There are a few myths about The Courteeners that really ought to be put right. One is that no one gives a shit about them beneath ‘The North’, another is that they’re propped up exclusively by, for want of a better phrase, parka monkeys.
Sure, they recently sold out 50,000 tickets for their colossal homecoming gig at Manchester’s Heaton Park in just over two hours. But they also played a sub-headline slot on the main stage at this summer’s Reading Festival, drawing one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. We catch them at the end of a sold-out 13 date tour, playing a capacity Brixton Academy for the fifth time. It’s a Saturday night, and they’re all here to ‘av it. There are more people with Brixton’s two-pint cups than not, and it takes only two songs for the first flare to be set off. “This one’s for everyone who’s got fuck all to do tomorrow,” says the now blonde frontman Liam Fray early on.
And as for their sound, aside from the jangly rush of the likes of ‘Cavorting’ and ‘Acrylic’, tonight’s setlist follows the full route of the journey they’ve taken from soundtracking those late ‘00s sticky indie nights. ‘Are You In Love With A Notion’ is a thudding slab of arena rock, ‘Small Bones’ is a more Mancunian streetwise take on The National’s ‘High Violet’ era, then you’ve got the post-punk of ‘Lose Control’ and bubblegum pop on ‘Modern Love’, while ‘The 17th’ is somehow capable of both sparse electronic minimalism and being an absolute solid gold banger.
Three new tunes are also aired. ‘Better Man’ takes their sound into a much more spacey and pensive synth-driven direction as Fray vies for self-improvement: “Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s perfect, go on – give us a hand”. ‘Hanging Off Your Cloud’ is a hook-laden but tender and understated acoustic number, but ‘Heavy Jacket’ makes for the most surprising departure. It starts with the beat and piano punctation of Dolly Parton’s ‘9 To 5’, before turning into a sharp and snarling dance-rock beast. With lyrics loaded with Fray-isms, there’s a huge cheer as he delivers the line, “Where’s our next Caroline Aherne, the best we’ve ever seen?” in honour of the late, great, Northern screen icon. It’s the first time they’ve heard it, but the crowd are already hollering back the chorus by the track’s end.
As the two-pinters fly overhead for the closing of ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘What Took You So Long’, you understand what critics always write when they compare the atmosphere at a Courteeners’ gig to that of a football match. They’re right – but only for the communal celebration of smashing in goal after goal.
- READ MORE: ‘Excess, addiction and being a better man’ – Liam Fray opens up about Courteeners’ next album
Naysayers will continue to call them trite lad-rock, and the media-at-large likely to keep ignoring them. If you want the truth, it’s coming to a big fuck-off venue near you soon.