3 July, 2017, 11:08
Photo: Lee Ramsey
Bristol Sounds 2017 took over Loyd’s Amphitheatre for an incredible four days of talent. Alongside the likes of Bonobo and Craig David, Thursday night heard the usual roll and clunk of teenage skateboarders replaced by the invigorating soar of a Manic Street Preachers’ performance. Set to release their 13th album this year, they’re joined by British Sea Power and The Anchoress, returning as strong, honest and exhilarating as ever.
With the youthful heat seeped from last night’s Bonobo set, I hear Catherine Anne Davies’ smokey vocals burr over a cooled, mature crowd. The Anchoress, slightly slumped over keys, smirks out clever lyrics and masterfully delivers theatrical vocals above the cheeky beat of pop songs like ‘What Goes Around’. Her violinist contributes a wonderful Joie De Vivre, while Davies’ dedicates the powerful heartbreak anthem ‘P.S. Fuck You’ to Theresa May, setting the tone for a political night. With her debut album Confessions of a Romance Novelist winning Best Newcomer at the PROG awards, she is an exciting new artist to discover.
British Sea Power, having just released their new album Let the Dancers Inherit the Party, solidify the night as one of great emotional gravitas. ‘Bad Bohemian’ an immense propulsion of sound, frenetic drum tics, resigned riff and lyrics of hard truths, make you wonder how these simple elements can create such nostalgia within each fan. Fittingly, they give an air of nautical strength, Sumner playing his body into his keys, one handedly playing a sorrowful trumpet; Hamilton (bass guitar) and Fry (viola) slenderly winging the stage in comradery. ‘Machineries of Joy’ gives their determined pace legs under optimistic melody, while ‘Remember Me’ steps the evening up to rock status.
Manic Street Preachers stride on stage as legends, the pained riff of their early classic, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, stripping away any reservations in the crowd. Veterans in the late British punk scene, immediately they unite, sadden, question, inspire. Behind me a granny has just stolen a young mans’ hat in return for a kiss; for me, a guy has given up his trainers in return for broken flip flops over socks. The middle aged hurl each lyric over heads, the young revel in the chants of “You. Love. Us.” As the lights dim between songs, we become aware of the warm bubble we’re creating. This is a band who remind us of what it means to be human, and provide comfort for remembering.
James Dean Bradfield spins around the stage in between his solid stance of strumming command. 31 years in the making, the Manics have tackled class politics, consumerism and blind idealism. They’ve come back from the disappearance of co-lyricist and guitarist Richey Edwards in 1995; they’ve written pop songs in response to suicide. Yet with all this life behind them, Bradfield now reminds us of their beginnings of playing to five people in the Bierkeller; he shouts out to Big Jeff, he nods to Colston Hall’s name change, and he tells us off for rowdiness. “This is music, not fucking sport.” The Manics are revelling in their later years, whilst remaining as relevant and defiant as ever.
They crusade through their set of old and new crowd pleasers. The trumpet of ‘Kevin Carter’ giving a stylish sheen to the tragic subject matter, returning again as part of a touching acoustic version of ’30 Year War’. ‘Tsunami’ offers a triumphant sing-a-long, while ‘ A Design for Life’ finishes off the set, nearly living up to its impossible introduction as the best song in the world.
From a band who claimed their debut album Generation Terrorist would be the greatest rock album ever, this confidence should perhaps be of no surprise. With a rockier album on the way this year, it looks like we’re in for, not only some insightful political commentary, but also a healthy dose of much needed, and wholly uniting, catharsis.