started percolating against the solid 4/4 beat, the crowd began to move with a collective desire to indulge in one of life’s greatest pleasures, the joy of dance. It brought a tear to my eye.
I would say the third song, I Want Your Love, is probably the finest live performance of a song I have ever witnessed. Kimberley Davis’s impassioned vocal was utterly extraordinary, capturing every single nuance of the excruciating pain from unrequited love. Her singing was as much a show-stopper as Philip Bailey hitting those impossibly high notes on Reasons. Kimberley Davis is a superstar singer. Here’s hoping her solo career takes flight, she deserves it. But the sheer exuberance of the interaction between guitar and bass was life affirming. Jerry Barnes has the toughest job in Chic, filling Bernard Edwards bass strap. Of course, he has all those sinewy bass lines down pat but it’s the relationship with Nile that is crucial. They were synergistic, playful, improvisational, energetic and quite beautiful together. They both looked so happy and they made the world feel a better place.
There were many other highlights, hit after hit, relentlessly, a non-stop dance fest for the better part of two hours. Lost In Music must be the best song ever written. The groove in the latter half of Le Freak can move mountains. The stomping rhythm of My Feet Keep Dancing is irresistible. Chic’s Notorious simply eclipses Duran Duran and should have its own studio version. The bass riff of Good Times is a work of art comparable to the Mona Lisa. Rodgers and Edwards were very generous to Sister Sledge. The We Are Family album is disco’s true masterpiece. When Nile smiles, everybody smiles. And the crowd never stopped moving.
It all ended with a controlled stage invasion to party to Good Times/Rapper’s Delight. Still, after the clock had ticked past curfew and the band had left the stage, Nile was stage front chatting to the audience.
Disco music should be prescribed to improve health and well-being. Born from despair, disco brings hope, love and freedom. It is the epitome of happiness and Nile Rodgers is its greatest exponent.
The disco crowd is a beautiful crowd and a youthful crowd. Even those in their sixties are young and beautiful. They are always up for a party. They are tastefully dressed, they are lithe, they move with supple limbs and the sunshine brings out the best of them. Best of all, they are fragrant. A disco crowd does not sweat.
It made me think..
I’ve been dancing to Chic for forty years. I missed that callow twenty year old who would go from the mosh-pit of a Clash gig to dance under a mirror ball until the middle of the night. The joy of moving in unison with a partner, driven by Nile’s restless, rhythm guitar, is up there in the highlights of my life. It’s transportive, rapturous. This gig made me look back on all those years, everything I’ve done and everything I didn’t, different dance partners, the hedonism, regrets, moments of pride. I wish I could tell my younger self to relax, stop fretting, just be yourself, be attentive to your partner and dance. Most of all, it made me feel so glad to be alive and still able to let the music take me where it will.
Walking back to the train, the air was satisfyingly cool after such an exhilarating evening. There, in the sky, the moon was full, shining its light even brighter than the mirror ball of my youth. Life felt good. A special, unforgettable day. A special, unforgettable gig. A birthday I will never forget.