The Witchwood - Ashton-under-Lyne

Wednesday 20 September 2000

A Man gig at the Witchwood... just like old times... a good, tight venue... decent beer... and a support act that goes on for too long.

Actually, watching the support band, Danko, set their kit up, was fascinating. Though just a five piece, it looked like there might not be room for all their gear. This was primarily down to the bassist's set up: on a stand, he had a remarkable double bass style, electric, solid bodied instrument that frankly looked like what you'd get if you asked Salvador Dali to design a double bass. This, however, was not enough, because there was also a 6 string bass - yep, six, count 'em. The guy who played these had a bass clef tatooed on his arm. I might be making a rash assumption here, but I suspect he takes his instrument very seriously.

Given all this, I was expecting some sort of prog/techno type outfit, but, wrong again, they played a kind of gentle, easy listening, soul tinged C & W style of music, including a cover of The Weight; not as good as Areatha Franklin's version, but OK. (Except, as already said, they went on for too long and delayed Man's arrival on stage). Oh, and the bassist played both of his instruments during some of the songs; not both at the same time, but I'm sure he must be working on that. Unusual support acts at the Witchwood are something of a tradition, as I had learnt from a 1993 gig.

The upshot of all this is that the set was curtailed - the rumour was that Man hadn't actually been expecting a support band, and were planning a long set. Foiled again. Some material, dammit, had to be dropped.

The Witchwood, 20 September 2000 - photo by Mark DaviesThree of the previous week's gigs had been cancelled because of fuel problems, but it was good to learn they had lost none of their sharpness - in fact, I gauge this gig to have been overall better than York a few days before. Ride was promoted to set opener here, and I immediately got the feeling that Gareth was more confident with his keyboards - the Hammond, was excellent and MJ chipped in with a superb solo, precise but not lacking in feel. Victim Of Love also sounded like an improvement over what I recall from York, which had seemed a bit too loose - no such problem with this evening's rendition. Martin Ace then treated us to his geographic analysis of Ashton, rating it as a place you pass through rather than actually want to stay in. (What an insightful genius the chap is - and I speak as one who spent four years commuting through Ashton, eventually diverting through its equally charming neighbours, Stalybridge and Hyde. But that's kind of off topic).

This tour's habit of mixing old and new continued, as Love Isn't Love merged into C'mon, and once again Gareth's organ playing really stood out. There's been a lot of talk about the value of the older material in a set which is really aimed at promoting a new release; my own view is that the band really don't need to rely on the seventies back catalogue as much as they seem to think they need to. That said, the good thing about C'mon is that more then the rest of the material from that era, it provides space for the band to experiment and extemporize, which in turn might produce new material in its own right (as with Call Down The Moon); in effect it can be used as a fertile nursery for propogating new riffs.

The Witchwood, 20 September 2000 - photo by Mark DaviesI've said it before, Popemobile comes across as a fairly unremarkable song to me, and on this evening it indeed sounded ordinary; Conflict Of Interest on the other hand, seemed to glide along effortlessly, a most accomplished performance, and again Gareth seemed more confident behind his keyboards - listening to his playing during Bananas, you would almost think he was a seasoned veteran of the band.

So as I said at the outset, it was an irritatingly curtailed set, and as I've already hinted, I was disappointed that the new material was sacrificed - no Face To Face, no Saints And Sinners - and that was especially galling, as Deke's keyboards had been set up just for this song, but were never used. And doubly annoying, it was a superb performance overall, and an enthusiastic Ashton audience were denied a live hearing of two new tracks. And enjoyable as it was, as far as I'm concerned, no Bonnie Tyler anecdote can make up for that.

There are pics from this gig in the Gallery.

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