Liam Fray - Manchester Ritz
“Managed to make it from one side of Manchester to the other without chancing upon a Liam
Fray acoustic gig.” Arf! Not particularly accurate or generous, but funny nevertheless, you suspect The Courteeners front man would allow himself a wry smile at this Twitter staple. At a time when most allegedly indie acts bash out an album and tour before disappearing for four or five years, Liam Fray seems motivated by an altogether different work ethic. It’s almost as if he daren’t nip out for a fag for worrying his fan base might forget his name and dissolve in an instant.
Certainly, he’s not stopped since the release of third album Anna late last year; continuous touring punctuated by two nights this summer at the Castlefield Arena across the road, the by now annual Xmas homecoming show at the Arena and this, the second of two sold-out acoustic tours in 2013. Such was the demand locally, Fray warmed up with a matinee show earlier in the day. But it’s this evening’s show where you’ll find the real hardcore and they greet him like he’s been away for years rather than, well, weeks.
The set-list is three albums’ worth of fan favourites spiced with a handful of b-sides and oddities. An opening brace of ‘How Come’ and ‘Bide Your Time’ sees the Ritz choir get busy with the backing vocals and they rarely let up. He tags Fleet Foxes’ ‘White Winter Hymnal’ onto ‘God Times Are Calling’ - a move as sharp as it is unexpected. A closing ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ wins him a roaring, extended ovation. Throughout, he’s good value with the crowd, thanking them for their contribution, keeping the banter just the right side of cocky.
These are good times for Liam Fray. For a long time seen as an interloper, perhaps not afforded the respect given to Manc legends longer in the tooth, he’s finally caught up with the likes of James and Elbow, and even though The Courteeners’ mass appeal limits their cred with the groovy gang, he’s earned that respect. 1500 devotees spill out onto the street, buzzing and all smiles. They trust him, you wager, not just because they find a place in his songs, his acutely-observed storytelling, but because they sense the love and respect is mutual. You’d be hard pushed to prove otherwise.