The Courteeners at the Royal Albert Hall for Teenage Cancer Trust
“I know it seems strange, but things they change,” sings Courteeners frontman Liam Fray, supported by a bass drum that has rolled behind him all night underpinning the simmering, expectant energy of a crowd that is now finally reaching its ecstatic, communal arrival. The line is from the band’s best-known song, Not Nineteen Forever, released on their debut record St Jude in 2008, which has recently been unleashed again and found its way to the top of the UK’s charts. Things have changed: perhaps improbably for The Courteeners they join the Beatles and Rolling Stones as only the third band to have a re-release reach number one – a fate unanticipated by an infamous early review of the album, which predicted “exactly no one will be listening to it in ten years time”.
The prediction assumed The Courteeners’ brand of anthemic indie rock would soon be reassessed in light of newer, perhaps bolder material, and yet the present success of St Jude reflects the opposing instinct – a desire instead to look fondly back. Here at the Royal Albert Hall as part of a series to raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust, the night’s nostalgia is established before the band enter the stage, with the crowd throwing their heads back to belt out Oasis’s What’s the Story Morning Glory.
The sound from the opening songs unapologetically caters to this mood. Fray’s old-school bravado combines with jangly guitar licks and thumping drums on Cavorting, before the more stripped-back and slower sound of Acrylic allows space for the frontman to jump into the audience and hold his mic out for them to sing an extended sequence. The set builds the fan’s energy through swelling sections that break into the release of lyrical hooks, and on both Bide Your Time and Kings of the Road they effectively utilise the songs’ breakdown sections to emphasise the drums and establish an expectant tension.
This formula is only really altered when the group leave the stage and Fray is left alone with an acoustic guitar, on which he performs a cover of Madness’s It Must Be Love and his own Yesterday, Today and Probably Tomorrow. The crowd respond and sing along, but this solo stint, and particularly the cover, feel a little halfhearted – a warm gesture that nonetheless feels hasty and and a little sentimental. When the band re-enter, Elina Lin’s staccato piano chords during Hanging off Your Cloud (recalling those from Kanye’s West’s Runaway) provide one of the night’s most distinct and engaging ideas, before the show ends with the two crowdpleasers everybody has been waiting for, Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long. As for much of the night, The Courteeners here deliver a compelling collective experience, allowing the audience to lose themselves in the pleasure of familiar, rousing tunes, which they continue to sing as they make their way back onto the street. Their skills as anthem-writers and live performers have a built-in longevity, and go a long way to illuminating their enduring appeal.
Photo: Naomi Dryden Smith
For further information and future events visit The Courteeners’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Hanging off Your Cloud here: