Stephen Fretwell - Manchester Night & Day Café
Stephen Fretwell's shambolically styled folk pop catches fire tonight in that most féted of live events : the Homecoming Gig. After an Autumn tour that saw him fill the much larger Academy 2 on his Manchester stop-off, the adopted Mancunian returns for a pair of very sold-out nights at the shoebox that is the Night & Day. First half solo acoustic, second half backed by full electric band (including what appears to be a pair of pals from the mighty Elbow), Fretwell is with friends here, and how. As an audience, we roll over from the off. Playing minus set-list (he pulls out a raggedy note book from his back pocket after half an hour and says - "Right, let's see what we've got ... anyone like The Beatles ?") and dividing his 90 minute set fairly evenly between debut 'Magpie' and 2007's 'Man on the Roof', this is one of the most genuinely off-the-cuff live performances I've seen.
Highlights in the first half include 'Emily', of course, and 'Run', both complete with audience backing. 'Man on the Roof' is represented by the barbed 'Funny Hat' and the crazy but beautiful 'William Shatner's Dog'. I warm to an onstage persona that appears, for once, to be steeped in genuine humility. (I'd go to see him again just to see how he acknowledges applause - a shuffling nod and a bow to all corners of the room as he says thank you. Charmed.) He apologises for the lack of jokes. When the band kick in they plough through six straight 'Man on the Roof' tracks; there's a banging 'Coney' and the soaring space-y rock of 'Now' and 'Sleep'. No doubt born of too many late night/early morning practice sessions, here's a group of musicians who play with empathy and fire; always a plus, yes ?
Oh, and The Beatles cover is 'You Can't Do That'. Which he introduces with "I'll probably f*** it up ..." Then abandons half way through when he forgets the chords to the middle eight. Forgetful yes, f***-up no. So we groan and he promises to do it again for the encore. Just as he's asking us if we want all of it or if he should start from where he left off, a delicate reading of 'New York' in the bag, someone shouts out for 'Bad Bad You, Bad Bad Me'. So he plays that instead. And you think, hey, sometimes back of a fag packet is actually best.