For the Club Academy security, it’s like 28 Days Later gone rock. The onslaught is unrelenting and they’ve no idea who to trust. The Day-Glo ginger skinhead in the glowstick glasses and spangly sun visor dancing about onstage with Blood Red Shoes, like some kind of insane rave invader at a punk party: is he a band Bez or blootered bozo? The indie cindy swigging red wine from the bottle at the side of the stage: this generation’s greatest guitar impresario or rider-grabbing groupie? And God’s trousers, usually they have until the final encore to brace themselves for the stage invasion – tonight they’re lobbing people off the drum riser by the dozen from the opening band’s fourth song. Confusion reigns; the audience are on the stage, the bands are getting manhandled out of the venue and somewhere in the middle of it all there are some bizarre shenanigans featuring a chicken on a chain. It’s like someone’s spiked the lager pumps with factory-grade methamphetamine and then announced an all-day happy hour.
But then not many tours pack the hefty pop punch of the Topman NME New Music Tour 2007. Four bands, 40 surefire ultra-hits, one (very crowded) dressing room. From Laura-Mary Carter’s first stuttering guitar wail to the last howl of The Rumble Strips’ tremulous trumpet, there’s nothing that falls below ‘mighty’ on the tuneometer. Frankly, it’s enough to make Brian Potter stagedive.
At 8.20pm the barrier first breaks. Driven to a wild, animalistic frenzy by the sights of one nervous-looking girl with one guitar making the sound of 100 rabid Sonic Youths, a bunch of boggle-headed pogoers storm the stage to frug with abandon alongside Blood Red Shoes. They join the aforementioned ginger raver (whom we shall call Our Darren because, well, he looks like an Our Darren), who is being pursued around the stage by security like a Benny Hill chase on steroids. Utter chaos, and in keeping with the mood: BRS make an unfathomably brilliant racket that’s like the sprawling mutant offspring of 25 years of alternative punk rock. They grow a Thurston Moore feedback riff here, a Kim Deal bass throb there, Fugazi thrashes all over the shop and top it with a boy-girl vocal mash that’s as sweet as their sound is savage. And at last the pop tunes are clawing their way out of the sonic storm: ‘It’s Getting Boring By The Sea’ is an indie dancefloor classic in waiting, as big and brutal as the cannon that fired out The Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’. As Laura-Mary scratches out the last bout of bliss-inducing scree that makes Dave Grohl look like a pussy before smashing the only guitar she’s ever owned into a pile of rock-prolapsing splinters on the floor, you wonder whether she was bitten by a radioactive Fender Stratocaster at an early age and has developed superhuman ‘axe’ powers.
And then there were three. Pull Tiger Tail arrive to a feisty reception: someone in the front row waggles a tie in Marcus’ face, couples snog furiously by the bar and the moshpit – already in ferocious swing at 8.45pm – carries Our Darren shoulder high like the High Priest Of Lurid Twatwear. PTT react in kind – they swirl luminous sticks about and attack the drumkit during the soaring pop of ‘It’s All About Destruction’, claim that ‘Let’s Call It It’ was rejected for Eurovision and suffer a technical breakdown halfway through the jolt-rock of ‘Animator’, improvising a middle eight for a good two minutes before blasting back in, in time for their stage invasion. There’s a heady ’80s flavour to their fizzy-pop punch – a dash of Nik Kershaw, a dollop of Dexys, a squeeze of, um, Squeeze – yet on the likes of ‘Let’s Lightning’ and ‘Hurricanes’ it mixes with their electro-indie swagger (featuring more hooks than a Come As Your Favourite Peter Pan Villain party) into an effortlessly modern brew. It’s a scintillating set, spoilt only when a bouncer spots Laura-Mary from BRS brandishing a wine bottle by the side of the stage and jostles her out of the venue. Backstage the tour is up in arms, band versus bouncer in a lager-basted Mexican stand-off. In the confusion Our Darren gets thrown out too, but is smuggled back in by Steven BRS. Insanity? You ain’t seen nuffin’ yet…
As The Little Ones rattle to the end of the impeccable pop stormer ‘Cha Cha Cha’ – possibly the most perfect three minutes of indie pop music since ‘There She Goes’ – someone in the crowd hands bassist Brian a chicken necklace. Literally, a chicken on a chain. Brian grins and slips it around his neck like it’s the Crown Jewels. Singer Ed Reyes, meanwhile, is wearing Our Darren’s luminous glasses and Visor Of Kings. Laura-Mary, freshly readmitted, joins them onstage playing what appears to be a peanut, while the stage invaders salsa across the stage. Warped and wonderful things happen when The Little Ones play their orgasmic pop rollocks and tonight is no exception; ‘Face The Facts’ and ‘Lovers Who Uncover’ are so buoyant you could navigate a cruise ship by them, while ‘There’s A Pot Brewin’’ is a mardi gras riot more rump shakin’ than Shakira in a tumble dryer. Incredible.
The Rumble Strips face a tough gig as headliners over such blinding support talent. By rights they should be blown so far offstage they’ll be playing in Belgium. But Manchester is still dizzy from the pop highs that have gone before, and their joyful Dexys dancehall dipsyness makes for a finale more satisfying than when the greedy bastards on Deal Or No Deal go home with 10p.
They’re a foot-stompin’, horn-parpin’ party machine; young, soulful and mildly rebellious – singer Charlie Waller touts his nu-urban preacherman schtick via beaten up, sticker-heavy guitars, while his band beat out the rambunctious rhythms of ‘Alarm Clock’ and ‘Motorcycle’ on everything from a saxophone to a tin can. By the time they parp their lusty last the stage is a mass of stomping soul bodies, Our Darren has been declared Mayor Of The Mayhem and the Topman NME New Music Tour 2007 has become a carnival of crazed, chicken-wearing chaos.
And don’t bother calling security. They’re dancing with the stagedivers.