Smash Hits Tour : Manchester Apollo

For the assembled throng (average age: about 12), this is hardcore...

Supersister like their men hot, strong and sweet (just like their coffee). Atomic Kitten want you to do it to them right now. Slowly. Girl Thing are concerned that their boyfriends want to ‘have sex’. Really, there’s far more hormones going around this grand old building than is really proper for a Saturday afternoon.

But for the assembled throng (average age: about 12), this is hardcore. Pretty boys and girls in twos and threes and sometimes fours, dancing and miming their little pop socks off. Aside from the presence of royalty in Keith and Shane, what’s really striking is the incredible democracy of it all. Point Break, Atomic Kitten and (of course) A1, who are adored, make the crowd scream like their pocket money depends on it, and so steal the show. Yet Girl Thing and – sadly – Little Billie Piper result in only muted silence. “This is the song that took me to Number One,” she wimpers before ‘Day & Night’. The glares of ambivalence may as well have been hand grenades.

Midway through and we’re faced with the infamous Smash Hits New Bands Contest, which, as we are gleefully reminded, gave the world Westlife. Reel go for similar Oirish wholesomeness, but just look silly by pretending to play instruments, and Boom! are minor key S Club 7, except with ‘garage’ beats. It’s the manically rapping, yelping, leaping Addis Black Widow that deserve the golden song-lyric-card. Leaders ‘Pigeon’ and ‘Cream’ ooze personality and ecstatic funk hooks.

With Richard Blackwood shuffled out of the way neatly, it’s A1 who have kept the few-thousand proto-sexual kids simmering, and with this level of hysteria you could forget that essentially they are Norwegian copyists. But these days they can’t be stopped. The foreign one, the old one, the one that looks like a girl and the one that looks like Sonic The Hedgehog are so slickly, lovingly groomed that for just three songs, everything makes perfect sense. Fuck, even ‘Same Old Brand New You’ is starting to sound manageable. Ever realised that the lyrics to ‘Take On Me’ mean absolutely nothing at all but at the moment of impact mean absolutely everything? That’s kind of how this is.

Daniel Martin