The spirit of Madchester lives on in Aitch, who grew up in the New Moston suburb and told NME in a recent cover story that his forthcoming debut will “100,000 per cent be a proper Manchester album.” He’s absolutely madferrit on the Main Stage on the opening night at Reading Festival, bouncing through his cartoony, commercial rap with his hometown’s trademark braggadocio – indeed, an opening video montage depicts the 21-year-old flexing his big mouth on Capital Xtra, to whom he infamously proclaimed: “No one younger than me is bothered about grime.”
It’s a level of bolshiness that has kept Liam Gallagher, who headlines here tomorrow night, in the red tops for nearly three decades. Aitch strolls out tonight in a psychedelic tracksuit that looks like it’s been graffitied with its melting smiley faces, before he shellshocks the audience with an opening blast of the melodramatic banger ‘Safe To Say’: “Today, I ain’t move one muscle / I just made 60 racks in my sleep.”
The former part of that statement certainly doesn’t apply to the audience, many of whom crowdsurf throughout the show as if they’re literally outrunning the pandemic’s next wave – one gleefully frontflips over the barrier, as cartoony as Aitch himself. He ramps up the delirium when he grins, “Reading, it’s been two fucking years since we’ve been able to do stuff like this”, and later demands: “Let’s turn this place upside fucking down!”
‘Keisha & Becky’, ‘Learning Curve’, ‘Taste’, ‘Latest Trends’: these are big, daft, horny pop-rap tunes about being young, dumb and full of freedom-can’t-come-fast-enough spirit. AJ Tracey – Aitch’s own R Kid – bounds on in a black bomber jacket for their celebratory mega-smash ‘Rain’, and then they embrace, before the Manchester lad insists that the audience “make some noise” for his close pal. AJ is the straight man in this duo; Aitch the cheeky chappie with an irresistibly naughty streak.
When he’s not inciting the audience to chant the ‘UFO’ lyrics, “You ever had a millionaire eat your pussy?”, he announces that he’s “trying to find a wife tonight”. It’s common for fans online to point out his likeness to fellow UK rapper ArrDee, and tonight he gets in on the joke with a guest appearance from the 18-year-old Brightonian, who paces the stage, topless, as he beams through his own randy remix of Russ and Tion Wayne’s massive hit ‘Body’. If Liam Gallagher remains the king of Manchester, Aitch is its goofy and giddy court jester.